As published on PCMag

  • Leaving Your Laptop on a Plush Surface

    Heat is your computer’s mortal enemy. If your computer gets too hot, it can reduce the lifespan of the hardware inside, like your processor, fans, and battery—not to mention make your computer loud and sizzling to touch.

    Laptops, on the other hand, require a bit more care. Their portability leads to a lot of bad habits, like putting it on a blanket or other plush surface. This blocks airflow under the laptop (where the rubber feet usually raise it up off a desk), and potentially through the laptop (if the blanket covers the fan vents). When possible, use your laptop on a flat surface, or at least make sure your lap is free of blankets and other things that can block airflow.

    Other than that, the same rules apply to laptops as desktops: Don’t leave it in hot places (like a car on a sunny day) and clean it out with some compressed air once in a while. If you can keep it dust-free, you’ll keep the components running happily for a long time.

  • Again, while desktops have the luxury of sitting comfortably in your office, laptops are subject to all sorts of abuse. I’ve seen people pick up the laptop by its display, open the hinge from one side with way too much force, and toss the laptop onto the couch from the other side of the room. (Sure, a couch is rather soft, but one day, you’re going to miss and hit the table or floor, and you’ll be sorry.) I’ve even seen people use closed laptops as a coaster for their drink, which makes me grit my teeth in anxiety.

  • Disregarding Electrical Safety

    Your PC draws a sizeable amount of power, and it’s susceptible to damage from power surges—small, temporary increases in voltage coming through the power line. These can happen after power outages, after turning on another high-power device in your home, or could just come from an unreliable power grid in your city. The power supply inside your PC includes some basic surge protection, but you’ll get longer-lasting protection from a Battery Backup UPS

  • Wasting Time on Unnecessary Maintenance

    Back in the days of Windows XP, when hardware was limited and computers were slow, PC maintenance may have made a difference. But these days, deleting unused and temporary files is unlikely to give you a noticeable speed boost. Many “PC Cleaning” utilities are scams meant to scare you into buying their product—and the free, less scammy ones are still unnecessary most of the time.

    Furthermore, certain types of “maintenance” may actually be harmful. Registry cleaners provide almost no benefit, but if they delete a registry entry you actually need, they can actually cause problems. Similarly, these new “privacy” apps that claim to stop Windows 10 from “spying” on you can break certain features without you knowing why. The internet is full of people confused about why something stopped working, only to find that it’s the fault of one of these tools. You’re better off going through Windows 10’s settings, learning what they do, and tweaking them yourself.

    If you want to clean up your hard drive, use Windows’ built-in Disk Cleanup utility and delete any movies, music, and other files you aren’t using.

    Browsing the Web Unprotected

    Contrary to popular belief, “common sense,” while very valuable, should not be your only malware protection. Even legitimate sites can become infected with malware, passing those problems on to you, and browsing carefully won’t save you. You need to use antivirus on your computer.

    Thankfully, Microsoft’s built-in Windows Defender feature has gotten quite good, after a few years of sub-par ratings. Just leave it on and let it do its job. If you want extra protection, though, Malwarebytes Anti-Malware is a bit more aggressive with its protection, and I’ve found that it catches a lot of stuff that Chrome and Windows Defender miss. The free version is good if you just want to run an occasional scan, but the paid version includes always-running anti-exploit features that block potentially harmful sites before they make it to your screen. When used in conjunction with a traditional antivirus like Windows Defender, you’ll be pretty well set on protection.