Protect your laptop from winter weather: Six ways to avoid a different kind of freeze up

By Elaine Mah

It’s almost time for Old Man Winter to make his way across Canada. For some of us, it means rain and single digit temperatures; for others, it means a full-blown blizzard and snow-covered sidewalks. You’re prepared no matter where you live because you go through this every year. With your jacket, your parka, your umbrella or your snowshoes, the winter months will mean just another trip to the office.

But what about your computer?

It’s easy to forget your #1 work tool. During “normal” weather, you probably shuttle your faithful laptop to the office and back in a basic computer bag or backpack. But what do you do when the day’s forecast high never gets above 0C, or the world looks like the inside of a shaken snow globe?

Here are six ways to keep your laptop safe from the elements as you make your way through winter:

1. Check the weather, adjust accordingly
Weather reports usually give you a good idea of what to expect on a given day. If the forecast calls for snow or extreme rain, don’t haul your laptop to work in a cloth handbag or carry it into your building completely unprotected.

2. If you’re in the market for a new laptop bag, get an insulated one
Anyone who’s gone shopping for an actual carrying case or bag for their laptop knows there are lots of options and some of them are not cheap! If you live in an area where it rains a lot, remember to buy a bag that is waterproof. Also, look for a temperature rating on the tag. Any bag you buy should offer general insulation information along the lines of “good for outdoor temperatures of X degrees.”

3. Don’t get creative with warmth
Avoid using items such as hand warmers or pocket warmers in your bag, as these can generate too much heat or direct it in only one place, resulting in melted internal components. Also, don’t try to design your own warming device – especially when using a company machine as the test subject.

4. Don’t leave your PC in your car (or any place else really cold) overnight
Night time cold is one of your laptop’s worst enemies, as it can cause parts such as monitors to actually freeze (and possibly crack). It can also damage the unit’s battery and reduce its lifespan, and possibly ruin your hard-drive along with any data it contains.

At the very least, your ice-cold machine will be subject to condensation once you bring it back into the warmth. This moisture poses a serious danger to the internal processors and components. Think what happens when you’re cellular phone comes into contact with water – the same thing can happen to your laptop with just small amounts of condensation inside the case or around the drive. Remember what your grade school science teacher said: water and electricity don’t mix!

5. Carefully thaw out a cold machine
As a rule, standard hard-disk drives are designed to function best at a temperature of 10 to 35 degrees Celsius. If your laptop was left outside, or if you’ve been in an extremely cold climate for more than half an hour, then wait at least 20 to 30 minutes before opening the unit or turning it on. A laptop that’s been out in the elements for a lengthy period of time should be slowly brought up to room temperature.

If you see moisture appearing on the exterior of your system, then carefully soak it up with a dry cloth towel. Do not try to “speed up” thawing by using hairdryers, microwaves, or other forms of artificial warming, as these can damage components or cause potential cracking due to rapid expansion.

6. Don’t panic if you laptop is actually frozen (solid)
Okay – you left your laptop in the car trunk or out on the porch on a snowy winter night and it froze solid. The good news is you can probably revive it. The bad news is the computer might have sustained some permanent damage. Above all, do not attempt to open the laptop. If the wires connecting the screen to the board are frozen, they could snap when you lift up the screen. You’ll need to warm the laptop very slowly before you can even open it.

Take it out of the freezing environment and let it thaw in a slightly warmer place, like an unheated garage. After that, move it to the next warmest place you can think of, such as an unheated room in your house. This process could take a couple of days (think of when you defrost meat from the freezer). But thaw out your laptop very carefully and you do have a chance of getting it to work normally again, aside from a few dead pixels in your LCD screen.

Elaine Mah joined Intel Canada in 2005 as Canadian Business Marketing Manager. She is responsible for Intel’s brand management, product positioning, product launch management and marketing research, as well as sales and integrated marketing communications, advertising and promotional campaigns designed to reach Canadian business customers. Prior to assuming this position, Elaine was Vice President at Sharpe Blackmore Euro RSCG, where she was responsible for planning and strategy on accounts including Direct Energy, Volvo, and Yahoo!, along with new business development. A marketing professional for over 20 years, Elaine received her Bachelor of Commerce degree from the University of Alberta.

By Adam

November 21, 2011