Making you laptop last longer

My shopping binge post is preempted by 1) the fact that it's cloudy today and my clothes didn't dry and 2) the death of my laptop's power adapter. I thought that the adapter would cost $20-30 to replace, maybe $50 tops, but I had to spend $90 including tax!!! Now I'm kinda regretting my shopping spree. To make matters worse, the adapter I bought only powers the computer, but it doesn't charge the battery. Given the fact that my whole life is on my laptop, and that I need it for class, I didn't have much choice but to spend all that money. Fortunately, I found some places online that sell Dell adapters for a fraction of the price, so once I can get my hands on it, I'll return the one I'm using. I can live with a restocking fee--consider it a "rental fee," and at any rate, it's better to be out $10 than $100.

This mishap got me thinking about how to take care of a laptop such that maintenance costs could be kept down. Many of us bought laptops just before we started law school, and quite a few people have had their laptops die well before graduation, some tragically in the middle of final exams. Hopefully my laptop will at least last through the California Bar Exam at the end of July . . . it would be a disaster if it dies on me right in the middle of it. For goodness sakes, I don't spend thousands of dollars for a three-day-long test just for kicks.

It's not accidental that my laptop outlived my power adapter. I knew that laptops are more fragile than the desktop, and accordingly, I took great care of it. In contrast, my power cord took a lot of beating because I'm bending it and folding it each time I get out of class or have to move elsewhere. I never thought about it breaking down until I saw the cord fraying here and there a few weeks ago. By the time I got around to taping it up, it was too late.

Here are some things that I consider to be important in extending the life of the laptop:

1) The things we can control the best are the physical, external factors. There are quite a few of those...

-A lot of people put their computers in rolling backpacks, which are good for the back, but bad for laptops. All the bumps from rolling around translate into vibrations that damage moving parts, such as the hard drive. This is the reason why I prefer carrying my laptop in a bag or backpack. But of course, if you have back or other musculoskeletal issues, it's better to protect your body. After all, a machine is replaceable even though it's expensive, but there is no easy fix when it comes to personal health.

-Keep your drinks as far away from your laptop as possible. It sounds like a no-brainer, but I can't tell you how many times I've heard people accidentally spill coffee on their laptops. If you're going to be in close quarters, have your drink in a spill-proof container. A few drops might still spill out, but it probably won't be enough to ruin anything.

-Keep your work area well-ventilated. It's never a good idea to let your laptop cook itself. In spite of its moniker, it'll be good if you don't block all the vents and fan holes with your legs, blanket, or comforter. If you'll be working on such a surface, pick up your laptop once in a while to let heat dissipate.

-Don't multitask when you're handling your laptop. I didn't see it happen in person, but I heard one girl say that she had dropped her laptop when she was paying attention to something else. The laptop still worked, fortunately, but a hit like that has got to be pretty damaging.

-Don't put stuff on top of your laptop, especially on the side with the LCD screen. Things won't fall apart right away, but give it time and it might happen.

-Make sure there's nothing on the keyboard before you flip the screen down. I've seen cracked LCD screens on no less than 5 computers.

-I've seen quite a few girls carry their laptop in their big tote bags, entirely unprotected. You never know if one of them will trip and fall. At least use a laptop sleeve--it's not very expensive, but it offers a lot of protection.

-There's a lot more things that I'm forgetting, but feel free to chime in.

2) To make the hard drive and CPU work less hard, I keep things uncluttered. That means defragging once in a while and keeping unnecessary programs off the start-up process.

3) This goes for all computers--guard against spyware and viruses. Software comes free, so there's no reason to not protect yourself. At my old job, I often chatted with the IT guys. It's amazing how some computer-illiterate people have 5 different versions of the same virus running amok on their computers. We all know not to open strange attachments, but it doesn't take that step to get a virus anymore. Catch them critters before they wreak havoc.

4) When I bought my laptop, I also bought a spare battery to go with it. Now I'm glad I did, since my laptop's model has long been discontinued and it would have been hard to hunt down a new part, not to mention expensive. If you're looking to buy a new laptop, maybe that's something worth considering.

5) When it comes to extended warranties, I generally wouldn't waste my money on it. Maybe it's because I'm not afraid of replacing parts myself (I've helped assembled a few computers before), or maybe it's because more than half my friends are engineers and people who are extremely knowledgeable about computers, I don't know. What I do know is that the likelihood of things breaking down within the warranty period is generally slim. True to Murphy's Law, things often go kaput immediately after the warranty expired, so extended warranties do no good. However, because of the mobile nature of laptops, they do tend to break down more often than other forms of electronics, and some of my friends have had to send in their laptops for repair. The value of extended warranties is really a toss-up in this case, so it really depends on an individual's particularized circumstances (gosh, I sound so much like a lawyer).

Happy Lunar New Year, and Happy Presidents' Day!


thatbeegirl said...

This entry rings so true! I had my laptop A/C cord get so hot that it literally fused to the inside of the computer. After 9 months of hassling, Best Buy finally replaced the laptop and I couldn't be happier. I can't stress the importance of maintaining your laptop, though.

Sales Rack Raider said...

Wow...so hot that it fused to the computer?!? That sounds scary. I'm glad things worked out for you, Bee.

emigre said...

Check eBay or Overstock for better prices.

Sales Rack Raider said...

Thanks, Emigre! I needed the adapter right away so I didn't have a choice but to pay the high price, but I did find some cheap adapters on eBay and another website that sold them for a better price. I think I'll go with the other website since many of the cheap adapters sold on eBay are used.

Brian said...

If you're going to spend less than 15% of the value of the laptop on a longer warranty, I would seriously consider it. For many, it's your most critical computer in your life, period... and if you're a broke-*ss law school student who can't afford to plunk down $500 for a new motherboard or $400 for a new LCD, hell, it works out in your favor in the end.

Smaller things like harddisk crashes and batteries dying are more of a toss-up, but heck for 10-15% you usually work out even there.

I would have very few qualms about spending $950-1200 instead of $600-800 on a nicer laptop with a 2 or 3 year warranty if I was in such a situation.

ambika said...

Great post! The power adaptor on my laptop didn't die--but the outlet that it plugged into got so jacked that I had to send it in. A pain in the ass, and expensive too since my warranty had expired (mistake number one, as noted by brian). I rarely lug it anywhere because it's so large (I use it much like a desktop computer, but it doubles as my tv and stereo as well). I'm proud of how well it's held in there given some of the horror stories I've heard--it's just one of those things you want to put off replacing for as loooong as possible.