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Situation:
It's -5 °C outside and I'm bringing my laptop to school in my bag. I spend a lot of time walking outside in the cold. Then I go into the school where it's 25 °C and fire up the laptop immediately. Note, I'm not using the laptop while outside, it's on "sleep", so the "operating temperature" in the manual is irrelevant I think.

What are the odds that this breaks/wears my laptop eventually, or shortens the battery life? Has this happened to anyone? Any way to protect the laptop without using an additional insulating bag?

Laptop model: Fujitsu-Siemens Amilo Pi-3525

P.S. Some days it snows (high humidity) and some days it doesn't.

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Not duplicate: superuser.com/questions/65866/… –  monov Jan 15 '10 at 18:01
    
On a smaller scale, my 80gb classic HDD-based ipod is withstanding hour-long walks several times a week during the canadian winter, actually being used, with no noticable problems. On its second winter now. –  mtone Jan 15 '10 at 19:27

4 Answers 4

up vote 5 down vote accepted

I live in Montana and we recently had a couple really cold weather snaps (-22f) and I walk around with my laptop in my bag all the time. It should be okay, but especially when it's cold be sure not to bang it around until it warms up a bit.

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sorry, by "bang it around" you mean I should wait before un-sleeping and using the laptop? thanks! –  monov Jan 15 '10 at 18:05
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No unsleeping and using it should be okay. What I mean is when you set it down on the desk to use it you should be a bit more gentle than normal. Seriously though, I've had laptops up here in the frozen north for quite some time and haven't damaged one in the cold yet. –  Jade Robbins Jan 15 '10 at 18:16
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Curious - Why does the cold affect how gentle you need to be with it? –  Console Jan 15 '10 at 22:59
    
Ditto Console's question. I'll go further and say it sounds like you just made this up. –  skypecakes Jan 16 '10 at 0:28
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Plastic can get fragile in really cold temperatures. I don't have any scientific data or personal experience but plastic that normally has some give at room temperature can become very rigid and much more prone to breaking in extreme cold. –  Jade Robbins Jan 18 '10 at 6:24

Top 10 Cold Weather Tips for Laptops

Regular 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. Protecting your laptop from cold weather is important and you should know how to protect your laptop from cold weather. Protect yourself and your laptop from the damage cold weather can cause.

  1. Ruggedized Laptops If your budget allows, purchase or lease a ruggedized laptop if you will be outside in cold temperatures for extended periods of time. Ruggedized laptops have been designed to work under extreme weather conditions. When you rely on your laptop and can't count on the weather to co-operate - a ruggedized laptop is worth considering. Most ruggedized laptops have been tested according to MIL-STD-810F standards.

  2. Careful Storage 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.

  3. Let It Warm Up Once you bring a laptop in from the cold - allow it to warm up to room temperature before booting. The same is true when you go outdoors - allow the laptop to acclimatize to the outside temperature before booting up.

  4. Incorrect Warming Methods Do not use devices such as mug warmers or pocket warmers to heat or keep a laptop warm. They are not designed for this purpose and can create problems as they will not heat or keep a laptop warm in the right way. They could heat the wrong parts of a laptop or cause it to generate too much heat and melt internal components.

  5. Laptop Warmers There are laptop warmers designed specifically for the purpose of keeping a laptop warm and these are what you should use. Laptop warmers have been tested to ensure they will safely protect your laptop and are a wise investment.

  6. Excessive Heat Build-Up 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. You can create your own "box" for your laptop which will allow air to circulate and provide an enclosed area for you to use your laptop. Having the laptop on a raised platform for your laptop within the box will aid in airflow. This laptop box will help keep the laptop warmer as cold air is blocked and the heat generated from the laptop is kept in the box.

  7. Protecting Your Display Don't use heating pads or other external sources of heat to warm up or thaw a laptop display. Allow the display to warm on its own and do not boot up a laptop if you suspect the display is frozen.

  8. Stay Out of the Cold Whenever possible stay out of direct exposure to cold weather conditions by staying in a vehicle, inside a building or other type of shelter. Protecting your laptop from excessive dampness or wet from snow will keep your keyboard from freezing and other problems from developing.

  9. Change Power Settings By changing the power settings from power save mode will help keep the laptop warm as it continues to run. Instead of having the hard drive shut down, keep it spinning. The longer the laptop can be kept left running, the warmer it will stay as it generates its own heat.

  10. Don't Get Creative Last but by no means least - do not create your own devices to keep your laptop warm! This is especially important if you are using a company owned or leased laptop. You will be responsible for any damage caused and will have to have it repaired or replaced at your own expense.

Source

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Other then the "loose all data" comment for #2, this is all solid advise. Unless your hard drive is frozen in a block of ice, you can still get data off of it if you properly handle it. The main concern about a "frozen computer" is water becoming a conductant and causing a short circuit. Electronics can work in space (where it is really cold) mainly because they are in a vacuum. There is no water vapor to form as ice on the components. In most cases, it's not the low temperature that breaks a computer, it's sudden temperature changes and atmospheric water vapor that cause damage. –  Doltknuckle Jan 15 '10 at 21:28

When you go from cold to warm the longer you can wait for the unit to acclimatize from cold to warm temps the better. Usually the thing I am most worried about is condensation that it picks up being outside or even in the car on a long winter trip. That I try to remove with a chamios cloth prior to start up (probably a superstition but its habit now). I work in a lot of remote places in Canada with temps going from 0 to -50c.

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Actually if you turn the thing on immediately, it won't have time to condense any water before it warms up. –  CarlF Jan 15 '10 at 22:45
    
CarlF, could you explain? I think water will condense, regardless of whether I turned the laptop on immediately. –  monov Jan 16 '10 at 9:45

Whether it's a duplicate or not is questionable but that's not an issue here. For the question should not be "whether cold weather will break your laptop" but "how long do you travel to school" ? A rucksack or laptop bag is pretty well insulated, also receiving bodily heat from you since it's next to you, ... so it doesn't really cool to -5 deg.C at all.

Also, just to add that I've used my HP box (low grade, not any kind of "special") in indecent weather conditions (see also the other question), including carrying in on the top of the car, and in very humid tunnels, and it's still with me. A little scratched, but it works like a reliable diesel engine.

What it says in the manual is one thing; real life is another (laptop manufacturers know that; they don't brag about it).

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