2005-06-20

Notebook PC Problems

I noticed about Tuesday morning that my laptop was making odd crackling noises. I thought I was hearing things. But when I went to use it Tuesday evening, it was acting very oddly. Then I noticed it wasn't making any sound at all.

This was not good.

I got some more clues to the problem as the evening went on. Sometimes I would hear a crackling noise from the speakers. Sometimes Palm hotsync would complain about a port not being available. As the infrared port was in the same area as the sound plugs, it make me think it might be in the same area. When I pressed or flexed the PC on the left-front area, I was able to make the crackling noises appear and go away. If I pressed in with the earphones, sometimes I could hear that the microphone was working.

This suggested to me that the sound chip was having power problems. So I took a bunch of screws off the back of the laptop. I couldn't get to the area where the problem seemed to be. So I put the screws back in and put off the project for another day.

Yes, I was a little nervous about opening up an expensive laptop. But it was past warranty. And I knew it could cost a huge amount to fix.

So Saturday afternoon I tried again. I took me about an hour to figure out the key to opening up the laptop. You have to pop off the plastic plate above the keyboard, and removed the keyboard to be able to really get at the guts of the computer.

I finally popped off the sound board from the mother board.

It looked like there was this little column that just sat on the mother board from the sounds board. This did not sound like it would work too well. Then I noticed that the column looked like it had a split down the middle. Eventually I got the apart. It was a plug and socket combination. And it seems that socket had disconnected from the motherboard.

It looked like it had about 20-30 connections on each side - in about 1/2 inch long device. So it was time for magnification. I used my Swiss army magnifier to look at the solder joints. They looked like they were 'cold' solder joints - not clean enough or not hot enough when attached. Or it could just have been heat and stress. The board is above the hard drive area, so that could have added to heating and cooling cycles that may have made the solder develop stress fractures.

So, could I fix this? Something that took me 10 minutes to try to line up with a magnifying glass? The other choice was to be charged for a new mother board and labor. $400-$800 in my estimation.

I've read online about people using toaster ovens to make solder connections like these for circuits. I've been designing a robot circuit using surface mount parts like this - although not as closely spaced as this was. But I had another idea for soldering the robot circuits - using a heat stripping gun.

The first thing I learned about using a heat stripping gun, is that it wants to blow away the device you are trying to solder. So that made it more challenging.

So some may thing I'm crazy - I've got an expensive notebook PC in parts, using a heat paint-stripping gun on the motherboard.

But it looked like it was holding.

But could I remember how to put it together? Would it work when I did? At least boot up?

Well - I managed to get it together well - only a couple of screws left over - and one piece of plastic.

And it booted!!

And the sound worked!!!!

It might a little crackling noise right at the beginning - but it is working! Whew!

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