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DIY Laptop Repair: Do It Yourself and Save

Dr. Penny Pincher founded the popular personal finance blog Penny Pincher Journal in 2013 and has published two books about saving money.

Cheap Laptop Repairs to Keep Your Laptop Going!

Cheap Laptop Repairs to Keep Your Laptop Going!

DIY Laptop Repair- Do It Yourself!

Laptop computers are great- they are easy to move and store and they contain all of the required components in one unit. Laptops have the keyboard, trackpad, screen, and computer all in one item. However, this means that there are more pieces that can break and need repair. The portability of a laptop also exposes it to more opportunities to get dropped or damaged.

When a laptop stops working, you need to consider how much money it is worth spending to repair it. Sometimes the best option is to do an inexpensive repair yourself. Over the years,, I have made many repairs and adjustments to keep old laptops running.

This article will describe some cheap laptop repairs and work-arounds so you can keep using your laptop and avoid buying a new one. Learn cheap ways to handle:

  • Bad laptop hard drive
  • Broken laptop display or laptop screen
  • Broken laptop keyboard
  • Broken laptop trackpad
  • Bad laptop power supply
  • Bad laptop battery

Bad Laptop Hard Drive

Disaster struck last week. My son called me at work to describe a problem he was having with his laptop computer. He dropped it, and now it was not finding a boot disk. When he turned on the laptop, all he got was a black screen indicating that there was no boot disk. Not good.

When I got home, I checked it out. I tried removing the hard drive and plugging it back in. My hope was that the hard drive connector simply came loose. No such luck.

I tried running some bootable disk repair tools, but none of the tools could even find the hard drive. You can find bootable disk repair tools for free and make your own bootable disks by burning CD's. You'll need to go into the BIOS settings on the computer that you are repairing and set it to boot from CD by changing the boot options. You can move the CD drive to the top of the boot order in the BIOS menu. Most computers allow you to reach the BIOS menu by pressing F12 during bootup.

The fact the bootable disk tools could not even find the hard drive was bad news- the hard drive was toast. I looked around on eBay and amazon and found a used 500GB 2.5 inch SATA hard drive for $40. I decided that it was worth spending $40 to get a 3 year old laptop going again.

Replacement Laptop Hard Drive for $40- Money Well Spent...

Replacement Laptop Hard Drive for $40- Money Well Spent...

The good news is that I had backed up the laptop using Windows Backup, so I had an image to load onto the blank replacement hard drive. If you don't have a backup, you'll need to find the Windows installation disks. If you didn't get Windows installation disks, you can contact your computer manufacturer to request them- you may need to pay shipping and handling to get them.

When the new hard drive came in the mail yesterday, I used a small phillips screwdriver to remove the broken hard drive. The original hard drive had a metal carrier to hold it in place in the laptop. I unscrewed this from the original hard drive and attached it to the replacement hard drive. Since it was a 2.5 inch SATA drive, it fit right into the space and the connector worked fine. I put the screws in place and now had a blank hard drive ready to format and load with Windows 7 and my son's files from Windows Recovery.

Use Windows Recovery Tool to restore Windows on a replacement laptop hard drive.

Use Windows Recovery Tool to restore Windows on a replacement laptop hard drive.

I went into the BIOS menu by holding down F12 during boot-up. I set the computer to boot from CD and used a Windows 7 Recovery boot disk. I plugged my external back-up hard drive into the USB port. Using the Windows recovery tools, I found the recovery files for my son's laptop and selected these files to be installed on the blank hard drive. The Windows Recovery Tool formatted the drive in NTFS format and installed Windows 7 and all of the archived files. This process took a couple hours.

I was relived to see the computer boot up again in Windows 7! This was well worth $40!

Broken Laptop Trackpad or Trackpad Buttons

Laptops typically have a built-in trackpad that serves as a mouse to position the cursor on the screen. The trackpad and its buttons get a lot of use and a lot of wear and tear. I had a laptop that I let my kids use for playing games. They actually wore out the left button- it broke off!

Broken Laptop Trackpad

Broken Laptop Trackpad

There are three ways to repair a broken trackpad:

1. Replace it. You can order a replacement part and replace it, or have a computer repair shop replace it. This would cost $50 or more at a repair shop. You could do it yourself if you are willing to order the part and disassemble your computer. I decided not to go this route.

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2. Work around it. This is the option I selected. I used a pair of pliers and wiggled the left button back into place. I then used the Windows control panel to switch the mouse buttons to a "left handed" configuration which uses the left button much less. I was lucky that the left button still works. I was able to work around the issue for free.

3. Plug in a mouse or trackpad. You can get a computer mouse or trackpad for about $10 or $15 and plug it into the USB port of your laptop. There are wireless options and products that have a cord. This is not as convenient as using a built-in trackpad, but it is easy to do and doesn't cost much. This can be a good way to keep your laptop going without spending a lot of money to repair the trackpad.

Broken Laptop Keyboard

The thing about a keyboard is that you really need all of the keys to work to be able to type effectively. I suppose there are some rarely-used keys you can do without, but unfortunately it seems that the commonly-used keys are the ones that break. The space bar gets a lot of use and can wear out. With age, the plastic that laptop keys are made of can get brittle. I once had a space bar crack.

Some keyboard issues can be addressed by gluing broken pieces back together, or by snapping pieces that came off back in place.

Broken Laptop Keyboard

Broken Laptop Keyboard

The other class of keyboard issue is if the keyboard is really no longer effective. For example, if you spill something on your keyboard, it can make the keyboard sticky and less responsive. You may want to replace the keyboard in your laptop. Keyboards are usually pretty easy to replace- you can do it yourself for around $50, or have it done for about $100 at a repair shop.

As with trackpads, you can also work around a bad laptop keyboard by simply plugging in a USB computer keyboard. You can buy a keyboard for about $15. It is not as convenient as using the built-in laptop keyboard, but if you can work around it easily without spending much money, it may be worth the hassle.

Bad Laptop Power Supply

There are a couple things that can go wrong with a laptop power supply. One is that the power supply itself can go bad. It no longer produces power and must be replaced. If your battery no longer charges when your laptop is plugged in, first verify that the outlet is working. Plug a light into the same outlet and make sure it turns on. Next, plug the power supply back in and make sure the plug is firmly plugged into your computer. Check that the A/C cord is firmly plugged into the power adapter. If your laptop battery is still not charging, it is probably time for a new laptop power supply.

Fortunately laptop power supplies are not very expensive and can be easily replaced. You can get a replacement power supply for about $20.

When ordering a replacement laptop power supply, make sure to get adequate power capacity and make sure the plug matches what is used on your laptop. You can look at the label on your power supply to find this information. For example, my Toshiba Satellite takes a 19V supply at 3.95A. The diagram shows that the center pin is positive and outer connector is negative.

Replacement Laptop Power Supply- get enough amperage capacity and the correct power pin configuration

Replacement Laptop Power Supply- get enough amperage capacity and the correct power pin configuration

If you get a replacement power supply that does not have enough capacity or has the wrong pin configuration, it can damage your laptop.

Another issue I have encountered with power supplies is that the power connector in the laptop can break off. This can happen due to stress and strain from stretching the power cord while it is plugged into the laptop. One repair shop wanted to replace the motherboard to get a new power connector- very expensive! I ended up taking the laptop to a different repair shop and having them glue the broken piece together. It has held together for 5 years now with no problems.

I used glue to repair the power adapter instead of replacing the motherboard in my laptop

I used glue to repair the power adapter instead of replacing the motherboard in my laptop

Bad Laptop Battery

After a few thousand charge and discharge cycles, a laptop battery will lose most of its capacity. If your laptop can only run for 10 minutes of so without being plugged in, then your battery is nearing the end of its life.

I had a battery like this, but decided to keep my laptop plugged in all the time so I wouldn't have to replace the battery. Eventually the laptop would not turn on at all. I was able to order a replacement laptop battery for about $40. Laptop batteries are easy to replace.

Broken Laptop Screen

Broken laptop screens are bad news. Laptop screens usually cost a couple hundred dollars to repair. If you have an older laptop with a broken screen, it may not be worth replacing.

You can work around a broken laptop screen by using an external monitor if you have one available. This can be handy for saving your files from a laptop with a broken screen to a memory stick. You can also use a laptop with an external monitor. This can be a workable situation if you use your laptop at home, however you probably would not want to haul an external monitor with you to a coffee shop...

Should I Repair My Laptop or Replace It?

It is always worth considering the value you get from spending money to repair an older computer. Looking at laptops for sale on eBay, I would estimate that my son's laptop is worth about $200 when it is in good working order. Buying a new laptop would cost about $350 to $600, depending on the kind of laptop. When I found a hard drive for $40 that would get the old laptop going again, I decided that spending $40 would be a good move. Eventually, something else will go wrong with the laptop, but it may last a long time without spending more money.

However, if the repair would have been more expensive, such as replacing the screen for $200, I would have used that money toward a new laptop instead of an expensive repair. It would not make much sense to spend $200 to repair a laptop that would be worth $200 after the repair. Computers depreciate rapidly, and after a few years, the new laptop models begin to look more and more attractive due to their increased speed, processing power, storage capacity, and new features.

© 2014 Dr Penny Pincher

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