Five Easy Ways to Increase the Longevity of your Laptop

Four years ago, I bought my first iBook. Before that I was a Desktop guy. It used to be that if you wanted power – get a desktop and if you want something basic, yet portable – get a laptop. This is partially true, desktops are still more powerful yet laptops aren’t so basic anymore. With laptop sales outpacing desktop sales, more people want that portability. Here are five tips to help your laptop last as long as it can.

1. Treat the laptop with care – like the fragile, expensive, and delicate machine that it is.

The best way to care for your laptop is to begin with the proper attitude towards it. Treat your laptop like the fragile, delicate and expensive machine that it is. The MacBooks are constructed well, and feel solid and sturdy. Yet, inside that nice plastic shell (which isn’t very thick) lies delicate hardware. All it takes is some bumps here and there to add up, creating microscopic cracks inside the circuitry. Carrying the laptop with one hand, holding by a corner is a nice way to flex (bend) the motherboard, causing damage. Miniscule damage is cumulative. Think of every little poke, prod, bend and bump as adding up slowly into a part failure. Treat your MacBook as you would treat a carton of eggs or an expensive and fragile vase. How would you handle a fine crystal vase worth a thousand dollars? Would you carry it with your thumb and forefinger by the edge, bumping it around and plopping it onto a table, near the edge where it can easily fall?

2. Avoid overheating – keep on a flat surface.

The processor inside a MacBook and MacBook Pro, generates some serious heat. Especially if you’re giving it a good workout with Photoshop, iMovie or playing games. Never, ever, ever place the laptop on a blanket, pillow, couch cushion or any soft insulating surface. First, the nature of the material will block critical vents that channel heat out of your MacBook. Second, the insulating properties will further prevent much needed heat loss. It doesn’t take much time at all for the components inside your MacBook to overheat – in fact they get pretty hot on the proper surface, while running basic tasks. Within seconds, the blocked vents and insulated casing could cause inside temperatures to rise to danger levels. Within a few more seconds the laptop will overheat and cause expensive damage. Remember, even if it seems fine, damage can be microscopic and cumulative – adding up to sudden and unexpected part failure. Always use your laptop on a hard and flat surface.

3. Research new models before purchase – avoid buying a lemon.

Itching for that sweet new model? Wait a few months. When a manufacturer comes out with a new model of something, there’s always errors that need to be addressed. Remember the power and heat issues from the first crop of intel macBooks? Research the models and potential problems and you will avoid buying a lemon. If your’ve taken proper care of your previous laptop, it’ll last a few more months while you wait out a few new-model defects. Also, if you do encounter any defects within the first year of owning your Apple laptop, have them fix it right away. A minor repair now could turn into a major repair later if not addressed. Also, after a year, your warranty is gone (unless you paid $250 for AppleCare).

4. Protect from theft – a little common sense goes a long way.

Laptops are expensive, and cool. People like them and so do thieves. Never leave your laptop unattended. In the minute it takes for you to go to the bathroom and come back out, the thief could snatch your laptop and be down the block. If you need to step away from the laptop, even for a moment, make sure someone you trust is there to watch the laptop. If you’re alone, then shut it down, put it in your bag, and bring it with you. Leave a book of something else to save your seat. Don’t have anything else? What’s more important, losing your laptop or losing your seat?

The next most common theft of laptops occurs from leaving it inside your car where someone walking by could see it (or see the bag). It takes only seconds for someone to smash a car window, grab your laptop bag and be down the street. Be smart, lock your laptop in the trunk. Be smarter and bring it with you.

Sometimes, even when we are most careful, these things still happen. In this case, make sure you have renter or homeowners insurance that will cover laptop theft. Some auto insurance policies don’t cover something that costs as much as a laptop. Others do, so check your insurance policies. Make sure you have one that covers actual replacement value. You don’t want to get $500 for your two year old laptop that you paid almost $2000 for and are now without.

5. Make sure you have more than enough RAM.

This is something most people don’t realize, yet it makes a huge difference. For one, it keeps your laptop current and powerful enough to handle applications that come out in the future. Sure your laptop with 512MB from 2003 was a monster back then. Now, it chokes on Leopard with Safari running. Get as much as you can without being overpriced. You can even get more RAM later on. In the MacBooks, adding and changing RAM is really easy. If you buy more say a year later, the cost of the memory won’t be as expensive.

Another reason why you want to have more than enough RAM from the beginning isn’t so obvious. When a computer needs more memory than it has, it uses a trick called Virtual Memory to get by. What this does is store data on the hard drive instead of in memory because it needs the room. If your laptop has enough RAM to keep it from swapping back and forth from virtual memory often, there is less wear and tear on the hard drive. This leads to the drive lasting much longer. A drive with heavy wear and tear will fail faster than one with less mileage.

A bonus of more memory and less virtual memory usage is the computer becomes extremely slow when it doesn’t have enough memory to function. Virtual Memory is slow. Physical memory is faster. It’s a major reason why many cheap Windows systems with 256MB of memory take 20 minutes to start up.

I hope these suggestions lead to a long, healthy life for your laptop. Feel free to share your own suggestions in the comments below.

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