Laptop longevity
October 31, 2004 11:48 AM   Subscribe

New Laptop. I have a new laptop waiting for me (Dell/WinXP) when I get home next week and I want to treat this one right. The one I have now is three years old and has served its purpose, but has been stumbling lately. Any tips on making your laptop last longer? (specifics inside)

Some of the issues I have with my current one:

- Locks up frequently during video playback
- Sometimes locks up for no reason at all
- Battery does not hold a charge for more than 30 minutes
- WiFi connection can be unreliable. Sometimes it connects automatically, sometimes it has to be rebooted a few times.
- Windows networking is intermittant

Some of these, I hope will be fixed by the latest install of XP, a 64MB graphics card and internal WiFi. I would also appreciate any essential installs. I load Adaware, Mozilla, Spybot and Easy Cleaner early.

posted by jonah to Computers & Internet (15 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
Add some memory, back everything up, format, and install XP from scratch.
posted by adampsyche at 12:13 PM on October 31, 2004

What adampsyche said ... that, and acknowledge that some of the components have a lifespan that may be about three years, or less. Batteries are the biggest one I can think of... they're only good for a certain number of charges.

Another thing I say a lot is 'don't overmaintain it' ... running defrag once a month isn't like doing an oil change, it's like running your engine at the redline for a couple of hours to "clean out the carbon".
posted by SpecialK at 12:17 PM on October 31, 2004

The biggest thing with laptops is you have a lot of things, developing a lot of heat, in a little area.

Keep the fans clean. Try to use it in a well ventilated area (on linen in a waterbed, no -- on a desk, yes). I think a lot of problems with laptop stems from long-term heat damage. The fans are so little that any dust has a big impact. Not like those 120MM super-fans in desktops.
posted by geoff. at 12:48 PM on October 31, 2004

Biggest thing I ever did was buy the warranty. It has literally saved me thousands of dollars in under four years.
posted by jmd82 at 1:51 PM on October 31, 2004

This seems like such a simple thing, but: Get some of those PDA screen protector stickers, cut one down to size, and cover the touchpad. The pleasant surface of the touchpad tends to wear, eventually becoming extremely smooth and polished after a year or so of use.

Similarly, do not use anything stronger than a slightly moist, soft cloth to clean the LCD panel (and another dry, soft cloth to dry it). The surface probably has an antistatic coating that can be easily scraped away with cleansers.

Extending the lifespan of your battery means a few things: Don't leave the system tethered to AC power all the time, or you'll overcook the battery. Run on battery power at least, say, once a week, even if you're not going anywhere. Also, let the battery recharge completely before going untethered again. You only have so many charge cycles to spend -- use them wisely.

Never pick up the system with the LCD panel open. Shut it before carrying it. This reduces the chance that you'll whack the panel on something or inadvertently stress a Dell's notoriously weak panel hinges.

Go over the keyboard surface and crevasses with a Swiffer or some other similar dusting cloth. Those things slurp up dust and particles and will help reduce the amount of dust and crud that builds up inside the case.

Contact Dell's spare parts department and order a replacement keyboard. You don't need it now, but you will: For one thing, Dell laptop keyboards (especially but not exclusively the Latitude series) fail all the time. For another, even if they don't fail, they fall victim to the same surface wear that the touchpad does, and become unpleasant to type on.

Spring for a mouse and keyboard to use as a "base station," even if you don't buy a dock. You can place the mouse and keyboard in a more comfortable, ergonomic configuration. Also, these inexpensive external peripherals will absorb more of the wear and tear over the years.

Create two user accounts for yourself. Give one administrative privileges, and deny them to the other. Use the system as though the administrative user does not exist, except when absolutely required for driver installation or similar tasks. Don't log in as the "Administrator" user at all. Give it a password and promptly forget it.

Run the system in an "energy saving" configuration at all times, unless you really know you need all the CPU power you can get. This will cut down on the possibility of overheating, and reduce the physical stress on the components from running the system through lots of heating/cooling cycles.

Most of the problems with your old system sound like potential software issues. It's a pain in the ass, but reinstalling from scratch will eliminate the possibility that three years of software cruft are the source of its woes.
posted by majick at 2:07 PM on October 31, 2004

I bought my laptop from a friend for $300. 2.8P4 with wifi. First thing I did was install a 512 stick and reinstall from scratch. RAM will always be an excellent buy for a laptop. I spent about $90 and trust me it was worth it.

What i've been doing to keep it lasting longer is not letting it run all night with my torrents on the network, as foolish as that seems.

Don't beat the damn keyboard.

Charge when your battery is dead and charge to completion.

Buy the extended warranty.

Reinstall your operating system.

Defrag in NTFS is not useful, maybe once a year.
posted by Keyser Soze at 2:10 PM on October 31, 2004

Go to your manufacturers website and download every update for the old laptop and burn it on CD. When you reinstall XP, put these files in a DRIVERS folder (or whatever), then install the updates.
posted by Keyser Soze at 2:13 PM on October 31, 2004

jmd82, what brand was that unreliable?
posted by smackfu at 2:40 PM on October 31, 2004

Response by poster: Thanks! for the tips so far. I had heard that for maintenence, a battery should be run up and down in charge, rather than kept plugged in all the time (as I usually do). Any truth to this?

Also, I think the clean install idea is a good one. I notice that my desktop, which I upgraded to Win XP with a clean install seems to run better than what was factory installed on my laptop. THere are all of those manufacture crappy "extras" they put on there.
posted by jonah at 2:54 PM on October 31, 2004

Response by poster: Question about the Swiffer usage. Aren't those charged with static electricity to attract dust, would that cause potential damage if it reached between the keys?
posted by jonah at 2:56 PM on October 31, 2004

smackfu: HP laptop. I bought a Best Buy warranty, and it broke 4 times in like 2.5 years so I get the lemon policy = new laptop for free at the listed price of the laptop when I bought it. The kicker (and reason I don't necessarily consider HP crap) is I bought the display model for a lot less than that list price.
Also, knowing when may laptop was fubar and not letting the tech support people tell me otherwise was crucial in getting my repairs.
posted by jmd82 at 7:44 PM on October 31, 2004

Yeah, definitely get the three year warranty - just because when things do go wrong the parts are prohibitively expensive. Dell support is pretty efficient, relatively speaking.

Do a clean install every year. I buy a new (bigger) drive and use that, then connect the only one via a USB2 enclosure to restore data. This method has the advantage that if your windows install screws up and you have something urgent to do, you can have the old drive back in and be booting in minutes.

Be gentle with the power lead where it goes into the back of the computer - they fray internally with too much flexing and twisting. I've gone through three PSU units that way, and they're not cheap.

I don't think you have to be too paranoid about discharging and charging, just don't get into the habit of unplugging for half an hour then plugging in again. I haven't noticed any detrimental effect from keeping it plugged in constantly for days or weeks. I would suggest you buy a spare battery though, that'll give you 6-8 hours of runtime, rather than 3-4.
posted by cell at 6:58 AM on November 1, 2004


"connect the only one" = "connect the old one"

serves me right for typing surreptitiously in a tiny window at work

posted by cell at 7:02 AM on November 1, 2004

"a battery should be run up and down in charge, rather than kept plugged in all the time (as I usually do)."

Yep, that's what I said. If you leave it plugged in all the time, that explains why your old laptop's battery only runs for half an hour. Try not to leave the new one plugged in for more than a couple of days at a time.
posted by majick at 7:20 AM on November 1, 2004

"Question about the Swiffer usage."

Keyboards are plastic (even the shiny metallic-looking Apple keyboards). Plastic doesn't conduct electricity. Don't worry, you're not going to blow up your laptop with a Swiffer.
posted by majick at 7:24 AM on November 1, 2004

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