Record-breaking heat waves across the U.S. have left Americans scorched and sweaty this year. The first six months of 2012 were the warmest in more than 100 years, according to the federal government’s weather agency.

People aren’t the only ones sweltering. Laptops and mobile devices also are in danger when the mercury rises. Overheating can cause permanent damage to the CPU, hard drive and other components. This can lead to irreparable data loss.

For police officers or government employees who perform field work, carrying laptops, handhelds and tablets inside vehicles is necessary for getting the job done. But spiking temperatures can damage devices that sit in hot cars.

Is Your Device Really ‘Rugged’?

Do you think your laptop or tablet computer is a “rugged” device, but you’re not entirely sure?

True rugged equipment meets the requirements of the U.S. military standard MIL-STD-810, a “series of performance and manufacturing guidelines set by the U.S. Department of Defense for military and commercial equipment and applications.”

Although many products meet the MIL-STD-810 standard, not all products adhere to the same types of tests. In some cases, products have been tested to the 501.5 III A2 categorization, which tests for high temperatures. Under the testing 510.5 I, the products are tested for durability in sand and dust.

Click here to see a comprehensive list of MIL-STD-810 requirements.

“The problem is — if the vehicle’s closed and it’s in the sun — your vehicle can heat up to 130 or 140-plus Fahrenheit,” said Mark Holleran, president of rugged PCs vendor Xplore Technologies. “Especially when the temperature is 100-plus outside.”

Holleran suggests using devices that are specifically labeled “rugged” — in other words, hardware that meets U.S. military-grade requirements. Rugged PCs and tablets are designed to withstand a wide range of temperatures, water penetration and other environmental factors.

He said tablets that meet rugged requirements typically come equipped with heat sink technology that pulls heat off the device and fans it to cool it down within the unit.

But for public-sector entities that may not have the money for higher-priced rugged equipment, other steps can be taken to beat the heat.

Robert Siciliano, a McAfee online security expert, suggests five quick tips for preventing computer damage due to heat:

1.    Keep devices in an air conditioned space. Siciliano said this may mean running a vehicle longer than is economically efficient.

2.    Remove the device from your vehicle. “Kids and dogs die in cars all the time,” he said. “And so do laptops that fall victim to the greenhouse effect.”

3.    Get out of the sun. Direct sunlight is never good for electronics, Siciliano said. But if you have to keep your computers and tablets in your vehicle, he suggests placing a newspaper or white blanket over the device or placing it in a shaded spot.

4.    Clean the device’s fans to increase air flow.

5.    Relax. “Stress makes you hot. Overworking a device does too,” Siciliano said. “Shut down whatever programs aren’t in use and disable unnecessary programs on startup using MSconfig [for Windows Vista and Windows 7 users].”

Conversation starter: How do you protect laptops and other mobile devices from heat damage? Share your tips in the comment section below.

Sarah Rich, Staff Writer Sarah Rich  |  Staff Writer

In 2008, Sarah Rich graduated from California State University, Chico, where she majored in news-editorial journalism and minored in sociology. Since 2010, Sarah has written for Government Technology magazine and covers a spectrum of public-sector IT topics, including cloud computing, transparency, broadband, and other innovative projects and trends. She currently lives in Sacramento, Calif.