Saturday, June 12, 2010

Care and Handling of Laptops

The Apple laptops we have purchased to go with the Promethean Activboards are base model machines with the maximum memory. This is the start of a series of posts about the care and handling of the laptops. The posts will define common terminology and specific details about what to do, what not to do, and why.

Water, and Liquids, and Electricity - Oh My!
First and foremost, the computer is a sensitive electronic device. We purchase a three year Apple Care Protection Plan. This serves as a safety net for parts that break. It does not usually cover accidental damage.

About a week and a half ago, a bottle of water was near one of the new machines and a child bumped the cart and the water spilled on the keyboard. It was toweled off immediately, but the damage was already done. As the water came in contact with the electronics under the keyboard, strange things started happening. The machine started turning on and off. Next the computer wanted a password to turn on, but the password was not being accepted. Finally, the computer refused to charge and turn on.

It was taken to the Apple store. The story was told in full and thankfully - rewarded. Close to $800 in damage occurred due to the water, but they are repairing it under the protection plan. This is not always the case!

Rule Number One
Keep all liquids far from all the electronic equipment. It's so easy to think that you'll just take a sip, but in the classroom there are many distractions. All it takes is one bump and the machine is out of service. This applies at home and at school. It applies to transporting the machine to and from school, as well. Many years ago, a bottle of Windex with a loose top spilled on a laptop. It was no longer under the plan coverage and had to be disposed. It cost more to fix the machine than its value.

Will the Machine Come Back the Same?
The machine is back. Luckily, the hard drive was not damaged. This leads to the question: What is a hard drive, anyway?

A hard drive is a part in the computer that saves your files. In a previous post, I wrote about transparencies that were scanned into the computer. Each transparency becomes a computer file in the scanning process. Each file represents hours of work.

We were lucky, the hard drive is fine. If not, those transparancies would have had to be scanned again.

How Could Those Lost Hours Be Prevented?
In the lessons I've been teaching so far, we have not reviewed the concept of backing up files. When you back up a file, it makes an exact copy in another location. There are a few methods.

1) Save a copy on the school's file server (*more in a future post)
2) Create a CD or DVD with the files
3) Save the files on a memory stick (also called a flash drive - see image above)

I'm sure this will be one of the first new lessons when the machine returns to the school.

Here is a Hard Drive
The photo on the right shows an open hard drive. In its natural state, you would never see a hard drive open like it is in the photo. That is because it is an incredibly sensitive piece of equipment. 

The platter is like an old vinyl record. It is more sensitive in many ways. It is always enclosed to prevent dust from touching the surface. As the arm moves over the surface of the platter, it reads and writes information. A piece of dust is like a boulder under the arm.

How Else Can a Hard Drive Be Damaged
Dropping the computer, even a short distance, can cause the arm to bounce on the surface of the disk and cause damage. Depending upon where the arm hits the platter, it may cause enough damage so that they disk will not work again.

The disk not only holds your files, but the entire set of programs that makes the computer a computer. One program is the operating system. The operating system is what gives us the icons on the desktop and the programs we run, for example, the program that lets us use the Internet (Safari). In short, it makes the computer "the computer". 

When you first power on the computer, it goes to the boot record. Imagine the boot record as a unique spot on the platter that tells the computer what to do next. If the arm falls on the platter on the boot record, you cannot read anything else on the platter. 

Oh My Gosh, I'm Going to Break It're not! All this being said, the computer is not so delicate you should be in constant fear of breaking it. Just realize that it is an electronic device that cost a good bit of money. Keep liquids away. Always place it on a level surface. Keep it away from the edge of the table. Relax and enjoy it! 

Image Citation:
Wood, Gary J. "Disassembled Hard Drive." gary j wood's photostream. 22 Jun 2006. 6 June 2010.

Additional photos by Ann Oro.


  1. I am totally stealing this for explaining the care and feeding of laptops.

  2. It's why I published it. Glad it's of use.

  3. This is excellent!!!!!
    We are hoping to get some new macbooks for next year. Our previous laptops (old ibooks) have been through all kinds of misuse, and I have repeated these warnings over and over again. Could you, perhaps, write a post explaining how to teach people to care??? Seriously, I am thinking of having each teacher sign a waiver saying that they take responsibility for the machine. I think that making people financially responsible for spillage, dropage, etc. may be the only way to convince them to be careful. I have seen and heard it all!

    On another note....I need to dig out my receipt, as our pricing looks different from yours. I think our apple care cost significantly more than yours....3 years, right?

  4. I am in the process of asking teachers and even my high school students to consider a cloud source for backups, like Dropbox. Nice post Ann. I cant wait to read the others planned for this series.

  5. Andrea: It is three years of care. Cathy: I really like the idea of Dropbox. To be honest, I hadn't thought of that! Thanks for the idea.