Workers Guide for Electronics in Cold Weather.

We know Alberta for its cold winter weather and freezing temperatures, but also the drastic changes in climate that can and will occur in a day. A cold wave can happen quickly and can negatively impact your electronics. 

Many of our clients operate outside, and that means their equipment must operate in the cold. We will try to answer most of the common questions that people google every day:

  • “Can a laptop be left in the cold?”
  • “Why does my iPhone die in the cold? ”
  • “At what temperature does cold start to damage a PC?”
  • “Why does my screen not work in the cold? ”
  • “Electric cars in the cold”

First, let’s look and the main areas of concern with electronics left in the cold.

Condensation

If you wear glasses, you know that water builds up on your lenses when you enter a warm building after being out in the cold weather. We can say the same for any electronics you leave out in the cold.

If you leave your phone in your car overnight when it’s -20°c and then bring it into a warm house and decided to turn it on right away you’re going to have a bad time. Demanding tasks heat the processor in your device and cause condensation. We all know that water is bad for electronics so any condensation buildup can lead to your device shorting out.

H2O made with a finger on a wet window
Man looking questionably at his laptop while it snows

Liquid Crystal Display (LCD) and Fluid Dynamic Bearing (FDB)

What do these two acronyms have in common? Both reference a liquid of some sort. It means most liquids that are in electronics should stay in that state. Things need to move inside electronics and that required motion is slowed or stopped completely in the cold. 

Cold weather can make your screen not work at all. If you have a display in your vehicle, you might notice the sluggish response when you first get in on a cold day. This is an example of how the cold affects the screen even when it is meant to handle colder temperatures.

Disk drives can also be affected by extreme winter conditions. Laptops incorporate new technology every year and some use FDB because they cause less noise and can have higher write rates because of the increased velocity in disk rotation. Colder temperatures cause the fluid in these drives to thicken causing the disc to spin at a lower speed and may cause your device to not boot up properly causing harm to the hard drive.

Cold Batteries

Extremely cold weather on average can decrease your device’s battery life by 50%. A good example of a situation to consider is with lithium-ion electric powered devices. Owning an electric vehicle without a warm garage to store the vehicle is the same as losing half a tank of gas. The last thing you need is for the battery to die halfway on your route to work.

When out in the field, fully charge your devices before use and do not drain power when not in use. Batteries with a reduced charge may not even provide the power needed to start your car, industrial tools or any other equipment. With fast charging capabilities, we highly recommend not fast charging your devices when they are still cold, as this can cause damage to the battery. Make sure when you are in the field you charge your electronic devices (radios for example) in a room temperature environment.

Electric Car being plugged in during a snowy winter day

I left my Electronic Device Outside in the Cold

phone place upright in snow

It happens, and there are ways to prevent damage when you have left your device in the cold. The primary source of damage is moisture from condensation, as we previously discussed.

DO NOT TURN ON THE DEVICE.

This is the worst thing you can do as water from condensation itself does not break your device but rather the electrical short when turned on is harming factor. Remove the battery if your device has this feature and leave your device in a dry place at room temperature for at least 24 hours. The longer you wait to power on your electronic device, the less risk of damage. Rice as a solution is actually not the best as there are better desiccants (moisture absorbing substances) to remove moisture from your device.

What Electronic Devices Are Best for your Business in Canada’s Cold Environment?

This depends on the requirements for the work that is being accomplished. For critical work where reliability is key and when you need the device to just work every time in the cold, our team recommends the Dell Rugged lineup. Here is a video of them being put to the test.

The Dell Rugged option can be costly but is worth every penny for reliability. If you are a small business or just can’t justify the price of the rugged lineup, then we recommend the opposite.

Get a refurbished budget device that can break down at least five times before reaching the same price of a rugged option. This is only a solution if the work being done on these devices is not as critical and when your managed IT service is performing regular backups. The worst option would be costly high-performance units that offer no extra protection from the elements.

Frequency of Exposure is a Major Factor

With cold winter weather and your electronics, you probably won’t have too many issues if you forget your phone or laptop in your car the odd time. If you work in these environments often though and regularly store your devices in the cold harsh conditions then it might be time to figure out a solution to store your IT equipment in a more suitable location.

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