10 Tips to Avoid Damaging Your Notebook

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We all know how to avoid danger with some things, like a hot stove. But what about avoiding not-so-obvious damage to your new notebook? Let’s take a look at some of the things you need to know to avoid breaking your laptop.

Don’t pick it up one-handed

Picking up your notebook one-handed might seem like the easiest thing to do, especially if your other hand is full, but your notebook won’t appreciate it. Handling a notebook in this fashion puts an enormous amount of pressure on a comparatively small area the chassis, and most notebooks aren’t designed for that. The pressure can create stress fractures in the chassis over time, and compromise its ability to protect the insides of the notebook. Consider that the chassis on most notebooks is plastic, and can therefore bend. When it does, the circuit boards inside the notebook bend with it. Cracked circuit boards are a leading cause of notebook failure.

The safe way to pick up a notebook is with its lid closed. Use two hands, and support either side of it. No need to grip overly tight.

Don’t apply pressure to the back of the lid

This is another no-no. The purpose of the lid on a notebook is to provide a support structure for the display panel, which is a fragile electronic device. Better-made notebooks will have a reinforced lid that reduces the chances of pressure on the back of the lid from reaching the display panel. Stronger lids will also prevent excessive lateral flex. In essence, don’t make the lid’s job harder by pressing on the back of it.

Also keep in mind that you might not apply pressure to the back of the lid as deliberately as we simulated in our photo; here are some ways you might inadvertently damage your laptop:

  • Closing the notebook’s lid, and then picking it up by one side. Doing so places intense pressure where your fingers are in contact on both the bottom of the chassis and top of the lid.
  • Placing heavy objects on top of the notebook.
  • Transporting the notebook in a bag with objects that contact the top of the lid. Think about water bottles, wall chargers, and similarly-sized items.

Always transport the notebook in a protected case or sleeve

A notebook should be transported inside of a padded sleeve. Carrying the unprotected notebook in your hands, haphazardly inside a bag, or just sitting on a car seat, is an accident waiting to happen. You’re not only risking structural damage to the notebook (see the last two sections), but cosmetic scratches and excessive wear. Our personal choice for notebook sleeves is the WaterField Designs SleeveCase.

Always be gentle when you plug in devices

Although today’s physical input and output ports on notebooks are reasonably durable, there’s no reason to treat them roughly. When you need to plug in something, whether it be the notebook’s power adapter, or a USB device, take your time. Find the port, line up the device’s connector, and guide it into the slot.

Don’t feel your way around with the end of the connector, hoping you’ll find the right port; you could not only scratch the notebook, but also might end up jamming the wrong connector into the wrong port. (USB Type-A connector into an Ethernet jack, anyone? How about a headphone plug into a USB Type-A port?)

Never stress the ports on connected devices

What you see here in our photo is something you should never do. The ports inside most notebooks are directly connected to the motherboard. Although the connection is reasonably strong, it’s not designed to be flexible. Yanking devices out of the notebook or using them to physically manipulate the notebook is a recipe for a motherboard replacement, and those are far from inexpensive.

As a side note to this, you might want to make sure that whatever you plug into your notebook isn’t liable to be tripped over, or otherwise caught on something.

Avoid extreme temperatures and humidity

The specifications for a notebook computer will state its operating temperature range. A typical operating temperature range for a notebook is 5 to 35 degrees C, or 41 to 95 degrees F. This can vary; the notebook’s owner’s manual will state the exact range. Either way, the notebook should be kept in this temperature range. Don’t leave it in your car overnight in the winter, as freezing temperatures are stressful on components like the battery and the screen. The same goes for the summertime; don’t leave your notebook in your parked car in the sun, where the temperature is likely to reach triple digits.

Don’t clean the screen with chemicals

There’s no need to use chemicals to clean your notebook’s screen. The coating on a notebook’s screen is sensitive, and shouldn’t be cleaned with anything but a small amount of water applied to a clean cloth. A damp microfiber towel works just fine.

Take a look at our guide here on how to clean a laptop for more information.

Never block the fans

Heat buildup is the number one enemy of computers in general, especially notebooks, where the space the heat can go is limited. If your notebook has fans, avoid blocking the intakes (typically, vents on the bottom of the chassis), and the exhaust ports. High-performance notebooks, such as the Eurocom Tornado F5, are especially sensitive when it comes to getting the proper amount of airflow. Notebooks like that should never be used on an uneven surface, like your lap or a bed, while doing anything demanding. Notebooks perform best on solid surfaces.

Even fanless notebooks depend on airflow to cool themselves to some extent. You should also avoid doing anything stressful with them while they’re not on a solid surface.

Avoid leaving your notebook unattended

This advice applies mostly to outside the home. If you’re using your notebook at a coffee shop, and need to use the restroom, pack up your notebook and take it with you, along with the rest of your belongings. Even the largest notebook computers are easy to pick up and carry away in a matter of seconds. Convenience is not worth the risk.

If you’re in college dorm, or another place where foot traffic from people you may not know is frequent, invest in a cable lock. Look around the edges of your notebook; most will have a cable lock slot. The notebook maker’s website will state the supported lock styles. The two most common are Kensington, a model of which is pictured here, and Noble. A lock will run you $20-50, depending on the style; it’s a small price to pay for the peace of mind.

(Also be sure to password-protect your computer’s account, and lock it or sign out whenever the computer is out of your sight!)

Keep open beverages far away

You might be careful with your beverages, but what about your kids? Your pets might be even worse. An open beverage within spill range of an electronic device is an accident waiting to happen. Unless you have an ultra-rugged notebook like the Panasonic Toughbook CF-20, find a way to keep liquid away from your notebook. That might mean using screw-cap beverages, or using a thermal cup for your coffee with a closeable lid that won’t come off if it tips over.

Final Thoughts: Accidental Damage Warranties

We’ve all been around portable electronic devices for at least a decade at this point. Over that time, you’ve probably had several different devices. How many have you broken or destroyed, and how did it happen? Some of the scenarios we illustrated in this article may have brought back memories.

Regardless of the precautions you take, there’s still a chance something bad could happen to your notebook. It might not be your fault, but that doesn’t make the end result any different, and it certainly doesn’t repair or replace the notebook. You might be tempted to buy an accidental damage warranty, and we wouldn’t blame you. These can work out great, especially if you’re an accident-prone person. However, take a look at our guide on what you need to know about extended warranties before you fork over your hard-earned cash for something that might not do all you want.


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