Laptops liberate us from wires and desks, but they have quirks and pitfalls that you have to remain vigilant about. Battery issues, overheating, and unresponsive input can make your liberation feel like tribulation, so here are solutions to those issues and other common problems with Windows laptops.

Turning on your laptop

Can't turn on your laptop? Most of the time, the issue is just a drained battery. First, check for a bulge on the laptop's underside. This is the hallmark of a damaged battery, which is unsafe to use: A damaged battery with power going through it can catch fire. So replace a faulty battery before plugging in your laptop.

If your battery's undamaged, plug in your power cable and boot up. If the battery doesn't want to hold a charge, you can replace it. Mac laptop batteries are not intended to be replaced by users, and attempting to do so will void your warranty. But most Windows laptop users should be able to buy a replacement battery and install it themselves, instead of sending it to the manufacturer or an authorized repair shop.

Battery power settings

If your laptop's still not coming back on, it may have changed to another power state since you last used it. For example, a laptop may be set to go into sleep mode if you close it or leave it idle for a few minutes, then transition to hibernation mode if left alone for a couple hours. If that's the case, opening the laptop won't wake it. You need to tap the power button or hold it for a few seconds.

Change this behavior by hitting your Windows key to open the Start menu, typing "power options" (without the quotes), clicking the Power Options shortcut that appears in your search results, and clicking Change Plan Settings. When you're done, click the Save Changes button to make them take effect. You can also press Windows-X to open the Mobility Center at any time, where you can choose between the Balanced, Power Saver, and High Performance power plans.


Unusual heat or noise

Most laptops have fans in them to circulate air and exhaust heat. Ideally, fan intakes are placed on the side, where they are less likely to be obstructed. However, these intakes may be too small, forcing the manufacturer to put additional ones underneath the laptop. On a hard surface, this isn't a problem, because such laptops have small rubberized feet that elevate them enough to create space.

However, you may use your laptop in bed or balance it on your lap while you're sitting on the couch. If doing so blocks your fan intakes, your laptop can quickly overheat, or it may revert to a low-power mode that makes it sluggish. Make sure air can circulate through your laptop.

Dust in the machine

Dust can and will get into your laptop, gradually reducing air intake and possibly fan speed. The air circulation system normally isn't user-accessible: A technician has to pry open the laptop to clean this area; opening it yourself customarily voids the warranty.

In a pinch, you can blow short bursts from a can of compressed air into the intakes, but this may cause the fans to spin faster than they're rated for, potentially damaging them. If your warranty has expired and you're handy with a screwdriver, you can often find a YouTube video or a guide for your specific laptop model.

Wi-Fi or touchpad not working

In Windows, there are software-based and hardware-based methods for toggling certain functions on and off. For example, laptops usually have a physical button at the top of the keyboard that can enable and disable your Wi-Fi adapter. This may override any software-based attempts to toggle it, so make sure that you've checked the button before you start troubleshooting. Most laptops also have a small indicator light to show when Wi-Fi is active.

The tiny radio tower icon at the top shows that wifi is enabled on this laptop.

If there is no dedicated button, one of the the function keys should have a touchpad logo on it. If that's the case, hold down the keyboard's Fn key and tap the function key that has that logo on it. Touchpad activity is usually governed with Fn toggling.

Getting an external display to work

As much as we love the mobility of a laptop, sometimes you need a bigger display. And even if you have your video cables set up correctly, you can still have problems getting things to display correctly in Windows. In Windows 7, take a look at your display settings by right-clicking on the desktop and selecting Screen Resolution.

Windows Advanced Display Settings

This will give you a visual guide to how Windows sees your displays. The display marked 1 will always be your laptop screen, while further numbers will be assigned to external displays. If Windows sees 2 on the right but you've placed it to the left of your laptop, that can create some confusion. Simply click and drag 1 to the other side. Click any of these graphics to see the resolution and orientation of each display.

The Multiple Display menu lets you choose whether you want to use 2 as an extension of 1, or to duplicate one to the other, or to shut one of them off. Click the Identify button to see the number on the desktop to which it's been assigned. You can also use Windows-P to quickly switch between extension, duplication, and disablement.

More resources

Tom is the senior editor covering Windows at