"As I mused, the fire burned"

Reflection on life as a person of faith.

Laptop Safety Tips

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A spring maintenance and safety tip for laptop computer owners.

Laptop and netbook computers are extremely common, but are well enough made that few of us realize the high operating temperature of electronic components inside the computer.

Modern laptops have processors and video cards/processors that operate in the 50°C to 70°C range (122 to 158°F). If you’re technically inclined and want to figure out what temperature your laptop (or desktop) is running at, free programs like SpeedFan allow you to monitor internal temperatures.

Those normal operating temperatures are hot enough to burn, but the case, cooling and placement of hot components inside the case help to keep those temperatures away from skin. (temps above about 130°F will burn skin)

As laptops have become more powerful, the amount of heat that needs to be moved away from the electronics has increased. Laptops use a complex system of heat sinks, heat pipes (the copper tube below) and a fan or fans to dump that waste heat outside the case. Heat is the enemy of electronics.

laptop cooling systemAs laptops age, the fine cooling channels in the heat sink gets clogged up with lint and dirt, which reduces the effectiveness of the cooling system. As a laptop starts to run hotter, you’ll start to notice performance problems – things will slow down, the fan will run all the time quite loudly, and you may see black bars across the display (a sign the video circuit is overheating). The final warning sign is when your laptop starts to unexpectedly shut down, a safety measure designed to limit permanent damage to the circuitry (which happens around 100°C).

When a laptop heat sink gets that clogged up, it needs to be disassembled and cleaned from the inside out.

It is really important that the cooling vents (usually on the bottom, sides and back of the laptop) are left open whenever the laptop is being used, charged, or left in sleep mode. Laptops in sleep mode continue to generate heat (albeit at a lower rate) so cooling is still important. Laptops should never be placed in sleep mode (with the lid closed) and put back into a carrying case, as the heat will have no place to escape.

Most importantly, laptops should never be used or left on soft surfaces or fabric such as sofas or beds, as this will block the cooling vents. Laptops left unattended on soft surfaces while on or even only in sleep mode do have the potential to start fires.

I always recommend the purchase of a laptop cooling pad for use under the computer – it makes it more comfortable to use, protects your lap and increases the life of the laptop electronics by helping to quickly clear the waste heat.

The same caution does not directly apply to tablet computers such as the iPad or the Surface tablet, as these are designed to operate without airflow. However, I wouldn’t leave my iPad wrapped up inside a comforter.

(BTW, I’m aware of Snopes’ comments on laptop fires – be cautious, just because Snopes is in the business of debunking urban myths doesn’t mean they’re always right.  House fires have been started by otherwise fine laptops…and even if they do have safety shutdown circuitry do you want to trust your safety to a mass-produced safety feature?  I think that sometimes Snopes is so eager to debunk that they go a bit too far…another example is their comment on cell phones and gas station fires.  Just because there hasn’t been a fire started by a cell phone at a gas station, does not mean cell phones are safe to use while pumping gas.  Their comment about cell phone batteries providing less current as compared to a car battery is true, but it doesn’t mean a cell phone battery has insufficient charge to cause a spark that could ignite flammable vapours (it does).  Modern Li-ion batteries contain a lot of electrochemical energy…which is why you never want to short-circuit a cell phone or laptop battery.  It’s also true that a car battery provides less current than generator #2 at Niagara Falls, but that doesn’t mean you are safe to touch your tongue to your car battery to see if its charged.)

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Written by sameo416

May 22, 2013 at 4:39 pm

Posted in Uncategorized

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