Okay, last month was the third year anniversary of Sherlock and I'm officially unwilling to replace him until every component melts down into slag that I can't replace. I love Sherlock. He's my best laptop ever and he's the first computer I broke my two year replacement rule for and I love him. Like in ways that would worry me if I wasn't in fandom, where I know at least four people who also harbor tender feelings for the epic technological romance that is their relationship with their laptops.
That did not leave me with many options, and by that I mean there was one: I'd have to do my first laptop motherboard replacement. Or I could pay the people I was buying the motherboard from to do it, but Sherlock is mine. I can't build laptops yet, due to the market being ridic, but nothing in him hasn't been taken out and checked by me at least once, I've replaced his keyboard once and removed the DVD to add a second drive myself. I imagined--in theory--handing him over to unknowing, unloving hands to strip down into his component parts and have him returned to me a stranger that I didn't quite know, and realized I was crazy and that's a terrible moment of personal insight to have, so to avoid further questioning my sanity, I decided to do it myself.
Armed with two screwdrivers, several tools that came with my last kit that I don't even know what they do, a lint-free cloth, alcohol, and thermal paste that the nice man at Parts-People recommended for the party, I disassembled Sherlock on the coffee table, which at this point I can do by memory. It's not hard or even complicated, but my biggest problem with it is that I loathe with all my being how proprietary laptops are. I get and almost accept phones being this idiosyncratic, I have already disassembled my old tablet at least once to fix a display issue, but for the life of me I don't get why the market has yet to respond to my constant pleas to offer for laptops at least something close to what's offered for building or upgrading a PC. It's almost impossible to generalize a build because every laptop's board isn't just different--it can be stupidly different, in ways that make no sense except for the purpose of keeping each brand proprietary.
The board itself is the last piece I needed to remove, and so I had, in the end, a display and a bare plastic assembly onto which everything will eventually fit that kept overbalancing, because interesting note I learned the hard way--disattaching the display, no matter what it says, is a terrible, terrible idea. It has five freaking thousand wires going into the plastic assembly groves and you cannot get it right the first through third times even by accident, and half the grooves will never let you get a wire back in there unless you bleed for it. Which I have, enough to refuse to do that shit again. This was a problem, as the entire laptop now wanted to lie on its back like a cat ready for a belly rub, which is the least ideal way to reinstall a board possible. However, it had one advantage that I didn't expect; four cables from the AC power and monitor are grouped together and have to be fed into the top side and bottom side of the board in the most counter-intuitive and ridic way possible, but interestingly, it can be done a fuck of a lot easier when it's the part standing straight up, so that was nice and lowered the risk I'd crinkle or rip one trying to thread them through.
Removing the CPU and setting it aside from the old board, I finished connections on top side (keyboard side) and closed the laptop so I could view the bottom of the assembly (where all teh cool toys are). Installing the CPU was--weird, I finally got to figure out why that screw was there--I checked everything and then slathered on thermal paste like icing on an icing cake with icing sauce, then repeated the procedure on the GPU. Then reading the website directions, I slathered more on the copper heatsink (long, snake-like copper bar bent everywhere) and screwed it into place.
This is where I shorten this by stating once everything was together, it wouldn't turn on. You'd think this would be a moment of panic--you'd be right. I took the entire fucker apart and tried again. And again. And then pulled the manual and while frantically paging through teh PDF, came across a picture of how my connectors should be between the palmrest and the rest of my computer. For your information, it's a long flat, papery cable that is white with a blue side.
I had the blue side up instead of down, and my laptop turned on. As it connects the power button to the power and everything.
So, success! I am never living that down. That's just sad.
In short: it worked! So far--so far--everything seems to be working very well, and my temperatures in my laptop--due to dear God the amount of thermal paste I used--are at an all-time low. Even more surprisingly, I do mean an all-time low; I used to burn myself with my laptop if I touched it running when I got it, and now my temps are all in high-normal range, which considering it's an i7, is normal, but closer to not causing second degree burns by looking at it took hard.
Reference Guide for Laptop Graphics
Because I tracked this shit for months and searched for several days for this and it was only by accident I figured out what I was supposed to be asking:
My failure started a few months ago with random blackouts that would immediately be fixed by touchpad/mouse action. A few weeks ago, I began to experience at random intervals what looked like a screen-wide checkerboard, each square about half a centimeter and alternating ones all colors or noise-looking which I didn't realize were also called graphic artifacts. It froze my screen and required a reboot, then would be fine for a while before doing it again. On Friday, it did it again, I rebooted, checked it, worreid, then shut it down. Saturday morning, however, it booted briefly and then shutdown and refused to start. I took out the hard drive and booted it in my server and ran virus scan on it there while I disassembled Sherlock, rechecked the wiring, and then took my drive out of my server and put it in my laptop again and rebooted normally. It worked for ten minutes before checkerboard artifacts displayed and complete failure.
This can be three issues:
1.) GPU is overheated - get HWMonitor or another temperature program, get all your temperatures, save them, get your graphic card name/type/model/version, and look for the average temperature range. This can be easy or impossible to find unless you know what forum to check; manufacturers are not always right.
2.) Motherboard is dying - get a professional assessment. Most place that I have checked will do a diagnostic for free or a fee (Parts-People will do it for $30.00 for a dell laptop), because a lot, lot, lot of things can appear to be a motherboard failure.
3.) GPU is dying - see above
If your GPU is soldered to the motherboard, it's basically a de facto motherboard failure; you need a new one.
If you get a blue screen when booting that indicates hardware failure, it's actually your BFF. It's protecting your computer from the heat death that end the universe (your sanity when you realize your internet is still dependent on separate machines and not yet installed in your body, as many of us dream).
1.) DO NOT TRY TO REBOOT again--you can burn out your CPU doing that, and your CPU is generally the most expensive replacement part.
2.) If you're comfortable with this, remove your primary and secondary drives if you have a secondary drive. This is just a precaution, and they tend to be easy to get to for removal.
3.) Unplug and pull the battery - this is to make sure no power is going in and you aren't tempted to start it just in case a miracle occurred overnight (as maybe I sometimes believe in my heart of hearts). This is also precautionary; I didn't want any power even potentially going to the board and exacerbating the problem until I was ready to repair it.
4.) Get a professional assessment or if you know this is what you need to do, go get the parts.
Do It Yourself
1.) Assemble your equipment: screwdrivers, both phillips and flat; extra screws; an expired credit card or something that shape and size made of plastic; something to hold the screws, (like a divided try or a lot of bowls from the kitchen); thermal paste yes please; rubbing alcohol; lint-free cloth; static band; something pointy you can use for poking if necessary, just have it around, you'll be surprised how often that can fix things; service manual for your laptop on a tablet or your phone or a hardcopy (this is one of those times that hardcopy is awesome to have around if possible); any device with access to the internet so you can look up things. You will want to. You may not need to, but you will want to.
2.) Find a place to do it that's comfortable for you to change positions, get to everything easily, and sit back in to stare hatefully at all the pieces (it happens). I don't mean a table with a chair, either, unless that's how you work. The floor, properly covered, is the best place in the world. A low table also works; I swear by my coffee table. The most important component is physical comfort and accessibility; there is no one right way except your right way. You want to be able to sit back and stare blankly at your life and your choices spread out in front of you before starting up again.
3.) Don't be afraid. Laptops look terrifying inside to discourage you from poking around; once you actually do it, you'll be amazed at how simple it is. This is not an exercise in linear algebra; this is an algorithm you're writing yourself and the main component is confidence.
4.) The service manual generally will tell you how to disassemble it. Follow it precisely--again, this is equivalent of grinding on a quest. Do it in pieces, get a drink between components to toast your own success. Don't rush it; I promise, you're doing fine so far.
5.) One thing I did early on was mentally split my laptop into eight sections; four sections when working from the bottom of the laptop, four parts when working from the top (keyboard side). Then as I removed parts, each part of the coffee table held a quadrant worth of components (three quadrants had no components, but I was on a roll with organization). Everything to my right came from the right side of my laptop's guts, top or bottom; left, ditto. Have a very, very simple organizational strategy that works for you, but the key word here is 'simple'.
6.) Take pictures of each step if you want to or record the entire thing; both fun, informative, and youtube worthy later. It's also an excellent reference point later, and if I had, I would have caught that damn blue-side of the cable.
7.) I've said this before and I'll say it again; unless you hulk out on your components trying to remove them the first time, it's harder than you think to break them.
Be gentle at first, then check for places your fingernails can get under it and get it up, or alternate, something flat like a credit card or flat-head screwdriver (de-staticked) slipped underneath. This is especially useful for some kinds of connectors, which can be tiny and almost impossible to get up, but slide a fingernail underneath and they snap up easy as anything. This works extremely well with internal SATA cables or the connectors to your wireless card. Remember: unless this is an Apple computer (which are a completely foreign entity to me and do not take to home repairs easily, so I have no reference point on this), it was put in by someone and unless it's glued down, it will come out because your warranty usually covers replacement parts and surprisingly, they sometimes don't screw themselves during the build.
After you get it out the first time, you'll know better what kind of force is required, and getting everything re-attached will nail that knowledge into place.
8.) Laptop repair is very much learn by doing. I can tell you this as fact. And every time you learn something new. It's a process that you don't need a degree to figure out. There are going to be things that are beyond you as home repairer; I can't solder to save my life, and I've tested this. There are things that aren't fixable, and there are things that require people with specialized equipment. However, building or repairing a computer of any kind is usually done by people working minimum wage, not engineers with three degrees; these are mass produced. It has to be learned, and while I'm sure it helps to have a mechanical or electrical engineering background, google is surprisingly informative. Youtube is magic.
And then there's when stuff doesn't work.
1.) IT WON'T START.
a.) Check your battery is placed correctly.
b.) Check your AC power is working fine.
c.) Remove only minimum required of the case to see your components. This is where pics are awesome; compare before and after and make sure your connectors are all in the right place.
d.) Disassemble down to the board and start from there. Most of the time--and I mean like, almost guaranteed here--you either missed a connector, one of your wires is crinkled, a cable is in the wrong place, or hilariously, you didn't screw something into place well enough and once you do, it's good.
2.) IT REBOOTS THEN GOES OUT SUDDENLY.
a.) First do the above.
b.) Go to your CPU and see if it feels hot. That could be either not enough thermal paste or something else. Keep going.
c.) Check that it's seated correctly. Double check that it's in there. Turn over your laptop and let gravity check for you--but please God put a hand under your CPU so if it falls, you lose nothing. My test is just that, and on desktops, I take out the board and hold it by its heatsink and shake it--WITH A HAND UNDERNEATH IT--to make sure it's secure.
d.) Thermal paste to the CPU--clean off what's there and follow your thermal paste directions on adding it. This is easy and relaxing. Really, I promise. Possibly the most relaxing part of the entire process.
e.) If on the board, thermal paste your GPU as well. You'll know if you should--google about it. Really, google is magic.
f.) Put it all back together and try again.
3.) IT CAN'T FIND MY OS.
a.) This is weird and it happens to me. Reboot, F2 immediately, and in the BIOS, check your boot order. For reasons that are beyond me, sometimes it thinks it should boot from my second drive, my USB, my card drive, you name it.
b.) Get your primary drive (OS drive) out and check it in another computer. Now you know my secondary reason for my server. My server's OS drive is a notebook-sized hard drive in a special cage that can hold four for external hot swapping. It's a freaking miracle.
c.) Try with a new or different drive with a linux or really any random OS--all we want to check is if we can get anything to load. I only say linux because it's tiny and installs fast so you don't have to wait.
4.) Unplug your laptop, pull the battery, and walk away for about an hour. Then try again with your testing drive. If that works, shutdown, put your primary drive in, repeat the unplug, battery, walk away and see if that worked. Also, consider at this point for your own sanity getting a new hard drive.
The final answer to all of these is: GOOGLE. Always. You may have to use a lot of keywords to find what you're looking for, but you will find it.
And finally, your home repair necessities:
Useful Things For the Home Repairer to Have
1.) An extra hard drive with an installed linux or any free OS. This is for testing purposes only. Use an old one or buy one on sale next time Newegg does a flash sale. It doesn't have to be big or particularly fast; this is a testing drive. The only caveat is that you should check it regularly to make sure it's working; an external enclosure that can hook to USB or esata or whatever is fine, as long as you can boot from it. Both are cheap during good newegg or Amazon sales.
2.) Get a basic toolkit. You can get one that's for computers, or get the tools separately. Screwdrivers are your best friend. Get one with lots of bits to play with. Lint free clothes, alcohol, and something to keep everything in. Thermal paste, but it's cheap, so if you need it, you can also run to the store to grab some. A small flashlight. A magnifying glass for those days you just don't want to deal with your eyes being annoying. Extra tiny screws of the size that fit your computer. Just get the size and google.
3.) USB drives. You don't need big ones, but in a pinch, you can do a linux install on one and boot from that. Sometimes.
4.) If you have a home server or second computer, even a old one, this will make hard drive failure problems easy to discover. Just plug it in and check.
This has been a message from a very stressful day and I'm still waiting for my laptop to explode or collapse or make me cry or something. Will report if this occurs, though I think my ragescreams will probably be audible in space.
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