8 Bad Habits That Are Ruining Your Computer

Nothing lasts forever, especially technology, but if you care your computer well, it can last you many years. If your laptop breaks down sooner than you think it should, there’s a chance you’re contributing to its premature demise with certain particularly terrible habits. Here are some of the most damaging things you can do to a computer without you realizing it.

1. Ignoring the issue of overheating

computer chip on fire

Your computer’s mortal enemy is heat. If your computer becomes too hot, the processor may slow down, throttling itself to maintain a safe temperature, or possibly shut down completely. Running your computer at high temperatures for long periods of time will shorten the life of your processor, fans, and batteries, not to mention making it loud and hot to touch.

The remedy for desktop computers is straightforward: make sure your casing has enough vents and fans to keep cool air circulating through the components. Keep it out of hot cabinets and other enclosed spaces. You should definitely use an electric duster (Opens in a new window) to wipe out the dust every now and then (more on that below).

Laptops, on the other hand, need a little more attention. Because of their portability, several harmful behaviors develop, such as placing it on a blanket or other comfortable surface. This restricts airflow beneath and possibly through the laptop (if the blanket covers the fan vents).

Use your laptop on a flat surface (where the rubber feet normally raise it off a desk) whenever possible, or at the very least make sure your lap is free of blankets and other anything that can restrict ventilation. Lap desks (Opens in new window) are an excellent method to keep things cool.

Apart from that, laptops and desktops follow the same rules: Keep it out of hot places (like a car on a hot day) and blow away the dust every now and again. If you’re overclocking, keep a close eye on the voltages and temperatures. It’s also a good idea to keep an eye on the CPU temperature just in case.

2. Allowing Dirt, Dust, and Liquids to Flow Free

Dust collects on all computers over time, causing the components to heat up and the fans to work harder. While cleaning it on a regular basis will assist, you should also try to keep things out of your computer in the first place.

Cigarette smoke and pet fur, for example, will aggravate those issues, and placing your desktop PC on the floor will assure that more dust, hair, and debris gets sucked into the intake. If you have carpet on your floor, the power supply’s intake fan is most likely blocked. If at all feasible, keep your computer on a desk or other riser, and ensure sure your intake fans have filters (Opens in a new window).

Second, avoid eating or drinking near your computer, or at the very least exercise caution when doing so. Crumbs in your keyboard are not only unpleasant, but they can also harm the switches and make some keys more difficult to press. You’ve probably heard enough horror stories about people pouring coffee on their laptops, which may completely destroy them.

Even well-intentioned actions, such as using Windex to wipe your screen, can put liquid where it shouldn’t be (also, Windex is too harsh for your monitor). Don’t go crazy with your gentle screen cleaner—a little goes a long way. Spray it on a microfiber cloth, not on the screen.

3. Carelessly handling your laptop

While desktop computers can sit peacefully in your office, laptop computers are subjected to a variety of mistreatment. And the more you abuse it, the more likely it is that you will do damage.

I’ve seen individuals lift up laptops by the display, forcefully open the hinge on one side, and chuck their computer onto the couch on the other side of the room. (A couch may be comfy, but you’ll miss it one day and be sorry.) I’ve even seen individuals use their closed laptops as a drink coaster! A worn-out laptop hinge or a crack in the shell may result from this treatment.

If your laptop contains a standard rotating hard drive rather than an SSD, tossing or shaking it can cause the drive’s head to dislocate or touch the disk’s surface, especially if the drive is operating. It doesn’t happen often, but if it does, you’re in for a rough day, especially if you haven’t backed up your data.

Because your laptop is a costly piece of equipment, you must treat it as such.

4. Abuse of Your Old Battery

Just because your laptop’s battery has “eight hours of battery life” when you turn it on doesn’t imply it will stay that way indefinitely. When you first buy a battery, it may last eight hours on a full charge, but after a few years, it may only last six or seven hours.

There’s no avoiding this drop, but if you always turn your laptop off at 0%, you might be speeding up the process. To maintain track of your battery’s charge history, use our battery management guidelines and look at the battery health report in Windows.

It’s best to execute short discharges and recharge your battery periodically to keep its long-term health. Don’t get too worked up over it—if you’re on a plane and need to work, a little discharge won’t harm your battery—but over time, it’s better to err on the side of charging frequently rather than running it down to zero.

If your battery is swollen, though, you should be concerned. If your battery has bulged to the point that it is pushing against the case of your laptop, causing a space between the panels, you should turn off your computer immediately and (safely) replace the battery, lest you experience an explosive failure. (For further information, click here.)

Replace the battery with one from the manufacturer or a reputable third-party retailer rather than a cheap counterfeit from eBay. Low-quality batteries will not keep a charge well at best, and can be deadly at worst. Stick to the manufacturer’s official product or, in the case of laptops that charge over USB-C, a certified USB-PD charger (Opens in a new window) if you’re using a third-party charger.

5. Ignorance of Electrical Safety

power surge
(Illustration: jakkrit pimpru/Shutterstock)

Power surges—small, brief increases in voltage coming via the electricity line—can damage your PC since it consumes a lot of power. These can occur as a result of power outages, the operation of another high-power item in your home, or a city’s unreliable power grid.

Your PC’s power supply provides some basic surge protection, but a specialized surge protector (Opens in a new window) will provide you with longer-lasting protection. Note that this is not the same as a power strip, which has many outlets but no surge protection.

Replace it every three to five years, as the protection fades down over time—if yours is old, it’s likely to provide no protection at all. Surge protectors won’t protect you from high-voltage spikes (like lightning), but they can protect you from smaller surges and help your PC last longer.

If you have a few extra dollars to spare, an uninterruptible power supply (Opens in a new window) might be worth considering (UPS). This gadget includes a battery backup that protects your PC’s data in the case of a power outage.

Because of their portability, laptops demand a little more attention. While a desktop’s power cable remains stationary for years, a laptop’s cable travels with you, prone to kinking, hard yanks from the wall, and other mistreatment. Pulling the charger out of the wall from the plug, not the cable, can not only make the cable unreliable, but it can also cause a fire hazard.

6. Putting Strain on Cables and Ports

While damaging a USB port or cable isn’t as dangerous as mishandling a power adapter, it can still cause your computer to suffer irreversible damage. Although it may seem self-evident, don’t force wires into ports that aren’t sliding in properly (I once knew someone who forced a USB cable into a FireWire port and broke both).

When leaving something plugged in, be careful not to bend it. If you have a flash drive plugged into your laptop’s USB port, sitting cross-legged could bend the drive, causing damage to the drive, the port, or both. You certainly don’t want to destroy one of the USB ports on today’s laptops, which are scarce.

The same may be said of your cables. If you make severe bends back and forth all the time, you’re more likely to destroy the connection inside the cable, making it finicky or worthless. Keep them away from hungry youngsters and pets who may chew through the plastic, and avoid wrapping them too tightly while coiling them. Thankfully, replacing a damaged cable is less expensive than replacing your computer, but why waste money when you don’t have to?

7. Unprotected Web Browsing

dead computer
(Illustration: M-SUR/Shutterstock)

Contrary to popular opinion, while “common sense” is important, it should not be your main malware defense. Even respectable websites can become infected with malware, causing difficulties for you, so careful browsing isn’t always enough. Instead, you should install antivirus software on your PC.

After a few years of poor performance, Microsoft’s built-in Windows Defender feature has improved significantly. Simply turn it on and let it work. Malwarebytes Anti-Malware is a bit more aggressive with its protection than Chrome and Windows Defender, and I’ve noticed that it catches a lot of things that Chrome and Windows Defender miss.

If you just want to conduct a quick scan, the free version is fine, but the paid version contains anti-exploit tools that block potentially hazardous sites before they reach your screen. You’ll be well protected if you use it in conjunction with a regular antivirus like Windows Defender.

Other fundamental security precautions remain in effect: keep your software up to date (both Windows and the programs you use), use a solid password manager (rather than using the same password on every site), and learn how to recognize phishing scams. Don’t pirate software (which often contains viruses) and use a WPA2 password to secure your home Wi-Fi.

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