Most computer users know that electricity and water can damage their computers. They may not know that PCs can sustain severe damage when bumped, shaken, or dropped. 

We will cover the topic today. Why, for example, does an unprotected laptop stop working after unexpected jolts and banging? Afterward, we provide a checklist on what to look for after such jostling, and why rugged computers may be essential in specific mission-critical settings where vibration is the norm. 

How Dropping, Jolting, and Bumping Affects Computers

A bump, jolt, fall, or bang against a sufficiently hard surface can potentially affect different parts of a computer. Desktop PCs like an industrial panel All-in-One are more protected thanks to their cases. 

A laptop or tablet is a different – and delicate – beast. Yes, they can take a pounding, perhaps even a drop or two, up to a certain point. They may survive a fall from the desk without a scratch. But bump them with something heavy in the right way, at just the right time, and suddenly the user has an expensive dead weight to consider. 

Computer components that can be affected by impacts include:

Hard drive: The hard disk drive (HDD) is one of the most delicate parts of most computers and the most vulnerable. That is because many use spinning plates for data storage. HDDs have a read/write head that must move to interact with the plates to retrieve/store data. They can lose contact with each other if the PC is jolted or the laptop moved beyond a certain point, and they’re actively processing data. If the impact is severe enough, the disc can be gouged. This damages the plates’ magnetic surface, where the data is stored, leading to loss of that data and a drop in the overall functionality of the machine. 

Solid state drives (SDD), which will be covered later, do not have this issue. 

Computer fan: Computers generate an enormous amount of heat. That’s why pc cooling systems are so important. Unfortunately, the air cooling used by most can stop functioning if the machine is hit hard enough. This shuts down the computer until the cooling system is fixed or replaced. Many rugged computers have gone fanless to avoid this bottleneck (see below). 

Power supply: A jolt or bump can cause the power supply to become loose. The result is the computer will not start up or, if it does, will shut down unexpectedly.

RAM: the computer’s Random Access Memory, or RAM, can suffer when it is bumped while processing data. Memory errors to even system crashes can result depending on the impact’s severity. 

Expansion cards: A sufficiently hard bump or jolt can dislodge or damage any of the PC’s  expansion cards (graphics cards, sound cards, network cards, etc).

Motherboard: The metallic motherboard is a significant component of virtually all computers. And like any piece of metal, it can be bent with sufficient force or constant vibration above a certain point. 

A failed motherboard renders a machine useless.

Checklist: Is My Computer Damaged? 

Most standard computer warranties don’t offer free repairs when they’re dropped. If you or your employee has dropped their laptop or jostled hard their desktop PC, look for the following for signs of severe damage (and a trip to the IT department): 

External Damage: Examine the computer chassis closely for broken bits or cracks. Take a close look at ports. Check to ensure they haven’t been damaged. If one or more had something plugged in (example: headset), make sure it wasn’t pushed in when the computer fell or was hit. 

Internal Damage: Checking for internal damage to a desktop PC is quite different from a laptop. 

With the PC, first make sure it’s unplugged. Once this is done, remove the side panel. Check to make sure everything inside is still attached. This ranges from checking all cords are connected firmly to no memory modules or chips have become loose. 

With a laptop, slowly turn it about while listening for loose parts shaking around inside the chassis. If you hear nothing, that’s a good sign, as nothing should be moving around. 

Display Damage: Signs of a damaged or cracked display or monitor range from strange lines or figures to dead zones with no image. 

Performance Problems: Once you’ve confirmed the hardware looks intact, it’s time to assess the software. To do so, boot up the machine. Is the computer feeling slow? Can you connect to your network? Run through a few everyday tasks such as opening an application, saving a document, and some web browsing. Has their performance declined at all? If everything is working, you should be okay. If any of the above are giving problems, the computer most likely needs to be serviced.

How Rugged Computers Handle Drops, Jolts, and Bumps

Computer manufacturers, keenly aware that the more moving parts in their devices, the greater the chance of damage and failure, have looked to address the issues. Many modern desktop PCs use:

  • SSD or other forms of flash storage like eMMC. Since they don’t have internal moving parts, they’re more resilient to motion, from lifting the laptop to dropping the device. 
  • Fanless design. These PCs keep cool without moving parts. They also don’t draw in air that could contain particulates that could damage the computer’s interior.  

Many industrial and rugged computers have these features and more. That is because they have to deal with rough environments that may subject them to constant vibration. They may also be in constant use by employees. Many, like an industrial tablet, incorporate shock-resistant chassis and industrial-grade parts to handle such conditions, which would easily tear apart an off-the-shelf device.

Closing Thoughts

Impacts against a computer, whether it’s from dropping it by accident or punching the screen in a fit of rage, can be pretty damaging depending on the severity. Risks can be reduced thanks to features like industrial-grade parts and SSD, many of which are found in rugged computers. 

Contact an expert at Cybernet if your company is looking to keep its computers running after drops or falls either caused by personnel, the nature of your workplace, or both.