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In real terms, desktops and laptops are actually less costly to replace today than in 2010, but they’re not exactly cheap. According to PC Magazine’s analysis of the market for new PCs, you can expect to pay anywhere from about $410 to $2,899 for a quality replacement machine. At full price, a top-of-the-line smartphone can easily cost $700 out of the box. Refurbished electronics aren’t as costly, but they lack the cachet of truly new products.
Well-Maintained Devices Live Longer
Maintenance offers the best of both worlds. It’s far cheaper than swapping burnt-out devices for new or used replacements, and it puts off the disruptive transition from one machine to the next. Well-maintained devices last years longer than maltreated equivalents, supporting smooth personal and professional use patterns and keeping more of your hard-earned money in your wallet along the way.
These electronic device maintenance tips are all well within the capabilities of the typical non-expert computer user. Some are tailored to desktops and laptops. Others apply to a broader range of devices. Most are best done on a recurring basis. And none require excessive investments of time, effort, or money.
Computer Maintenance Tips – Physical and Environmental
These tips cover your devices’ physical housing and accessories, and the environments in which you store and operate them.
1. Keep the Keyboard, Mouse, and Openings Clean
Start with the easy stuff: keeping your device’s accessories and openings clean.
A dirty keyboard will eventually stop working properly. Ditto for a dirty mouse. A replacement keyboard costs roughly $20 new, so replacing yours won’t ruin you, but that money could absolutely be spent on better things.
To clean your keyboard’s more accessible surfaces, use a damp, lint-free cloth. Don’t spray water directly onto the keyboard or allow water to pool anywhere on it – this will only make things worse. Use the same approach to clean your mouse’s accessible surfaces.
To clean harder-to-reach parts of your keyboard and mouse, such as the mouse’s optical opening and the spaces underneath the keys, use a compressed air canister. You can get one for $5 or $6 online or in your local hardware store.
Don’t neglect laptop and desktop ports and crevices either. Dusty or particle-clogged ports reduce airflow into and out of the device, increasing the risk of overheating. If you’re prone to forgetting small tasks like this, set a recurring calendar reminder every month.
2. Gently Clean Your Monitor
Your monitor might seem solid enough, but it’s just as vulnerable to dust and debris as your keyboard and ports. Dust it periodically with a microfiber cloth. Remove tougher stains with LCD screen cleaner, which should cost you no more than $6 to $10 per can.
3. Keep Food and Beverages Away From Desktops and Laptops
Repeat after me: Don’t eat or drink over your desktop or laptop!
Easier said than done when you’re working through your lunch break or binge-watching your favorite show with a bowl of ice cream, of course. But think of the consequences: A single spill is enough to destroy a keyboard, and a high-volume dump could penetrate the device’s casing and wreak havoc on its internal components.
After prematurely KOing two keyboards in rapid succession, I instituted a new rule in my household: nothing but water on the same surface as my laptop. It’s not easy, but so far I’ve managed to hold fast. I highly recommend you do the same.
4. Organize Cords and Other e-Debris
If you have an active home office setup, it probably features a mess of cords, power strips, and random accessories on the floors and working surfaces.
This mess is unsightly and unwieldy at minimum. If you have small children or pets, it may well present an electrocution risk. Depending on how loaded-up your power strips and outlets are, you could have a fire hazard on your hands. And jumbled cords are more vulnerable to damage, meaning higher long-term ownership costs.
Fixing this is easy. First, buy an extra power strip or two – you can get a 2-pack of 6-outlet strips for less than $12 on Amazon. Then, procure some twist-ties (negligible cost) or cable organizers ($6 to $14, depending on the type) to hold everything together in intentional fashion. Unplug, detangle, and reorient your cords in your handy new organization system. Then plug everything back in. That’s it.
Pro Tip: Seeking more home office hacks? Check out our post on the IRS home office tax deduction, then check with your tax advisor to determine whether you qualify.
5. Don’t Overcharge Your Batteries
Resist the temptation to keep your portable devices plugged in at all times. Not only is this a needless drain on your local power grid, which means preventable bloat for your utility bill, but it’s also actively bad for your devices’ batteries.
Unnecessary charging actually retards batteries’ regenerative capabilities. A year or so on, or maybe sooner, you’ll notice a drop-off in your device’s ability to hold a charge. It’ll eventually worsen to the point that you’ll need to have your charging cord handy – meaning you won’t be able to work or play online without an outlet nearby.
Don’t charge until your device is good and ready. I wait until my laptop gets down below 20%, for instance.
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6. Don’t Block the Vents
Like people, desktop and laptop computers need to breathe.
The operative rule here is “don’t block the vents.” Just like people, machines need to breathe – though, in their case, it’s to ensure their insides remain cool enough to function properly. This is especially important when you’re asking a lot of a high-performance machine, such as a gaming laptop. (Even if you’re not a gamer, gaming laptops have significant benefits – this article from Walmart Canada explains why you might want to use one for classroom assignments, for instance.)
If you have a desktop, keep the tower clear of any obstructions, like cabinets or walls. If it’s possible to do so securely, elevate it to ensure good airflow on both sides. For laptops, maintain a clear workspace free from clutter that could obstruct airflow – for instance, papers or books. Periodically check that the fans are working as well.
No matter what kind of device you have, maintain adequate ventilation and reasonable climate control. You don’t have to blast the AC or leave the windows open in the winter, but setting the thermostat to 80 probably isn’t a great idea either.
7. Have Desiccant on Hand
You dropped your phone in the toilet. Oops! What’s your next move?
With little hesitation, most people confidently answer: “Put it in a jar of rice!”
That’s not the worst thing you could do for your waterlogged phone, but it’s not the ideal fix either. Rice is merely the best desiccant, or drying agent, that most people have lying around the home. It’s not made for clearing water from sensitive devices – it’s made for eating.
As it turns out, there are products made specifically to mop moisture out of electronics. They’re commonly known as desiccant bags, and they’re cheap – $7 for four 10.5 ounce bags on Amazon, each more than sufficient to dry out a waterlogged phone.
An even cheaper alternative: the little silica gel bags that come in many shipping boxes. Rather than throwing them out, collect them as they come in, taking care to store them somewhere child- and pet-proof. You’ll need several to dry out a dripping phone.
8. Keep Magnets Away
Keep your home office – and your devices themselves – away from magnets, even the weak refrigerator kinds. Your hard drive is incredibly sensitive to magnetic fields of any strength.
If you need to remember websites or phone numbers, use Post-it notes or digital files instead. Keep magnets where they belong – in the kitchen.
9. Be Careful With Unfamiliar WiFi Networks
Be wary of unsecured WiFi networks in coffee shops, airports, hotel lobbies, and other public places. Without basic network security, your computer is a sitting duck – out there in the open for any hacker or cyber criminal who feels like sending a malware package your way. When in doubt, use a virtual private network (VPN) to encrypt your connection and repel attacks.
Pro Tip: If you’re not sure you’re doing enough to safeguard your computer – or the personal information stored within – check out our roundup of tips to protect your privacy online.
10. Get a Phone Case and Screen Protector
I have a confession to make: I’ve never cracked a phone screen. Whether that’s down to luck, exceptional care, or a mixture of the two, I’m not sure.
I’m probably in the minority on this one. My wife cracked her last three screens, all under relatively mundane circumstances. Phones are resilient, but not indestructible. Drop them the wrong way and you’ll be living with the consequences.
The choice between purchasing a brand new phone or buying a protective enclosure to deflect kinetic energy is no choice at all. Quality cases cost as little as $30 new on Amazon, and cheaper still at discount websites and on the secondary market.
Ditto for screen protectors. They’re even cheaper – as little as $5 to $6 apiece, depending on screen size and width. While they won’t protect against violent impacts, they’ll resist scratching indefinitely under normal circumstances.