Is my computer going to die when I need it most?
November 29, 2009 9:07 AM   Subscribe

Will my Macbook be alright after dropping it a few times?

I've dropped my white macbook for the third time from a height of a foot and a half. This is the result of being stressed with school work and having to get up from the couch numerous times due to an unusual increase in the number of phone calls I've been receiving (as the result of a personal event). There hasn't been any trouble with my white macbook yet - nothing at all - but should I be preparing for trouble? I've also dropped my boyfriend's macbook pro once a few weeks ago, which slid off from the coffee table - no trouble there either. They were both on, but not busy processing anything significant at the time, with only a web browser or word processor window open. They're both a couple of years old. (I have taken steps to avoid dropping laptops again.)
posted by waterandrock to Computers & Internet (15 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
No one can actually answer this question. If they boot and run fine, they probably are fine.

I assume you back up.
posted by rr at 9:33 AM on November 29, 2009

I dropped a hard drive a couple of feet onto concrete once. It worked fine, but someone told me that it could it could cause problem later, and sure enough it started getting bad sectors, etc.

However, I wouldn't worry about it too much, if it still works it still works. You should always be doing periodic backups, regardless of your situation
posted by delmoi at 9:40 AM on November 29, 2009

rr is right, this question is unanswerable. Eventually your computers will fail but that's because they all do, dropped or not. If they're running right now, that's all the information you have regarding damage.
posted by chairface at 9:46 AM on November 29, 2009

I dropped my macbook a few years ago, from a tabletop onto brick, and everything worked fine except the disk drive. Make sure it can still read discs.
posted by Rinku at 9:57 AM on November 29, 2009

No one can tell when a computer will fail. The more important question is what are you doing for backup? Currently, the best backup system for the Mac is probably the Time Capsule. It's a hard drive combined with a wireless router. It automatically backs up your computer(s) every hour, over your wireless network. You can retrieve files or the entire state of your computer for as far back as the Time Capsule has data. So if you destroy your computer, you can restore exactly the same data in a matter of hours. If you have a system like Time Capsule running, you won't be worrying about your computer, except of course for the cost of replacing the hardware.
posted by musofire at 9:58 AM on November 29, 2009

The good news is recent macbooks and macbook pros have an accelerometer in them to know when they are being dropped, brace the hard disk platters, and usually have a better shot of not borking your data. A drop will usually only affect moving parts or fully break nonmoving parts. If things are still working now, you're most likely in the clear. Run disk utility and verify the disk and count your blessings.
posted by CharlesV42 at 9:59 AM on November 29, 2009

Yes, please back up your data. Consider everything that is not backed up already lost.
posted by aaronbeekay at 10:00 AM on November 29, 2009 [1 favorite]

Oh, also, if you are making a habit of dropping your computer, consider getting a rubberized case for it.
posted by musofire at 10:00 AM on November 29, 2009 [1 favorite]

Back up. Now.

I'm very hard on laptops. My lappie leaves the house daily, gets tossed into my suitcase unprotected (and running!), goes into my purse without going into a sleeve. Generally, my work laptops take harder abuse than any rational user would throw at them. I once stumbled getting out of a commuter jet and dropped my laptop from the 4th step - no problems. (That one was practically a miracle. Don't try this at home.) However, it's a crapshoot. Months later, Mr. 26.2 accidentally knocked that same laptop off the coffee table. It fell less than 2 feet and died.

Your laptop will probably be okay. However, there is simply no way to know. Sometimes damage isn't immediately apparent but shows up later in hard drive problems. Get yourself on a regular schedule of backing up your drive.

Old tech support joke - Jesus saves. Everyone else needs to back up their data.
posted by 26.2 at 10:56 AM on November 29, 2009

I can say with a high degree of certainty that your hard drive will fail eventually. You probably sped that process up a bit. You are unlikely to know how much until it is too late. Back up your stuff. Keep backing it up regularly.
posted by grouse at 11:14 AM on November 29, 2009

You can get a phone extension cord at the dollar store, if you expect the cavalcade of calls to continue.
posted by twistofrhyme at 11:17 AM on November 29, 2009 [1 favorite]

you should always have complete backups on external drives. hard disk failure is not a question of if but when. keeping schoolwork or anything else not backed up and on one single drive is downright stupid.
posted by krautland at 12:38 PM on November 29, 2009 [1 favorite]

I didn't say I don't back up. I back up.
posted by waterandrock at 3:30 PM on November 29, 2009

Sorry to nag, then. So many people don't back up that the first reaction (as a support guy) is "PLEASE START".

As charlesV42 mentioned, Apple computers since late PowerBooks have had the Sudden Motion Sensor, which is supposed to guard against falls and impacts. That helps with the most at-risk component, your hard drive. Keep in mind that all the SMS can do is park the hard drive heads, not stop the platters from spinning or lock anything down. (Although if you're dropping it hard enough to jar the read arm from its parking space, you've got bigger problems.)

After the hard drive, I'd say your most likely problem is the glass in the LCD. You'll know if this breaks (cracks, not working, etc). Perhaps the optical drive, as someone mentioned above: if a disc is spinning, just tilting the computer rapidly can make the disc grind against things in the drive and ruin it (the disc, not the drive).

Most of the rest of the machine is solid-state, and the connectors in Apple machines tend to be locking, taped, or otherwise secured, so I doubt you'll knock them out of place. If you see yourself dropping the machine a lot in the future, I might look at a solid-state hard drive.
posted by aaronbeekay at 5:31 PM on November 29, 2009 [1 favorite]

I have a PowerBook I got in 2004, still going strong after several drops. These things are slippery! It's forever sliding off the bed or couch. Just a few days ago it crashed to the floor so loudly I held my breath when I opened it, expecting a shattered screen or something. Nope, nada. So far...
posted by JenMarie at 11:24 PM on November 29, 2009

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