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Why Do Modern Laptops Die After Just a Few Years of Use

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It is often repeated that electronics producers plan the life-cycle of their products, meaning that they produce items which die much sooner than what was usual, say, 10 or 15 years ago. Unfortunately this is not a conspiracy theory, but a mere fact of life.

Lead-Free Solder

Environmentalists achieved a significant win when two European Union directives came into effect on July 1, 2006: the Waste Electrical and Electronic Equipment (WEEE) and the Restriction of Hazardous Substances (RoHS).

One of the many effects of these directives was the ban on using lead in electronics solders.

While lead-free alloys lower the environmental impact of electronic devices, they also have side effects. Such as that at high temperatures microscopic voids appear within the lead-free solder alloys, a process called the Kirkendall effect.

Given time these voids produce cracks and finally the solder breaks, making the electronic component or the whole laptop useless.

Laptop Temperatures

The inside of a laptop is a very hot place. Depending on what processes are launched, temperatures can be anywhere from 35°C (95°F) to 100°C (212°F) or even more — e.g. playing a demanding game raises the temperatures of certain components much more than everyday office applications.

Thanks to the above-mentioned effects of high temperatures on lead-free solders, today extreme heat shortens the life expectancy of all laptops.

What is lost on many users is that environmentalism comes at a cost. In the case of laptops, the cost is the dusting of the device’s inside parts.

Almost everyone lives in a dusty environment. Dust tends to be attracted to electronic components, creating layers of thermal isolation around them.

Laptops are equipped with fans to get rid of excess heat from near the CPU (which is one of their hottest component), but when dust stands in the way the fan can’t do its job well.

Temperature then stays high inside the laptop, even though the fan works at maximum capacity. This in turn makes the laptop extra noisy as a secondary “benefit” to the user.

Dust Your Laptop

In order for your laptop to last more than a couple of years, you need to take apart your laptop and dust its insides at least once a year.

If you don’t know how to do this, find a company in your vicinity providing such professional services. It shouldn’t cost more than $20-$30 to dust a laptop.

If you decide to dust your laptop yourself, make sure to follow correct procedure.

It is also a good idea to find a detailed instructions guide on how to take apart and then assemble your laptop again. We are talking about dozens of tiny screws — so be pedantic about labeling them and placing them on your table in an orderly fashion. The same goes for all components you take out of the laptop.

Monitor the Temperatures

It is good to have a general idea about the temperatures inside your laptop. I use Speccy for keeping tabs on my laptop temperatures.

speccy

Speccy

If you know that your CPU’s normal working temperature is less than 50°C (122°F), then a 70°C (158°F) reading might be a warning sign that dusting is necessary.

All in all, it is not enough to make directives because it is not possible to ban dust from entering our electronic devices. The environment doesn’t benefit from less lead in our laptops, if we toss out whole laptops every few years.

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Comments 4

  1. So all laptops will die from being lead free? What if you have a low powered machine that generates little heat?

    1. Peter Post
      Author

      In my opinion most new laptops will die sooner than necessary because they are not being maintained properly. A laptop needs to be dusted at least once a year in order to prolong its lifespan. Dust ultimately will cause a laptop to overheat. But as I pointed out in the post, since lead in laptops is now illegal, you need to pay that much more attention to your laptop’s maintenance.

  2. Put a 3/4 inch thick book near the very back of the laptop to jack it up in back, so the airflow will be greater under the laptop. Allowing more airflow will extend the life of the laptop. That’s what I do…it really helps

    1. Peter Post
      Author

      That’s one way to go but you still need to clean the inside of your laptop once a year. There’s no way around it. Given enough time, dust will make your laptop overheat — book or no book.

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