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I got into an argument with a friend of mine on how to handle a laptop while it's in use.

While it was running, I lifted it about 45 degrees off-horizontal to check out the ports on the side, and then again on the other side. He panicked and said using a laptop in anything but pure horizontal is a good way to destroy the hard drives.

I countered with the idea that since laptops are made to be portable, some tilting without excessive jostling would be well within the normal parameters of any decent design.

Long story short, I'm not allowed to touch his Toughbook anymore.

So now the question stands: What are the basic rules that should be respected in regards to using a laptop in order to avoid damaging it?

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7  
Tell him how his toughbook could probably survive a small nuke, and tilting it won't seem to dangerous anymore. –  Phoshi Oct 4 '09 at 19:31
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He was very proud of the fact that it could survive being thrown across the room, but he wouldn't let me do that either. –  goldPseudo Oct 4 '09 at 19:32
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Hard drive equipped iPods can be operated in any orientation while being carried. –  hyperslug Oct 4 '09 at 19:41
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Here's a video of a tiger chewing on a Toughbook video.forbes.com/fvn/tech/tiger-versus-laptop. The laptop suffered no ill effects. –  ephilip Oct 4 '09 at 22:12
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Bah humbug, throw in a decent Thinkpad and that Toughbook and Tiger would stand NO chance ;) –  Oskar Duveborn Oct 10 '09 at 13:33

7 Answers 7

up vote 11 down vote accepted

I believe you are correct. Necessarily a laptop (a decent laptop) is built to withstand a certain level of movement. Something that is meant to be used on your lap and be moved about under your arm cannot be built to be overly sensitive.

That said, definitely no harm can come of it if all care is taken. But my older Toshiba Sattelite Pro 6000 has seen rain and snow and ~6 years of careless usage without ever complaining. So build quality says a lot.

One no-no though: In my opinion, the weakest point of any laptop is the hinges connecting the screen to the body of the computer. That's where one should be careful. no moving your laptop by holding the screen, neither grabbing the screen and turning it around itself to show the screen to your mate on the other side of the table.

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Thinkpads are the exception. I've seen those regularly being carried by their screens with no ill effects. –  RCIX Oct 4 '09 at 20:56
    
It <b>used to be</b> true that computer hardware was that fragile. Modern laptops are not vulnerable to something as minor as tilting. –  CarlF Oct 4 '09 at 22:38
    
All laptop instructions I've seen does not cover actually using it in your lap - due to the vents too easily being blocked by your pants or whatnot... –  Oskar Duveborn Oct 10 '09 at 13:34
    
+1 for the "hinges are the weak part". I use laptops on the go a lot, and on most models the hinges are about the first part to go. Another problem is contact problems due to main board flexing, if you bend the laptop (mostly by carrying it and only holding one side). –  sleske Feb 22 '10 at 10:23

He had a Toughbook and wants to only use it flat? He does know they can be pretty much used under water (tested it once!) or in a sauna?

Anyway... If you have ever taken a old music cd player and jogged, you would hear jumps as it lost its place... Earlier hard drives did have this sort of problem but I haven't seen it for many years - many of them are rated to a certain G-Force rating and as long as you don't excessively shake them, they should not have a problem

However, now, most advanced laptop hard drive even automatically park the head when they reach a certain G-Force (I think the Seagate ones that end in AS).

Basically, I sometimes move mine in between 45 degrees and flat... Never had a problem.

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Apart from others have said (the part about the hdd's being true for early models, not so much nowadays) I'll just add that mine over the years has:

  • fallen off the table while running - and hasn't stopped running (got a crack though and the cd stopped playing for a sec)
  • been running while being in a rucksack (while riding a bike)
  • been connected to a custom bike holder while war driving (running of course)
  • been in all other kinds of "weird" positions

and it's not a Toughbook, but a regular HP medium grade one.

So I'd say your friend is maybe just panicking a little (one of those who out of inexperience, or not knowing follows the manual to the letter). That isn't necessarily bad, just takes time to shift out of that state of mind ...

p.s. Have never thrown mine across the room ... try it and let me know how that goes :)

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Just don't move it if you're burning a CD/DVD. The optical drives aren't built to deal with motion the way hard drives are; introducing any kind of motion while a burn is in progress is a great way to make a coaster.

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Perhaps the only thing you should worry about is operating hard drives at high altitudes (non pressurized planes or high mountains). Hard drive read/write-heads hover a very short distance above the platters on a tiny bit of pressurized air. If the ambient pressure drops below a certain point, they get far more vulnerable to headcrashes.

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There is nothing to worry about. Hard drives can operate in any direction nowadays, and the only thing to worry about are sharp jolts and freefalls.

To prevent damage in the latter case, many laptops contain some kind of accelerometer built-in to halt the heads of the hard drive in case of free fall and quick movement.

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Actually, there is nothing to worry about freefalls. The sudden stops at the end are the troubling part. –  ldigas Oct 4 '09 at 22:05
    
Right, there would be nothing to worry about freefalls assuming the freefall never ended ;) –  Will Eddins Oct 5 '09 at 1:22
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A freefall that never ends is called being in orbit. Last I knew the laptops they carried on the shuttle worked just fine in orbit. –  Jim C Oct 9 '09 at 20:48
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@Jim C: +1 on the principle that physics is awesome. –  quack quixote Oct 10 '09 at 16:35

fact of the matter: it is not your laptop and if you friend has the distinct feeling that you're not treating it with appropriate care, you'll have to accept his decision, which is not likely to be changed by what we're discussing here.

imho, anything with a platter hard disk doesn't deserve the name 'toughbook', platter hard disk drives are very delicate devices and demand utmost care. i don't care for fancy tv commercials where they dump it out of a chopper onto a soccer pitch. it's a stock laptop hard disk drive, shock-mounted alright, and while in use entirely different rules apply.

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