How to Fix a Laptop (or, how to not fix a laptop but then fix it for real after you break it)

As I mentioned before, I bought a new MacBook Pro recently because the BGA (ball grid array) RAM chips on the graphics card of my old laptop partially desoldered themselves. That left me with a few options; throw it away, buy a new graphics card, or have it repaired. Since I would like to sell it, I ruled out option 1, and options 2 and 3 both cost upwards of $250. That left me with fixing it myself.

Laptop in pieces

After having a look online, I found some people who had been successful in fixing their laptops. The BGA chips becoming desoldered is apparently a fairly common problem. In one success story, a guy used a heat gun and recommended that the work be performed outdoors due to the high temperatures. Having a concrete front porch, and it being a still day, I decided to do just that.

I bought a heat gun from Ace Hardware for $24. It has two temperature settings, 345 degrees C (650 degrees F) and 535 degrees C (1000 degrees F). Figuring that solder can melt anywhere between 200 and 450 degrees C, I decided to try on the lowest setting first. Holding the heat gun 2 inches from the first BGA memory chip, I gave it a blast for 30 seconds with a thick cardboard heat shield protecting the surrounding components. After doing all four chips, I tried the board in the laptop, but the problem was still not fixed. 🙁

So, feeling brave, I gave the first chip a blast on the higher setting. After about 15 seconds, my cardboard heat shield caught fire and a strong gust of wind shook my rig (circuit board placed on a metal cookie sheet). It was enough to dislodge some of the surface mount components on the underside of the chip. Not good at all. I moved my rig into the garage and completed the job on the next three chips.

NVidia 440 GO graphics card

After moving inside, I dug out my soldering iron, with a very clunky tip, and cleaned it the best I could. Somehow, I managed to steady my hand and resolder three resistors and two capacitors, some as small as a poppy seed. I checked the connections with my multimeter, and despite not knowing the resistor values, reading precisely 300 ohms on all of them comforted me.

I powered up my laptop expecting to see white smoke or a blank screen. To my utter disbelief, the damn thing powered on OK! Checking the hardware properties showed my video card was reporting a full 64MB instead of the 32MB before. And, no screen corruption! The big test was playing Half Life 2 though – it ran without a hitch!

So, if you need your laptop fixing, I am not doing that again. Go and find someone else.

6 Replies to “How to Fix a Laptop (or, how to not fix a laptop but then fix it for real after you break it)”

  1. to whom it may concern,
    I have a tashiba ps m42u091006 serial no 250142680 my key board does not work and my disk player dose not work I have to use a mouse because the mouse doesn’t work either. can you help me I caan’t afford to get it fix and no money to buy another one.

  2. Sally, the best thing you can try first is to reinstall everything using your recovery discs after backing everything up. If that doesn’t help, then find a friend who knows how to take it apart and clean the ribbon cables for the mouse and keyboard.

  3. Do you think I should try the heat gun trick on my Compaq presario v3000.
    They’ve got the BGA problem due to a weak case and flexing (and over heating).
    Am I crazy?
    I havn’t opened it yet.

  4. See how much a repair would cost. If this is more than you are willing to pay, then it might be your only option. It’s not too difficult, but take your time.

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