Thursday, April 15, 2010

HP laptop surgery – it lives!

Part 3 in the continuing saga of the broken trackpad button.

Thanks to my friends Phillips the screwdriver, a very well written and illustrated HP service manual, outstanding HP design, and my HTC Hero phone (serving as camera), I succeeded in near total disassembly, replacing the top cover, and restoring my laptop to working order. Total surgical time: 1h 40m. I didn't lose any blood or otherwise injury myself, and ended the procedure with no extra screws, wires, or other parts.

Click each picture for a larger view.

I have previous experience assembling desktop computers, but with today's cases and components becoming increasingly compact, I have shied away from the prospect. I expected a laptop to be even harder to work on, considering how significantly more compact the components are. This was my first foray into laptop repair.

Much to my surprise, HP's design is actually very serviceable. I don't have another laptop design to compare, but working on mine was quite a straightforward experience. HP also offers a very detailed and illustrated service manual, which I am most grateful for.

I started by printing the relevant pages since I had no other computer to view the manual on. I did not realize how involved replacing the top cover was. First I needed to remove the hard drive and optical drive.

I grouped all the screws in the order I removed them to help with later reassembly.

Next steps were to remove the switch cover (the power and volume control strip across the top of the keyboard) and keyboard. There were several delicate ribbon cables attaching both these components to the mainboard. I was surprised how thin the keyboard is and how short the keys traveled. Most of the laptop's thickness is in the drives, fans, heatsink.

The new top cover:

Laptop underside:

Next step involved removing the entire screen. I tried to skip this step, thinking that I could work around it, however, the top cover has a scoop that sits under the screen hinge, so I had to remove the screen after all.

An intermediate step to removing the screen was to unplug several wires. Atop my screen is a webcam and microphone. Embedded along the frame is the wifi antenna. All these wires needed to be detached from the mainboard. This involved work topside and also underneath. After detaching these wires, I was able to remove the screen.

The service manual warns to support the screen before removing the 4 screws securing the hinge to the base. I can see why. The screen is actually quite heavy, contributing to much of the laptop's weight. Once I removed the screen, the base was surprisingly light.

Finally, I could get to work on the top cover. After removing many more screws, I had some difficulty removing the cover. There were some snaps that held it in place. The screw locations in the drawing were also ambiguous, and I could not locate all of them initially. I eventually located all the screws by carefully lifting the cover and seeing where it was still anchored to the base. Cover removed successfully!

My naked laptop!

Seating the new cover was also somewhat difficult. I had trouble aligning all the clips and was afraid of cracking the cover if I pushed too hard. I used the screws to gradually seat the cover.

The reassembly was uneventful, just a reverse of the procedure. Once complete, will it start?

Hey! It lives! I completed my first major laptop surgery. No blood was lost, no extra screws or parts left over.

I must credit HP's escalation department for so willingly working with me to find a viable solution that did not require my laptop to sit in a service shop for a week. They shipped me a top cover overnight, I received it this morning, they did not require me to return the defective part. I think this new trackpad is actually nicer. It has a matte finish which doesn't stick to my finger when I track. The old trackpad was so glossy my finger would occasionally catch when tracking. It was also a notorious fingerprint magnet.

Credit must also go to HP's design. I expected to fight cramped spaces and tiny screws and to also accidentally drop some screws into hard to reach nooks. I've had this problem on desktops, where the nooks are so small, I can't even fit tweezers in to retrieve a dropped screw. I've also worked on desktops with sharp edges, hence the blood loss. Not so with this laptop! I did not examine the exposed metal edges, but needed to go nowhere near the edges while working.

I have also reassembled desktops with screws and parts left over. This means I had forgotten to place them during reassembly, which requires a teardown to find where the parts came from. In some cases, I never did figure out where the extra screws were supposed to go. Not so with this laptop! I owe it to the excellent service manual with pictures showing where all the screws go.

My trackpad button is now working and I am most happy with the experience. Buy HP laptops!

1 comment:

  1. Oops, I didn't fully reseat one of the RAM sticks during reassembly. I've been running with half as much RAM since then. It's now corrected and things are running better.