Repairing my own laptop

Posted by Erica on Dec 5, 2012 in Electronics, Making, Web and Computer |

Disassembled laptop

This was a short but sweet project — very empowering.

For years I have owned a Dell Precision M4300. It is not a sexy computer by today’s standards, but it has a very large screen, comfortable keyboard, runs fast, and has all the ports I need. Therefore, no reason to replace it. I figured at some point something would die on it — as it has for all my previous laptops — and then I’d upgrade. But this guy has kept on ticking.

A few weeks ago, the laptop finally developed a problem. The lid would no longer stay propped up at the correct angle. It either fell all the way back, or closed. Not a comfortable way to work! I could prop the lid up with pillows but clearly this was going to need to be fixed. I thought about upgrading now, but it seemed a little wasteful to do it for what was clearly a mechanical issue. Also, I am pretty lazy. This is my development computer for work and as such has quite a lot of customized programs installed on it, the kind that don’t come with Windows Installers. Even with a migration utility it would be a real hassle to set everything up on a new machine, plus I’d have to get a new operating system and no one had anything good to say about Windows 8. (Yes, I need Windows for work…I do have a USB drive with Linux that plugs in also.) I also have an old, matching docking station which would need to be swapped out too.

So next option, repair. I have no objection to paying for skilled labor, but losing the machine for a couple of weeks wasn’t appealing either. I decided to do a little research. After Googling around I found quite a few YouTube videos about laptop lid issues. These were not directly applicable — my hinges were completely shot so tightening elsewhere would not help — but one anonymous genius suggested using the service manual to learn how to open up your laptop. And indeed, Dell has a very nice service manual for the Precision M4300 which is freely available. Opening up a laptop is not for the faint of heart but suddenly this seemed quite manageable.

There is a thriving market for Dell parts and I was able to find replacement hinges for $20 a pair. I propped up the lid for the next few days until they arrived, then I got to work. There were lots of little screws to be taken out, a few places where some force was needed (not too much), and where necessary I took photos to make sure I would be able to reassemble things. I had to go to the point where the LED screen was almost removable from the lid, but eventually got to the hinge:

Dell laptop hinge

Dell laptop hinge, still partially attached to the lid.

I replaced the hinge, put everything back together, and held my breath while the computer rebooted. Success! The laptop was fine — with a nice steady screen angle. Total time to tear down / reassemble was well under an hour.

I am very impressed with Dell for making the service manuals so accessible. The fact that Dell is so well known made it easy to find replacement parts, also. This will certainly be an incentive to keep buying from them in the future.


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