Dave working on beach

5 Ways to Protect Your Laptop in the Tropics

In Stay Safe and Secure by Dave Dean20 Comments


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I love the hot weather.  The warmth of the sun on my back always brings a smile to my face.  Throw in some sand between my toes and a bit of salt spray in the air and I’m pretty much ecstatic.

Sadly the things that make me the happiest are exactly the things that make my laptop sad.  Like, I-don’t-want-to-work-any-more kind of sad.

Having spent the last several months in the heat and humidity of South East Asia, I’ve come up with a few tips to give my laptop a fighting chance of lasting the distance.

Don’t Block the Exhaust Vents

Probably the most important tip, and also one of the easiest things to do, is to avoid blocking the exhaust vents on your laptop.  Excessive heat – especially for long periods – causes all sorts of problems for laptops including unexplained crashes, random shutdowns and reduced life expectancy.

Check where the intake and exhaust vents on your laptop are located.  Most sensible manufacturers place them at the side or rear, while the idiotic ones put them on the bottom.  Regardless, though, it is far too easy to block those vents by using your laptop on a soft surface.

Pillows, beds, even your lap can restrict airflow and cause significant heat build-up.  When the surrounding air temperature is already 30+ degrees Celsius, that is the last thing you need.  Put your laptop on a hard surface like a table or chair when in use, and/or elevate it slightly using a solid object, and it will stay a whole lot happier.

Wait a While After Moving From Air-Conditioning to Outside, or Vice-Versa

Significant temperature and humidity changes can wreak havoc on electronic devices.  Taking your laptop from an air-conditioned hotel room out to beside the swimming pool, for instance, could create real problems.

Condensation quickly forms on the inside of your laptop in situations like this, and water + electricity + moving parts is not a great combination.  Turn the machine off before moving it (good advice regardless of the temperature), and wait a few minutes for it to adjust to the new conditions before switching it back on again.

Don’t Leave Your Laptop in Extremely Hot Places

Even when turned off your laptop can still be damaged by the heat.  It is not unusual for cars parked in direct sunlight to reach temperatures two or three times hotter than the outside air, for example, and in that kind of heat the components in your laptop will expand.  This can potentially cause both short and long term damage, and as notebooks become ever-smaller and more cramped inside this problem only gets worse.

Long story short: take your gear with you rather than leave it in the heat.

 

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Avoid Those Pesky Ants

Ant

If you’d asked me two months ago what the biggest risks to my laptop in SE Asia were, I probably wouldn’t have included the local wildlife. That was before I stayed in an ant-infested bungalow in Thailand for a while. Ever since, I’ve had to deal with one or two of them emerging from my keyboard every day to say hello.

I’ve tried a variety of techniques to make my computer’s internals a less inviting place for them, from making it run as hot as possible to creating home-made ‘ant traps’ and leaving them nearby overnight.

Apparently using compressed air to get rid of crumbs and other food scraps also helps, as does sealing the laptop in an air-tight bag for a few days. Lately the numbers have diminished, but until I have a chance to dismantle the laptop and investigate properly I suspect I’ll keep carrying a few new friends around with me.

Strange but true.

Dust, Sand and Dirt: The Axis of Laptop Evil

Travelling is hot countries is a dirty business.  After a long day on the road, you – and everything you carry – often end up covered in layer of grime.  After a few weeks of this even brand-new laptops can look much worse for wear, and that’s just the damage you can see.

Using your laptop at the beach is great for “look at me, I’m a digital nomad” credibility, but sand does terrible things to electronics.  The tiny grains clog up air vents, fall into sockets and slip down between the keys.  Other than actually dropping it in the sea, there aren’t many better ways to ensure a dramatically shortened laptop lifespan.

Keep your notebook in a case when not being used, and ideally only get it out when in an enclosed space.  You won’t look anywhere near as cool, but at least you’ll probably still have a working computer in six months time.

Do you have any tips for keeping your laptop safe in hot countries?  Share them in the comments!

Ant image via sanchom

About the Author

Dave Dean

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Founder and editor of Too Many Adapters, Dave has been a traveler for 20 years, and a geek for even longer. When he's not playing with the latest tech toy or working out how to keep his phone charged for just a few more minutes, he can probably be found sitting in a broken-down bus in some obscure corner of the planet.

Comments

  1. Oh all so familiar! Especially the ants…. I am trying sooo hard at the moment to protect my new MacBook Air. It does spoil the aesthetics but I find a keyboard “sheath” really helps. Not one of those fancy expensive ones but just a 20 baht one does the job. Helps stops ants, crumbs and sand getting between the keys.

  2. Hi Dave,

    I don’t “travel” with my laptop much, it stays on the desk at home here in Thailand.

    It still gets hot though and I have recently bought one of those thinks that elevates the laptop off the desk with a little fan in.

    Cheap and cheerful but seems to do the job!

    Best Wishes

    Jackie
    Chiang Mai

  3. Great post, thanks for that.
    I’ve travelled quite a bit with my laptop, but my scariest enemy has been sand and dirt, especially living on a tiny island in Indonesia.
    But so far I’ve been lucky… Just got a new Macbook Air 11″ and can’t wait to take it back to Southeast Asia in a few weeks.

  4. Wow, this came out at the completely right time; I was just saying to Mark last night how on our East Coast roadtrip coming up in May we might have to leave our laptops in the van sometimes rather than carrying them around with us all the time but, having read this, I probably wouldn’t want to leave them in the van.

    Hhmmm tough one! Thanks for the tips!

  5. I have terrible problems trying to keep my laptop cool. I’m in the Caribbean and I actually landed on your page whilst trying to find the best laptops for this type of climate. If you can recommend any, please let me know.

  6. I wouldn’t recommend any cases for laptops no matter how nice it might make it look. All that I’ve seen so far degrade the cooling performance of the laptop, especially for something like the macbooks which emit a lot of heat from the case itself.

    Even an aluminium case would significantly reduce cooling performance because there will always be a gap between the case and the body.

  7. Where i go so my mac. I winter in Vietnam every year and have found that the pre christmas !00% humidity causes all kinds of failures-keyboard-logics board.
    My best advise is get your laptop professionally cleaned before traveling(dust read sponge)

  8. To get rid of ants in SEA, keep some cinnamon in the laptop bag or on the table.

  9. […] Some survival advice if you try to read this on the […]

  10. How long does computer hardware last in the tropics. Say a new machine in Togo, Congo or Cameroon, with no air-conditioning. Possibly a desktop rather than laptop. Would it last 5 years?

    1. Author

      Hard to say — there are so many factors involved. If the room is reasonably well-sealed from damp, dust and bugs, and doesn’t get incredibly hot, it might last that long. Humidity, heat, dirt, insects and other things can kill it much faster than that, though. A desktop might last longer than a laptop (more room for airflow, among other things) but again, no guarantees. One upside of most desktops is that it’s easier to replace components like fans if they break.

  11. I just relocated to Costa Rica. The house I’m staying in has an air tight pantry that has a de-humidifer in it that runs 24/7. The owner of the house recommended putting all electronics in that pantry every night. Thoughts?

    1. Author

      It’s probably a good idea. Humidity tends to be very bad for electronics, so if you’ve got the option of a de-humidifier, I’d take it (especially over the course of a long term stay).

  12. I think the point of this conversation is to keep an updated back up disk at all times while traveling to these humid locations.

  13. Good tips. I brought my brand new Kindle with me to Thailand a few years ago, and it became infested with little ants, which had entered via the headphone socket. They actually influenced the touch screen,
    and the device started acting as if an unseen hand was operating it. I watched as the Amazon shop window opened, a random book was selected — “Sometimes a Great Nation”, by Ken Kesey – author of “One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest” — and only my frantic finger-jabbing intervention prevented them from actually buying it. Ever since, I’ve been curious to read the book that the ants nearly purchased for me. Apparently, Ken Kesey also wrote a novel titled “Demon Box,” which I think would have been more appropriate under the circumstances.

    We live in Thailand now, and anyone staying settled for awhile would be well-advised to purchase a “Dry Cabinet” – essentially a little cabinet with a dehumidifier in it – for storing important electronics & especially camera gear. A seemingly dead MacBook Air came to life again after a few hours in one of these miracle boxes.

  14. Great post – shame I have just found it after 10 months working in Uttarakhand, West Bengal and Cambodia. I have managed to keep my laptop going and the thing that has worried me most is the power suply which has been dodgy to say the least in many places. I think I will give it a professional clean when I get home in July as the little pharaoh ants have appeared from time to time!! Thanks a lot.
    Hilary

  15. I live in South India in a very humid environment near the sea. My Dell laptop suffers enormously here. Next time I will buy a humidity-resistant one.
    My main problem is the touchscreen – moisture gets inside it and I get ghost touches that mean I just have to shut down. Also I have lines down my screen constantly for the same reason. Not wanting to buy a new screen for a third of the price of a new computer, I am stuck with it. Someone on The Internet suggesting “squeezing” out the moisture from the screen – he claimed it works. I’ve been too chicken to try it.

    1. Author

      I definitely wouldn’t be squeezing my screen to try to fix it until it becomes totally unusable and you’ve got nothing to lose!

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