Am I wearing out my laptop using it for work?
August 7, 2020 12:43 PM   Subscribe

Today, there was a question in AskAManager from someone who is concerned about wear and tear on her laptop using it for her job. Is this something I need to think about? Details below the fold.

I have my office Mac Mini with an external keyboard in my house, but I've been using my personal laptop instead. I can't see reasonably with a laptop monitor and the laptop keyboard is a nightmare (with a nonworking N that I haven't been able to get fixed because Pandemic), so I usually use an external monitor and ergonomic keyboard with my laptop. I could set up my Mac Mini to use for work, but I'd have to use my personal monitor and the work keyboard (my work monitor is on an arm screwed to the desk, and I wouldn't be able to set that up at home myself, nor do I have anyone to do it for me), and it just seems like a real pain in the neck to unplug and plug everything in so that I can switch back and forth all the time. Also, the Mac Mini doesn't have a camera, so I'd have to go back to my laptop to be visible for meetings (though nobody would complain if I weren't). But I've gone from using my personal laptop a few hours a week to using it for my full-time job plus all of my personal needs. Googling about stress on computers, I'm mostly finding articles about turning them on and off and a few notes about dropping them.

So I guess I just want to know if this is potentially enough of a problem that I should suck it up and deal with the hassle of using the Mac Mini for work.
posted by FencingGal to Computers & Internet (14 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
Best answer: This is not a significant problem. Your time and frustration are worth a lot more than any miniscule difference in the wear on your computer. Do whatever is easiest and least stressful.
posted by fritley at 12:46 PM on August 7, 2020 [6 favorites]

Best answer: Solid-state devices don't really wear out, so the wear and tear on your personal laptop would be to the keyboard (already borked, as you say) and the hard drive, if you have a traditional spinny magnetic platter hard drive. So I wouldn't really worry too much about that.

I've got a personal laptop and my work laptop at home. I splashed out on a KVM switch so that both of them could use my external monitor and keyboard (my workplace has not compensated me for that, but it was worth it to me). I do still have two wireless pointing devices on my desk.
posted by adamrice at 12:48 PM on August 7, 2020

Response by poster: Thanks for the answers so far. If it matters, personal computer is a 2017 Macbook Pro.
posted by FencingGal at 12:51 PM on August 7, 2020

Unless you're doing something unusual, your computer will die of old age before it dies of exhaustion. I wouldn't worry about it.

But I would worry (a little bit) about the rules. There are a couple of potential problems. First, your employer may not want you to use IT they do not control and have access to. This is so they can secure things. They might even have made legally binding promises to their customers that they do not allow their employees to work on other hardware.

Second, mixing work and personal stuff can make disagreements over intellectual property more complicated. In general, the advice is don't use personal hardware for work, and don't use work hardware for personal stuff. Doing either risks putting your employer's claims to your IP on a firmer footing.
posted by caek at 1:12 PM on August 7, 2020 [8 favorites]

Best answer: I just bought a USB switch for exactly this use case. My primary monitor has two inputs, so I can switch that between work machine and home machine with the monitor’s front panel controls, and swap my mouse/keyboard/webcam USB between work and home with a second button. It’s almost painless.
posted by Alterscape at 1:37 PM on August 7, 2020 [1 favorite]

Seconding Alterscape - a USB or KVM switch (depending on the plugs in question) can let you switch between the two computers by pressing a button.
posted by trig at 1:44 PM on August 7, 2020 [1 favorite]

You're probably not going to drastically change the lifespan of your laptop, unless you start using it as a standalone laptop where most of the wear-and-tear issues would occur. But it seems like your company has failed to equip you properly for working from home. If they expect you to work from home, you need a monitor to use your Mac Mini (unlike a laptop), and a webcam to participate in meetings. Just because you can "use your own equipment" does not absolve the company from providing necessary tools in order to do your job.

However, there are good reasons for the company to require that only their confidential information be stored on employer-provided equipment. In a company with a decent IT organization, your non-work computer connecting to the company network would be flagged as suspicious and be blocked. If repeated and intentional, the employee would be reprimanded or fired.

You should be able to remotely connect from one Mac to another without any hardware change whatsoever using Mac's built-in VNC.
posted by meowzilla at 1:45 PM on August 7, 2020

Response by poster: I appreciate people's concerns, but let's assume for the sake of this question that security with my workplace is not an issue, partly because of the nature of the work I do. The IT department head installed the software I needed on my personal laptop well before COVID at my request so I'd have the option of working at home when I need to. IT is also providing me support needed with my laptop. I'm sure they'd give me a monitor to use at home if I asked for one, but it's easier to use the one I've got. Again, I appreciate the thought, but I'm afraid of that turning into a derail if lots of people decide to weigh in on that issue.
Also, thanks for advice about KVM switches, etc. I had no idea that stuff existed.
posted by FencingGal at 2:01 PM on August 7, 2020

Solid-state devices don't really wear out

This is true to the extent that they don't wear out with use, so much as become increasingly likely to fail with age.

Your time and frustration are worth a lot more than any miniscule difference in the wear on your computer.
Basically came to say this.
posted by aspersioncast at 2:16 PM on August 7, 2020

Best answer: If your monitor accepts multiple inputs and lets you switch between them through a menu (or if it just picks whichever computer is currently on), then one more option is to use a software solution like synergy to switch the keyboard/mouse without buying a separate physical switch.
posted by trig at 2:37 PM on August 7, 2020

macbook keyboards seem to have a poor level of quality and reliability compared to input devices from other manufacturers. i use one at work, multiple keys broke off the keyboard after less than two years of use, other colleagues have run into the same problem. so it is mildly amusing to read you have a macbook afflicted with the same problem! if you were using the macbook keyboard more for work, then that would likely cause it to degrade faster than otherwise. but it is unlikely that additional use would decrease the lifetimes of other components - provided the laptop is not getting moved around more frequently and potentially subjected to bumps and physical shocks as part of work usage.

all that said, i don't really think additional wear and tear if using a computer for work is a serious concern.

however: depending upon your local tax laws, if you are using your own computer for work purposes it may be possible to don an accounting hat and record depreciation of your computer as a tax-deductible business expense. the depreciation reflects the expected loss in value of the computer over time. it may be more bother than it is worth to do this, since if it is a 2017 Macbook then perhaps the tax department would regard the residual value of the laptop after 3-4 years of depreciation as zero or close to zero.
posted by are-coral-made at 4:59 PM on August 7, 2020

Best answer: I do this myself, with similar hardware. I wouldn't give it a second thought. Especially now... your laptop will be obsolete in 3-5 years thanks to the switch to new processors. As far as the SSD - that is a bit of a wear item, but it you aren't doing crazy stuff.... I don't hear anybody complaining about Apple's SSDs - they start with the best SSD chips, and then they write their own (presumably better) firmware for them. I don't love the crazy cost of Apple SSD, but it does have its reason. The battery is consumable, but lithium ion batteries do like to get used. I used a 2016 MBP every day for work until a month or so ago, frequently on battery, and I had no complaints. The other parts will probably be covered by more-or-less official warrantees by the time they break (if they aren't already).
posted by wotsac at 7:42 PM on August 7, 2020

Best answer: If you want to preserve your battery lifetime, keep your power cord plugged in when using the laptop.
posted by JackFlash at 7:50 PM on August 7, 2020

You've probably agreed to use their hardware to access their systems, there might be a grey area about video conferencing or other collaborative tools not hosted by your company. Do the pfaff and cable up their Mac Mini or swallow the extra use of your own equipment.

People were wrong in the internet, here...
>>Solid-state devices don't really wear out...
>This is true to the extent that they don't wear out with use, so much as become increasingly likely to fail with age.
Everything falls, here's how a typical SSD will fail by wearing out:
The ability of the NAND cell to store charge (consider it a bucket of electrons) degrades over time and they literally wear out. Triple-level and multi-level cells are contemporaneous SSD technology and they include spare cells to cope with this and provide a "drive writes per day" metric to predict when cells will be exhausted. The SSD controller will use fall-back capacity to keep your drive reading and writing (and reading itself affects NAND cells' capacity to be cleared and reused) until it can't map broken cells to spare ones any more -- then failure in a few drives is read-only state but most become unresponsive black boxes. They wear out; they fail by over-use.

It might be long after failure of the capacitors that regulate stable voltages while ampages changes for power delivery or other physical components heating and cooling with a daily on/off cycle, but it happens.
posted by k3ninho at 6:49 PM on August 8, 2020

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