Q: Can overheating cause a PC to simply shut itself off?

Several days ago, my Dell Inspiron 1500 laptop spontaneously shut itself off — three times. Each time I got it going again, but the third time it began the session with a black screen/white message saying something like “repairing Drive C,” after which it worked normally.

Yesterday it again shut itself off, and this time I didn’t try to restart it. I just waited until today. I did notice at the time of the shutdown that it seemed very hot at the left side where (I think) the fan “exit” is. I do hear a fan running while the laptop is in use.

The laptop was bought in 2011, but the hard drive was replaced about three years ago.

Thanks for any help you can give!

— Donna DeShazo, Seattle

A: Yes, overheating can cause a PC to shut itself off. And that’s a good thing. It’s a lot less expensive to replace a malfunctioning fan than to buy a new CPU or graphics adapter.

In addition to a malfunctioning fan, other common causes of overheating are too much dust buildup inside the case or something blocking the computer’s vents.


Finally, it may be that you’re asking too much of the computer. That is, if you’re using the computer to do heavy processing of, say, video files and the computer isn’t equipped for that, it may be putting too much of a load on its processors.

Given that your laptop is nearly 10 years old, it wouldn’t surprise me if the cause of those shutdowns may be a combination of those factors.

Q: I read your recent article in The Seattle Times with respect to password managers. I am finally going to take your advice and get one. The one I am favoring, based on various reviews, is Keeper. 

Two questions:

1. Am I missing another possibility that would offer more security and flexibility? (Price is a secondary issue for this important app.)

2. Having never used such an app, do I need to type in every username and password?

— Jef Veilleux, Auburn

A: Keeper is a high-end password manager that is designed for organizations. To answer your first question, I don’t know of a password manager that is more secure and flexible.


What separates Keeper from many other password managers is that it is designed specifically for organizations. It has tools for managing multiple users and for tracking “password compliance,” which means that it helps managers ensure that users are employing secure passwords rather than easy-to-crack passwords.

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Like other quality password managers, Keeper allows you to automatically generate strong passwords that are hard to crack.

Do you need to type in every user name and password? Sort of. When you log into a site, Keeper will ask if you want to store that information in your password vault. After that, you don’t need to enter it again.

If you’re like most users, though, you probably reuse the same not-very-strong passwords on multiple sites. Yes? Keeper will encourage you to generate unique passwords with a single click. And since Keeper manages them, you don’t need to remember them.

Q: We’re getting into our boxes of old technology. We have a Maxtor backup drive — gigantic and only 300 GB! We only used it for direct backup for machines we no longer use or own. Is there any need, do you think, to look at those backup files? They are 11 years old and we’d need to download Acronis True Image.


If we do just delete them, will that be adequate to destroy them?

— Nancy Winder, Seattle

A: It’s just a guess, but I’d figure that if you haven’t needed those backups by now you’re not going to need them in the future.

But no, simply deleting files doesn’t ensure that someone else can’t access them. When you delete a file, the operating system just changes the file name and removes it from its file-management system. The data itself is on the drive until and unless it is overwritten by another file.

If you want to ensure that no one can access that data after you donate or dispose of the drive, you’ll want to use a disc-wiping program that will overwrite all the sectors on the drive. There are a number of free disc-wiping programs available for download.

Alternatively, of course, if you’re inclined to dispose of the drive you could just render it unusable with, say, a sledgehammer.