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I saw the question Will cold weather break my laptop?...

I have a similar question, but it's different.

One of the answers there posted a list of top-10 recommendations for what to do. (source: About.com) It seemed to sound authoritative, except on closer examination some of the things were inconsistent, and all of them were pretty vague ("let it warm up") and lacked supporting science. For example:

Never leave a laptop, even in a well-padded and insulated laptop case in the trunk of vehicle in cold weather. The laptop could freeze and you lose all data contained in it.

I was not aware that simple cold temps could cause a hard drive to fail. Also, how cold is cold? What does it mean to "freeze" a laptop? What's the freezing point of laptops?

Q1: Is there any basis for the claim that "freezing" a laptop could cause loss of data?

One of the other recommendations is to "let it warm up."

Q2: Is this reasonable?

I read elsewhere that warming up a laptop can cause condensation, and THAT, and not simply cold temperature, is the potentially damaging factor. In this case it might be better to turn on the laptop and let it warm itself up.

Can someone help me out with an authoritative answer, rather than one based on opinion or "this always worked for me"?

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2 Answers 2

up vote 10 down vote accepted

A few facts:

1) A very cold battery will lose its charge quicker and so if you use a laptop on battery when it's cold you may have less runtime (NB: I am not talking about battery self-discharge)

Lots of info here: http://www.mpoweruk.com/performance.htm

2) You will often see condensation on items brought in from cold environments but this is not the only reason you let them warm up before switch on. The other reason for waiting is because switching on a cold item and letting it heat up rapidly may result in thermal shock to delicate components (eg: disk drives and LCD screens, especially the glassmount screen connectors) as their parts expand rapidly.

Hope this helps.

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Cold temp at your posted temp (~10f) will not cause the HDD to be damaged when the computer is turned on. This temp will not freeze the LCD either.

Letting it warm up has two paths it could follow, if the computer was frozen in a moist environment, ie. outside, then start the computer at 31 F and put the computer in a container the coveres at least the to the keyboard of the computer and fill the contaioner with sylica gel, if you don't haver that much you can use dry rice, this is to absorb the moisture than is not going to come off the warming computer. Also I would not run any applications, just leave at log in or statr up desktop until the computer is at room temp. Also do not plug it in if it has died due to battery charge loss ( from the cold).

If the computer was exposed to the inside of a car, it is likely that there in no moisture inside the computer and start it up in your home once it has warmed up completly to room temp. 72F

hope this helps (If your computer dies, I have methods of saving the hard drive when exposed to cold and then re heated up.(however if the HDD is your primary concern, remove it under 10F conditions and put it into a back up starter and turn that on at 10F this will save the HDD for sure. but only if the HDD is the first concern, as opening the computer under 10F conditions will cause damage, ie moisture from breath or opening the external case in your car))

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Take care with this as the last thing you want is silica beads or rice below the keycaps or inside the laptop via the fan vent slots. If you really need to do this then the laptop should be placed inside a cotton/muslin bag first - one that is fine enough to not let the silica/rice through. –  Linker3000 Dec 9 '10 at 17:09

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