Sunday, September 7, 2014

Misadventures in amateur computer repair

About eight months ago I purchased a “netbook” computer, which is a “compact” variety of laptop which is, as is implied, not for hardcore work and gaming, but for web surfing and just useful enough to do word processing and storage of less vital resources. I’ve purchased four of these devices in the past, and the first three were good for about a year before they began their slow decline into the silicon trash heap. Since they rarely exceed $400 in price, it wasn’t a hardship to replace them every two years.  I carry one of these lightweight devices around almost everywhere, mainly for writing on the go and posting. When it is working, it is a most vital companion. Unlike “smart” phones, I can do “serious” compositional work on one of these, rather than merely “texting.” 

Unfortunately, my latest “companion” lasted but seven months before it became obvious that something was seriously amiss in its operation. One day I was typing away when the screen slowly dimmed and turned white. I swiveled the LCD screen back and forth, and the screen retuned to its normal functioning. I thought no more of it until a few days later, when it dimmed again; this time it took greater effort to compel it to conform to my wishes. A week later I was forced to “pinch” the screen in spots to for the data to display itself. Soon I had to place constant force on the screen for it to display correctly, and finally it was impossible to accomplish anything but give myself a sore arm.

I was disturbed by the fact that this contraption had lasted but a mere eight months of usefulness. I suppose the limited warranty was still good, but I loathed to have some stranger examine the contents of my hard drive just for laughs. I knew that the problem was likely a faulty connection between the motherboard and the screen, and how hard could that be to fix? Maybe harder than I hoped, because there were no screws that kept the two slices of the display, and I thought the better simply forcing them apart. 

I downloaded the PDF hardware maintenance manual, and this confirmed for me that this wasn’t as simple a project as I imagined. If there were loose connections on the motherboard, that would be easy enough—just remove the bottom cover. But if the connections within the LCD display were the culprits, that would require more effort. Getting atthem them would require the following steps to be taken:

For access, remove these FRUs in order:
• “1010 Battery pack” on page 34
• “1020 Hard disk drive” on page 36
• “1030 DIMM” on page 38
• “1040 PCI Express Mini Card for wireless LAN/WAN” on page 39
• “1050 Fan assembly and Heat Sink assembly” on page 41
• “1060 Keyboard” on page 43
• “1070 System board” on page 45
• “1080 LCD unit” on page 49
• “1090 Speakers, base cover, audio board, DC-IN board and power board” on
page 51
• “1100 LCD front bezel” on page 55

Thumbing through the pages, I decided that there was going to be fat chance I was going to do all of that. After removing the bottom panel (which immediately gave notice of voiding the warranty, since removing one of the screws required breaking the tape covering it), I noted unhappily that none of the suspect connections on the motherboard were loose or broken. From there, it appeared that to separate the screen from the rest of the device was to remove several screws from plates on the swivels connecting the display to the main board. However, there still was the problem of the screen seeming to be sandwiched together with no obvious way to separate them. After some tinkering I discovered that the top panel had been “snapped” on, so I was able to remove it. That led to removing four screws that attached the actual LCD panel to the front bezel. 

From there I finally encountered the main avenue of resistance: The fact nothing seemed awry between the connections from the motherboard to the display. Of course, I was no “expert” and certainly wouldn’t know what a “bad” connection was supposed to look like, but I after checking for broken or frayed cables, and removing and reinserting the connections, I couldn’t see what else could be done.
I retreated my former steps, and hoped that my amateur antics had at least not made matters worse; for all I knew, I had “fixed” the damned thing. After I put in the last screw, I plugged in the power cord and hoped for a “miracle.” What greeted my eyes was the same old fuzzy screen that required “squeezing” to briefly respond to the data being sent to it. 

Well, at least I can say is that my inexpert efforts were “rewarded” by a return to the “status quo.” What a piece of junk. A real former "expert" in this business of computer hardware repair not to worry; in his experience, there is nothing to do half the time but tell the customer his goose is cooked. if he was unscrupulous, he would know the machine was done for just be the description, but "try" to repair it anyways. Half the time, there was nothing that could be done but buy a new one.

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