Get Some Free Insurance: Clean Your Laptop, Back Up Drivers
Reader Thomas owns a fairly small, compact laptop, yet "the little bugger has gotten incredibly noisy in the last few weeks. It's the cooling fan, which seems to run all the time and at maximum speed." He wants to know what he can do to get his laptop back to its previously quiet self.
Like desktops, laptops can suck up a ton of dust. And because everything in a laptop is packed together so tightly, dust is even more dangerous. When the cooling fan has to run constantly, it's just a matter of time before the machine starts overheating, locking up, and possibly even kicking the bucket.
Fortunately, as I wrote many moons ago, this is quite easy to fix. All you need is a small screwdriver and a can of compressed air (or an air compressor).
Power down the laptop, flip it over, and remove the battery. (Unplug the AC adapter, too.) Look for an air vent on an outer edge of the laptop; there should be a nearby access panel on the bottom. Unscrew the panel and remove it. You should see the fan right underneath. (Your mileage may vary, but the three laptops I have here all have panel-accessible fans.)
Now it's time to blow out the dust, something you might want to do outside. Hit the fan in short bursts from lots of different angles, making sure to blow most frequently in the direction of the air vent. If you're using an air compressor, as I did, keep the pressure relatively low, and don't get too close with the nozzle. You don't want to damage the fan or anything else, after all!
After you've blown out all the dust you can see (and hopefully a lot more that you couldn't), replace the access panel and battery, then power up the system. I'll wager that it runs much quieter (and cooler) than it did before.
If your laptop is more than a year or two old, it's probably overdue for a similar cleaning. (Same goes for your desktop.)
Back Up Your Drivers with Free Semper Driver Backup
I'm a big believer in diversified backups: a local hard drive for cloning your system, an online service that houses your data, your phone for preserving your contacts and calendar, and so on. But there's one piece of the puzzle that's often overlooked: drivers.
Semper Driver Backup does exactly what its name implies: saves and restores all system drivers. Why is this important? Because system manufacturers rarely supply drivers on disc anymore. That means if you ever need to wipe your hard drive and reinstall Windows, you might find yourself without a critical driver.
In fact, I've had it happen where I did a system wipe/reinstall, only to discover I didn't have the driver I needed for the machine's Wi-Fi adapter--meaning I couldn't connect to the Internet to download the other drivers I needed. (Ultimately, I had to hunt down an Ethernet cable and move the machine within range of my router--big hassle!)
Semper Driver Backup finds every single driver on your PC and copies it to a folder, which you can then offload to, say, an external hard drive, a flash drive, or even a service like Dropbox (though I definitely think you're better off keeping the drivers available locally; see my above example if you can't understand why).
This is, of course, just one of several utilities that will tackle this job (which, FYI, you don't need to do often; every 6-12 months is probably fine). Other popular options include Double Driver and DriverMax. Whatever tool you use, just do yourself a favor and use one. The hassle you prevent could be your own.
If you've got a hassle that needs solving, send it my way. I can't promise a response, but I'll definitely read every e-mail I get--and do my best to address at least some of them in the PCWorld Hassle-Free PC blog . My 411: firstname.lastname@example.org . You can also sign up to have the Hassle-Free PC newsletter e-mailed to you each week .