Protect Your Computer From the ElementsLaura Rich
Ah, summer: Time for barbecues, weekends at the beach, lounging poolside and cheering on softball teams. While these aren’t exactly natural settings for a laptop, sometimes you still need a computer onsite, whether it’s for work or just to keep connected. And you’re not alone: According to one study, 53 percent of American professionals work while on vacation.
When you bring it with you, though, in summer settings, your equipment is at risk. “You have to be very careful,” says Scott Steinberg, head of technology consulting firm TechSavvy, who strongly recommends leaving your machine at home. “There’s probably not much security risk of people peeking over their pinacoladas at your laptop, but sand, water and the heat of the sun can cause sustained damage.”
Steinberg says the screen quality can deteriorate after too much exposure to the sun. Water, sand and other elements, meanwhile, can damage your hard drive and USB port. You also face the peril of losing your laptop en route to your destination: According to a survey conducted by the Ponemon Institute, approximately 10,000 laptops are lost at U.S. airports each week.
The good news is, your laptop is not entirely vulnerable -- as long as you protect it. By understanding all the risks involved and taking common precautionary steps, you’re halfway there. Couple that with protective gadget gear, and you’ll be making your computer’s outdoor experiences as element-free as possible.
What to watch out for:
Sun, heat and humidity. “It’s the humidity, not the heat” is a familiar mantra for those who live in humid regions during the summer. But for laptops, it’s the heat and the humidity. Whether it’s from too much exposure to direct sunlight or being left behind in a locked car, a hard drive can melt even if the internal cooling system shuts the computer down to protect it from heat damage. Most laptop computers operate safely between 50 F to 95 F. Sunlight, though, can damage LCD screens, and too much moisture (aka humidity) can short-circuit wiring and cause corrosion.
Sand. The fine grains may feel good between your toes, but to your laptop, sand is deadly. It can get into the spaces between components, damaging the way they fit together. It can also jam up your keyboard as it drops into the spaces around the keys.
Water. Laptops are notoriously touchy about liquids, a fact to which many a soda-spilling computer geek can attest. The waves splashing up from the shore or pool can bring your machine to a halt. In addition to corroded components and damaged wiring, screens are prone to going dark once water gets inside.
Theft and data breach. As with any public space, would-be thieves may be among the crowd, ready to lift your laptop. Falling asleep on your towel could be an open invitation to criminals. Furthermore, unsecured Wi-Fi networks may put you at risk for viruses and compromised data.
How to keep your computer safe:
Administrator controls. Take full advantage of password-encrypted features to prevent anyone else from logging on, and either leave your screen in the login position or shut down your laptop when you’re not around. And before you leave home, make sure you’ve installed antivirus software.
Screen protection. Anti-glare screens and laptop hoods are available to help keep the sun off your screen while you’re working. This will not only let you see the contents of the screen, but also help prevent sun damage.
Encase the machine. Even if you leave your laptop in your backpack while you soak up the sun, you should still protect it from wayward grains of sand and droplets of water -- try a waterproof laptop case.
Harden the hard drive. Some experts suggest installing a removable hard drive that can be kept separately in a cool place, or an external shockproof hard drive.
Naturally, the optimal solution is to leave your laptop at home or in your hotel room, where it can stay dry and cool. But if you must tote it along, be sure to arm yourself with these safety precautions. Your computer will thank you with a longer lifetime.
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