Don’t Turn On Wet Equipment

Accidents happen

If you drink around computers, there’s always a chance that you might have an accident and tip some tea, coffee, or water over what is probably one of your most precious possessions. If you have a desktop or tower computer then the keyboard, which is the usual victim in cases of fluid spillage, is separate from the computer itself. However, in the case of a laptop, the keyboard is an integral part of the device, so any drink that you spill on it will probably make its way to the inside. The first thing you should do after any spillage is turn the laptop upside down as quickly as possible so any fluid that’s made its way inside will come out again. The next thing to do is unplug the laptop, if it is plugged in, and remove the battery. Usually electronics only get damaged by fluids when the circuits are ‘live’ with current flowing through them, but the basic rule is that water and electricity don’t mix.

An unfortunate case

Today I was called out to look at a laptop that had suffered a water spillage on the keyboard. Even though there were only tiny gaps around the keys, the water had still got inside the case. The customer had tried to switch on the laptop, and apparently nothing had happened. However, switching on the laptop was probably the worst thing he could have done. When I took the laptop apart to look for damage, the area of the motherboard where the power management circuitry was located was black, and the top had literally been blown off one small chip package. Unfortunately it was not practical to fix the motherboard, and buying a replacement didn’t make economic sense for a low-end laptop. However, the most important thing was the hard disk drive as it contained all the customer’s data, and the rest of the laptop was really just a relatively unimportant carcase.

Data rescue

The fluid spillage was substantial rather than slight, and the circuit board at the base of the hard disk drive appeared to be quite wet, which was a pity. I dried all traces of water off the bottom of the hard disk drive, but when I installed it in another laptop it didn’t work. The customer seemed rather demoralised, but I pointed out to him that even if the hard disk drive’s external circuitry was damaged, the data stored on the disk platter was probably still intact and a specialist data recovery laboratory could very likely get it back, probably by replacing the external circuitry or the drive’s motor. I suggested a couple of reliable data recovery laboratories, and the customer said that he’d get in touch with one of them as soon as possible. The chosen data recovery laboratory will probably be able to get the customer’s important data back, but in the meantime he’s going to be worrying, and the recovery won’t be cheap. The lesson here is always to backup any data that you regard as valuable, and avoid drinking around laptops, as it’s not really safe.