Tactical Advice

10 Things Users Should Know About Protecting Their Notebooks

Ten things your users may not know about protecting their notebooks.
This story appears in the December 2009 issue of BizTech Magazine.

Most users are unaware of the dangers of notebook abuse or how to keep their devices safe. But with knowledge of 10 maintenance pitfalls and a little proper care, your users should be able to tote around notebooks that perform like new for at least three years.

1. Overcharging wears down batteries.

Charge the notebook only when necessary. Charging all the time causes a significant decline in battery life. Draining the power from the battery keeps it in good working order. For most models, start charging when the battery indicates 20 percent or less power left. Make good use of any power management software that comes with the notebook. This can help with getting more usage time from a single charge.

2. Abrupt shutdowns can cause hard-drive errors.

Patience is a virtue; it can save you from damaging the notebook. When shutting down any computer, do not hold the power button down. The shutdown process is delicate; interruptions can cause hard-drive errors or worse failure. Be patient. Let the notebook do its thing.

3. Dust leads to overheating.

Keep the notebook free of dust and crumbs. Dust can cause a notebook to overheat. Use a can of compressed air to blow dust away from ports and the keyboard. Wash your hands before touching the keyboard to avoid dirty or sticky keys. Invest in a microfiber cloth to clean the LCD screen.

4. Handling the LCD screen can leave permanent marks.

Don’t grab or touch the screen; it can cause serious problems. First, the screen gets covered with fingerprints, which leads back to Tip 3. If enough pressure is applied, the liquid crystals can be damaged, leaving permanent marks. Keep in mind that the LCD screen is the most expensive part of the notebook, so be extra careful with it.

5. Portables risk losing data.

Stored data is the notebook’s most important commodity. A good rule of thumb: Protect valuable data by backing it up to a CD or DVD. Any hard drive (the notebook’s most sensitive part) can go bad — through no fault of the user — at any time and without warning. Back up, back up, back up work you cannot live without.

6. Fragmented files slow performance.

As modern file systems are used and as files are deleted and created, the total free space in the notebook’s memory splits into smaller, noncontiguous blocks. Eventually, newly created files and extended old files can no longer reside in a single, contiguous block. They scatter across the system. This degrades performance because multiple seek operations are required to access one fragmented file.

7. Protect against viruses.

The notebook user must make sure virus definitions are up-to-date. Create an automatic update system, using the virus program so that the notebook is almost always protected. Excessive heat leads to hardware damage.

8. Excessive heat leads to hardware damage.

Notebooks need cool environments. Any computer runs at a high temperature. Protect it from higher temperatures than it is accustomed to. Leaving a notebook in a hot car, for example, can lead to hardware damage. Read the manual for recommended storage temperatures. My rule is simple: If you won’t leave your pet there, then don’t leave your notebook.

9. Unapproved software can lead to network trouble.

The easiest way to damage software on a notebook is to download or install programs not approved by your organization. Likewise, remove any applications not being used to save disk space and prevent the notebook from slowing down.

10. Critical updates keep notebooks safe.

Check for updates from software vendors from time to time. Software vendors release critical updates to help their software run more smoothly.

Take an Active Role

Accidents will happen. It’s our job to make sure we have done everything in our power to avoid 99.9 percent of them.

Before purchasing notebooks, fully understand the manufacturer’s warranty. Know what is covered and what is not. Most warranties are short-lived and exclude big-ticket items such as LCD screens. Make sure any warranty includes coverage for accidental damage during the notebook’s life.

Ask the manufacturer if theft and loss insurance are available. Offer this as an accessory to parents purchasing notebooks. Explain to them that replacing stolen or lost notebooks is their responsibility. Paying a deductible is much better than paying the full retail price.

Edward Diaz is director of technology at St. Philip’s Episcopal School in Coral Gables, Fla.
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