Computer care - Tools and tips to look after your precious companion
More than 47% of Americans now work from home. Email, instant messaging, file sharing, and video calls are integral parts of our daily work lives. Our computers have become practically our livelihoods. Laptops and other computing devices are powerful machines in what they let us accomplish. Yet, they are vulnerable to abuse, damage, age, infections, obsolescence, and the elements. Here are some ideas on how to maximize the lives and productivity of our vital computing appliances.
Laptops are most susceptible to falls during travel. A physical shock can cause the spinning parts of a computer's hard disk to jam and become unresponsive, leading to loss of vital data. The simplest way to protect a laptop is to invest in a carry case or a padded laptop bag. Carry cases are readily available from most online retailers such as Ebay for anywhere between $17 and $129. Many carry cases are specifically designed for popular models from major computer manufacturers like Dell, Lenovo, and HP.
Another physical risk is spillage. On some laptops water or coffee spilled on the keypad can simply be wiped off. However most laptop owners are not so fortunate. A spill can drip down through gaps between the keys onto the circuit board. This can cause all kinds of problems. Avoid using your work computer while dining or get a suitable protective cover for the keypad.
Dust is a constant enemy of electronic devices. Every computer has one or more fans inside. Fans constantly circulate air to keep the circuits cool. A buildup of dust inside a computer can cause fans to jam, leading to overheating and permanent damage. The HP support website recommends using a blower to remove dust periodically.
Computers connected to the internet can face several threats including spyware, viruses, ransomware, and others. In 2019 ransomware attacks hit 966 US government agencies and educational establishments. Spyware is a malicious software (malware) that steals data, including sensitive financial and personal information. A computer virus is a program that attaches itself to another program and operates upon execution. Microsoft asserts that it is imporatnt to use an updated antivirus. Some of the better known antivirus software brands for PC include McAfee, Bitdefender, Norton, Bullguard, and Intego. A typical antivirus subscription costs about $150 annually.
Just as antivirus software blocks malware, a firewall blocks unauthorized access. The job of a firewall is to monitor traffic on network connections. Users can customize firewalls to allow or deny specific programs or applications. We can also use them to setup rules and access controls. Millions of migrant workers, small business owners, and others use their computers to send money online across international borders. Having a firewall creates an additional layer of security to safeguard your online banking and financial activity.
A Virtual Private Network is essentially a simulator which protects its user from the risks of using a public internet connection. It provides a measure of anonymity and privacy by hiding or masking the user's IP address. Some VPNs simulate a user's desired location. For example an employee can log on from France via corporate VPN and appear to be part of the local area network in the employer's Detroit office. Many organizations mandate employees to use VPNs when accessing office servers remotely.
A laptop battery typically lasts 2-4 years. Several factors determine battery life. These inlcude battery type (NiMH, Lithium-ion, or NiCad), usage, quality of power, and so on. HP support advises that a good battery rated at 4,400 mAh can keep your laptop running unplugged for up to 4 hours. NiCad and NiMH batteris are known to suffer from a ‘memory effect'. It means that batteries gradually lose their ability to gain a full charge. With age these batteries also discharge faster. Replacing an aging laptop battery with a new one can give more reliable performance. It is best to buy a new battery from the same vendor/brand as the laptop.
Another issue with batteries is ‘voltage stress’. This occurs when a laptop is left connected to a charger after the battery is fully charged. We cannot overcharge modern batteries. Leaving them on charge for too long creates voltage stress and can damage the battery. Batteryuniversity recommends that we unplug the laptop charger once the battery is fully recharged, and replug after the battery level falls to below 20%.