Cold Weather Care for Your Laptop Computer
How to Keep Your Notebook Safe in Winter Weather
Laptops can stand a fair amount of exposure to cold and even subzero temperatures without sustaining any damage. Even so, transporting and working with a notebook in subzero temperatures, especially if there's rain or snow, does pose some risk to the computer. Here are some tips on cold weather computer care to keep your laptop running smoothly all winter.
If you'll be carrying your laptop outside in subzero temperatures, keep it inside a laptop sleeve or plastic bag within a well-padded, insulated laptop bag. This goes for transporting it in the trunk of your car during cold weather, too. If you're laptop bag isn't particularly well-padded, wrap the laptop in a towel or sweater. Insulation helps keep the laptop at room temperature, but it has another benefit, too. If you'll be walking on ice or heavy snow, your laptop bad should be padded to protect the computer in case you fall and drop it.
Protect your laptop from freezing
Needless to say, very bad things can happen to a notebook and its various components when they freeze. Firstly, you could lose all your data. Secondly, your thawed-out rechargeable battery will have only about half of its pre-frozen battery life and it won't hold a charge for as long as it did. What's more, the LCD screen will probably be damaged, too.
To avoid all this, take care where you store your laptop. Never leave your notebook computer, even in a well insulated bag, in your vehicle during the work day or over night. This is especially true if you live in an area with high humidity or rain and snow. Condensation could be more of a problem than low temperatures.
If you're going to be out for several hours at a time in subzero temperatures, use something to keep your laptop warm. There are specially designed laptop warmers available, but they're not so easy to find. For a quick fix, a hot water bottle can also work. Just make sure it's securely sealed, wrap it in a towel, and put it in your laptop bag next to the battery.
When you work with your laptop outdoors in cold weather, place the warmer under the laptop. You may also want to take a box to sit your laptop inside of to help keep the warm air circulating near the computer. Just don't leave your laptop in the bag when it's turned on. There won't be enough air circulation and the heat could build up enough to do some damage.
Avoid sudden temperature changes
Let you laptop adjust to the surrounding air temperature before you switch it on. When you bring it inside from the cold or take it outdoors from a warm building, give it 15 minutes to get used to the temperature. The biggest concern here is condensation. If you see condensation on the screen, there's some risk that there could be some inside the machine as well. To reduce the chance of condensation, try not to open the laptop in a warm or humid environment. Leave the laptop in a plastic bag so any moisture will condense on the bag, not the computer. Putting the screen up can also help the computer warm a little faster.
If you're laptop is on the verge of being frozen, though, you'll need take special care. The liquid crystal in LCD panel laptop screen can freeze before other components will and if warmed too quickly, it can crack as it thaws and expands. In fact, a sudden burst of warm air can actually cause a nearly-frozen laptop screen to shatter. Leave the computer in a cool, but not cold, place for a while and once it's warmed up to just a little below room temperature, you can bring it into a heated room.
A word about sleep mode
It may seem logical to keep the laptop computer in "sleep" (also called "standby" or "power save" mode) when you carry it outside in the cold so that it will generate a small amount of heat to ward off freezing temperatures. In reality, though, this is a very bad idea. Sleep mode usually doesn't turn your hard drive off. In sleep mode, your hard drive continues to spin even when you're not working on the computer. That means even minor bumps and jostles could scratch the hard disk and cause the disk to fail. The result is a dead computer when you get to the office. Always turn your computer off completely before moving it anywhere in cold weather.
If you're laptop freezes
So you forgot your laptop in the trunk or even out on the porch on a snowy winter night and it froze solid. The good news is you can probably revive it. The bad news is the computer will most likely have sustained some permanent damage. When you go about trying to rescue it, most importantly do not attempt to open the laptop screen. If the wires connecting the screen to the board are frozen, they could snap when you lift up the screen. You'll need to warm the laptop very slowly before you can even open it. Take it out of the freezing environment (say, the trunk of your car) and let it thaw in a slightly warmer place, like an unheated garage. After that, move it to the next warmest place you can think of, like an unheated room in your house. Thaw out a frozen laptop very carefully and you do have a chance of getting it to work normally again, although the LCD screen will probably have a few dead pixels.
It takes serious cold before a laptop will sustain any damage, but it never hurts to take precautions. If you'll be transporting or working with your notebook in subzero temperatures, take care to prevent the machine from freezing or being shocked by temperature changes. Of course, some laptops tolerate cold better than others. For a computer that can stand up to being hauled around in below freezing temperatures for hours at a go, look for a "rugged" notebook like the Panasonic Toughbook or GammTech Durabook.
Writer: M. Langton
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