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This old laptop: Revitalizing an aging notebook on the cheap

By Brian Nadel
June 18, 2008 12:00 PM ET

Step 3: Replace the keyboard

Just about every old notebook has one thing in common: The keyboard has picked up crumbs, dust and things that make your skin crawl. Plus, my R50's "T" key stopped working about a month ago, so I decided to just replace the keyboard entirely.

How to do it

A notebook's keyboard is one of the easiest parts to get. Just search the Web for your notebook's model, and you'll usually have your pick of dozens of sellers. (See "Parts Is Parts" for a list of likely sources.) If you shop carefully, you can get the keyboard for about $45.

All told, it takes about 5 minutes to remove and replace. For this job, use a small Phillips screwdriver to loosen and remove the three screws on the bottom of the laptop. No surprise, they're marked with a keyboard logo. At this point, the keyboard should be loose. Slide it toward the screen, and gently pull it up from the front.

pulling out the keyboard
Pulling out the old keyboard.
Click to view image gallery.

Carefully disconnect the keyboard cable from the motherboard, and put the old keyboard aside. At some point, you might need to cannibalize it for spare keys or a cable.

Your last task is to plug the new keyboard cable in, slide and snap the keyboard into place, and tighten the three screws.

putting in the new keyboard
Sliding the new keyboard in.
Click to view image gallery.

Fire up the notebook and make sure it works. If it doesn't, you'll see a warning at start-up. Most likely that means the cable isn't fully plugged in.

Step 4: Clean that machine

I'm getting ahead of myself, though. Before I inserted the new keyboard, I noticed five years of accumulated dust bunnies and much worse. So, while it was still wide open, I cleaned out the R50's insides. About 5 minutes is all it took.

This is the most important part of extending the longevity of a notebook, because if garbage is blocking the cooling fan, the system can overheat. I suspect that this was responsible for the R50's unexpected shutdowns.

Compressed air
Getting out the dust bunnies with compressed air. Click to view image gallery.

How to do it

With the keyboard off, go through every nook and cranny with a can of compressed air. I suggest wearing a dust mask and doing this chore outside because the dust -- and everything else trapped inside the case -- will fly. I guarantee that you'll be amazed at how much junk comes out.

After that, I attacked the R50's loud fan. I pulled a wad of dust out of the fan's blade, but I decided to be thorough because it'll likely be another five years before it gets cleaned again. After loosening the three screws that hold the copper heat pipe onto the processor, I blew even more detritus out. The fan blade now turns silently.

Parts is parts

To get everything you need to rebuild an old notebook, the Web is your parts counter. It's all out there, from memory to hard drives. Here are a couple of the most popular places to get the spare parts you'll need.

  • This outlet has a good variety of components, including hard-to-find batteries and accessories.
  • NB Start on the left column of the site, where you can either pick your notebook brand or type of part. Then, dive into the details.

A word of warning: Shop around, because a notebook part that costs $100 at one site could just as easily go for $25 at another.

It's now time to clean the case. Lenovo Group Ltd. recommends using dilute dishwashing soap, but it can't cut through the grime that has probably built up on your notebook's case. I prefer something a bit stronger, like Fantastik.

By the same token, a good way to get rid of scratches is to use a mild abrasive, like toothpaste or Soft Scrub, but in both cases, rinse the cleanser off with a damp sponge or paper towel when you're done.

Don't use any of these harsh cleansers on the screen. There are several name-brand spray-on cleaning fluids for LCDs, but they're generally nothing more than a 50:50 mix of isopropyl alcohol and distilled water; both are available at any drug store. Just spray a little on and wipe it clean, but make an effort to get into the corners and clean the display frame. Your eyes will thank you.

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