For every new technology that comes along, there will always be someone to fear it. Luddites feared power looms, those guys in tinfoil hats feared mobile phones, and now privacy rights activists fear drones.
But the humble laptop computer? Surely there's no mystery left in these ubiquitous devices, is there?
Would we be writing this if there wasn't? Fear tends to stem from the unknown, so to curb that, here are our picks for the most resilient myths regarding laptop computers, and whether or not you should continue to live in fear of an inanimate object.
1. Laptops Make You Sterile
The notion that laptop computers can affect a man's virility seems to have two distinct versions: One blames radiation, while the other blames temperature. Both blame close proximity to one very important part of the male body.
The radiation argument has been spurred on by a recent study in which researchers put a laptop with an active WiFi connection over a tray of male reproductive material. A similar tray was left under a laptop without a WiFi connection. The result? The WiFi-adjacent swimmers showed less movement and more DNA damage. Ergo, WiFi kills your virility, right?
Not so fast. According to noted fertility expert Dr. Allan Pacey, the results of the study are questionable because the sperm in the study didn't enjoy the benefit of the human body's protective cocoon. "We need large epidemiological studies to determine [whether WiFi poses a risk to fertility]," he went on to say, "and to my knowledge these have not yet been performed."
As for heat? Well, the arguments are mixed. It's well known that a rise in temperature—regardless of the source—negatively affects sperm production. It's a phenomenon that's been observed in bicyclists, runners, and hot tub enthusiasts. Researchers have even noted seasonal differences in virility from winter to summer. So keeping a powerful laptop close to your crotch may indeed impair the production of reproductive material.
But it's important to remember that these effects are temporary, and in large part determined by the user's sitting position. Keeping one's special areas well-ventilated goes a long way toward heading off any potential damage. Still, if you're really worried about it, the table is right over there.
2. Laptops Are Watching You
Come on, your laptop isn't watching you. Get it right: Other people are watching you, using your laptop's web cam. Don't you feel better now?
Yes, there's some truth to this one. A malicious attacker with a lot of know-how could gain control of your laptop's webcam and use it for all sorts of embarrassing purposes. But it takes a little participation (albeit often unknowing) on your end. Like most electronic invasions of privacy, this trick requires one of two techniques: deception, or physical access to your computer. Bottom line: Don't be fooled by sketchy websites or downloads, and keep your laptop away from creepy characters in the real world too.
We could write a whole article just on this one idea, so we did.
3. Magnets Will Erase Your Important Data
Your secret financial data, your treasured family photos, your entire 5 GB collection of hilarious cat GIFs... all of these are at the mercy of an unfortunately placed magnet. Or so goes the myth.
And what kind of magnet is liable to cause such indiscriminate data devastation? Nothing more than your household's basic, everyday, 1.5 Tesla MRI-caliber superconductive electromagnet.
Oh, you don't have one of those? Well, it's a recession, we're all struggling.
No, a household magnet cannot overcome the extensive shielding of a modern hard disk drive, so unless you're using a 30-year-old memory platter or building a tractor beam in your basement, the data is safe. What you should be careful of are unshielded magnetic strips like hotel key cards, which can be erased simply by placing them too near a cell phone!
By the way, solid state drives, found in iPads, smartphones, and expensive laptops, don't use magnetic data storage, and are therefore almost totally immune to the erasing or "degaussing" effect of magnets.
4. Laptops Should Be Turned Off When Not in Use
The fear of squandering one's investment in a fancy new laptop is certainly further down the list of technological terrors than, say, impotence, spying, or the loss of all electronic data. Still, these myths persist and they're worth addressing.
First, let's discuss the idea that laptops should be unplugged and run down to an empty battery once per month.
That's a myth. It used to be true, around five or ten years ago, when most laptops used nickel-metal hydride batteries that were susceptible to the well-known "memory effect," which decreased their longevity. Nowadays, we use lithium batteries for almost all consumer tech, and they've got a two- or three-year lifespan regardless of how often they're discharged.
Second, there's the idea that laptops should be turned off when they're not in use.
This one is partially true. Circuit boards do wear out and corrode with time, but that's almost never the first physical problem with a PC's internals. Dust becomes a factor long before corrosion. Some laptops are more susceptible to dust than others:
"Actively cooled" laptops use little fans to keep components from overheating. But that air's got to come from somewhere, and dust comes along for the ride. These computers should be powered down when not in use. "Passively cooled" laptops use heatsinks and conduction to keep components cool. These laptops are less susceptible to dust, and can be left on indefinitely. Just make sure you keep the lid down to prevent the screen from aging prematurely.
How can you tell whether your laptop is actively or passively cooled? Chances are, yours is actively cooled. Does your computer have any visible vents? Active. Does it get louder when you do processor-intensive things like gaming or watching an HD movie? Active. Can you feel air being pushed out of the chassis if you move your hand around the perimeter? Yep, active.
5. Macs Are Immune to Viruses
Myth, myth, myth.
Remember earlier, when we told you to avoid sketchy websites and downloads? You still need to do that if you're using a Mac. This myth promotes exactly the kind of cavalier attitude that gets people into trouble.
Computer viruses, like biological viruses, are most "successful" when they replicate themselves and pass from person to person. The easiest way to do this, of course, is to start with the largest possible group of people to infect. Over 90% of all desktop and laptop computers are running a Microsoft Windows operating system, so this group is the one virus authors most commonly code for—overwhelmingly so.
But there's nothing about a Mac laptop that makes it inherently virus-free. The issue is popularity, not immunity, and an enterprising hacker could easily catch a whole population of Mac users napping. It's fair to say that Macs are less frequently stricken with malicious software. But immune? No way. Be smart, be safe, and don't get infected.
To find out which laptops offer the best performance, and which are just myths, head back to Reviewed.com Laptops.