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Laptop deconstruction
Taking apart the computer you take everywhere

07/14/11
By John Andrews jandrews@hippopress.com



My loyal readers! I'm so sorry to have left you for two weeks. It was difficult to stay away, but I had this girl to marry and honeymoon to go on with her.
 
Good timing, though. You know that whole "what's mine is yours" thing? It applies to laptops, and immediately after mine served as a cheap photo booth at the reception, it decided it was no longer going to stay powered on for more than 15 minutes at a stretch. Fortunately the wife has pretty much the same laptop, so I could use that.

That still leaves my laptop in need of repair. Nine times out of 10, a computer that suddenly powers off after a short period of time is suffering from an excess of heat. If its main cooling fan is blowing full blast all the time, that’s definitely the problem. There are two main causes:

1. If the fan is blowing but you don’t feel much air coming out, there’s a buildup of dust and (depending upon the animal population in your environment) pet hair between the fan vents and the metal heatsink on the CPU.

2. If the fan is blowing a lot of not-very-hot air, the heatsink has lost contact with the CPU.

Both these symptoms and causes have pretty much the same solution: take the whole dang laptop apart.

It’s remotely possible that your laptop has a removable cooling fan. If it does, pop it out and clean the gunk. Then count yourself remarkably lucky, because the rest of us have a frustrating ordeal ahead of us.

My first bit of advice: if you’re at all uncomfortable with electronics or disassembly, get someone else to do this. Whether it’s a professional or your geeky cousin is your call.

If you do go ahead with it yourself, set aside an hour or two, clear plenty of workspace and wear an anti-static wrist strap, which you can pick up for a few bucks at your local computer shop. That’s not to protect you from shocks, but to protect sensitive electronic components from static electricity you build up.

While you’re at the shop, also grab any screwdrivers you might need and some thermal grease. Laptop screw heads are tiny and aren’t always straightforward Philips configuration, so some small Torx bits are usually helpful. Thermal grease is what binds the CPU and some other hot chips on the laptop’s motherboard to its metal heatsink, ensuring that heat is drawn away from the delicate electronics so it can be blown away by the fan. Old, crusty thermal grease should be cleaned off and replaced with a fresh, thin layer.

Finally, I cannot stress organization enough. Think every screw you’ll be removing will be the same? Hah! There will be short ones and long ones, fat ones and thin ones. And they’ll all look virtually identical, and there could be literally dozens of them, once you’ve removed them from the laptop’s base, keyboard, front bezel and wherever else your manufacturer has hidden them. Every model is put together differently, so sort screws that you’re absolutely sure are identical into different piles and label which hole they’re for. Use stickers with different colors, numbers, letters — whatever works for you.

Once everything’s back together, you should have a cooler-running laptop once again. Assuming you didn’t destroy anything.

Once a week not enough? Follow my occasional ramblings at twitter.com/CitizenjaQ.






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