Don’t Let Winter Ruin Your Laptop

As the weather turns cold, the days grow short, and white flakes fall from the sky, we know winter is upon us. You know about winterizing your car, insulating your home, preparing your yard, keeping the pets inside and bundling yourself up. Did you think of your Mac?

Surprisingly enough, there’s a few things about the wintertime and your Mac to be aware of:

Beware the Extreme Cold:

Extreme cold can potentially damage your Mac. Such damage can include:

- Wires and Antennae becoming brittle / cracked.
- Condensation on the inner electronics.
- Reduced backlight performance.
- Shortened battery life.
- Cracking LCD displays (In extreme situations).

Apple’s official word is that operating temperature should be between 50° and 95° F (10° to 35° C) with storage temperature being between -13° and 113° F (-24° to 45° C). So, while you can safely store your MacBook in below zero weather, (I personally wouldn’t), avoid using it until it warms up to around 50 degrees. Basically wait about 5 or 10 minutes before you turn it on.

Here’s the fine print.. A sleeping laptop is still technically “operating”, just in a low power state. If you’re planning on leaving your Mac in the trunk overnight in cold weather, make sure it’s completely shut off.

Avoid Charging a Battery in Freezing Temperatures:

Cold temperatures temporarily reduce battery charge as its internal resistance increases. Basically, your battery won’t last as long and it will need more power to run your laptop. As your battery returns to normal temperature, it goes back to normal. There is a small chance that a seriously cold / frozen battery could be slightly damaged.

However, DO NOT charge a battery in below freezing temperatures. While NASA satellites and a Prius may be the exception, consumer grade lithium ion batteries like the ones in MacBooks will begin to accumulate metallic lithium on their anodes during a below freezing charge. This coating is permanent and if done repeatedly, as this metallic lithium builds it will seriously compromise the battery’s safety. Worst case scenario: “venting with flame”, aka exploding battery.

Static Electricity Dangers:

Cold temperature brings dry air and dry air brings static electricity. While it’s fun to get charged up and zap someone, your laptop isn’t going to take that well. The technical term for static electricity and computers is Electrostatic Discharge, or ESD. It’s like a lightning strike to sensitive chips, conductors and circuit pathways.

While you don’t need an anti-static wrist band to use a computer, grounding yourself by touching something metal before using your Mac is a good idea. Be careful of touching metallic ports along the side, even if you don’t feel the spark, it’s still there.

Slip and Fall, break your Mac:

The most common winter time danger for you and your laptop is icy surfaces. Slip on the ice and you could break a bone. Slip and fall while carrying a laptop and it’s going into the frozen ground. In my IT experience, I’ve seen many, many damaged laptops from the wintertime fall.

Apart from being extra careful while walking, always carry your laptop inside a padded laptop bag. Make sure it’s shut off, and not sleeping. If you don’t have a padded bag, make sure it’s at least in a sleeve. Go slow on the icy surface and wear shoes / boots that give you traction.

2 Comments

  1. Cheryl Ray says:

    The metal suggestion is not working for me. I live at 6700 feet altitude in Colorado and believe me when I tell you that it is UBER DRY here. I have a big met lid (for a kettle); it is all metal. I can touch it until the cows come home, and I have even sat on it. Still the static shock. Awhile ago I actually touched the metal lid to the edge of the top of my Mac. That created the biggest static shock of all. There was even a noticeable spark arc of at least 1/8 of an inch. Should I go with the static mat anyway? How about fabric softener on the carpet and chair. I’ve already lost control of the cursor once for awhile. Help!

  2. David Balogh says:

    @ Cheryl: If the air is super dry, a humidifier might help you out. I usually get a shock from my MacBook Pro in the dry winter air.