No matter how hard you try or how meticulously you care for it, your notebook is going to show signs of age over time. Keycaps wear down and get that off-putting, shiny-plastic look. Dirt, crumbs, and gunk get stuck in the keyboard and other crevices, while lint and dust build up in virtually every crack, seam and open port. Don't forget those inevitable scratches and nicks, either.
The same degradations are going on inside your laptop, too: Dense heatsinks become clogged with gunk. Thermal interface materials weaken and loosen the bond between said heatsink and your processor. All of it conspires to cause your laptop to overheat, whir loudly, or become instable or even fail (in extreme-enough conditions).
Fortunately, there's plenty you can do to make a trusty old laptop run like new. Throw in a couple of upgrades while you're at it, and the system may even run better than it did when you first took it out of the box.
Cleaning the exterior
Cleaning and restoring the exterior features of a notebook is straightforward, but you don't want to go attacking the machine with harsh cleansers or chemicals, which could damage the screen or finish. Here's what you ideally need for an exterior clean-up:
- Canned air
- Small brush
- Mild vinegar-based glass cleaner, or LCD-specific cleaner
- Cotton swabs
- Paper towels, lint-free cloth
- (Optional) Scotch-Brite pad and polishing compound
Applying some gentle cleaner to a lint-free cloth and wiping down the exterior of your laptop will do away with any light dirt and grunge, while the small brush and canned air will make quick work of any dust and other junk. Don't spray chemicals directly onto your laptop, and try not to get liquid inside your case.
Flip the machine over and mash the keys to dislodge any debris from under the keyboard, then hit it with a few blasts of canned air. You'll be shocked at what comes flying out. Repeat the process a few times as necessary. Some keyboard aficionados may scoff at the idea of using canned air because it may force the debris into the key-switches, but I've never had an issue.
Parts that have been scratched or worn down and shiny may never regain their original glory, but a Scotch-Brite pad and a little elbow grease will dull the shine and result in a less-noticeable matte finish on any shiny plastic surfaces. More serious scratches — or painted surfaces that have become lightly scratched — can be minimized using a bit of polishing compound.
Diving into the interior
Cleaning the interior of a notebook is another story altogether. Even for experienced tinkerers, opening up the system and keeping track of all of the screws and small parts can be difficult. Compounding the problem, no two notebooks are the same.
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