We know computers always seem break at the worst possible time, but what exactly prompts that failure? It’s easy to think it was something you did since you were using it at the time, but while an online gaming frenzy might cause a temporary crash, normal user actions like banking or email are rarely the cause of a broken computer.
Accidents happen, but they don’t always mean you need to buy a new computer. As an electrical item, liquid spills are a big problem. This could be anywhere from a spill on the keyboard, going overboard with the screen cleaning spray or even a flood that reaches the computer. Laptop users need to be especially careful when choosing their work surface, as cafes and kitchen tables often have small puddles left behind. If you’re lucky and the liquid didn’t fry the circuits, ongoing corrosion is still possible, as is stickiness to gum up the internal parts. Similarly, a dropped computer isn’t going to be happy, nor is one that’s been knocked around. Even a light thump of frustration can cause loose cables, disconnections and internal damage.
Computer parts have an expected lifetime, especially moving parts like fans or mechanical hard drives. Some computers can run 24/7 for up to a decade, while others can be barely used but fail within warranty. When age is the issue there are usually early warning signs like extra noise or slowing down, but the actual ‘break’ generally happens when you go to turn the computer on, perhaps after a crash or overnight - either it makes a valiant effort before giving up, or nothing happens at all. Sometimes lasting age is the luck of the draw with how it was manufactured. Quality also plays a big part in how long it can keep churning. For example, business or commercial grade desktops and laptops have a much higher life expectancy than your run of the mill Wal-Mart special. That's not to say that a business grade device can't fail early on in it's lifetime but it is much less likely.
We like to think electricity is a constant stream that never varies, but computers are particularly sensitive to both surges (too much electricity) and brownouts (not enough electricity). You might notice the lights dimming or flickering during a brownout, or glowing just a tad too strong during a surge. These variations never last long, and they’re not something you can control unless it’s just your house (it’s worth checking with your neighbors), but they can easily break your computer. A surge protector can guard against mild increases in voltage, but brownouts and strong surges will still cause damage. A good Uninterruptible Power Supply (UPS) can protect against both mild voltage spikes and brownouts and make power events much less likely to cause damage. Consider investing in one of these, especially if you live further out in the country where power is often less stable than it is in town.
Overheating is a big contributor to premature computer death. Some computer parts run hot and need plenty of cooling to keep them working. You might not feel it from the outside, but internal components can rapidly build up heat that needs to go somewhere. When your airflow vents get blocked with dust or pet hair, the temperature continues to increase until components literally bake themselves to failure. At set temperatures, the computer will automatically switch off to try and cool down, however the more often this happens and the higher the temps, the more likely your computer is to die. This is why it is super important to keep the insides of your computer clean. For desktops this is simple as you usually just need to remove a side panel and spray around the case with some compressed air. Laptops can be cleaned by spraying air into the exhaust vents that are typically located along the back, side and bottom. Keep in mind that laptops need to be cleaned very regularly as they are much more difficult to clean if dust and pet hair get clumped together inside and laptops are also much more sensitive to heat than desktops are.
Hard Drive Failure
Your data is stored on a hard drive, and if you’ve got a mechanical hard drive (most people do), it works a bit like a record player with a spinning ‘platter’ and a needle that reads it. Small bumps, liquid, age, surges and overheating can all trigger hard drive failure. Along with making your computer unusable, hard drive failure means your data is also lost. While sudden breakage might leave you surprised, take note of any strange noises, repeated crashes or very slow performance as all of these can be signs of a hard drive on the way out. And of course, hard drive failure is why it is extremely important to back up your computer frequently, especially if you start to notice any of the symptoms above.
In today's world, software updates are a requirement; no ands, ifs or buts about it. Software updates help keep your computer secure as well as provide important fixes to bugs or glitches that may be present. Unfortunately, software updates sometimes end up causing problems on their own leading to a a bit of a catch 22 situation: install the update and risk it breaking your system or don't install it and risk breaking your system. As a rule of thumb updates should always be installed as the chances of them causing an issue is much lower than the odds of an issue happening if you don't install them but just be aware that they can cause issues.
Malware and Rouge Software
This one should be the most obvious but it bears mentioning. Malware, viruses and unwanted software can potentially cause all sorts of issues ranging from pop-ups to freezes even to data loss in the case of ransomware. Commonly, software updates can help prevent the worst of these which is why it's so important to keep up with them but having a good anti-virus is also important. Most important of all however is to use caution and stay extra vigilant when browsing the web and be fully aware of what is being clicked on or accessed.
Of course, regular computer checkups are always a great way to make sure everything is a-ok with your computer. Just like a vehicle, regular maintenance is important in helping a computer run trouble-free for it's life span. If your computer hasn't had a checkup in a while, give us a call at 402-685-4357 and we'd be happy to schedule an appointment.