Fix your own laptop, save a grand

by Giles Turnbull

Laptops are never going to be cheap to repair, but if you're someone who depends on one as your primary work machine (like me, John Gruber, Jon Hicks - although his plan has fallen apart rather suddenly - and plenty of other folks), you might like to keep note of some of the hardware hacks you can use in case of breakdown.



There's a natural fear of opening up the case of a computer, particularly a laptop. Fear of "am I just going to make things worse?" Many repairs are not that difficult, but do require a methodical approach and a steady hand. The most attractive feature of home-grown repairs is the astonishing amount of money they can save you.



I particularly like the post by Gregory Dudek on Macintouch, which describes how the backlight bulb in his Powerbook went dead. Getting it replaced professionally would have cost a thousand dollars (might as well buy a new machine); but Gregory tracked down the replacement part on some Yahoo store for just five bucks.



Of course, the procedure for replacing the dead bulb was anything but simple, and his re-assembly lacked the professional finish; but the end result was a machine that worked, and a considerable cost saving. I'd say that was a success.



Do you fear the insides of your computer, or are you a fearless tinkerer? What's the most complicated repair you've ever attempted?


7 Comments

hugh_c
2005-11-24 07:53:04
inveterate tinkerer
I've been tinkering with my old G3 PowerBook (not my main machine any more) having installed more RAM (easy), swapped out the drive for something larger (medium), replaced the CD with a CDR (easy) and replaced the entire screen (hard). I've had the machine apart a LOT and could probably do some of it blindfolded at this stage. A little upsetting when you find bits "left over" after reassembly, but hapiness when you find a home for them ultimately. I've tinkered recently with an iMac rev C too (bigger drive, more RAM, noew battery) etc. Piece o' cake.
silverystars
2005-11-24 07:56:16
pbfixit.com
i recently upgraded the hard drive in my iBook from a 30GB stock drive to a 100GB 7200 rpm model with instructions from pbfixit.com. another friend of mine fixed his 5-year old WallStreet power book based on instructions on their site. their web-based step-by-step guides are excellent and well illustrated. they also sell a wide range of replacement parts.


if you're at least somewhat mechanically inclined you should be able to disassemble and put most powerbooks back together.

skot.nelson
2005-11-24 08:22:34
great resource
PB Fixit is indeed a great resource. It's made me look smart (and made me money) on more than one occasion.


Best advice: proceed gingerly. If a part looks fragile, it probably is. If a part needs to be flexed/bent do so carefully.


And if you're doing an iBook, keep those screws sorted out! I put one back together and left 6 screws out (one had stripped already); no big (they were non-essential, and it still works) but those little buggers deserve a special place in my hell.

michaelrandall1
2005-11-24 09:06:17
Useful Tip
I picked up a useful tip years ago from a Mark Minasi book - keep an egg box on one side, and as screws come out, put them in compartments in order, one type of screw per compartment. As you put the item back together, you *should* be able to grab screws in reverse order through the egg box.


Works even better if you sketch the item at each stage and put the 'compartment number' on the drawing next to where each set of screws come out.


It makes the job a fair bit longer, but it might save getting to the end and wondering why there's so many bits left over.

mnystedt
2005-11-25 19:32:04
Just take your time...
I've opened up my 15-inch Alu PB many times and it's not that bad. The instructions at PBFixIt are great. The worst part is getting the front of the casing back together again, it's a bit tricky. My screen has just gone back after having become more and more wobbly lately so I might just have to open it up again ;-)
Mike
2006-02-17 12:25:57
I just recently had my lap top (toshiba P30) repaired and the technician replaced the dvd drive, hard drive and the motherboard. This occured a copuple of months after the warranty expired. YOu can imagine I was pissed that my computer starting falling agapart in just over a year since I purchased. I made some complaints to toshiba, and they agreed to fix it free of charge. I took to nexinnovations in Ottawa, which is on the outskirts of the town, and has 8:30am-5pm business hours. For a student it was a pain in the ass to to get there. When I got it back, I noticed that the wireless switch on the side of the lap top is on, but the indicator light is off, and wireless is not working. The wireless switch is stuck at `on` position. Why are these amateurs being paid? I think I will try to crack this laptop open and see if I can fix wireless. I am a law student, and a lot of us at my school are using toshiba. Many are unhappy. I won`t buy another toshiba, and you shouldn`t either.
cj2600
2006-03-06 22:15:42
Yes, laptop repairs are very expensive if you go to a repair shop. But you can fix your lappy yourself. Here are some Toshiba laptop disassembly and repair guides . These guides I have created myself. Buy a good used part on ebay for cheap and replace it yourself. Save some money! Good luck.