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How to get your laptop exam season ready! (& why it’s so important to look after our electronics)

April 25, 2024
Pascale Hall

As part of our Waste Action Week, we’ve invited The Restart Project to share tips to reduce e-waste by taking care of our laptops.

We’ve all been in the position where our laptops are overheated, on the brink of an electronic breakdown, just as we are about to submit an assignment. It’s easy to ignore the health of our laptops until disaster strikes. Ahead of exam and deadline season, let’s give our laptops a bit of TLC to ensure they are in tip-top condition when we need them.

Caring for our devices so they can be kept in use for longer also has numerous benefits. It can save us thousands of pounds and have a surprisingly large environmental impact. In fact, a laptop can have the embodied carbon emissions of a flight. We asked experienced repairers on Restarters for their best laptop maintenance tips and this is their advice:

1. Look after your battery.

  1. Avoid overheating. This is especially relevant for thin and light laptops like Apple Macbooks, which are more susceptible to overheating when tackling intensive workloads (e.g. working with videos or graphics, compiling code, music production). Ventilation is also important - reducing time on soft, unventilated surfaces like sofas or pillows can help reduce overheating.
  2. Maintain charging levels as much as possible and especially avoid zero charge. It is ideal to keep laptop batteries between 40-80% charge as much as possible because being at the extremes can wear them out. For Lenovo, Samsung, Sony and some other brands there is an optional battery saver charge that will help to stop you from maxing to 100% all the time.
  3. If your battery life is already noticeably declining, iFixit has a guide to assess battery health, and if you need to you can purchase replacement batteries and other laptop parts.

2. Make sure the air vents are regularly cleaned. If your laptop frequently overheats, and the fan is running continuously and noisily, consider checking the fan and cooling fins which can get clogged up with dust. You can use a pin or a small brush to poke gently through the grill to dislodge any matted dust. You can also push out dust by using a compressed air can on the grill. If this doesn’t work, you can do a more thorough cleaning by disassembling the laptop. There are lots of amazing guides for this online.

3. Decluttering your storage drives. If your laptop performance is degrading, it might be worth looking into your storage drives. It is worth checking if these are an SSD or a hard drive (HDD), and upgrading to a SSD if necessary. Using cloud storage like OneDrive and Google Drive are also great options for freeing up storage on your device. It's best to try and keep at least 10-15% of your storage drive completely empty, and storage capacity is something that can sneak up on you easily after downloading one too many academic papers.

4. Increasing RAM. In a similar vein, if your laptop has slowed down, is taking longer to start up and close, and programmes are taking a long time to load it might be worth increasing the amount of RAM. It’s a cheap way to dramatically improve performance, especially for an older laptop that’s still working but slow. This tends not to be due to the laptop itself degrading, but to newer software which is getting ever more memory hungry. Unfortunately, not all laptops have slots for extra RAM, especially ultra-thin models. But it’s pretty common, so worth checking.

5. Checking the screws. This can be done simply by tightening the screws on the back of  your laptop using a Phillips or crosshead screwdriver (or a pentalobe screwdriver for Apple macbooks). This guide might help you decide which screwdriver you need. If you happen to be missing screws, often your local repair shop will be happy to supply some or you can get some online. (You will be surprised how common this is - while checking my laptop recently, I noticed two screws missing!)

6. Never pick up a laptop by the screen. Our final piece of advice is simple, but can help save you from the incredible annoyance of a blurry spot on your laptop screen. Our screens are more delicate than we may realise, so be careful with them.

If you are in need of further or more specific help, our repair wiki has some resources on general laptop repair and advice specifically for Apple computers. iFixit also has amazing resources for laptop repair specific to brand and model. As well as guidance on choosing a laptop for longevity and repairability. 

If you’re interested in repair and want to set up a repair cafe or initiative at your university - please reach out to us. The Student Repair Revolution is a collaborative project between the Community Repair Network and The Restart Project and funded by Hubbub and Virgin Media O2’s Time After Time E-waste fund. We support groups to set up repair initiatives in universities, and have a Student Information Pack to help guide you through setting up repair initiatives.

If you want to know more please contact pascale@therestartproject.org