By Nate Humphries | Tech/Science Editor Published: 07/17/2013 10:11 am EST
Nobody wants their computer to get liquid spilled on it, dropped from the bed, or punched in the screen.
(Wait, don’t I have a tshirt that sarcastically says, “I hate computers”?)
Okay, so most people don’t want that to happen. But it does. Crazy things will happen to electronics, no matter their size, shape or durability – and we’re not even getting into software issues in this article.
So what can we do? If things are going to happen to our computers, how can we at least minimize the risk?
First, let’s look into how we should approach buying a computer with care in mind, and then we’ll look at daily use.
But look at how tough it is!
When you’re buying a computer, you need to ask yourself a few questions relating to care:
What will I be using this computer for?
Am I typically hard on computers?
Are there some areas where I can stop being hard on a computer in order to get a better deal?
Here’s why you should ask those questions: you can save a lot of money if you don’t need a “rugged” computer, or if you’re willing to take a little better care of your computer. Case in point:
The Panasonic Toughbooks are what people think of when they think about “tough” laptops, especially the Toughbook 31 – the Toughbook rated as the “fully-rugged” version. It’s Mil-Spec rated (a rating system for military use) at MIL-STD-810G, part of the MIL-STD-810 grouping. According to Panasonic:
Fully-rugged Panasonic computers are the first computers to be MIL-STD-810G certified for a range of extreme conditions including 72″ drops, shocks, vibration, humidity, altitude, rain-, dust- and sand-resistance, temperature extremes and thermal shock…While IP65-certified Toughbook computers are not completely impervious to the ingress of water or dust, the rating does indicate neither element will cause operational complications while used under conditions commonly encountered by Toughbook mobile computers.
In other words, they’re reportedly impervious to some conditions (drops, shocks, vibration, humidity, altitude, temperature extremes, thermal shock) and resistant to others (rain, water, dust, sand).
Let’s compare that to a major computer manufacturer: Lenovo. Lenovo’s T-series is their premium business-grade laptops. These laptops, like the popular T430 and T530, are also Mil-Spec tested (although the exact specification and details are more scarce). According to Lenovo:
The T430 meets eight rugged military-spec tests against extreme environmental variables, including temperature, pressure, dust, humidity, and vibration testing. Premium durability standards and the Active Protection System™ provide a rock-solid machine.
From the point of view of an anonymous Lenovo employee, the only difference between a T-series laptop and a Toughbook, in terms of military spec requirements and testing, is the water factor. Lenovo T-series laptops aren’t spec’d for water resistance due to the connections on the sides. There are a couple things to consider, however:
If water is poured on the keyboard of a T-series laptop it will run out holes placed on the bottom of the laptop. The main issue is the connections on the sides, not the keyboard.
Toughbooks aren’t waterproof. According to the quote above from Pansonic, “…Toughbook computers are not completely impervious to the ingress of water or dust…” In other words they’re very water-resistant, but they are not waterproof.
In my personal experience, that extra money wasn’t worth it. I’ve personally used a fully-rugged Panasonic Toughbook (I’m not sure if it was the Toughbook 31 or an earlier model; probably a model or two earlier) as well as multiple T-series laptops (T430/T530 all the way back to T400/T500). I’m not trying to be overly critical, but I really disliked my use of the Toughbook. It was way too bulky and heavy, using the mouse and keyboard was clunky, and my job had no special need for it (used it when checking traffic signal synchronization for a city government; just had it sitting in the car with me). Contrast that with the T430, which is much less bulky and heavy, easier to use, and makes sense for most business situations.
My point in this comparison is that you need to be careful when buying a computer, because sometimes you’re told amazing things about a product’s superior toughness or resistance and it’s either not true or not a valid comparison. At the very least, it’s not worth spending $2750.90 extra on.
So especially when considering a laptop, if you can handle a little extra risk for the cost, it’s definitely worth it.
But what if the risk is too much of a concern?
How to keep your computer safe and smooth
There are some things to consider here: being careful, and regular maintenance.
I know a lot of people whose computers have some weird quirk now because they’ve been dropped, partially damaged, or even irreparably damaged. Sometimes it’s their fault, sometimes it’s not. Things happen, and unfortunately, they seem to happen to computers a lot.
I have a few pieces of advice in this area. Most of them aren’t revolutionary, but if you haven’t heard these before, they could very well save you a lot of headache.
In general, don’t freak out about handling your laptop, but treat it with care. Treat it like half a baby, or something slightly fragile. Think about what would happen if you dropped it directly on the screen, and act accordingly. This is where the whole Toughbook discussion comes back in – you don’t really need a “rugged” laptop if you can handle your regular laptop with an appropriate amount of care.
Don’t keep your laptop on the edge of anything, especially your bed. When you’re not handling it, make sure the entirety of the laptop is on something sturdy.
Make sure your laptop doesn’t overheat, a typical issue. Think about it this way – the bottom and sides of your laptop need to breath because the fans need to eject hot air from inside the laptop. Practically, don’t leave it sitting on covers for a long period of time when it’s on.
Both desktops and laptops need to have the dust inside cleaned out every so often (my suggestion: desktops, every six months or so; laptops, every year). Buy a can of air or two, open them up (ask a tech friend who knows what they’re doing to open up your laptop), and blast away! (This can also keep laptops from overheating.)
If you can afford it, upgrade your laptop hard drive to a SSD (Solid State Drive). SSDs don’t have working parts, which means if you dropped your laptop your hard drive wouldn’t freak out. Even though your desktop doesn’t have the same risk of being dropped (hopefully), SSDs offer an observable performance boost.
Those steps will save you a lot of headache and money.
Bottom line: be careful enough to keep your laptop safe, but not so careful that you’re stressed out about it. Find that happy medium, where safe computers live.
My two personal passions in life are technology and theology. If you sneaked a peek at my life you'd see me hanging out with my wife, our Dachshund Bella, and our snake Phoenix; playing Skyrim/F3/FNV/Rage/GW2/SR3/Civ5/CS:GO/L4D2; watching movies; reading on my Kindle Keyboard (sci-fi or theology research); or playing on my rooted Samsung Galaxy Note II.