Chapter 3. System Maintenance and Assembly
Upgrading and Repairing Portables
Dealing with Passwords
Preventive maintenance is the key to obtaining
Developing a preventive maintenance program is important to everyone who uses or
preventive maintenance includes steps you can take to protect a system from the environment, such as using
preventive maintenance program includes procedures that promote a longer, trouble-free life for your laptop. This type of preventive maintenance primarily involves the periodic cleaning of the system and its
Passive Preventive Maintenance Procedures
Passive preventive maintenance involves taking care of the system by providing the best possible environmentboth physical and electricalfor the system. Physical concerns include conditions such as ambient temperature, thermal stress from power cycling, dust and smoke contamination, and disturbances such as
General System Care and Handling
Laptop computers are expensive machines built with significantly tighter tolerances than their desktop counterparts. Although most laptops are designed to function reliably in normal environments, it helps to use some common sense when transporting, operating, or
Instead of telling you what you should do to take care of your system, it is perhaps easier to tell you what you shouldn't do. I often observe people doing things to their laptop computers that make me cringe. Here is a list of bad things you should not do to your laptop computer:
The systems you use will last a lot longer if you avoid any of the aforementioned behavior.
The Operating Environment
Oddly enough, one of the most overlooked aspects of preventive maintenance is protecting the hardwareand the
Temperature, Humidity, and Altitude
All computers are designed to operate within specific ranges of temperature, humidity, and altitude. Exceeding the
Temperature, humidity, and altitude variations can lead to serious problems. If extreme variations occur over a short period, expansion and contraction can cause signal traces on circuit
To ensure that your system will be operated in the temperature, humidity, and altitude ranges for which it was designed, I recommend you
Note that the maximum allowable ambient temperature
In addition to the temperature limits just discussed, it is a good idea to avoid rapid changes in temperature as well. If a rapid rise in temperature occursfor example, when a system is shipped during the winter and then brought indoorsyou should allow the system (and the hard drive inside) to acclimate to normal room temperature before turning it on. In extreme cases, condensation can form on the platters inside the drive's head-disk assembly (HDA), which is disastrous for the drive if you turn it on before the condensation has a chance to evaporate.
Most hard drives have a filtered port that bleeds air into and out of the had (hard drive assembly) so that moisture can enter the drive; therefore, after some period of time, it must be assumed that the humidity inside any hard disk is similar to the humidity outside the drive. Humidity can become a serious problem if it is allowed to condenseand especially if you power up the drive while this condensation is present. Most hard disk manufacturers have specified procedures for acclimating a hard drive to a new environment with different temperature and humidity ranges, especially for bringing a drive into a warmer environment in which condensation can form. This situation should be of special concern to users of laptop and portable systems. If you leave a portable system in an automobile trunk during the winter, for example, it could be catastrophic to bring the machine inside and power it up without allowing it time to acclimate to the temperature indoors.
The following text, along with Table 3.1, are taken from the factory packaging that Control Data Corporation (later Imprimis, and eventually Seagate) used to ship with its hard drives:
Table 3.1. Hard Disk Drive Environmental Acclimation Table
As you can see from this table, you must place a portable system with a hard drive that has been stored in a colder-than-normal environment into its normal operating environment for a specified amount of time to allow it to acclimate before you power it on. Manufacturers normally
Of course, condensation can also affect other
Static electricity or electrostatic
Static discharges outside a system-unit chassis are rarely a source of permanent problems within the system. Usually, the worst possible effect of a static discharge to the case, keyboard, or even a location near the computer is a system
Radio-frequency interference (RFI) is easily overlooked as a problem factor. The interference is caused by any source of radio transmissions near a computer system. Living
One type of solution to an RFI noise problem with cables is to pass the cable through a toroidal iron core, a doughnut-shaped piece of iron placed around a cable to suppress both the
Radio Shack and other electronics supply stores sell special snap-together toroids designed
The best, if not the
Dust and Pollutants
It should be obvious that dirt, smoke, dust, and other pollutants are bad for your system. The cooling fan found in most modern laptop systems carries
If your system is going to be regularly used in an extreme working environment, you might want to investigate some of the specialized systems on the market specifically designed for use in
Unfortunately, in most cases, because rugged systems must be specially designed, and especially because they don't sell as well as the mainstream, nonrugged models, rugged systems are usually more limited in options, are not updated as frequently as mainstream models, and in general will offer much less performance than mainstream models. Still, if a mainstream model simply won't do for durability, you should consider one of the specially designed rugged models, such as the Panasonic Toughbooks. For more information on the Toughbook line of laptop systems, visit Panasonic at www.panasonic.com/toughbook.
Tips for Transporting Your System
When transporting a laptop computer, I recommend you consider the following guidelines in order to protect the system:
If your travel involves flying, you should be aware that FAA regulations now call for more
In some cases you may be required to power-on the system after the trip through the X-ray machine in order to
If you ever need to ship the system out via the mail or through a package carrier such as UPS or FedEx, it is extremely important that you properly pack the system to prevent damage. In general, it is hard to find a better shipping box and packing material than what the system was originally packed in when new. For that reason, I highly recommend you retain the original box and packing materials after purchasing a system. This will
Following these guidelines for transporting or shipping the system will help to ensure the machine arrives in working order at the destination.
Active Preventive Maintenance Procedures
How often you should perform active preventive maintenance procedures depends on the environment in which you operate your system as well as the quality of the system's components. If your system is in a dirty environment, such as a machine shop floor or a gas station service area, you might need to clean your system every three months or less. For normal office environments, cleaning a system every few months to a year is usually fine. If you frequently use your system outdoors, it may require more frequent cleanings, depending on the amount of dirt and dust in the environment.
Other preventive maintenance procedures include making periodic
The following is a sample weekly disk-maintenance checklist:
The following are some monthly maintenance procedures you should perform:
Many people use a laptop as an
One of the most important preventive maintenance procedures is the performance of regular system backups. A sad reality in the computer-repair-and-
The hard disk drive capacity in a typical laptop system has grown far beyond the point at which floppy disks are a
Table 3.2. Amounts and Costs of Different Media Required to Back Up a Full 80GB Drive
Assuming the drive is full, it would take 54,883 1.44MB floppy disks, for example, to back up the 80GB hard disk in my current laptop system! That would cost more than $8,232 worth of floppy disks, not to mention the time involved. My laptop includes a CD-RW drive, as do many of the systems today, but as you can see, even using CD-R would be miserable, requiring 109 discs to back up the entire drive. DVD+-R, on the other hand, would only require 18 discs, which still wouldn't be much fun but is much more doable in a
Of course, these examples are extrememost people don't have a full 80GB worth of data to back up. Also, if you organize your system properly, keeping data files separated from program files, you can get away with backing up only the data, and not the programs. This works because in most cases, if there is a drive failure, you will have to reinstall your operating system and all your applications from their original discs. Once the OS and applications are installed, you would restore the data files from your backups.
The best form of backup has traditionally been magnetic tape. The two main standards are Travan and DAT (digital audio tape). Travan drives are generally slower and hold less than the newest DAT drives, but both are available in relatively competitive versions. The latest Travan tape drives store 20GB/40GB (raw/compressed) on a single tape, whereas
Another alternative for backup is to use a second, external hard drive of equal (or larger) capacity and simply copy from one drive to the other. With the low cost of drives these days, and the ease of connecting an external drive via USB or IEEE-1394 (FireWire/i.LINK), this turns out to be a fast, efficient, and reasonably economical method. However, if a disaster occurs, such as theft or fire, you could still lose everything. Also, with only one backup, if your backup goes bad when you depend on it, you'll be without any other alternatives.
You can perform hard diskbased backups for more than one system with an external hard drive. External hard disks are available in
No matter which backup solution you use, the entire exercise is pointless if you cannot restore your data from the storage medium. You should test your backup system by performing random file
If your backup supports disaster recovery, be sure to test this feature as well by installing an empty drive and using the disaster-recovery feature to rebuild the operating system and restore the data.
Cleaning a System
One of the most important operations in a good preventive maintenance program is regular and thorough cleaning of the system inside and out. Unlike desktop systems, laptop systems don't have air
Note that because laptop systems are much more difficult to disassemble, I normally don't recommend opening up or
Cigarette smoke contains chemicals that can conduct electricity and cause corrosion of computer parts. The smoke residue can infiltrate the entire system, causing corrosion and contamination of electrical contacts and sensitive components, such as floppy drive read/write heads and optical drive lens assemblies. You should avoid smoking near computer equipment and
Properly cleaning the system requires certain
These simple cleaning tools and chemical solutions enable you to perform most common preventive maintenance
Chemicals can be used to help clean, troubleshoot, and even repair a system. You can use several types of cleaning solutions with computers and electronic assemblies. Most fall into the following categories:
For the most basic functioncleaning exterior LCD screens, keyboards, and casesa variety of chemicals are available. I normally recommend one of the following:
Other solutions such as antistatic LCD cleaning cloths and Kimwipes are also acceptable alternatives.
Isopropyl alcohol is a flammable liquid. Do not use alcohol cleaner near an exposed flame or when the system is on.
The solutions should generally be in liquid form, not a spray. Sprays can be
These chemicals are similar to the standard cleaners but are more pure and include a lubricating component. Although their cleaning applications are more limited when dealing with a laptop system, these chemicals do come in handy for cleaning connectors and internal or external cables. The lubricant eases the force required when plugging and unplugging cables and connectors, reducing strain on the devices. The lubricant coating also acts as a conductive protectant that insulates the contacts from corrosion. These chemicals can greatly prolong the life of a system by preventing intermittent contacts in the future.
A unique type of contact cleaner/enhancer and lubricant called Stabilant 22 is available. This chemical, which you apply to electrical contacts, enhances the connection and lubricates the contact point; it is much more effective than conventional contact cleaners or lubricants. Stabilant 22 is a liquid-polymer semiconductor; it behaves like liquid metal and conducts electricity in the presence of an electric current. The substance also fills the air gaps between the mating surfaces of two items that are in contact, making the surface area of the contact larger and also keeping out
This chemical is available in several forms. Stabilant 22 is the concentrated version, whereas Stabilant 22a is a version diluted with isopropyl alcohol in a 4:1 ratio. An even more diluted 8:1-ratio version is sold in many high-end stereo and audio
As you can see, pure Stabilant 22 is fairly expensive, but only a little is required in any common application, and nothing else has been found to be quite as effective in
Compressed air (actually a gas such as carbon dioxide) is often used as an aid in system cleaning. You use the compressed-air can as a blower to remove dust and debris from a system or component. Originally, these dusters used CFCs (chlorofluorocarbons) such as Freon, whereas modern dusters use either HFCs (hydrofluorocarbons such as difluoroethane) or carbon dioxide,
When using these compressed-air products, be sure you hold the can upright so that only gas is ejected from the nozzle. If you tip the can, the raw propellant will come out as a cold liquid, which not only is wasteful but can damage or discolor plastics. You should use compressed gas only on equipment that is powered off, to minimize any chance of damage through short circuits.
What I recommend with laptops is to turn them
Some people prefer to use a vacuum cleaner instead of canned gas dusters for cleaning a system. Canned air is usually better for cleaning in small areas as is usually the situation with a portable system. A vacuum cleaner is more useful when you are cleaning a larger desktop system loaded with dust and dirt. You can use the vacuum cleaner to suck out the dust and debris instead of simply blowing it around on the other components, which sometimes happens with canned air. Still, vacuum cleaners are especially useful for sucking dirt out of keyboards, whether on a laptop or desktop system. I also recommend vacuuming the cooling vents on laptops, which is an easy way to remove dust without having to open the unit.
For onsite servicing (when you are going to the location of the equipment instead of the equipment coming to you), canned air is easier to carry in a toolkit than a small vacuum cleaner. Tiny vacuum cleaners also are available for system cleaning. These small units are easy to carry and can serve as an alternative to compressed-air cans. Some special vacuum cleaners are specifically designed for use on and around electronic components; they are designed to minimize electrostatic discharge (ESD) while in use. If you are using a regular vacuum cleaner and not one specifically designed with ESD protection, you should take precautions, such as wearing a grounding wrist strap. Also, if the cleaner has a metal nozzle, be careful not to touch it to the circuit boards or components you are cleaning.
Brushes and Swabs
You can use a small makeup brush, photographic brush, or paintbrush to
Use cleaning swabs to wipe off electrical contacts and connectors, disk drive heads, and other sensitive areas. The swabs should be made of foam or synthetic chamois material that does not leave lint or dust residue. Unfortunately, proper foam or chamois cleaning swabs are more expensive than typical cotton swabs. Do not use cotton swabs because they leave cotton fibers on everything they touch. Cotton fibers are conductive in some situations and can remain on drive heads, which can scratch the disks. Foam or chamois swabs can be purchased at most electronics supply stores.
One item to avoid is an eraser for cleaning contacts. Many people (including me) have recommended using a soft pencil-type eraser for cleaning circuit-board or flex-cable contacts. Testing has proven this to be bad advice for several reasons. One reason is that any such abrasive wiping on electrical contacts generates friction and an ESD. This ESD can be damaging to boards and components, especially the
Some companies sell premoistened contact cleaning pads soaked in a proper contact cleaner and lubricant. These pads are safe to wipe on conductors and contacts with no likelihood of ESD damage or abrasion of the gold
You can use a lightweight lubricant such as WD-40 or silicone to lubricate the door mechanisms on disk drives and any other part of the system that might require clean, lightweight lubrication. Other items you can lubricate are the access doors for ports and PC Card/CardBus sockets, to provide smoother operation.
Using WD-40 or silicone instead of conventional oils is important because silicone does not gum up and collect dust and other debris. Always use the lubricant sparingly. Do not spray it anywhere near the equipment because it tends to migrate and will end up where it doesn't belong (such as on drive heads). Instead, apply a small amount to a toothpick or foam swab and dab the silicone lubricant on the components where needed.
Obtaining Tools and Accessories
You can obtain most of the cleaning chemicals and tools discussed in this chapter from an electronics supply house, or even your local Radio Shack. A company called Chemtronics specializes in chemicals for the computer and electronics industry. These and other companies that supply tools, chemicals, and other computer- and electronic-cleaning supplies are listed in the Vendor List on the CD. With all these items on hand, you should be equipped for most preventive maintenance operations.
Before cleaning your system, I recommend a partial disassembly. By partial I mean taking out any items that can be easily removed without using tools. This would normally include the battery, any drives in removable bays, and any PC Cards. This may also include the hard drive in some systems as well. Finally, open the access doors on the sides, back, or base of the system as well. Because of the difficulty of opening the case on most laptops, I do not recommend a complete disassembly just for the purpose of cleaning.
Once any easily accessible devices are removed and the access doors opened, use the canned air to blow out any dust from these areas.
Cleaning Connectors and Contacts
Cleaning the connectors and contacts in a system promotes reliable connections between devices. On a laptop system, the main connector you'll want to clean is that of the batteryboth the contacts on the battery and the mating contacts in the system. If there is dirt or dust on the memory modules or sockets, you might want to remove the memory modules, clean the contacts, and then reinstall them. Also, if you disassemble the system and disconnect any flex-cables, it is recommended that you clean and treat the flex-cable contacts before reinserting them into their mating connectors.
To do this, first moisten the lint-free cleaning swabs in the cleaning solution. If you are using a spray, hold the swab away from the system and spray a small amount on the foam end until the solution starts to drip. Then, use the swab to wipe the connectors and sockets. You might consider using Stabilant 22a contact enhancer on these terminals to prevent corrosion and ensure a good contact. Try to avoid touching any of the gold or tin contacts with your fingers, which will coat them with oils and debris that can cause problems later. Make sure the contacts are free of all finger oils and residue.
Cleaning the LCD and Case
To clean the exterior of your laptop system use the following procedure:
Lightly moisten a soft lint-free cloth with either a 50-50 mixture of isopropyl alcohol and water, non-ammoniated glass cleaner, or pure water (hot water works best). Never spray liquid cleaner directly on the system, especially the display or keyboard.
Gently wipe the LCD display with the moistened cloth, and then follow with a dry cloth. Be sure the cloth is not wet enough to drip and that the LCD is completely dry when you're finished. Antistatic LCD-cleaning cloths and Kimwipes are also acceptable alternatives.
Kimwipes are disposable 8.5- by 4.5-inch wipes, basically heavy-duty lint-free paper towels. They are a trademarked brand of Kimberly-Clark Corp., along with Kleenex, and are very popular in industrial, laboratory, and photographic use.
Cleaning the Keyboard
Keyboards are notorious for picking up dirt and garbage. If you ever look closely inside a used keyboard, you will be amazed at the junk you find in there! To keep the keyboard clean, I recommend periodically blowing out the dirt with a can of compressed air or sucking it out with a vacuum cleaner.
The best way to use the compressed air is to turn the system upside down and shoot the keyboard with a can of compressed air tilted back on an angle. This will blow out the dirt and debris that has accumulated inside the keyboard, allowing it to fall to the ground rather than into your system. If done regularly, this can prevent future problems with
Once the dust and dirt are blown out of the keyboard, you can then clean any cosmetic dirt or stains from the keycaps. The best way to accomplish this is to wipe the keycaps with a soft cloth moistened in cleaning solution and then follow with a dry cloth.
If a particular key is stuck or making intermittent contact, you'll want to soak or spray the faulty keyswitch with contact cleaner. This cannot be done with the keyboard mounted in the system because some of the cleaner may drip inside. To prevent that, before attempting to clean the keyswitch, I recommend you remove the keyboard from the system. Consult your owner's manual (or maintenance manual if you have one) for the keyboard-removal procedure. Most laptops have keyboards that can be removed fairly easily. If you don't have a procedure for your system, use the sample procedure listed later in this chapter.
After the keyboard is removed, you can remove the keycap from the problem keyswitch and spray the cleaner into the switch. I usually do this over a sink so that the excess liquid doesn't drip onto the floor. Then replace the
Cleaning the TrackPoint or Touchpad
The TrackPoint or touchpad pointing devices used in laptops normally require very little or no maintenance. These devices are totally sealed and relatively immune to dirt or dust. Merely blow off the area around the TrackPoint with compressed air, or wipe down the surface of the touchpad with a mild cleaning solution to remove oils and other deposits that have accumulated from handling them. If you have a TrackPoint and the cap is excessively stained or greasy, you can remove it and soak it in some cleaning solution. If the
Hard Disk Maintenance
Certain preventive maintenance procedures protect your data and ensure that your hard disk works
Over time, as you delete and save files to your hard disk, the files become
The second major benefit, and in my estimation the more important of the two, is that in the case of a disaster in which the file system is severely damaged, the data on the drive can usually be recovered much more easily if the files are contiguous. On the other hand, if the files are split up in many pieces across the drive, figuring out which pieces belong to which files is virtually
The three main functions in most defragmentation programs are as
Defragmentation is the basic function, but most other programs also add file packing. Packing the files is optional on some programs because it usually takes additional time to perform. This function
The last function, file sorting (sometimes called
), is not usually necessary and is performed as an option by many defragmenting programs. This function adds a tremendous amount of time to the operation and has little or no effect on the speed at which information is accessed later. It can be somewhat beneficial for disaster-recovery purposes because you will have an idea of which files came before or after other files if a disaster occurs. Not all defragmenting programs offer file sorting, and the extra time it takes is probably not worth any benefits you will receive. Other programs can
Windows 9x/Me/2000/XP includes a disk-defragmentation program with the operating system that you can use on any file system the OS supports. For older operating systems such as DOS, Windows 3.x, and some versions of NT, you must purchase a third-party defragmentation program.
The disk-defragmentation programs included with Windows are extremely slow and don't offer many options or features, so it is a good idea to purchase something better. Norton Utilities includes a disk defragmenter, as do many other utility packages. An
Viruses are a danger to any system, and making scans with an antivirus utility a regular part of your preventive maintenance program is a good idea. Many aftermarket utility packages are available that scan for and remove viruses. No matter which of these programs you use, you should perform a scan for virus programs periodically, especially before making
Because viruses are more dangerous and numerous than ever, it is a good idea to enable the automatic update feature found in most recent antivirus programs to keep your protection up to date. Even with a dial-up connection, it takes only a few minutes a day to get downloads. If you have a broadband connection, the latest protection is downloaded in just a few moments.