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Revamping a laptop

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Revamping a laptop

Unread postAuthor: Ragnarok » Fri Oct 07, 2011 6:36 am

As some of you may recall, I've had various issues with my laptop over the years, and it's once again packed up, this time outside warranty.

I really haven't got the money to afford a new laptop right now - at least, not the one I'd want - so it's now about trying to get a bit more life out of it.

Issues in point:

1) Another graphics error. It's integral graphics built onto the motherboard, specifically an Nvidia 8600M GS, and importantly on the G86-770-A2 GPU - which is one where Nvidia used some awful underfill material that basically turns to jelly when it gets hot and lets the die move around, eventually resulting in the chip's death.

As far as I can tell, the GPU is essentially toast (in the long term. It can be temporarily fixed with heat, which has been enough to prove everything else is still working). However, I can get hold of the G86-771-A2, which is basically the same chip except with a replacement underfill, and thus a longer working life.

With this one, I'm looking for any last words of wisdom before I go ahead with something totally crazy. Obviously, unsoldering, replacing and resoldering a GPU is not a simple job, but I've been reading around about the subject, I have former soldering experience (less of it with reflow, but I understand the principles well enough) and as an artist who thinks sculpting two inch tall models is fairly normal, my dexterity and patience are not hugely in doubt.

2) A kerblooey hard-drive and I'm on an old reserve at the moment. This, fortunately is an easy one, as I've got backups and all my install disks.

3) Faulty wireless card. Also fairly easy. Buy a new one.

4) Various case cracks. Again, pretty simple, nothing some epoxy can't fix.

5) Paint wear. Anyone got any advice on paint for ABS that won't just quickly rub off?

6) Anti-glare screen film. These seem to be rather unpleasantly priced.

Anyway, the graphics is the big one, so I'm going to wait for words of wisdom on that one first. After that, then the other stuff...
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Unread postAuthor: Technician1002 » Fri Oct 07, 2011 9:56 am

On an older laptop of marginal value, it is not worth the effort. Time for Craig's list.

I have old laptops bought used that are still working fine. My oldest is a Toshiba Satelite with a monochrome LCD. It runs Windows 3.1. My other machine without USB is a CTX running Windows 95.

Place an ad. Wanted old laptops. Older ones are cheaper than repairs. Sell your old one for parts. Someone may need the LCD to replace a broken one.

My oldest one is slated to become a youtube star when it meets a high speed cell phone.
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Unread postAuthor: Ragnarok » Fri Oct 07, 2011 11:21 am

It's relatively old, but I wouldn't really call it of marginal value. It was an expensive spec four years ago, so it's still got a bit of punch left over.
Probably more punch than I'd get from spending the repair money on eBay or Craigslist, anyway.
(Added to that, I've got some spare batteries that still work for this one, as well as knowing how it's been treated so far.)

Lastly, I'm just naturally opposed to throwing things out without trying to fix them. It's not very environmentally conscious. Nor half as much fun. :twisted:
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Unread postAuthor: al-xg » Fri Oct 07, 2011 12:33 pm

Can't you just change the motherboard ? I'd expect getting the GPU chip on its own would be just as expensive no ?
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Unread postAuthor: Technician1002 » Fri Oct 07, 2011 1:05 pm

I found an old laptop from 4 years ago can be replaced by an inexpensive netbook with an external monitor and memory upgrade. My main computer now is a netbook. Look on Craigslist. Many people are trying to get their investment back. But just like real estate, the value has shifted and great deals are on the market. I've seen XP laptops going for under $100. My netbook was only $250 new.


Now much do you think the laptop is really worth if it was 100% OK. Now add the multiple problems and adjust accordingly. The repairs exceed the value. Time for another one that is built better and will last longer. One with little use will be the best bet with little mechanical wear and cracks. You don't want the old used 8 hours a day traveling salesman's or realtor's machine. You want someone's who used it as a secondary machine to the desktop.
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Unread postAuthor: Fnord » Fri Oct 07, 2011 4:14 pm

Personally, if I could get reasonable deals on parts I'd attempt the repair.

But I'd also be looking for a replacement at the same time. There seems to be a lot of potential for failure when soldering something as complex as a mobo. I imagine you'll have to make some custom soldering tips for work this finely detailed, and constantly cleaning the oxides off from the tip may be necessary. Also keep in mind some solders tend to corrode things after they sit for awhile (acid-core especially), so make sure you're not using such a brand, or at least clean and neutralize your contacts afterwards with baking soda or something.

This is the laptop I bought recently. The price just went up and it's a little more expensive than what I think you're after, but It seems to be a very solid budget laptop if you want something that isn't obsolete in a month.
http://www.newegg.com/Product/Product.a ... 6834215163

Edit. crap, ^that's a different model. mine is out of stock apparently;
http://www.newegg.com/Product/Product.a ... 6834215126
I think only the processor is different.

The cons are exactly what the reviews indicate: crappy speaker, needs a mouse, battery life is short, some bloatware. Good for moderate gaming and stuff.
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Last edited by Fnord on Fri Oct 07, 2011 7:14 pm, edited 1 time in total.
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Unread postAuthor: ramses » Fri Oct 07, 2011 5:32 pm

Depending on the processor, the graphics card is still faster than some of what is "new" today. Depending on which card is actually in Fnord's laptop, your graphics card may be faster.

Depending on the processor, it too may be faster. I'm not sure about the RAM situation.
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Unread postAuthor: Ragnarok » Fri Oct 07, 2011 6:27 pm

Technician1002 wrote:Now much do you think the laptop is really worth if it was 100% OK.

There's probably a slight cultural disjoint here. While the GBP is worth more than the USD (normally about $1.60 USD), the buying power of the average UK consumer's GBP is often a lot less than the US consumer's USD.
While you might be able to pick up used laptops for $100, that just doesn't really happen over here.

So, to answer the question, if it was all in working order, including the spare batteries, and based on what other laptops of a similar spec sell for on ebay, it's probably worth a bit over £250.

Now add the multiple problems and adjust accordingly.

By cost, there's only really two problems, the GPU and the HDD. And a new HDD could go into my spare external cradle if it's still going when this laptop moves on, so it's not a sunk cost. (The kerblooey HDD isn't even its original drive anyway!)
Screen glare is just a "it'd be nice to fix", a new wireless card is beer money, I have the stuff to fix the casing already, and repainting is again a "nice to fix".

So, in many ways, it's really only problem singular, the GPU. That's also the only terminal problem (it'll work with the old HDD and without wi-fi) and the only hard fix, so I can try to fix that first without buying anything else.

If that goes wrong, I write the computer off, sell the remaining working bits to recover the cost of the new GPU, then start worrying about where to get a new machine.
If it works, then at that point I start fixing the other problems, which are relatively child's play.

Trust me, I have worked the numbers. I'm looking for advice on how to fix the problem, not how to sidestep it.

ramses wrote:Depending on the processor, the graphics card is still faster than some of what is "new" today. Depending on which card is actually in Fnord's laptop, your graphics card may be faster.

The 8600M GS is old now and was always the runt compared to its GT cousin, but it still reaches modern entry level spec.

As, really, does the machine as a whole, with occasional perks like the 17" screen (and the full size keyboard with number pad that brings with it) and occasional flaws like a relatively low FSB, DDR2 and (worst of them all) Windows Vista.

I don't really want to just scrap what is still, if not a good machine, at least okay for want of a nail.
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Unread postAuthor: jhalek90 » Fri Oct 07, 2011 7:54 pm

Laptops have a 9month life expectancy.
After that, they are usually not worth repairing.


I have a 9600 M GS that died due to heat, what i can tell you is, that if any part of the laptop has suffered heat damage, it is VERY likely that other parts have suffered as well.

You might replace the GPU, simply to find that there are capacitors that also have heat damage, replace those, and the next heat damaged part will be come apparent, and so forth.

I understand your want to fix it, the laptop i was talking about cost 1800 usd new. the issue is that laptop parts are so close together, that its very rare for only one part to be damaged.
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Unread postAuthor: Ragnarok » Fri Oct 07, 2011 9:10 pm

jhalek90 wrote:Laptops have a 9month life expectancy.
After that, they are usually not worth repairing.

Maybe 9 months if you're looking at it from a top of the line gaming laptop perspective, but I think most users would be very disappointed if their laptops only lasted 9 months then popped their clogs.

Look, I want to try to repair it. I like trying to fix things, and I can't stand just throwing them out without at least giving it a go. It might not seem cost efficient to some of you, but that's not the point behind it.
Even if I had some mega awesome laptop, I'd want to fix this one. Not having a mega awesome laptop does however give me an extra reason to try to fix this one.

I have a 9600 M GS that died due to heat, what i can tell you is, that if any part of the laptop has suffered heat damage, it is VERY likely that other parts have suffered as well.

In this case, no.

There was an era of Nvidia GPUs that were made in a way that means they could fail at very low temperatures, or even just a relatively modest number of shallow thermal cycles (at a temperature right about the "moderate workload level" as well). When it became public, there was a big broohaha, Nvidia lost 31% on the stock market and had to start paying out all sorts of compensation.

The G86-770-A2 (the one in question) was one of those GPUs, so it's failed at a temperature where everything else nearby is fine.
I should add that I've already used a temporary GPU fix (by no means a permanent solution) to check everything else is pukka.

Anyway, that's why I'd replace it with the G86-771-A2, which is a modified spec that solves the thermal sensitivity issues. (Actually, I'm pretty pissed it wasn't replaced when I sent it back with this fault before, but it wasn't it seems.)
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Unread postAuthor: Crna Legija » Fri Oct 07, 2011 9:25 pm

Ragnarok wrote:
jhalek90 wrote:Laptops have a 9month life expectancy.
After that, they are usually not worth repairing.

Maybe 9 months if you're looking at it from a top of the line gaming laptop perspective, but I think most users would be very disappointed if their laptops only lasted 9 months then popped their clogs.



I sure would be, I have a toshiba satellite pro p300 that my bro brought me back when he went on holiday in America, 3 years later now and still going fine, the battery is shot but idm its always plugged in.

Never had problems with heat even when playing games, it gets hot probably 70*c but never gave me a warning or shut down because of it.
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Unread postAuthor: danielrowell » Fri Oct 07, 2011 9:47 pm

Ragnarok wrote:Look, I want to try to repair it. I like trying to fix things, and I can't stand just throwing them out without at least giving it a go.


Since you want to do the repairs yourself and can get the chip you need, I say what are you waiting for? If you do your research and practice soldering and desoldering microchips a bit before you actually start on your motherboard, you should be fine.

With soldering in mind, here's a video by "CuriousInventor" on soldering microchips. If it doesn't suit exactly what you're doing, CuriousInventor has propably made another one that does.
[youtube]http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=3NN7UGWYmBY&feature=player_detailpage[/youtube]

On a related note, while you're working inside your laptop, you might as well clean the processor's heatsink. Good luck!
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Unread postAuthor: Moonbogg » Sat Oct 08, 2011 12:33 am

I seem to remember Nvidia issuing a massive recall on a bunch of laptop GPUs from that era. Granted it far outlasted its warranty by now anyway. I say fix it if you can. If its going to be junked or sold for nearly free anyway, give it a shot. Geforce 8 series is still capable of plenty of gaming fun. Off topic, but they need to move their ass in spitting out Kepler.
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Unread postAuthor: Zeus » Sat Oct 08, 2011 5:02 am

Rag, I've got a little experience in the field, it can be done, it'll be an illegitimate child, but it can be done. I'd use a heat gun myself, something a little like http://i01.i.aliimg.com/photo/v0/210451537/AY_852A_SMD_Soldering_Station.jpg

If you know someone in electronics or an amateur radio operator, they'll either have one or know someone with one, that's the best tool for the job. It'll be done in ten minutes. A paint stripping gun "could" do the trick, but it may kill the new processor.

Good luck.
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Unread postAuthor: Ragnarok » Sat Oct 08, 2011 6:57 am

Zeus wrote:If you know someone in electronics or an amateur radio operator, they'll either have one or know someone with one, that's the best tool for the job.

I've actually already got a soldering heat gun. Not a huge amount of practise with it beyond abusing it for reshaping plastic parts for models, but it's certainly very good at that. I've got some old electrical junk I can test it on first though.

but it may kill the new processor

I'm planning on clamping some form of heatsink to the central die while I solder, anyway. I've enough experience of cooking much cheaper components.
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