Plastic Surgery

My Dell Latitude is nearly four years old, which is about 85 in Laptop-years. Sure, the glide pad has an unnatural sheen in the middle, buffeted by hundreds of hours of hackery; the bumps on the “F” and “J” keys wore off a long time ago; and the cooling fan groans whenever I do serious photoshopping. More recently, the bays were loose, letting the second hard disk rattle and, occasionally jettisoning the battery, whose four hour charging cycle produces fifteen minutes of computing.

The tools are exposed to excessive flash for sterilization purposes
The patient has been sedated. The donor organs are brougth in.
It’s a Dell, but not a “dude.”
The assistant does the grunt work, removing the screws…
as the surgeon eats a burrito. The random squishy organs on the right are important.
The head, stomach and liver are positioned around the heart.
With all the important stuff removed, we’re ready to begin the transplant
Everything except the head and the keyboard are ready.
The patient rests while the assistant has bathtime.
Upon awakening, we went online to Susan Dennis’

I’ve tolerated this “character” because the machine’s been very functional… until last week, when the hinges seized and the case wouldn’t open or close without excessive effort. As an academic exercise, I priced new laptops, reaching the obvious conclusion that $3k for a replacement meeting my rigid specifications is much more than I want to spend right now.

Dell provides their repair manuals online. From what I read, it was relatively straighforward to fix, if I could find the parts. This is where Dell’s really weak — they’re in the business to sell new machines. Parts are available, but you have to call, and even then, the prices are extremely retail, if you know what I mean. This is where eBay rocks — the aftermarket for individual parts is strong.

I initially thought I’d replace only the hinge pieces, but as I hunted around, I talked myself into fixing a lot more. After an hour of hunting around/watching old Quantum Leap episodes, I had a list of six components. Then I stumbled upon a guy who was selling the entire chassis for $59, less than what the six minor components would cost.

The chassis arrived on Friday, and much to my pleasure, included a new glide pad and internal speakers. After dinner, I backed up my system and printed out the service manual. My six year old, sensing an opportunity to further delay bedtime, offered to “help.”

The patient was prepped for a case transplant at 6:30 p.m. Disassembling everything proved to be hardest part because the hinge was frozen and the screen needs to come off before most of the innards can come out. Having the empty case to look at helped identify the sections that snapped together without screws.

Because the hinge was frozen, I had very little room to pull the screen connector off. Creative wiggling helped, but it took more time than it should have. I set it aside for the time being.

With the screen off, I spent another 30 minutes removing the vital organs and, eventually, the motherboard. This was very straighforward, in part because I watched the tech replace the motherboard last year. Reassembly went incredibly fast once I realized I could short-cut their instructions. The new chassis also included the mini-PCI doodads for the modem and ethernet. I reused the old ones because I didn’t want to unwind the labyrinth of wiring this component had.

The screen was last. The bezel around the LCD screen snaps together. I was nervous about the screwdriver slipping and making a huge gash in the display. Once that was mostly apart, I removed the 12 screws holding it to the metal frame.

While I had the innards apart, I doused the front with Windex and removed crud off the corners. Good as new!

The new hinges worked much better, and within a minute, I had a fully-assembled laptop. I powered it on and got some kind of weird BIOS error. Rut-ro. The time of day clock needed to be reset, but then it booted into Windows.

3 thoughts on “Plastic Surgery”

  1. Jim,

    Who is the guy you got the chassis from? I need to do the same thing to my Dell Latitude 610C.

    Thanks for the encouragement.

    Gordy

  2. i recently replaced the screen of my latitude with one from my sisters old one which crashed… they fell off the truck, so we got two identicle ones… having a guiny pig to work on now is highly convinient… i cant believe this thing i seven years old

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