• Tooling around with laptops and other useful gear

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    ISSUE 20.11 • 2023-03-13 HARDWARE By Ben Myers Portable computers have evolved from the Compaq luggable suitcase to laptops now weighing three pounds
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    • #2543029

      For those like me, who live in Europe and can’t buy from Temu:
      Aliexpress sells the toolkit as ‘ORIA Magnetic Screwdriver Set’ for about €33 (free shipping)

    • #2543116

      Ben Myers – thanks for your great articles. I especially appreciate you mentioning specific tools by brand, where that can be obtained and the pictures. Bravo.

      1 user thanked author for this post.
    • #2543142

      I’ve found old credit cards with one edge sanded down works great when separating cases, too. Having multiple cards handy to leave one in place to prevent a side just released from snapping back while working another card into the gap on another side is very useful.

      2 users thanked author for this post.
      • #2543171

        Good idea! Now I have to collect old expired credit cards and sand them down.  In the meantime, I’ll have to keep my fingernails trimmed to the right length.  ;>)

      • #2543983

        Got a whole stack of them. Never travel w/o them.


        Just because you don't know where you are going doesn't mean any road will get you there.
    • #2543178

      I’ve never worked much on a laptop other than maybe swapping out a hard drive or adding more RAM. A handy dandy tool kit is always super handy when working on small electronics, cameras, and watches. It’s really nice to have the tool you need on hand when the need for it arises. Just the other day I had a needed the right size of a teeny tiny hex screw head in order to remove and replace a small battery in an optical laser sight. Luckily, a few years before I had ordered a very small one for a battery swap-out project I did on an iPhone 6. That saved the day and kept me from having to wait for Prime Shipping on Amazon! Right tool at the right time when you need them is priceless!

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    • #2543213

      The URL given (Temu) doesn’t seem to work any longer??

    • #2543220

      Has anyone been able to identify which product on Temu was discussed in the article? My searches on Temu are not returning anything that looks similar.

      1 user thanked author for this post.
    • #2543230

      If there is a good reason for that HP to have its innards flipped around like that, I would love to know what it is. I don’t see how it would make the unit any thinner or lighter… the thickness of each component remains the same no matter how you stack it.

      My Dell XPS 13 is supposed to be about as thin as Dell could get it, but like the Dell in your example, it’s an “easy” in terms of servicing. Remove the easily-accessible 8 screws on the bottom, separate the wrist rest/top cover from the lower cover (I just use fingernails), and it’s open. Once you get in, everything that is serviceable is right there (SSD, battery, fans/heatsink, connectors for screen/lid assembly). The RAM is soldered and so is the wifi card, but I have come to realize that soldered RAM is not all bad on a laptop that will be used on battery, as the low-power LPDDR4X RAM chips are not available in SoDIMM form… they are always soldered to the board, apparently for technical reasons.

      Ideally, on a laptop, one should be able to remove the cooling fans from the heat sink assembly without having to remove the heatsink from the motherboard. On my XPS, this is not possible, as the fans are mounted to the bottom of the heatsink assembly (if the laptop was right side up). Only when the heat sink assembly is removed can one remove the fans. I removed the assembly and repasted the CPU afterward when I cleaned it. It’s not hard, but it is more time consuming than simply popping the fans out for a moment and cleaning them.

      Over time, hairs, clothes fibers, etc., tend to be drawn in through the intake vents on the bottom of the laptop and form a mat of lint over the heat sink fins, looking like a little gray felt pad. When it gets to that point, it can block most of the airflow, causing overheating or severe throttling. You can’t see it with the fans in place… it is completely covered by the fan’s shroud.

      When the fan is removed, it is easy to see and remove this little bit of fuzz on the heat sink fins, and to know you got it all out.

      I have always removed the fans for cleaning rather than try to get the lint out with canned air. You don’t really know if it is there or not if you can’t see it, and if it is, you can’t really tell when it is all out of there.

      Simply blowing air from the direction of the fan into the heat sink would just push the lint pad against the heat sink, and would not be strong enough to force the lint through unless you got the airflow right in there against the heat sink surface (if the air can came with one of those little straws). I have never tried this, so I am speculating at this point.

      It might also be possible to use canned air to blow air backwards (through the fan exhaust, toward the fans) to get the lint to move into the blades of the fan (where it is now visible with the fans still installed) so it can be removed with a pick of some sort, but I never tried that. It’s not good to spin the fans while they are attached to the motherboard, of course, so I would have to either secure them or unplug them before trying this.

      Dell XPS 13/9310, i5-1135G7/16GB, KDE Neon
      XPG Xenia 15, i7-9750H/16GB & GTX1660ti, KDE Neon
      Acer Swift Go 14, i5-1335U/16GB, KDE Neon

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      • #2543426

        My critique of the HP laptop was just as much a critique of the consumer-oriented laptops sold in big box stores.  About 18 months ago, I took on an SSD and memory upgrade of a Dell Inspiron, another laptop that would be shunned by corporate IT.  The Inspiron came apart easily enough, with direct access to memory and SSD.  But reassembly proved to be a challenge.

        An then there was the Acer with cheap plastic that can fracture all too easily.  Or its hinges come undone.  And Asus.  And Sony.  And Toshiba.  Companies that play in the consumer big box world pay little attention to upgrades, maintainability, repairability.  The consumer laptops of the majors, Dell, HP and Lenovo are a repair crapshoot, too.


        • #2543638

          I haven’t had the opportunity to open up as many laptops as you have, but I’ve been lucky, I guess, with my more recent models. They have been a bit easier than the older models I’ve torn down, from about 2001 to 2008, which were more like the HP in the article.

          My Dell G3 gaming laptop (3579), my former Dell Inspiron Gaming 7567, my Acer Swift 1 (SF113-31-P5CK), my XPG Xenia 15 (gaming), and my former XPG Xenia 14 have all been in what I would consider the “easy” category, despite being mass-market consumer models. The only one that might possibly be in the “moderate” category would be the Dell Inspiron 11 (3162), which has a pesky ribbon cable from the top half to the bottom half.

          All but the XPGs came from Wal-Mart or Best Buy. Each of them, except for the Inspiron 11, are just as easy to work on as my Dell XPS 13 (9310), which is apparently marketed as both a high-end consumer model and a business model. I’d even place the G3 a notch above the XPS, as the G3’s fans can be removed without touching the heat sink screws. Cleaning those fans is a breeze… pun somewhat intended, heh.

          It seems that some of the greater complexity comes from a build setup where the motherboard is attached to the bottom case rather than the top case/palmrest assembly. When the motherboard is in the bottom case and the keyboard and touchpad are in the top, there will have to be connectors stringing between them, and these are a pain. The motherboard-on-top design provides the possibility of having all of the electronics in the top case half, with no need for cables going to the bottom half, though only if the OEM chooses to design it that way. As I mentioned, the Inspiron 11 has such a cable between the halves despite having a top mounted motherboard.

          All of the older models I worked on (through 2008) were of the motherboard-in-bottom type, and they were all more involved than newer models for the purposes of service or repair. The HP in the article looks to be that way too, from the picture.

          All of the recent models I listed have the motherboard and battery mounted to the top cover. It still doesn’t explain putting the memory slots on the inaccessible side of the motherboard… though perhaps one could find a way to justify it by noting that cold boot attacks against the RAM would be more difficult to pull off that way.

          Dell XPS 13/9310, i5-1135G7/16GB, KDE Neon
          XPG Xenia 15, i7-9750H/16GB & GTX1660ti, KDE Neon
          Acer Swift Go 14, i5-1335U/16GB, KDE Neon

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    • #2543255

      Ben, please post a direct link to the lovely driver bit kit that you mentioned in Issue 20.11.

    • #2543256

      Answered my own question.

      Here it is on Amazon for $21.00




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    • #2543354

      Hi Ben,

      Actually you’ve told me little I haven’t already experienced, but thanks anyway.

      On the other hand you failed to mention an extremely useful hand tool:
      Tweezers with diamond coated tips, which make them reliably non-slipping. There are two kinds, tips coated only on the inside and tips coated on both inner and outer surfaces.

      Picking up a steel ball (of a ball bearing) is a cinch with such tweezers. But the second kind can also pick up deeply sunken Philips, Allen, Pozidrive and Torx head type screws by spreading the diamond tips inside the screw head.

      I would recommend buying top quality (expensive!) angled dental tweezers, and optionally a cheaper straight pair too (Amazon). Take care not to contaminate the diamonded tips with hard setting resin, cement or other hard to remove substances.

      No doubt a dentist or dental technician can tell you where to buy or order them (I have no idea about US availability).

      This image shows tweezers I kept and often used since my retirement as a dentist 14 years ago.


      1 Desktop W11
      1 Laptop W10
      Both tweaked to look, behave and feel like Windows 95
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      • #2543427

        Aha! A crossover from your previous life.  Will look into tweezers with diamond coated tips, as I occasionally have the need.  I can never have too many tools.  Thank you.

      • #2544122

        Don’t laugh @e-pericoloso-sporgersi but I had to use mine yesterday to extract a broken stone from my dog’s paw pad. He was gimpy and I couldn’t get it out with my nails or regular tweezers. Thought about my tool pouch and bingo! He’s a happy doggo again! 🙂

        Never Say Never

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        • #2544151

          I couldn’t get it out with my nails or regular tweezers

          Many years ago (I was young in 1973), I was fulfulling the Belgian Army draft as a dentist in the Medical Service.

          One day, while I was Officer of the Watch in the Infirmary in Leopoldsburg, Belgium, a private was brought in, who had caught a sliver of broken glass in his eye.

          I considered it highly urgent to remove the glass sliver, to prevent it penetrating the soft tissues, but I thought regular tweezers useless, even dangerous, to try and grasp the glass sliver.

          Fortunately I had (my own) diamond-coated tweezers in the dental surgery. I considered those tweezers and my steady-and-accurate-hand training quite capable to pluck out the sliver in a single very swift action, without risking the tweezers slipping off.

          The simple procedure was succesful. But needless to say, I sent the man to see an ophtalmologist anyway, to check for corneal injury.

          And then there have been the countless times in my family that I removed a wood splinter or a thorn.

          1 Desktop W11
          1 Laptop W10
          Both tweaked to look, behave and feel like Windows 95
    • #2543610

      Great article. Brings back a lot of memories from when I was a computer tech.

      One of the easiest laptops I ever worked on was the IBM ThinkPad 760. You moved two tabs forward, and the keyboard came up. Below the keyboard was the hard drive and other items. Unfortunately, the IBM ThinkPad 760 was a piece of junk – constant problems.

      A much more difficult to repair laptop was the IBM ThinkPad 380. But it was top quality – almost never had problems.

      My daughter’s laptop was overheating badly, so I took it completely apart, blew all the dust out, used new thermal grease to attach the heat sink to the CPU, then put it all back together. Ran great after that. When my daughter saw a thousand parts on the dinner table and an empty laptop case, she said, “Dad, will it ever work again?”

      Back in those days, I occasionally worked on Compaq computers with their tiny Torx screws, so I bought several Torx bits (from T4 up) via mail order, and assembled a good screwdriver set for my tool bag. I still have that screwdriver, but it is missing a piece or two.

      Group "L" (Linux Mint)
      with Windows 8.1 running in a VM
    • #2543874

      Reminded me in gut-wrenching detail why I HATE working on laptops. Thank you for the tip on the tool kit.

      • #2544388

        The well-designed ones I work on, and some are very easy with the right tools.  Then, there are ones that I hate enough to turn down, usually with an explanation about the quality of product design.  These days, buying a laptop can be a crapshoot, because nobody ever says what is inside.  I try to make people feel better about their poorly designed laptops by telling them it’s a crapshoot, especially the consumer-quality systems they get from the big box stores.

    • #2544065

      For working on laptops, tablets, phones, etc., I use the Pro Tech Toolkit from iFixit. It has a lifetime guarantee: “If something breaks, we’ll replace it—for as long as you own the toolkit.” Pricey, but excellent quality. I decided I should pay them back for all their videos I’ve watched over the years. They have a myriad teardowns and repair guides, often for the specific model I’m working on.

      For USB-A/B/C external drive enclosures and adapters, my go-to vendor is Other World Computing. They started out as a Mac shop (you can tell from their URL), and have been around a LONG time. The quality of the hardware they sell is very good, as is the customer support. They have started to sell their stuff on Amazon, which is really convenient if you know what you want and have a Prime account.

    • #2544099

      Dear Ben,

      I too enjoyed the post, and appreciate the time you take to explain in simple terms what is emminently possible in terms of maintaining your own laptop.  I noticed the HP earned the “difficult” tag, and would tend to agree.  I have had a succession of them and have finally decided that since “breaking” the case voids the warranty anyway, I just use the best tool I can find to split the case apart and don’t worry about nicks or scratches.  I use a thing that looks like a knife, but is made to part watch cases.  A major gotcha with HP is that they hide some of the case screws beneath some of the rubber feet.  Occasionally a disassembly guide will show which feet to peel back, but not always.  As far as lifting the motherboard, that is a challenge too.  There’s always just one more non obvious screw to remove, and they use about 4 or 5 different types and sizes of screws internally.  It’s a lot to keep track of.  The plethora of ribbon cables with edge connectors are a challenge too.  A good set of tool grade tweezers works well when reassembling and re-inserting those ribbons.  One tip I didn’t see you mention is that each ribbon connector and socket should get a good spritz of high grade contact cleaner.  I have revived dead displays and keyboards with this one simple step, negating the need to repair or replace.

      And, regarding HP (and probably a lot of laptops), upgrading the hard drive to an SSD, and upgrading the wifi card to the latest standard paid big dividends.  With HP, the old wifi card had one antenna only, and since Bluetooth is integrated into it I had to suffer with glitchy connections due to its out of date standard.  With the new card, I have jumped to 450 Mbits from 125 over wifi (have TWO antennas now), and the Bluetooth 5.2 works flawlessly- everything pairs first time every time!  Anyway, it was a bit of work, but probably extended the usefulness of the laptop by a couple of years, and is so much better to work with.  It boots up in 10 seconds, and I’m in a happy place with all my bluetooth gadgets (headphones, mouse, etc).




      • #2544390

        Charlie, you are fortunate that the wifi upgrade worked.  Many models of laptops have whitelists baked into the BIOS.  If the wifi card make/model does not appear in the white list, the laptop won’t boot, emitting a message saying that the wifi card is “incompatible”, pure nonsense.

        With HP and some other brands with hidden screws, I have found it best to peel back the rubbery strip part way, until I can see the screw head.  Much easier to reattach than removing entirely.

        I have rarely had issues reconnecting laptop keyboard or mouse ribbon cables, except when they are not inserted properly.  Still, the contact cleaner is a good thing to have around. I also use it to clean the bottoms of modern pinless CPUs.

    • #2545683

      Great piece Ben, again. Love reading about the practical problems we deal with, which I just went through.

      I don’t quite get the ‘Tools for Getting Your Data’ section. What circumstance leads to that?

      Is this for a laptop that has failed, or near failing? Because if you’re making backups, like were always told to do…        Thanks.

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