Taking Apart Your Laptop: Technical and Philosophical Considerations

Initally, I was planning on doing a post on how to replace and clean a fan in a Dell 1564 laptop, as it was necessary for both the functioning of my computer and the writing of my first post here at Dorktech. With the amount of resources available on model-specific laptop repair, I decided to write this as a more general guide for someone who may have a hardware problem, but doesn’t want to send their machine in for repairs. Most of the information applies to macs, as well as pc’s and other electronics. 


A Short Backstory

The first tool that will reveal your problem (with anything) is Google. I typed in “Dell 1564 overheating” and with the wealth of resources of that it returned, it was immediately obvious that the Dell 1564 series has a very badly designed fan, which requires cleaning every once in awhile. I’m sure Dell would love for you to send it in, but I never got that far. About a month prior to this, I replaced a broken screen on the same laptop. After that, poking around on the inside of my machine with tiny screwdrivers was something I was pretty comfortable doing.

*having youtube link troubles at the moment: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=N616Wgg_MTA


The Philosophical Barrier

For someone who has never done it before, taking apart any computer to clean, replace or add a new component can be an intimidating task. If you just aren’t a technical person and it’s not your thing, by all means send it in to the manufacturer and pay to have it done. It is, however, safe to say that no matter what problem, and no matter what model  computer you have, there’s most likely a step-by-step guide somewhere on the internet (google it) with pictures that will show you exactly what you need to do. Now if you’re like me, and you see one of these guides and say “I could do that”, odds are you probably can. On this particular Dell model, getting to the fan requires an almost complete disassembly of the entire laptop. Not at all like the 4 screws I had to remove to replace the screen. When you see a picture of a completely disassembled laptop, it’s downright scary. Almost hard to imagine it being put back together and  actually working again.


In reality, it really isn’t that hard. For any job of this type, you’ll find screws, you’ll find plastic pieces that snap on and off, and once you get inside you’ll find some small plugs that you’ll have to take out  and put back. There’s really no big mystery going on under there. It’s all solid stuff that you can hold in your hand, look at, switch out, and replace. Anyone can do it, you just have to deal with that fear and responsibility of your problem and solution being solely in your hands. Which to some people, is a comforting thought. The fact that I might break something myself is equally likely to occur as a postal worker throwing the box containing my laptop from 10 feet away into a truck. And I promise you, when you DO fix it yourself, you will have saved money and gained not only a great deal of satisfaction, but a familiarity with  your machine that you’ve never had before.


Technical Considerations

READ THE MANUAL FIRST. Depending on what you are working on there could be risks involved and you need to know what they are. I also dont want you to die because I didn’t tell you to read the manual. Some repairs are just too  crazy

youtube linkin’ – a nightmare repair: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=M5GoEFG819w

As I’ve already mentioned, a few months prior to this major operation of complete laptop disassembly, I did a minor screen replacement that made me a bit more comfortable gutting my computer. In both cases, as well as with a lot of other electronics maintenance, I’ve come across some things that will be a big help to those of you who haven’t done it before.

*Know what you are doing – I found two really great guides with pictures on how to go about fan replacement. Both were specific to my exact laptop model. One from this guy, and one from Dell’s tech support. I actually noticed a few discrepancies between what Dell wrote, what other guy wrote, and what I was seeing in front of me. Just minor things like the proper way to unplug or unsnap something. I even noticed that Dell left out some screws on my own laptop to make this particular process a little easier (it seems to be a common problem).

*Reverse Chess-Style – This relates to my first point. think of this as playing chess…in reverse. Before you take out a screw, think about the move you are about to make. What exactly is this screw loosening? How will it effect the things around it? When you finally do remove it, remember what you did. If you think 3 moves ahead in Chess, think 3 or 4 or 5 moves back when taking apart your computer (did I just make a chess/computer disassembly connection? wow). Make separate piles of screws or components, take pictures if you have to (i did). Basically cover your ass by remembering how to put back together what you just took apart. When I was done with my laptop, I turned it back on to find that I had installed the keyboard, but forgot to plug it back into the motherboard. I couldn’t type anything. I had to take it apart again to plug the keyboard back in. ugh…

*The Perils of Plastic – This is easily the most nerve wrecking thing about taking apart any piece of modern consumer electronics. Manufactures finish off laptops/phones/cameras with a sleek looking body, usually with minimal seams. These plastic panels sometimes pop right off using your fingernail or a screw driver. Although oftentimes, these panels will be accompanied by a few screws that have to be removed before these panels can be “popped off”. Again, in the interest of aesthetics, and that people are more likely to send their products in for expensive repairs, manufacturers try to hide these screws..I once broke a panel on an HD television set when I tried to pry off the front and forgot to take out one last oddly placed screw. It almost happened again when doing the palm rest on the current Dell in discussion. So be careful with prying off plastic panels, and double check to make sure you took out all the screws. You’ll also want to be delicate when doing something like this. This is difficult because prying loose a panel can require quite a bit of pressure before it finally snaps loose. In my case the power button was connected with a flimsy wire that could have easily been broken if I pulled on the plastic too hard.

*Keep Track of Everything – Make sure you have a clear workspace. Again, take pictures if you need to. Keep your pieces and parts organized.

*Don’t force anything – If you’re trying to yank something out or make something turn or pull on something that just isn’t budging, don’t force it. Take another look at what you’re trying to do and see if you’re missing something.

*Keep your guide(s) close by – Print it out or view it on your mobile. Not having a guide to look at whenever you’re stuck, is a disadvantage I’m happy to have never experienced. I plan to keep it that way

*Do it all at once – This (usually) isn’t the type of project you want to quit halfway through and go get some lunch or watch a movie

After about an hour and a half, my computer was running like it was brand new again. Now, as I cram in my post-blog research, my first thought is to get you mac users hip to http://www.ifixit.com/Device/Mac where you simply type in the serial number of your machine and it tells you how to literally fix anything. Turns out the site, which has helped me so much in the past, is not mac specific, and they show you how to fix a ton of stuff. So how about that? My post post research comes to an end already. ifixit.com and google.com and you should be able to fix anything ever. Alright now go break your computers!

dust blocking the vent. kinda gross


© 2012, Nathan Chojnacki. All rights reserved.

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