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eshbach

I hate laptops (picture heavy)

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While on an otherwise lovely trip to New York this past weekend, my laptop decided to quit working. I had just been checking up on e-mails and (of course) the brumstix threads for the events I was planning to attend, when my laptop suddenly froze.

I turned it off and back on, but instead of rebooting happily, it just sat there, not beeping, not blinking, with nothing on the screen and only the faint whir of the fans and the blue power LED to indicate that it was turned on at all. After several quick-fix attempts failed (unplugging, removing the battery, violent shaking), I gave up and resigned myself to not having a laptop for the rest of the trip. I knew in an emergency I could count on the Hotel businesses center, so it wasn't a major problem. I just put the laptop aside and decided deal with it when I got home.

Now, I know my way around the inside of a computer. I may be employed as a Web Developer who works in the land of software, rarely delving below the protocol level and never turning a screw or soldering a chip, but my degree is in Computer Engineering. And even if it weren't, I made my spending money in high school buy building, selling, and fixing computers for my classmates and teachers. So, I was confident that I could resolve the problem, I just wasn't really looking forward to cracking open a laptop and trying to diagnose such a vague issue.

The following is pictorial account of the repair, annotated with my thoughts and feelings towards inanimate objects I was swearing at working with all night:

Chapter 1: Identifying the Suspects:

There are many screws on the back of my laptop, but when you take them out it exposes the prime suspects fairly thoroughly, as illustrated below. I've labeled each of the major pieces visible in the picture for those who don't open their computers up too often:

(As usual, click the pictures for the full-size image)

1_potential_culptrits_labeled.jpg

At this point, the only major component I was ruling-out was the hard drive, because the computer wasn't getting far enough for the hard drive to come into play. On a normal computer, the wireless adapter could also probably be ruled out, but thanks to intel Centrino mobile technology, the wireless adapter is an (integral?) part of the chipset, and as such, can't be eliminated from a no-boot troubleshooting scenario.

Since nothing was happening at all now, but the display had continued to work while my computer was frozen, my first two suspects were the CPU and the RAM. I decided to try changing the CPU first, because it's easier, despite what you may think from the picture...

Chapter 2: The Donor PC

Fortunately I didn't have to buy a new CPU just to test my hypothesis. I happened to have a Dothan-core CPU (which my laptop uses) sitting in a motherborad that used to be the heart of my media pc when I was in college. In those days, before the intel "Core" CPUs, the Pentium 4 was in its "Prescott" incarnation, which was far too hot (and therefore loud) for a media PC, and the AMD offerings were both slower and more expensive than the "Dothan" core Pentium-M's used mostly in laptops.

2_donor_desktop.jpg

Chapter 3: The CPU Swap

Both the laptop and the desktop board used four screws to hold the heatsink/fan assemblies to the CPU, but I wasn't exactly sure how the assembly was going to come out of the laptop when I undid the screws:

3_laptop_cpu_covered.jpg

So, first I took the heatsink off of the desktop board, exposing the donor CPU:

4_donor_cpu_exposed.jpg

Then I found out that the laptop heatsink was not physically connected to the fan, but that the fan needed to be removed in order for the heatsink to slide backwards and come out of the laptop case, exposing the laptop's current CPU:

4_laptop_cpu_exposed.jpg

I popped each CPU out by turning the flathead screw at the top of the socket and put the donor CPU into the laptop and the laptop CPU into the old desktop board for safe keeping (mostly to keep the pins from getting bent).

5_cpu_transplant_complete.jpg

Chapter 4: Reassembling the Laptop, the First Time...

With the donor CPU in place, I carefully applied a layer of Shin-Etsu, a high-efficiency Japanese thermal interface material used to conduct heat from the CPU core to the heatsink:

6_carefully_rebuilding.jpg

I then reattached the heatsink/fan assembly, which was a giant pain because the screws holes were not in easy places to access, even with a tiny screwdriver, so I kept losing screws while trying to start them and had to continually fish them out with the magnetic tip of my little Victorninox. I also left myself a little note so that I would remember to point out how annoying it was putting the heatsink back on the CPU.

7_cpu_cooling_reassmbled.jpg

With the CPU transplant complete, I gleefully reassembled enough of the laptop to test it out, plugged it in, pressed the power button, and watched as it did exactly what it did before: fans whirring, blue LED, nothing else. It wasn't the CPU.

Chapter 5: Why the Memory is also a Bitch

With the CPU ruled out, I moved on to the next most-likely candidate, the RAM. In the picture of the opened-up laptop, you can see one stick of RAM in what looks like an easily accessible socket with what look like simple clips holding it in place. And that's all true, removing that stick of memory takes about 5 seconds...

8_current_memory.jpg

It's easy, just pull the clips -- the RAM pops forward a bit, and you pull gently out-and-up. Presto, memory removed:

9_current%20memory_removed.jpg

The problem is that there are two sticks of memory in this laptop. You can't see the other one, but I knew where it was. Before dealing with that, I went digging through my closet of spare parts to find a pair of matching RAM SIMMs to replace the current set:

10_old_memory.jpg

They weren't the same brand, but they were the same speed and the same latency, so I figured they'd probably work fine. But now I couldn't put it off any longer -- it was time to remove the second stick of memory. Let me show you where it lives in this wonderful laptop:

11_second_stick_here.jpg

See it there? No? That's because it's under the keyboard. "How does one remove the keyboard from a laptop?" you might wonder. Well, there are usually some clips. How many clips, and where they are, can sometimes be determined by carefully examining the border of the keyboard. In this case, however, I could only find one by external examination, so I just started removing keys until I found the others:

12_popping_keys.jpg

Once I found all the clips, getting the keyboard out in one piece wasn't terribly difficult. I wasn't looking forward to putting it back in, but that wasn't my current priority, so I set the keyboard aside and replaced the other RAM chip.

14_old%20memory_installed.jpg

Chapter 6: Plugging it in and Turning it on, Take 2

With both the memory and the CPU swapped, I powered on my (still keyboard-less) laptop, fairly confident that it would surely work now. This is what happened:

15_still%20nothing.jpg

If you can't tell by the picture, that screen is blank. The power LED is on and the fans are whirring, but I'm still no closer to a working laptop. In fact, I now have a non-functional laptop with no keys and old, mis-matched memory.

I put both sticks of the original memory back in, decided to wait on reinstalling the keyboard, and flipped the laptop back over to ponder my next move.

Chapter 7: What's Left?

The two prime suspects had been cleared, and I was down to only two removable components in the entire laptop: The Video Card and the Wireless Networking Adapter.

16_whats_left.jpg

One of these seemed significantly more likely than the other, given the symptoms my laptop was displaying, but it was also considerably more difficult to remove, and there was a catch -- despite my deep parts bin, I didn't have working spares for these components. After considering those variables for a moment, I made my decision, took out the component I had decided on, and tested the laptop yet again:

17_progress.jpg

Huzzah! Progress! The laptop was working! Well, the laptop had gotten to the point where it needed to access the hard drive ("boot device") and realized that it didn't have one (I had remove it long ago), so it told me that. More importantly, I could see that it was telling me that -- it wasn't hopelessly "broken" after all.

Chapter 8: The Culprit Revealed

With the faulty component identified, I quickly put my laptop back together, including giving it back its boot device:

18_reassembled.jpg

I plugged the laptop in again, turned it on, and hoped that everything would still be ok...

19_yay_it_works.jpg

... and it was! The laptop booted up like nothing had ever been wrong, and I took one last picture, to show the world what was responsible for my no-boot situation:

20_the_culprit.jpg

The Wireless Network Adapter!

How exactly the wireless card was keeping my computer from even booting up at all is still a mystery, but what I have now is a laptop without a wireless card -- which is about as useful as a laptop without a battery, but at least wireless cards are cheaper!

edits: I made several edits to this post to fix up image tags, urls with spaces, and those types of things.

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While on an otherwise lovely trip to New York this past weekend, my laptop decided to quit working. I had just been checking up on e-mails and (of course) the brumstix threads for the events I was planning to attend, when my laptop suddenly froze.

I turned it off and back on, but instead of rebooting happily, it just sat there, not beeping, not blinking, with nothing on the screen and only the faint whir of the fans and the blue power LED to indicate that it was turned on at all. After several quick-fix attempts failed (unplugging, removing the battery, violent shaking), I gave up and resigned myself to not having a laptop for the rest of the trip. I knew in an emergency I could count on the Hotel businesses center, so it wasn't a major problem. I just put the laptop aside and decided deal with it when I got home.

Now, I know my way around the inside of a computer. I may be employed as a Web Developer who works in the land of software, rarely delving below the protocol level and never turning a screw or soldering a chip, but my degree is in Computer Engineering. And even if it weren't, I made my spending money in high school buy building, selling, and fixing computers for my classmates and teachers. So, I was confident that I could resolve the problem, I just wasn't really looking forward to cracking open a laptop and trying to diagnose such a vague issue.

The following is pictorial account of the repair, annotated with my thoughts and feelings towards inanimate objects I was swearing at working with all night:

Chapter 1: Identifying the Suspects:

There are many screws on the back of my laptop, but when you take them out it exposes the prime suspects fairly thoroughly, as illustrated below. I've labeled each of the major pieces visible in the picture for those who don't open their computers up too often:

(As usual, click the pictures for the full-size image)

1_potential_culptrits_labeled.jpg

At this point, the only major component I was ruling-out was the hard drive, because the computer wasn't getting far enough for the hard drive to come into play. On a normal computer, the wireless adapter could also probably be ruled out, but thanks to intel Centrino mobile technology, the wireless adapter is an (integral?) part of the chipset, and as such, can't be eliminated from a no-boot troubleshooting scenario.

Since nothing was happening at all now, but the display had continued to work while my computer was frozen, my first two suspects were the CPU and the RAM. I decided to try changing the CPU first, because it's easier, despite what you may think from the picture...

Chapter 2: The Donor PC

Fortunately I didn't have to buy a new CPU just to test my hypothesis. I happened to have a Dothan-core CPU (which my laptop uses) sitting in a motherborad that used to be the heart of my media pc when I was in college. In those days, before the intel "Core" CPUs, the Pentium 4 was in its "Prescott" incarnation, which was far too hot (and therefore loud) for a media PC, and the AMD offerings were both slower and more expensive than the "Dothan" core Pentium-M's used mostly in laptops.

2_donor_desktop.jpg

Chapter 3: The CPU Swap

Both the laptop and the desktop board used four screws to hold the heatsink/fan assemblies to the CPU, but I wasn't exactly sure how the assembly was going to come out of the laptop when I undid the screws:

3_laptop_cpu_covered.jpg

So, first I took the heatsink off of the desktop board, exposing the donor CPU:

4_donor_cpu_exposed.jpg

Then I found out that the laptop heatsink was not physically connected to the fan, but that the fan needed to be removed in order for the heatsink to slide backwards and come out of the laptop case, exposing the laptop's current CPU:

4_laptop_cpu_exposed.jpg

I popped each CPU out by turning the flathead screw at the top of the socket and put the donor CPU into the laptop and the laptop CPU into the old desktop board for safe keeping (mostly to keep the pins from getting bent).

5_cpu_transplant_complete.jpg

Chapter 4: Reassembling the Laptop, the First Time...

With the donor CPU in place, I carefully applied a layer of Shin-Etsu, a high-efficiency Japanese thermal interface material used to conduct heat from the CPU core to the heatsink:

6_carefully_rebuilding.jpg

I then reattached the heatsink/fan assembly, which was a giant pain because the screws holes were not in easy places to access, even with a tiny screwdriver, so I kept losing screws while trying to start them and had to continually fish them out with the magnetic tip of my little Victorninox. I also left myself a little note so that I would remember to point out how annoying it was putting the heatsink back on the CPU.

7_cpu_cooling_reassmbled.jpg

With the CPU transplant complete, I gleefully reassembled enough of the laptop to test it out, plugged it in, pressed the power button, and watched as it did exactly what it did before: fans whirring, blue LED, nothing else. It wasn't the CPU.

Chapter 5: Why the Memory is also a Bitch

With the CPU ruled out, I moved on to the next most-likely candidate, the RAM. In the picture of the opened-up laptop, you can see one stick of RAM in what looks like an easily accessible socket with what look like simple clips holding it in place. And that's all true, removing that stick of memory takes about 5 seconds...

8_current_memory.jpg

It's easy, just pull the clips -- the RAM pops forward a bit, and you pull gently out-and-up. Presto, memory removed:

9_current%20memory_removed.jpg

The problem is that there are two sticks of memory in this laptop. You can't see the other one, but I knew where it was. Before dealing with that, I went digging through my closet of spare parts to find a pair of matching RAM SIMMs to replace the current set:

10_old_memory.jpg

They weren't the same brand, but they were the same speed and the same latency, so I figured they'd probably work fine. But now I couldn't put it off any longer -- it was time to remove the second stick of memory. Let me show you where it lives in this wonderful laptop:

11_second_stick_here.jpg

See it there? No? That's because it's under the keyboard. "How does one remove the keyboard from a laptop?" you might wonder. Well, there are usually some clips. How many clips, and where they are, can sometimes be determined by carefully examining the border of the keyboard. In this case, however, I could only find one by external examination, so I just started removing keys until I found the others:

12_popping_keys.jpg

Once I found all the clips, getting the keyboard out in one piece wasn't terribly difficult. I wasn't looking forward to putting it back in, but that wasn't my current priority, so I set the keyboard aside and replaced the other RAM chip.

14_old%20memory_installed.jpg

Chapter 6: Plugging it in and Turning it on, Take 2

With both the memory and the CPU swapped, I powered on my (still keyboard-less) laptop, fairly confident that it would surely work now. This is what happened:

15_still%20nothing.jpg

If you can't tell by the picture, that screen is blank. The power LED is on and the fans are whirring, but I'm still no closer to a working laptop. In fact, I now have a non-functional laptop with no keys and old, mis-matched memory.

I put both sticks of the original memory back in, decided to wait on reinstalling the keyboard, and flipped the laptop back over to ponder my next move.

Chapter 7: What's Left?

The two prime suspects had been cleared, and I was down to only two removable components in the entire laptop: The Video Card and the Wireless Networking Adapter.

16_whats_left.jpg

One of these seemed significantly more likely than the other, given the symptoms my laptop was displaying, but it was also considerably more difficult to remove, and there was a catch -- despite my deep parts bin, I didn't have working spares for these components. After considering those variables for a moment, I made my decision, took out the component I had decided on, and tested the laptop yet again:

17_progress.jpg

Huzzah! Progress! The laptop was working! Well, the laptop had gotten to the point where it needed to access the hard drive ("boot device") and realized that it didn't have one (I had remove it long ago), so it told me that. More importantly, I could see that it was telling me that -- it wasn't hopelessly "broken" after all.

Chapter 8: The Culprit Revealed

With the faulty component identified, I quickly put my laptop back together, including giving it back its boot device:

18_reassembled.jpg

I plugged the laptop in again, turned it on, and hoped that everything would still be ok...

19_yay_it_works.jpg

... and it was! The laptop booted up like nothing had ever been wrong, and I took one last picture, to show the world what was responsible for my no-boot situation:

20_the_culprit.jpg

The Wireless Network Adapter!

How exactly the wireless card was keeping my computer from even booting up at all is still a mystery, but what I have now is a laptop without a wireless card -- which is about as useful as a laptop without a battery, but at least wireless cards are cheaper!

edits: I made several edits to this post to fix up image tags, urls with spaces, and those types of things.

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Woah! I'm alright with computers, but when it comes to doing stuff physically with the hardware, I'm totally lost. I would've thrown it out the window by that point. Nice perseverance! Big Grin

I hope the rest of the trip was o.k?...

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