It’s your worst nightmare!
You switch on your laptop, the hard drive whirs, the fan spins, but nothing else happens, the screen is blank. It is, to all intents and purposes-dead!
You try all the usual fixes-take the battery out, put it back in again, check that the memory sticks are seated properly, swap them with ones that you know work, reset the CMOS (if you know how to get to the battery) -nothing works-and you can’t afford to take it somewhere to get it fixed. There are no other options available to you.
Well, there is one, a radical one at that, and it worked for me… bake your laptop!!
Now this might sound a bit over the top, but allow me to explain what I did and why it might just work.
I can’t emphasise enough, that this really is a ‘last ditch’ method, but what have you got to lose?
The simple fact of the matter is that laptop motherboards can be prone to failure. When you think about it, everything in a laptop is built onto the one board. Unlike your desktop computer, it also has to cope with being used in a portable environment.
What can happen (especially if your laptop runs hot, by running games on it, or by using it on your lap instead of a desk) is that hairline cracks can develop in the solder between the surface mounted components and the motherboard. This is exactly what happened to my trusty Dell XPS M1530.
Motherboards are manufactured using a process called ‘reflow soldering’. In this process, components are placed on the board which has solder paste on it, and put through an oven. This melts the solder, and connects the components to the board. Surface Mount Devices are so small, that it’s simply not possible to resolder the components with a conventional soldering iron. It’s too big, so this is where your domestic oven comes into play.
So, down to business.
First of all, we need to get the motherboard out of the laptop. I strongly recommend that you download a copy of the service manual (from the Dell website) so that you know which screws to undo!
Once the motherboard is out of the case, the next step is to remove the plastic protective sheets. They’re stuck on with glue, so carefully remove them. The CPU and heatsink also needs to be removed along with any cabling. (Refer to your service manual).
Next, prepare a baking tray with aluminum foil (to reflect the heat evenly) . The motherboard needs to be supported above the baking tray with standoffs. You can either use pillars made from scrunched up aluminum foil, or large bolts (which is what I did) which go into the screw holes on the motherboard. Make sure that it’s really well supported.
Now, pre-heat your oven to 180C. The type of solder used in laptop motherboards melts at this temperature, and as we’re trying to re-create the reflow solder environment, this is an ideal temperature.
Place your baking tray with your motherboard in the oven, and leave it for 7 minutes-no more!
After the 7 minutes are up, remove your motherboard very carefully, and let it cool. Remember, the solder will still be partially molten when you remove it, and if you’re not extremely careful, components could drop off!
Finally, once the motherboard has cooled down, connect everything back together again and try it out. Avoid completely re-assembling the laptop to test it, you may have to put it back in the oven again if the solder hasn’t reflowed properly, but remember, don’t overdo it!
If all has gone well, as it did in my case, you now have a working laptop!
A few extra points to note:
– This is a ‘make or break’ solution!
– An obvious point perhaps, DON’T use a Microwave Oven! This will ‘fry’ all the components on the board and destroy your Microwave to boot!
– Faulty Graphics cards could also be fixed using this method, as they are prone to faults caused by excessive heat.
– Finally, don’t blame me if this doesn’t work! It worked for me, and as I keep saying, it’s a technique that you should use only when all else fails.