Laptop Basics

A key part of how consumerism works is to create more demand for products, whether through advertising or the creation of new markets. Is there a laundromat? Try and replace it with a washing machine (and then dryer) in every home. Does a family own a radio? Create a market for televisions in every room. If you want to sell cars and fuel and knick-knacks, create a suburban illusion and expectation of manorial splendor. One of the ways this manifests for computer users is in the increasing tendency of technology to become personal, as demonstrated in the ubiquity of cell phones and laptops. More and more people are replacing home or desktop computers with laptops, so this article will focus on some absolute laptop basics.

What Is A “Laptop?”

For our purposes a laptop is a fully powered computer intended to be portable and used by one and only one person, whether it ever leaves the house or ever finds itself on the thighs of a sitting human. There are currently two basic laptops in the Apple production line, the MacBook and MacBook Pro. Thee “notebook” computers are hinged on one side and about the same size as a three-ring binder. Rather than have physically separate monitor, keyboard and mouse attached by cables, the laptop contains all of these things “inside” where they are accessible when the computer is opened.

All The Parts in One Package

Looking at an open Apple laptop, the keyboard is obvious, with a flat “trackpad” sits just beneath the spacebar serving as a mouse. The built-in screen includes a camera and microphone at the top for video-conferencing, with speakers and jacks and slots and ports to insert everything from DVD movies to external hard drives, monitors and other peripherals. All Apple notebooks include built-in “Airport” and “Bluetooth” wireless networking, as well as fast ethernet connections, but that doesn’t mean one needs use them. If you’d rather use your current keyboard, mouse and monitor, one can with a simple monitor adapter (or use the adapter to give your laptop two screens).

Charging and Battery

Laptop computers are plugged into electric power like any other, using an external “power supply” which (with a special adapter kit from Apple) can be used pretty much all over the world. Unlike most computers, though, the laptop can be unplugged and run from an internal battery. Special adapters allow them to run from automobile cigarette lighters or on equipped airplanes, and to avoid “battery memory” every laptop should be allowed to fully discharge once a month or so. It is an odd fact that the two quickest ways to destroy a laptop battery are either by never plugging it in or by keeping it plugged in all the time. Most new laptops will run for about three hours when fully charged, and automatically begin charging when plugged into electricity. Heavy laptop users should plan on replacing the internal battery every few years, and I replace my own each calendar year.

Care and Maintenance

The main enemies of the laptop are gravity, vibration and moisture. For this reason, it is a good idea to invest in at least a “shock jacket” or sleeping-bag-style cover of some sort, to protect it against minor bumps and dings while jostling around in a bag. It is also important to keep it dry and as dust-free as is practical.

There are special clear covers to protect against scratches and, as with eyeglasses, dust will inevitably mar the screen. Although there are specialized cleaners for laptop screens, a lint-free cloth (such as a clean coffee filter) and water are more than adequate for occasionally cleaning the screen. Just be sure to turn the machine off and unplug it first. Crumbs and oil and make-up on the keys can be cleaned with the same sort of cloth, dipped in rubbing alcohol (which evaporates more quickly) then squeezed so that it is no moister than the inside of a banana peel at contact. Some people like to put a bit of cloth or paper between the keyboard and screen when the MacBook is closed, to keep from getting “keytracks” on the screen, but these can just be wiped up with water, much like dust.

Because of their travel schedules and the fact that any repair is generally more expensive for a laptop, I heartily recommend the AppleCare protection plan for anyone purchasing a new machine. These extend both telephone tech support from Apple and the hardware warranty from one year to three years, which is a fairly common lifespan for such things these days.

Upgrading the Laptop

Years ago it was the case that laptops tended to be appreciably more expensive and less powerful than desktops, but for most practical purposes, those days are gone. Laptops have less space inside for major upgrades, but RAM and larger hard drives are inexpensive, and peripherals such as printers, scanners, cameras and hard drives are mostly external anyway.

For Further Information

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