Easy Fixes for Six Common Laptop Problems

Problem: Waterlogged laptop

Cost: $4
Time: About 20 minutes (followed by overnight drying)
Materials: Towel, screwdriver, compressed air -- and hope

Why is it that when there's a glass of water or coffee to be spilled, a notebook is generally there? Call it Murphy's Law of Mobility, but I've seen several notebooks die because of spills.

If you've spilled a soda or a caramel macchiato into your notebook, you're probably out of luck. Anything with sugar is death -- once it dries it's there forever, eating away at your system's components. At that point, you could send it to a professional to use deionized water and a lot of patience, which can be a $1,000 job and take weeks, but you're probably better off just pulling out the hard drive and buying a new machine.

If it's just water or non-sugared coffee that you've spilled, your chances of saving it are much better. Although it's important to act quickly, the worst thing you can do to a wet system is start it up right away to see if it works. If there's water inside, you run the risk of creating an electrical short and potentially causing permanent damage. The thing to do is to calm down and dry out the system before hitting the power button.

Quickly unplug the machine and take out all of the easy-to-remove components like the battery, CD drive, hard drive and keyboard, and set them aside to dry separately. (You'll need a screwdriver to remove some of these parts; consult your manual for instructions.)

Carefully tilt the laptop on its side to help the water drain out. (Click to view larger image)

Tilt the system on its side to help drain the water out. Do yourself a favor and put a towel underneath. Try to keep the liquid away from the display as you're removing parts and draining the system.

Gently shake the system to get liquid out of the many nooks and crannies inside; the air vents generally act as water canals. Next, use a can of compressed air to blow the inside of the case as dry as possible.

Use compressed air to help dry the insides.
(Click to view larger image)

It's a good idea to let the machine sit near a heating or cooling air vent overnight -- or longer if you can stand the suspense -- to fully dry it out.

When you're sure the system has dried out, put it back together, start it up and hope for the best. If it starts OK, let it run for a while to remove any remaining condensation or droplets. If it doesn't start up, it's time to consider getting a new machine.

Brian Nadel is a frequent contributor to Computerworld and the former editor in chief of Mobile Computing & Communications magazine.

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