How to fix common laptop problems
Laptops are a central part of many of our everyday lives, but they are also the source of substantial frustration. Particularly with cheaper or older laptops, a variety of issues can cause poor performance, and negatively affect our work and hobbies. While some of these are unavoidable, others can be fixed with a bit of tinkering, or a minor upgrade.
Below we’ve collected some of the most common complaints we encounter with laptops, and some of the most common solutions. While this isn’t an exhaustive guide, it should show you how to fix the most common laptop problems, and save you a significant amount of time, money and stress.
#1: My laptop is too noisy / too hot
Unless you’re lucky enough to have access to the latest, most expensive laptop tech, you’re likely to encounter issues with noise and heat. Unfortunately, the razor-thin profiles of modern laptops leave less and less space for cooling solutions. This generally means either passive cooling – ineffective at the best of times – or a small number of tiny, noisy fans.
The truth is that while it may not sound healthy, a fan whirring like a jet engine is a normal response to making demands of a portable system. Heat is generally fine too: as long as you haven’t fiddled with the BIOS, there will be safeguards in place to ensure it doesn’t melt.
Having said all of this, there is a difference between safety and performance. Computers generally run better when they are cooler, so if you can cool your laptop down, it may have small benefits in terms of performance. Here are some tips to take extra precautions and reduce potential heat and noise:
Don’t leave vents covered
Ensure there is no material or object covering the vents to help mitigate noise and heat. These vents are critical to maintaining a safe temperature, so if you cover them up, it could lead to temperatures that will shorten the life of the components in the laptop, and could cause it to automatically shut down.
Keep your laptop clean
Remove dirt and dust to keep the vents clear. Compressed air blowers (either canned or electric) will help to safely remove dust and debris from grills and ports. Whatever you do, don’t use a vacuum cleaner: they can create static electricity that will damage the internal components.
#2: My laptop battery is draining too quickly
Despite the many advances in computing technologies, the lifespan of batteries is still arguably the biggest technology issue we have yet to conquer. High end computers still require a lot of power to operate, and batteries that will fit in a modern laptop can only muster a few hours of charge.
However if you find your laptop or other device isn’t holding charge like it once did, there could be a couple of factors to think about:
If your laptop is over five years old, it may be the case that the machine is simply beginning to age. Batteries have a lifespan beyond which their capacity will begin to diminish. This is usually measured in cycles; in other words, how many times they’ve been charged.
Many laptops will allow you to replace the battery, though you should only use an official replacement, as third party batteries can lack overcharging protections, and be more prone to damage.
Check Task Manager (in Windows) or Activity Monitor (in MacOS) to see what your battery is being put towards. Having a large number of apps open when they aren’t needed will drain your battery unnecessarily.
Some of these may be opening on startup without your knowledge. You can prevent this by searching for Startup Apps in the Windows Start Menu and disabling them there; or by right-clicking apps in your Dock on MacOS and unticking ‘Start at Login’ under Options.
Features such as screen brightness and performance modes play a part in battery consumption. You can turn your screen brightness down by enabling adaptive brightness mode.
On Windows, search for Settings in the Start Menu, then click System > Display. On Mac, click on the Apple menu, then System Preferences > Displays. You can also choose to turn off your display after a set period, and control the brightness manually in both settings panels, or by using the brightness keys on your laptop.
You may also want to set your laptop to Battery Saving mode, though be aware that this may make your laptop slower. On Windows, go to Settings > System > Battery and choose which percentage you’d like Battery Saver Mode to enable at. On MacOS, click the Apple menu > System Preferences > Battery, then select Low Power Mode.
#3: My laptop is too slow
A slow laptop can have many causes. Some are simply down to age: old technology which was adequate to run old applications and websites can struggle under growing demands. Some aspects relate to the other topics we’ve covered: your laptop may be running too hot, or may be in Battery Saver mode, lowering the performance to save battery life.
There are a few things you can try to speed up your laptop, though. If your hard drive is nearly full, this could be slowing things down considerably. Either delete files manually or use the Cleanup Wizard (Windows) or a safe cleanup tool such as CleanMyMac X (MacOS) to highlight temporary files, unused files or other things that can be safely deleted.
A more complicated fix is to improve your RAM or hard drive. Modern DDR4 RAM will provide larger and faster memory for multitasking, while a solid state drive will allow software to run more quickly, and files to transfer faster. Both are relatively cheap compared to the cost of a new laptop, and can have a transformative effect on old hardware.
Most Windows laptops can be safely opened up to add more RAM, while an M2 SSD (where supported) may be more complicated. There will often be model-specific tutorials for specific laptop models, but if you aren’t completely confident, seek out a professional. Unfortunately, Macs are harder to open up and modify, and trying to do so will void your warranty.
#4: My laptop won’t turn on
One of the most common laptop problems is when you go to switch your laptop on like normal and nothing happens. If the laptop appears dead and does not make any sounds or light up, there are a few possible solutions.
Firstly, check that you are fully charged. If it still isn’t turning on, it could be that your AC adapter has failed, preventing the laptop from charging or receiving power. You can test this with a new adapter, or if you have one, a voltmeter.
Otherwise, it may be the DC jack has failed, preventing the power from making it to your battery, or that there’s a more serious fault with your motherboard. It could be that the fault isn’t terminal, but at this stage you may need to speak to a professional.
#5: My laptop’s keyboard isn’t working properly
Yet another common problem when it comes to ageing technology is issues with a laptop’s keyboard. Most laptops use a form of membrane keyboard, involving thin layers of rubber, plastic and circuits. These components can wear and degrade over time, with the keys and board becoming disconnected. This can lead to certain keys not being able to function.
Firstly, be sure to clean your laptop before escalating the issue to an IT professional. While dusting, wiping or using compressed air will remove most debris, you can usually remove the keys to clean more thoroughly, either by gently levering them off or using a cheap keycap puller. Be sure to take a picture first so you remember which key goes where!
If you are still unable to type normally after thorough cleaning, then the issue could be a worn-down membrane keyboard. While it is possible to replace laptop keyboards yourself, it is generally best left to an IT professional. Alternatively, you could purchase a USB keyboard, and plug this into the laptop as a stop-gap solution.
Sota are specialists in technical IT services and support for businesses. If you are dealing with more complex issues, or for any more information, please don’t hesitate to get in touch.