Fun With Laptop Repair

I was asked to fix a power jack on an Extensa 5420 today. Power jack mishaps are commonplace on laptops. If you trip over the cord, pick the laptop up or set it down wrong, then the power cord stresses the jack. This can either cause the solder bonds to loosen, or in the worst cases, the jack gets ripped right off the motherboard, potentially causing permanent damage.

With the exception of my MacBook, I've taken apart every single laptop I've ever owned, and I've done laptop repair on the side since I was 15 years old. Despite their complex looks and tightly-packed circuitry, most laptops are quite easy to disassemble, usually without any special tools.

I'll go over some basics. Once you've successfully taken apart one modern laptop, most others come pretty easy. Not as many of my photos turned out as well as I wanted, though.

On the bottom, many laptops have user-serviceable panels. These panels are easy to remove with screws. If possible, remove the battery and remove the panel. Under the panel are most of the upgradeable components such as RAM and Hard Drive. On the Extensa, the WiFI adapter, heat pipes, cooling fan and CPU are accessible as well.

Remove anything that appears to be hanging you up in disassembly. Usually, you'll want to remove the hard drive at the very least. After you do that, start removing the rest of the screws from the underside of the laptop. They may be different lengths, so you might want to set them aside in a particular order so that you know which screw went where.

Moving to the top, you usually have to remove the LCD panel to take the laptop apart. Look for a bezel that spans from across the top of the keyboard and usually wraps over the LCD hinges. Gently pull up on this cover. This should expose the LCD cables and the screws holding the hinges to the laptop. Carefully remove the cables and screws, then lift the LCD off of the laptop.

With any luck the laptop should be able to be opened, separating the bottom shell from the top shell where the keyboard is. You may want to remove the keyboard as well, and unhook the ribbon cable if you can. Keyboards are intentionally designed to be easily replaceable on most modern laptops.

I was happy to see that Acer opted to attach the power jack to the motherboard with a short cable. Most other laptops I've repaired have the power jack soldered onto the motherboard. Repairing a soldered-on power jack sometimes involves lots of solder, and possibly replacing the jack. This one just needed the plastic bracket to be bent back into shape.

After I re-mounted the power jack into the chassis, I secured it with a drop of cyanoacrillate "super glue". I let the glue cure for about 10 minutes before re-assembling the Extensa.

All of this work reminded me why I really love Apple's MagSafe power cords.

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