For those of us living in wildfire country, celebrating the 4th of July with any sort of pyrotechnics was typically accompanied with a constant refrain of keeping the holiday “safe and sane.” Seeing as I can’t legally or safely join you in feting our nation’s birth by blowing stuff up, I’ll instead share some tips on keeping your computer from joining the festivities with its own version of “bombs bursting in air”.
Computers don’t normally catch fire, do they?
Aside from the usual digital measures you should be taking to protect against virtual bombs blowing up your data, there are some practices you should follow to make sure your actual technology doesn’t go up in smoke:
- Desktop computers should be blown out with canned air at least once a year, and if you happen to be in a dusty office or one with furry/hairy pets nearby, at least twice a year. You should take the device outside before blowing it out, and pay close attention to the fans and vents. Vacuums are OK to use as long as you are grounded properly, otherwise its possible to create enough static electricity to damage older computer components. Laptops can be blown out with canned air as well – just puff the air into any exposed vents and keep your face away from the device while doing so or you might get a snoot full of dust.
- When using a laptop on anything other than a hard, flat surface make sure it has enough area around the vents on the sides and bottom to properly cool itself. If you are using it on your lap, make sure it isn’t surrounded by your clothes or other things you are using to keep it off your lap (like a jacket or pillow). Newer laptops can shut themselves down when they get too hot, but repeatedly overheating your device in this manner will considerably shorten its useful life.
- Batteries can melt, burst and even explode with enough heat and force to seriously injure someone. If you notice your device is getting too hot while plugged in, unplug it immediately and discontinue use of the device until it cools down. Have the battery and your AC charger checked if it the battery continues to behave this way.
- Do not overload an outlet or surge protector with too many devices, especially if your technology is sharing a plug with something like a portable heater that draws a lot of amps. The combined load can blow a circuit breaker if the electrical is wired properly, but not before melting your surge protector and shorting your device’s power supply.
- Be wary of cheap, off-brand chargers for your portable/mobile devices. If they spark, get too hot, or smell funny when plugged in, stop using them immediately. The same goes for cords. If your cord has exposed wires, burnt casing or has to be twisted “just right” to get it to work, stop using it and replacing it with a new cord.
Older devices will succumb to heat related problems more often than not, especially if they are used constantly. Though there are rare exceptions, most computers have a usable life of 6-8 years, and this period is shortening as we move forward towards present day. Technology today is manufactured to be replaced more frequently than in years past now that prices have dropped to the point where its often cheaper to replace than repair. Keep that in mind when judging whether its time to put that old device out to pasture for good.