There should be an image here!Q: What are the most common causes of failure in laptops? — Gino

A: The portable computer (laptops, netbooks, etc.) became the top selling category of computers when they began to outsell the desktop computer back in the third quarter of 2008.

And since there are more units being sold every year, there are more people being confronted by the much higher costs to repair portable computers when they break.

While portable computers are certainly convenient, you will always pay a premium whenever something goes wrong with any of the components. Unlike standard desktop computers that mostly use interchangeable parts, laptops are comprised primarily of proprietary components that generally come from one source: the manufacturer.

Other than the RAM (Random Access Memory) and the hard drive, be prepared to ‘pay the piper’ for replacement parts, even if you can find them used, which is why I always caution buyers to make sure they really need the portability.

We’ve been repairing portable computers since they were referred to as ‘luggables’ in the ’80s, so we’ve seen just about everything.

The single most common service we perform on portable computers is the same service we perform on desktop computers: corrupted or infected operating systems (nothing to do with hardware failures).

Malicious software (malware), viruses, and general over-installing of unnecessary programs is by far the most common reason we see our ‘patients.’

From an actual failure of components standpoint, here are the top five reasons we have to repair a laptop and what you can do about it.

  1. Motherboards (39%): Motherboard failures are the most common (and one of the most expensive) repairs that we perform and about half of the time it’s from a poor decision made by the user (for the other half, it’s just a poorly designed motherboard).When the original power adapter dies, many are often enticed to buy ‘universal’ power adapters from third parties because they’re cheaper than the original adapter from the manufacturer.Unfortunately, these universal adapters can deliver excessive power when they fail, often blowing up components on the motherboard. I highly recommend sticking to the original manufacturer’s power adapters to help avoid this expensive repair.
  2. DC Jack/AC adapter (18%): This is one of the repairs that is 100% user-caused. The power adapter often plugs into a small hole that contains a rather delicate pin jack that, if pushed to one side or the other or in too hard, can short out, break off, or crack the solder connection — or even the motherboard.Tripping over the power adapter’s cord or pushing the laptop back into a wall or cabinet account for most of these repairs, so act accordingly.
  3. LCD Displays (17%): Unless you drop the laptop, the most common display repair deals with replacing the backlight or inverter for the LCD. There’s a finite number of hours that the display ‘lighting’ will run before failing, so the best way to avoid this repair is to set your laptop to go to ‘sleep mode’ whenever you close the lid — and close the lid whenever you aren’t using the laptop. Lowering the brightness setting could also help extend the life of the display system.
  4. CPU Fans (6%): The processor in a laptop generates a lot of heat in a very small space, so it’s critical to draw the heat away to keep everything running properly. While most fan failures are caused simply from normal use, if you have pets or smoke, you can increase the likelihood of a fan failure because the air vents on your laptop are more likely to get clogged up (so clean your vents periodically).
  5. Keyboards (4%): This is another failure that is generally a ‘liveware’ (human) caused repair. Spilled liquids are the primary drivers of this type of repair, so if you just can’t fathom keeping liquids away, get a keyboard spill guard installed.

Human behavior is a big reason we have a thriving laptop repair business across the country, so if you want to avoid a visit to ‘the doctors,’ remember these tips!

Ken Colburn
Data Doctors Computer Services
Data Doctors Data Recovery Labs
Data Doctors Franchise Systems, Inc.
Weekly video tech contributor to CNN.com
Host of the award-winning “Computer Corner” radio show