DIY Laptop repair
The tricky part of laptops is that they are made of a collection of mainly non standard parts, and the impossibly thin enclosure its made in and that they are seem difficult to service and repair yourself. I am going to try and dispell some of the myths of laptop repair and maintenance and offer some insight on how to do repairs yourself. “I took my laptop to be repaired and they said its going to cost £XYZ for the part and £ABC per hour someone to repair it!! – its cheaper to buy a new one!!” You probably heard these words from someone at some point.
However you may be able to do some troubleshooting and maybe replace parts yourself. If you have been told its not worth fixing it yourself and its out of warranty and it might otherwise get chucked in the bin you might as well have a go yourself, the worse you can do is make it even more broken… Lets try and work out what the cause of the problem of a typical laptop without an accidental damage that will not boot or perhaps crashes randomly.
1. Does your operating system (in this case Windows) boot to the desktop?
If it doesn’t, try tapping F8 key repeatedly and select safe mode or last good known configuration. If you can get in this way, you might be able to reboot afterwards and start it up in the normal way. If not, you might want to do a reinstall of your operating system and see if you can rule out a software problem, of course all data on the C: drive will be lost.
2. Check the event log.
In Windows XP go to start, control panel, administrator tools and check the event logs.
Red crosses indicates an error or crash that happened recently. The error message might not be something useful, but you can always put it through google and it might tell you a bit about the issue in better detail. This technique worked successfully on a Sony Vaio laptop I had at the NHS, which had a physical problem causing it to crash randomly, this turned out to be a faulty wireless card which was revealed after googling that error code. Keeping the wireless turned off didn’t help this. As the wireless feature was not needed by the owner for her work, I ended up removing a discarding the card and put insulation tape of the aerial cables, result the laptop worked fine afterwards, I had a similar experience with two of my Compaq Evo N800 laptops as the cards on these are prone to failure also, I have both of them working with different cards now. The Sony laptop would have been otherwise scrapped and wasted public money to get a new one and labour to get a replacement prepared for the owner.
3. Check memory
My preferred way to do this is to use a similar diagnostic utility called Memtest86 I learned from my Novatech days. Goto http://www.memtest.org and download the program in .ISO format as this is a complete CD image that you can boot from and should do a thorough test of your machine, this should be obvious within a few minutes as it will show some red messages.
4. Hard disk test.
Hard disks fail more often on laptops, as they can damaged by shock or being bumped. All hard disk manufacturers provide diagnostic software free of charge as a boot CD, this should be downloadable in ISO format from the makers site, ie: Seagate, Western Digital, Hitachi etc. If the disk has failed, this is usually mounted in a small slide out module which can easily be replaced yourself.
5. Remove other items to get a better diagnosis
– Remove the battery (I have seen some batteries cause a short which cause the laptop not to boot)
– As well, try on battery power and not power supply, I have seen people use the wrong power supply which doesnt feed enough watts to the unit.
– Remove any attached peripherals (my desktop PC wont boot if a camera SD card or my iPod is attached)
– If the CD drive is a swappable unit, remove it, there maybe a simple lever to remove it.
– Remove one of the sticks of memory, this might be in a trapdoor underneath, or under the keyboard or palm rest.
Give this a try folks, if you want some extra help please feel free to comment if you like. I will do follow up article soon, on how to get that impossibly thin case open and do some tinkering…