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Flakey laptop? Tweak power settings to make it more reliable

Everyone has their own computer horror story -- sometimes it's strange artifacts on the display, or perhaps it's the USB ports which mysteriously stop working during the day. I know several people who find that their laptop crashes when running certain programs, like Microsoft Access, and especially towards the end of the work day. A very common cause of computer wonkiness: Overheating. This is especially true of laptops. As they age, more demanding software pushes the CPU to its limits, while cooling fans get gunked up with debris and don't transfer heat as effectively.The bottom line is that older laptops are more prone to crashes, freezes, and other mysterious problems.

If you suffer intermittent heat-related computer problems, one easy fix is to force Windows to limit the CPU to lower its performance. If you limit the processor to a maximum workload of 80%, for example, you might find that previously pervasive random lockups and crashes simply go away.

To do that, open the Control Panel (click "Start" and then click "Control Panel") and search for "Power Options."

Now find the power plan that your computer is currently using and choose "Change plan settings." In the new window, click "Change advanced power settings."

Finally, find the option for "Processor power management", and expand "Maximum processor state." If it's currently set to 100%, lower it to 80% and save your changes. That just might be all it takes to breathe new life into your PC.

More on MoneyWatch:

Extend Your Laptop's Battery Life With Windows Power Settings

Five Tips For Better Battery Life

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