5 Tips for stretching your laptop’s working time

Friday, October 21st, 2011 | laptops | 3 Comments

When you set off with your laptop – fully charged – you want the battery to last as long as possible.  How can you do this?  Here are a few tips:

Keep your laptop cool.  A laptop generates heat and the price one pays for portability is a less efficient cooling system.  A higher operating temperature reduces a laptop’s efficiency, which leads to a greater consumption of battery power.  It therefore follows that the cooler you keep your laptop, the less power it will use.  The secret of keeping a laptop cool is that you must allow the machine to breathe.  Make sure that the cooling vents are not blocked by clothing or by a pillow – this can happen when you put the laptop on your lap, or if you work on a bed.

Adjust the brightness of your screen.  The screen can account for 25% of the total power consumption of your laptop when the machine is idle – and big widescreens take much more power.  The brighter the screen, the more power is put into back-lighting it.  You can save power by simply dimming your screen to the lowest level that is comfortable for you.  Avoid working in places with bright light, because that is where you’re usually tempted to increase the brightness.

Turn off the wireless networking connection.  The wireless device on your laptop is a significant drain on battery power.  When you don’t have a need to be connected to a wireless network, turn it off in order to conserve energy.

Don’t let your CPU work too hard.  The CPU (central processing unit) is the biggest consumer of power in in laptop.  You can lighten the load of the CPU by limiting the number of programs open at the same time.  The constant switching between programs eats up processing power, it works the memory and it results in a steady churning of the hard disk, which also uses power.  Of course, it is cool to have a number of programs open at once, allowing you to flip between them as your work dictates, but keep in mind that this does use extra power.  When you are in energy conservation mode, use one program at a time!

Invest in a spare battery.  If working time is important to you, buy an extra battery.  This may double your power reserve; you may even be able to get hold of a battery with higher capacity than the one that came with your laptop.  Of course, this would require that both batteries are fully charged when you hit the road, otherwise the extra battery will be of little use to you.  Also bear in mind that the extra battery will add weight to your luggage.

If you have any other power-saving tips for laptop users, please share them with us.

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How can I stretch the working time on my laptop?

Thursday, October 20th, 2011 | laptops | 3 Comments

In general, a laptop is a greener option than a desktop computer.  A laptop consumes little power and you can work on it for a long time without running up your electricity bill significantly – that is when you’re working at home or at your office where you have access to electricity.

Perhaps the biggest advantage of a laptop over a desktop computer is that you can take it with you wherever you go.  Many restaurants, airports and other places cater for your needs by providing electricity outlets where you can simply plug in and work.  But when you want to work at a place where there is no such provision – such as when going on a long flight in economy class or when a teacher takes learners on a field trip – you are limited by the length of time the laptop’s battery will last.

You can do two things to ensure longer working time even before you go on the trip:

Clean your battery contacts from time to time.  Over time these contacts may become corroded or get dirty and this will interfere with effective delivery of power.  Cleaning the contacts is a simple operation: turn the laptop off, unplug it from its power source, remove the battery, use a soft cloth dampened with rubbing alcohol to wipe the contacts on both the battery and the laptop, make sure the contacts are dry and then replace the battery.  If your laptop does not have a removable battery, take the laptop to your dealer for a clean.  Clean battery contacts will ensure that you get full benefit from even short periods that your laptop is plugged in.

All you need is a soft cloth and rubbing alcohol

Picture credit

Keep the battery fully charged.  Make a habit of charging the battery whenever you have access to electricity.  Modern lithium batteries can be recharged partially and repeatedly without harmful effects (with older laptops using nickel-based batteries, the situation is different and it is advisable to consult the user manual about the best way to charge the batteries).  So, when you are at an airport, find a place to plug in while you’re working – this will ensure that you board the plane with a full charge.  Or when you’re travelling and you find a place to plug in your laptop, do so.  The simple thing to remember is that a battery that is fully charged lasts longer than one that is only partially charged.  Common sense, isn’t it!

Once you are on the road you can stretch battery life considerably by the way you use your laptop.  Watch this space for a few tips on how to do this.

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Who failed?

Friday, April 29th, 2011 | Computer Usage, Maintenance | 8 Comments

Imagine you’re a builder and are contracted to build a house.  The client approves the building plans and agrees to a budget and a completion date.  You start the building project and in the process you encounter numerous unanticipated problems.  The types of building materials you planned to use change, the client’s requirements change a few times, and you encounter serious problems on the site owing to land formation.

In spite of all the problems, you manage to deliver the house to the client on time, within the budget and exactly according to specification.  You even provide the client with a manual giving detailed maintenance instructions.

However, after you hand over the house, the client is not interested to live in the house, can’t maintain it and eventually the house falls into disrepair .  Neighbours are disgusted and conclude that the addition of the house to the neighbourhood was a failure.

Who is responsible for the neglect of the house?

Who failed?  The builder … or the client?

Can you perhaps see a parallel: when implementing technology successfully in a school (or group of schools) and after a year or two you find the facilities are not used, even dysfunctional, who failed?  The implementer … or the recipient?

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Who maintains the computers in your school?

Friday, February 25th, 2011 | Maintenance | 2 Comments

All computer installations require regular maintenance; a gradual degradation of the system is to be expected unless such maintenance occurs.  The following types of maintenance are relevant in technology facilities in our schools. 

Adaptive maintenance, where improvements to the system are necessary to adapt to changing working procedures, such as when earphones, peripherals, or additional workstations must be installed to cater for changing educational needs, or when new software products are introduced. 

Corrective maintenance, where ongoing improvements are made (bug fixing) to ensure the system still meets the original user requirements.  Fixing is required when a person makes a mistake (for example unintentionally deleting an essential piece of software, or changing a system parameter), when a hardware component malfunctions, when the system has to be restored from a backup after a crash, when the system has to be restored after a virus attack and in other such scenarios.

Perfective maintenance, where the system is made safer to operate, refined and made easier for teachers to use.  Perfective maintenance aims at making the system as effective as possible for teachers, so that the use of the technology does not put the emphasis on the technology but on teaching and learning.

Upgrades – these are required when the entire system – or parts of the system – has become too old to be useful and must be replaced.

Preventive maintenance (also called predictive maintenance), where steps are taken to avert potential disasters.  This includes making regular backups and updating anti-virus software.

Warranty checkingthis has been found to be a cost effective maintenance technique.  Just before the warranty on hardware expires each piece of equipment is thoroughly inspected and all defective components referred to the vendor for replacement.

Clearly, maintenance is a complex matter and its importance can never be over-emphasized.  It forms an essential part of protecting the investment made in technology and it provides continuity of access in the schools.

Who maintains the computers in your school?

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What maintenance does my interactive whiteboard require?

Sunday, February 14th, 2010 | IWBs, Maintenance | 2 Comments

Always remember that an interactive whiteboard consists of three components: the board, a computer and a data projector.  Maintenance of your interactive whiteboard involves maintenance of each one of these elements.

The board itself is the easiest to maintain.  Apart from cleaning it regularly, there is little else to be done.

The computer requires normal computer maintenance.  You need to care for it physically.  Clean it frequently on the outside, and have an expert clean it on the inside on a regular basis.  Dust and heat are the greatest enemies of a computer – a build-up of dirt is often the cause of over-heating.  That is why cleaning is an important part of computer maintenance.

You must maintain your computer in other ways too.  A virus attack can paralyze your operations – computer maintenance therefore involves consistent anti-virus updates.  And don’t forget to make regular backups!

The data projector requires maintenance too.  Heat can cause your projector to malfunction – dust is often the cause of overheating.  Dust gathers on the lamp and other critical components inside the machine.  Not only does it downgrade the quality of the image, but it reduces the lifespan of the lamp.  And the lamp is the most expensive part in a data projector to replace.

Some data projectors have filters – these must be cleaned regularly. Others are filter-free, but this does not mean that you don’t have to clean the machines.

When a data projector is mounted on the ceiling, you may tend to forget about it.  Don’t!  It does not matter where the projector is – it still needs to be cleaned.

Before you attend to maintenance activities on the different components of your interactive solution, read the manufacturer’s manual and then follow the instructions.  This will help you to get the best out of your equipment.

Click here for more information about interactive whiteboards.

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What can I do when my laptop runs out of memory?

Saturday, May 9th, 2009 | laptops, Maintenance | 2 Comments

When it is suggested to you that your laptop is running out of memory, it could mean one of two things:

  • you need more random access memory (RAM)
  • you need a hard disk with more storage space.

You may be in need of more RAM if you’ve acquired programmes which demand more processing power than is currently on your laptop.  This does not happen very often.  It is only very specialized software, or perhaps new versions of existing programmes on your machine, that would require additional RAM.

The good news is that RAM is relatively inexpensive.  It is also quick and easy to add more RAM to your laptop.

If the need for more memory relates to the hard disk, you have several choices:

  • create space by removing unused files and defrag your hard disk
  • acquire an external hard drive, which you can plug into your laptop
  • upgrade the hard disk. 

When you purchase a new laptop, it likely has enough hard disk capacity for your needs.  But when you create many files, and load many pictures, music videos or movies on the disk, you may find that you need more space. 

Now you have to decide which option would be the best for you.  Files used only occasionally could be stored on removable disks or data sticks.  If you require quick access, an external hard drive could be the solution.  But if you don’t want the bother to cart other storage media with you, upgrading the hard disk would be the answer to the problem.

When a hard disk is upgraded, the old one is removed and replaced by a new one.

Just as you would only trust a brain surgeon with poking around in your brain, you are advised to let only experts replace the hard drive, or add RAM, to your laptop.

Expanding the memory of your computer is a simple matter – if only it were that easy to expand our human memories!

Click here to find answers to more laptop related questions.

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What is “defragging”?

Tuesday, May 5th, 2009 | laptops, Maintenance | 5 Comments

Defragging is short for defragmenting – the even shorter word defrag is sometimes used.  It refers to a process of rearranging fragments of data files on your laptop’s hard disk.

The reason for defragging is best explained by means of an analogy.  Picture a thick book which does not fit into one drawer – you have to use your imagination and think of a very, very thick book!  The only way you can store the book is by taking it to pieces and storing the pages in several drawers.  This may solve your storage problem, but creates a problem when you need to retrieve information from the book.  The more fragmented the book, the more difficult and time consuming it would be to find information.  Your problem will worsen if you store several books in this way in your house.

Your laptop stores files in a similar way.  Data is stored in chunks – also called clusters – on the hard disk.  If a file is larger than a chunk, it is stored in several chunks, wherever empty ones are found on the disk.  As the number of files and chunks increase, it becomes more difficult for your machine to locate and reassemble data files when you want to work with them.

The process of defragging rearranges the chunks of data on the hard disk so that they are near to each other and this makes retrieval easier.  The result of defragging is that it speeds up data access time; data storage space on the hard disk is also used more efficiently.

If your laptop has a hard disk with a large storage capacity, and you do not have many big files, defragging is not very important.  If you never defrag you will still be able to work and you may not even notice that your machine is slowing down.

To be on the safe side, it is recommended that you defrag your hard disk on a regular basis – some people do it weekly or monthly.  Defragging is a fairly simple procedure and the facility to do so is likely available as part of your operating software.

When you feel that the performance of your machine is dropping, don’t fall to pieces – just defrag.  It may very well solve your problem.

Click here to find answers to more laptop related questions.

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Must a laptop be serviced regularly?

Monday, May 4th, 2009 | laptops, Maintenance | 2 Comments

When you’ve travelled a certain distance with your car, you take it to the vehicle maintenance centre for a service: the oil is changed, the oil filter is replaced, worn out parts are substituted by new ones and the engine is tuned.  Many other pieces of equipment in your home must similarly be serviced from time to time.  It is therefore reasonable to wonder if your laptop must also be serviced.

There are only a few moving parts in a laptop and they do not cause the same level of friction as in a car.  These parts do not need to be oiled or replaced on a routine basis and in this sense a laptop does not require the same level of maintenance service as a car.

The greatest enemies of a laptop are:

These two are often related: excessive dust inside the laptop prevents the machine from being cooled sufficiently.  No matter how clean you keep the environment and how much you try to avoid dust penetrating your laptop, inevitably some dust will get to the delicate interior parts of your machine.  It is therefore important that your laptop is opened at least once a year to remove dust.  But it is not recommended that you attempt to do this yourself – leave the internal cleaning of your machine to a professional.

Removing dust from the inside of your laptop is about the sum total of servicing that is required.  Of course, if some parts break down they need to be fixed or replaced.  If the machine must be opened for repair work, ask the technician to remove accumulated dust at the same time – this will save you from having to do this later.

As part of preventative maintenance to ensure your laptop’s good health, you must:

  • protect it against excessive temperatures
  • keep it as dust free as possible
  • replace faulty or broken parts, such as a cracked casing
  • ensure the rubber feet underneath the laptop is intact – they fall off easily.

It is amazing how little maintenance a laptop requires.

Click here to find answers to more laptop related questions.

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Should I learn to fix my laptop myself?

Wednesday, April 29th, 2009 | laptops, Maintenance | Comments Off

The high cost of maintenance may lead you to think about fixing your laptop yourself when something goes wrong with the hardware.  Perhaps you are a do-it-yourself (DIY) person and are itching to get under the bonnet of your machine.

Remember that laptops use complicated technology, calling for specialist knowledge to maintain.   Furthermore, very small parts are packed into tight areas – these parts are easy to break or misplace.  Expert skill is required to work on such equipment.

Only some people have the aptitude to fix technical things.  You may have this talent and could learn how to fix your own laptop in the future.  In the interim, let the experts work on it while you concentrate on getting to know how to use your laptop as a teacher’s companion.

Aesop’s fable of The Widow and the Sheep  may give you some food for thought.

A poor widow had one solitary sheep.  At shearing time, wishing to take his fleece and to avoid expense, she sheared him herself, but used the shears so unskillfully that with the fleece she sheared the flesh. 

The sheep, writhing with pain, said: “Why do you hurt me so, Mistress? What weight can my blood add to the wool? If you want my flesh, there is the butcher, who will kill me in an instant; but if you want my fleece and wool, there is the shearer, who will shear and not hurt me.” 

There are two morals to this story:

  • the least outlay is not always the greatest gain
  • it is better to stick to one’s trade.

You don’t want to kill your laptop while attempting to fix it!  Rather learn to use the laptop as a tool first; if you have the aptitude you could acquire the skills to maintain it later.

Click here to find answers to more laptop related questions.

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Is it a waste of money to buy a second-hand or refurbished laptop?

Monday, April 6th, 2009 | laptops, Maintenance | 13 Comments

Aesop’s fable, The Frogs and the Well, highlights a principle that you should follow when considering the acquisition of a second-hand computer.

Two Frogs lived together in a marsh. One hot summer the marsh dried up and they left it to look for another place to live, for frogs like damp places if they can get them. 

They came to a deep well.  One of them looked down into it and said to his friend: “This looks a nice cool place; let us jump in and settle here.” 

But the other one, who had a wiser head on his shoulders, replied: “Not so fast, my friend. Supposing this well dried up like the marsh, how should we get out again?”

The moral of the story?  Look before you leap.

A second-hand laptop may suit your needs perfectly well.  It may be that the previous owner’s computing needs have changed and that you could get a good machine at a bargain price or as a gift.  But in most cases individuals or organizations get rid of laptops when it is no longer worthwhile to maintain them.  Acquiring one of these machines would mean that you are taking a maintenance load upon yourself.

Some organizations are refurbishing computers and then claim that they are as good as new.  Here one has to ask additional questions: What is meant by refurbishing?  What has been refurbished?  Why did the laptop reach the refurbishment plant? In some cases refurbishment means that the machine was just cleaned very well.

Refurbishing companies generally deal in different brands.  Who will honour the warranty (if any)?  Is there a guarantee on spare parts and components?  What is the level of manufacturer support?  How stable is the refurbishing agent – how sure are you that the company will be there tomorrow?

All these questions point to one thing: look before you leap.
If a used computer is offered to you as a free gift, you may consider accepting it and using it until it proves to be more trouble than the value you are deriving from it, and then replacing it with a new one.  But if you have to pay for it, you must give the matter a second thought – consider the total cost of ownership.

Click here to find answers to more laptop related questions.

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