November 14, 2023

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TLDR: I fixed my laptop screen despite expecting to make things worse, wasting time, and forcing myself to pre-emptively buy a replacement laptop.

I have an ASUS S410U I bought in 2018 for personal use after turning in my work laptop. I needed something inexpensive and minimally functional so I could do some basic work while I took a consulting job here and there. I wouldn't be doing much else besides email, meetings, and using SAAS products, and I already had a home computer for playing Video Games.

The laptop has served surprisingly well despite it being only around $500 or so. I did end up playing a few games on it, but nothing serious, and I did end using it for coding - but I'm not compiling huge programs or anything.

However, a few months ago, I noticed that the screen would flicker or completely go blank if I slightly opened or closed it. I suspected a wear in the wires from the mother board to the screen, or a failure in the screen itself. Neither of which I wanted to deal with.

Being somewhat frugal and I have hard time spending money on most (but not all) things strictly for the sake of convenience. So rather than send it in for repairs (a months long prices and almost as pricey as getting a replacement budget laptop), I just docked it to my gaming monitor at my desk and have been stationed here for the last couple months - without the ability to go to a coffee shop to work.

That last bit as been gnawing at me the last couple weeks though. I live at home and work at home, which I love, but I like being able to pop in to a space to be around people, which I find helps when I need to do some writing, thinking, or just gather energy from my environment.

I had finally worked up the nerve to give repairing it myself an attempt after reflecting on a post on Mastodon I'd recently seen:

When I was young, I thought my dad knew everything--cars, construction, plumbing, electrical, all of it.

It was later that I realized the lesson: he really didn't, he just wasn't afraid to try.

That's the approach I always try to take now. And rarely will you worsen it by trying--so if help does have to be called in, at least you've already learned something new.

So go for it!

I have a Toshiba M645 S4055 from 2009ish that I've opened up several times for various reasons. It till works! It tends to overheat quickly so I think I need to swap the fan out and maybe reset the bios (I had messed around with fan settings many years ago). So I felt like I had small idea of what to expect but had little hope for actually solving any problem I'd find within.

Finally today yesterday I decided to roll the dice and open the insides of the laptop. With more than hour set aside to see if I could diagnose the screen issue, order appropriate replacement parts if able and necessary, and if I ended up borking things up - well, I could just use my gaming computer or my raspberry pi and continue to be tethered to my desk.

To prepare, I cleaned my desk, turned off the laptop, turned up all the lights, got my tiny screwdrivers. Then I got to work removing the 10ish screws holding the back panel together. Gently using a tiny flat head screw driver as a pry tool I unsnapped the bottom panel to find a loose screw, some dust bunnies, a dusty fan, and an otherwise very well designed motherboard.

I replaced the screw that had come completely loose as it was part of the hinge the screen is attached to, and I tightened the others on the hinge as well. The proper location of the loose screw can be seen in the photo above. I suspect that the screw became loose with the many opening and closings of the laptop screen. The screw was probably moving around inside the computer was causing some interference and shorts that made the screen go wonky or blank completely.

The dust bunnies got blown out and the laptop cover snapped back on. The only hiccup came replacing one of the exterior screws, which neither screwed all the way in, nor would it come all the way out despite attempts to fully unscrew it and grasp it with needle nose pliers. I decided to leave it in place, confident it would work itself out, figuratively and literally.

I reconnected the power, and turned on the power and the screen came right on. I moved it back and forth a little and observed minimal disruption to the rendered output. 🎉After cleaning up all of my tools, I got to writing this post, and found a minor disruption: some of the keyboard keys were a little unresponsive and not traveling their full distance and not returning their full distance. On examination, I found a bit of paper wedged under the 'i' key, and the 'k' key had become slightly misaligned. I fixed both within 15 minutes.

Getting this fixed feels like a moderate victory - I can now go work from interesting places again (maybe the coffee shop next and a meetup later this week), or work from the same room my partner is watching TV within, etc. I was also ready to write off the laptop and just go buy a replacement. If the Framework 16 wasn't backlogged until Q2 of 2024, I just may have. Instead, I got the satisfaction of fixing it myself, saving some money, and overcoming the trepidation that I might make things worse for myself.

It was a good day, and I'm happy to be able to type it up on my now fixed laptop to share it with you.