The No-No’s of Computer Use

2001 – This tutorial is a bit different from the others. Most of the time I teach tricks and tell you how to do stuff on your Mac. This time, I wish – with all the arrogance that this implies – to educate you regarding things that you should not do, whether on a Mac or a PC.

Description: What to avoid when using a computer
Difficulty level: Easy
System version: Not applicable
Required: Discipline

Computer users, and this includes Mac users, often have very bad habits. It is a fact that hardware will fail one day. The only question is when it will happen.

Our daily habits usually determine the critical moment. Without knowing, users shorten their Mac’s lifespan. Let’s try to end such behavior and help our Macs achieve longevity.

Sleep vs. Shutdown

To sleep or not to sleep, that is the question. The principle behind sleep is that your computer takes a nap in a low power mode. Your Mac uses less electricity while remaining barely powered on. The sleep option is great for the Mac user who leaves his desk for a limited time. If you leave your desk for 30 minutes or a few of hours, put the computer to sleep.

If you are to leave your Mac unused for an extended period of time (8 hours or more), putting it to sleep is a bad idea. Shut it down. The mechanical parts and transistors in your computer need to cool down every once in a while, and an 8-hour nap achieves just that.

The exception to this is the “deep sleep” mode. Some newer Macs, when put to sleep, will do the equivalent of shutting down. The processor will rest, the fans will stop spinning, the hard drive will turn off, and the monitor will go into deep sleep, too. The only visible difference between the “deep sleep” mode and shutdown is the flashing power button.

If your computer can enter such a level of sleep, then putting it to sleep is the equivalent of a shutdown, since waking it up will power up the hard drive and processor in a similar way to a shutdown.

  • Many newer Macs – some G4s and most Intels – can use Safe Sleep mode. Learn more about the pros and cons of Safe Sleep, which may be running by default on your newer Mac.

Restarts and Startups

Frequent restarts are not good for your Mac. Of course, restarting is a great way to refresh your memory, but you have to avoid abusing the restart. In every cold boot process (a cold boot means turning on a shut down device), components receive an electric charge to power up and get ready for use. Repeated electric charges add up to the abuse that the components take, and thus they can contribute to shorten the life of your hardware.

With everything I said about sleep, restarts, startups, and shutdowns, you can feel confused about what to do. The best tip I can give you is to leave your Mac running during the time when you are likely to use it. Put it to sleep if you are going away for a 30 minutes to a few hours. Restart it only when you have to, and minimize the number of startup processes it goes through during normal day.

The System Battery

Long shutdown periods are bad for your Mac. If you leave your Mac turned off for weeks, the PRAM battery inside your computer will use up much of its energy to maintain some of your settings, such as the time. It will dissipate its energy faster than it should, and when your battery dies, you will have a few problems.

First, your Mac will not be able to keep its clock right. At every restart, it will revert to something like January 1, 1904, December 31, 1969, or January 1, 2001. In addition, a dead battery can cause startup problems. Moreover, we did not even mention having to spend money on a new battery.

Disk Optimization

Defragmenting and optimizing a hard drive with utility software is part of maintaining your Mac. It allows gaining speed through more efficient hard drive accesses. On the other hand, a hard drive is like an audio cassette: the more you write and rewrite on it, the more you abuse it and risk failure.

Optimizing your drive too often is foolish – it is a nasty crash waiting to happen. You have to choose between two strategies. If you use your Mac for not-very-demanding tasks, optimize your drive every 6 to 8 weeks. If, on the contrary, your disk gets fragmented because of your taxing work habits, it is a good idea to defragment every two weeks.

The idea: Reducing the punishment taken by your hard disk. A fragmented disk will have to do more work to retrieve and write files. On the other hand, optimizing a drive with insignificant fragmentation will make your disk go through a long read and rewrite process for nothing.

Publisher’s update: If your computer has an SSD, don’t bother defraging the drive. SSD is crazy fast and won’t really benefit from it, and it will unnecessarily reduce the lifespan of your SSD.

Cold Temperatures

If, for some reason, your computer has been sitting in colder temperature than the typical room conditions for a while, do not start it up right away. Your Mac needs to gradually adapt to the normal room temperature before being ready for use.

A 24-hour transition period is a minimum requirement if your computer has been subject to freezing temperatures. Ideally, wait 48 hours before turning it on. Doing otherwise punishes your hardware greatly. Quick temperature changes are never good for electronics and computers.

Cigarette Smoke

Make sure to keep your Mac away from cigarette smoke. Your computer is a non-smoker; you should respect its rights :-)

Seriously, smoke and computers do not mix well.

Going on Vacation

With what I said about the battery and temperatures, going on vacation can be tricky. As I would never recommend that you stop going on vacation, here is something that you should do. Ask the people who live with you to turn your Mac on for a couple of hours every 2 or 3 days to make sure to save your battery. If nobody else lives with you, you always have an automated option. Go to the Energy Saver control panel. Click on the Schedule tab and set up a schedule that turns the computer on at a given time of a chosen day, and that shuts it down a few hours later. Make sure not to unplug the power cord before leaving :-)

If you leave your Mac in a cold place during your vacation, be a little patient before turning it on when you come home.

That’s it. You should know how to increase your Mac’s longevity. If lucky, you could extend it by a few years.


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