Screen savers are nice for desktop computers, but make no sense on a laptop.
Al Fasoldt's reviews and commentaries, continuously available online since 1983


10 tips for proper power in computers

Oct. 24, 2010

By Al Fasoldt
Copyright © 2010, Al Fasoldt
Copyright © 2010, The Post-Standard
Instruction manuals never seem to have really useful tips. Here are 10 dealing with the power that goes to your computer. (Previous tips of all kinds can be found on my website, www.technofileonline.com. Search for "tips.")
   1. Don't leave your laptop plugged in all the time. The battery needs the electrical equivalent of exercise. Let it run itself down at least once a month.
   2. Don't use a zillion feet of extension cords to plug your computer into the wall socket. Each foot of extra length drops the voltage slightly and makes it harder for your computer to do its work -- and makes the computer run hotter, too. Get a beefy switched extension outlet with a short cord and plug the computer into it.
   3. Why a switched outlet? So you can detach your desktop computer from any power source (by turning off the switch, of course) when you're not using it. This will keep infected desktop computers from waking up at the command of "zombie" spyware in the middle of the night. (Laptops can't be protected that way, unfortunately, since they're on battery power when they're not plugged in.)
   4. Try to keep household appliances off the circuit your computer is plugged into. This will keep voltage more even and will protect your computer if an appliance trips a circuit breaker. You should be able to trace which circuits go to various parts of your home by carefully turning off circuit breakers one by one and noting which lights and appliances stop working.
   5. Get a UPS -- that's a battery-equipped Uninterruptible Power Supply, not a delivery company -- and power your computer from it. With a UPS, your computer won't crash if the power to your home suddenly goes dead. But remember that you don't need to have the monitor or printer plugged into a UPS -- they'd put too much load on an inexpensive UPS and don't need protection anyway. A UPS plugs into your home electrical system and constantly charges its battery, which actually runs your computer through an inverter. This means it also works as a line conditioner and surge protector. A decent UPS for a home computer shouldn't cost more than $100.
   6. If you have one or more external hard drives, be sure to shut them down after (not before) you turn off your computer. Don't leave them on when your computer is off. Computers are supposed to signal external drives to shut down at such times, but this doesn't always work. (If you turn the drives off before shutting down the computer, the sudden disconnection might ruin some of your files.)
   7. Screen savers are nice for desktop computers, but make no sense on a laptop; they simply drain the battery more quickly. Set your "Power Saving" or "Energy Saving" controls to turn off the display after a few minutes of non-use.
   8. If you're choosing between a second internal drive and an external one for your computer, choose the external drive if you have an older PC or Mac. An extra internal drive raises the temperature inside your computer's case, and a large-capacity internal drive might not be usable at all in older computers. External USB drives of any capacity can be plugged into any computer made since the late '90s. They don't cost much, either, if you shop wisely. I saw one listed at www.buy.com that had a 2 terabyte capacity (that's 2,000 gigabytes) for about $100.
   9. When lightning threatens, turn off your computer and unplug it. Move the plug as far away from the wall outlet as possible. Lightning can jump many feet.
   10. The power supply in desktop computers has a fan that blows dust and crud through your computer. Open the case an vacuum everything carefully every few months.