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. It wasn't hard, technical (the solution was simple enough my toddler could have done it), or time consuming. The hardest part was just resigning myself to the fact that I needed to fix it, or break it completely trying.

When I started a mini sabbatical in 2018, I bought a ASUS S410U after turning in my work laptop to my previous employer. I needed something inexpensive and minimally functional so I could do the basics while I took a contract 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 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 had been 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 by attempting to repair it myself.

Being somewhat frugal (I am sometimes too reluctant to spend money on convenience products or services). So rather than send the laptop in for repairs (a months long process 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 benefits of a laptop - which is to be mobile.

The lack of mobility has been gnawing at me the last couple weeks though. I work from home, which I love, but I like being able to pop in to a space to be around people sometimes too. I find it helps when I need to do some writing, thinking, or just gather ambient energy from my environment.

I had finally worked up the nerve to give repairing it myself a shot after reflecting on a Mastodon post:

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). I've already reapplied thermal paste but maybe I messed that up(?). So I felt like I had small idea of what to expect when attempting a diagnosis on my ASUS laptop, but I had little hope for actually solving any problem I'd find within.

Finally today I decided to roll the dice and open the insides. With more than hour set aside I set out to see if I could diagnose the screen issue. If I did, I could order appropriate replacement parts. If I borked 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 (in my layman's assessment).

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, causing some interference and short circuits that made the screen go wonky or blank completely.

The dust bunnies got blown out and I snapped the laptop cover snapped back on. The only hiccup was in replacing one of the exterior screws, which neither screwed all the way in, nor would it come all the way out. I even attempted 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 adapter, turned on the power, and the screen came right on. I moved it back and forth on the hinge 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 down 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, the local library, and a meetup later this week), or work from the same room my partner is watching TV within, etc. I was 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 bought the replacement against my frugal nature. Instead, I got the satisfaction of fixing the ASUS myself, saving some money, and overcoming the trepidation that I might make things worse for myself. Not to mention keeping yet another e-device out of the landfill.

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.