We live and work in a cold, cruel world where our laptops take a lot of abuse. Regardless of how gentle we try to be, it's inevitable that sooner or later our notebooks will get dropped, spilled on and worse.
While many people think that notebook damage can be repaired only by the manufacturer or a computer shop, there are some problems that can be inexpensively and easily fixed with common tools, spare parts and a little effort. Many of these repairs are no harder than high school art projects.
Using a couple of old, beat-up notebooks, I'll show you how to fix everything from a broken case and frayed charger cord to a bad fan and scratched screen. Each restoration project has time and cost estimates as well as what materials you'll need to do the trick. Just follow the directions I've outlined for each repair -- but be warned, your system might be a little different or require special parts and a slightly different approach.
One additional note: While I generally applaud improvisation and recycling old parts for repairs, there's nothing like having the right part to do the repair. In fact, while fans and notebook keyboards may all look alike, they are very different, and chances are the wrong one won't fit right and work properly. Each repair has links to where you can get the right parts, but they are just a sample of what's available. If all else fails, try eBay to get what you need.
Follow along and soon your system will be good as new and ready for its next mishap.
Problem: Frayed charger cord
Cost: $5 to $15
Time: 1 to 2 hours
Materials: Silicone sealant, painter's tape (which is less sticky than regular masking tape), protective gloves (optional)
Because a notebook that travels needs to be plugged in and unplugged several times a day, the cord and connector can take a beating, leading to a frayed power cord. If this happens, it's important to get a new cord or fix it right away, because it not only can damage the system's battery through intermittent charging, but it can also be a fire hazard.
Fortunately, most power adapters have removable AC power cords, which cost a few dollars and are available at stores like Radio Shack. On the other hand, if the connector that plugs into the computer is the problem, it can cost $50 to $75 to replace because you have to find the exact AC adapter for your laptop from your notebook manufacturer or an online retailer such as Shop For Battery, LaptopTraveller.com or Notebook AC Adapter (search for your make and model name followed by "AC adapter").
Or you can just fix it yourself.
There's a quick-and-dirty repair for a frayed cord: Just roll electrical or duct tape over the damage and hope for the best. A better way is to make a more permanent repair with silicone sealant, available at any hardware store and many supermarkets, which will insulate and protect it. It's best to use black to match the cord's color, but clear sealant works just as well.
To protect the surface you're working on, lay down a wide strip of painter's tape, sticky side down, and place the frayed area of the cord on top of it. The sealant won't stick to the back of the painter's tape the way it might to other barriers made out of paper or plastic, and the painter's tape should peel right off the table when you're done. (Note, however, that you shouldn't be doing any kind of computer repairs on your good furniture.)
Next, squeeze out a gob of sealant onto the area that needs fixing. Work the gooey sealant into place, covering the damage with a liberal coating. If you have sensitive skin, it's a good idea to wear thin protective gloves for this part.
Let the sealant cure for an hour or two until it is firm. Gently remove the cord from the tape (and the tape from the table), and you have the equivalent of a new power cord that's flexible and ready for years of road work.