Find Menu
student in media lab

Laptops and Temperature Extremes

Laptops Really do Freeze!

Electronic devices suffer from temperature extremes. Liquid Crystal Displays (LCDs) of laptops, phones, and PDAs really do freeze. Laptops have been designed to work within a safe temperature range, normally 50 to 95 degrees F (10 - 35 degrees C). This range refers both to optimal usage temperature of the outside environment and the temperature the laptop should be warmed to before using.

Careful Storage

Never leave a laptop, or other device, even in a well-padded and insulated case, in the trunk of vehicle in cold or hot weather for long periods of time. The device could freeze and you lose all data contained in it. Heat may also damage components.

Let It Warm Up

Once you bring a laptop in from the cold (or heat), allow it to return to room temperature before booting. "Ruggedized" laptops are designed to work under extreme weather conditions. Standard issue Hampshire laptops are not "ruggedized."

Protect Your Display

Do not boot up an LCD display device if you suspect the display is frozen. Don't use heating pads or other external sources of heat to warm up or thaw the display. Allow it to warm on its own.

Incorrect Warming/Cooling Methods

Do not use devices such as mug warmers or pocket warmers to heat or keep a laptop warm. Likewise, refrigeration of a hot laptop subjects components to too rapid cooling. Devices not designed for this purpose can create problems as they will not distribute temperature in the right way. They could heat the wrong parts or generate too much heat and melt internal components.

Do not use your laptop while it is still inside a laptop bag. There is no room for air to circulate and you will get heat build-up.

Laptops, cell phones, and other mobile devices are tools to help manage the details of life. Don't leave your tools out in the wet and cold. Proper care and maintenance of your digital devices is as important as maintaining the brakes of a car—both keep you from crashing.

Prevent Overheating

As computers have become more powerful they have simultaneously been generating more heat. Portable computers are particularly susceptible to overheating, so make sure yours has room to breathe.

All computers generate heat that must be dissipated to avoid damaging components. Desktop computers are large enough that they can include large fans and heatsinks, and some customized systems even contain water-based cooling systems. In contrast, portable computers are limited in the amount of space they can devote to cooling; add to that the fact that batteries generate heat when charging and discharging, and you've got a very delicate balance when it comes to managing heat.

Some guidelines for ensuring that you don't hasten your computer's demise by inhibiting its ability to cool itself:

  • Don't use portable computers on squishy surfaces, such as beds, couches, or even your lap. (Look around and you'll notice that computer makers no longer refer to their computers as "laptops," but instead use the term "notebook.")
  • Don't block the air vents on your computer with, for instance, sticky notes.
  • Turn your computer OFF before putting it in a bag; even a sleeping computer generates heat and can easily overheat in the padded compartment of a carrying bag. 
  • Do not place other components, such as printers, directly next to your computer. Leave enough room to ensure that the heat from one is not affecting the temperature of the other.
  • Do not allow your computer to sit in a closed, hot car. If it does get hot from where it's sitting, let it cool down before using.
  • If your workspace is unavoidably hot (unfiltered sunlight or heat from a radiator, for instance), consider purchasing a cooling device for your computer. Many retailers offer stands that incorporate fans and air vents.
  • If you follow all of the advice above and still find your portable computer running hot to the touch (all computers will feel warm, we're talking about HOT), it may be time for a professional to look at it. If it's a Hampshire-owned computer contact the help desk at 413.559.5418; students can bring their computers to the Student Diagnostic Center, 413.559.6602.
Stay In Touch
With Information Technology Staff
Snail Mail
Information Technology
Hampshire College
893 West Street
Amherst, MA 01002
Phone + Email
413.559.5418
Fax: 413.559.5419
helpdesk@hampshire.edu