Hardware

Electronics and Cold Weather

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This morning, it is -12° F with a windchill of -25° F where I live; this drastic drop in temperature had me thinking about its effect on electronics. Although trying to achieve cold temperatures with performance-oriented computers is something to be desired, extremely cold conditions can severely damage devices and gadgets. So, here are some reasons to be wary of leaving your electronics in your car overnight or being too lazy to grab the Amazon package from your front door, as well as some methods to prevent the risks of hurting your precious pieces of technology.

Freezing

Through many of my PC builds, the quest to cooling my components has always been a fond pastime. Through the use of water-cooling, heatsinks, extra fans, and air conditioning systems, trying to get my overclocked components at the lowest operating temperatures was something of a personal hobby of mine. However, when it comes to dangerously cold conditions, too much cooling can be hazardous. In freezing temperatures, devices such as LCD screens, batteries, and anything that contains moving parts like motors and disk drives, can have their performance lowered or even suffer from significant damage.

Moisture

Along with the potential dangers of freezing temperatures, moisture related failures due to condensation also come into play. Similar to how your glasses fog up when you come inside from a winter night, the same thing happens to your electronic devices. Condensation and moisture can cause short-circuits and the warping of batteries.

What to Do?

Hard Drives

Let’s say you purchased a new hard drive and it was delivered to your front door but was sitting outside all night. Before you use any device that has been subjected to cold temperatures, it is an excellent idea to allow them to slowly warm up to room temperature before you power them on. Hard drives are quite susceptible to issues when they are cold, due to the thickening of the lubricants that keep the platters spinning. Be wary of allowing the hard drive to warm up too quickly, as the sudden rise in temperature can cause condensation, thus increasing the chances of electrical shorts. Instead of immediately opening the package once it is inside, leave it in its packaging for a bit.

Solid State Drives

Solid state drives are much less susceptible to cold weather due to their lack of moving parts. Although as a general rule of thumb, allow them to warm up to around 32° F before use.

Batteries

Lithium-ion batteries, such as the ones found in many products like iPhones and iPads, should not be charged at temperatures below 32° F; doing so can increase the risk of causing damage to the battery.

Check the Specs

When in doubt, opt out. If you have any concern that your device or gadget might be too cold for use or charging, check out the manufacturer’s specifications. More than likely, the specs from the manufacturer will include a minimum and maximum temperature for both storage and use. Apple’s iPad, for example, generally recommends a normal operating range of 32°-95° F.

Moisture

If you accidentally drop a device into the snow or suspect that condensation has built-up, there are several methods to dry the electronics. You can just use a microfiber cloth or paper towel to wipe the excess moisture, insert the device into an air-tight container containing packets of silica, or even submerge the device in a bowl of uncooked rice.

Summary

Hopefully, these tips will keep your technology safe and warm this winter. As winter can be annoying enough with the cold weather and snow, having the season destroying one of your laptops that you left in your car overnight would be unbearable.

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