How To Troubleshoot & Repair A Broken Laptop

Tina Sieber 09-08-2013

Laptops tend to have a rather short lifetime. They are outdated within weeks of being released, they are notoriously hard to upgrade or repair, and by nature they are subject to gradual decay or fatal accidents You Just Spilled Water Or Coffee On Your Laptop - Here's What You Should Do Okay, let's take a deep breath and deal with the emergency first. Any emergency requires us to take a moment or two and assess the situation. That way we aren't just reacting, we are acting... Read More . Once damage has been done, repairs tend to be only slightly less expensive than getting a brand new model.


These very unfortunate conditions — not just for laptops, but most other electronic devices — cause mountains of electronic waste Thou Shalt Consume: The Story of Consumer Electronics [Feature] Every year, exhibitions around the world present new high tech devices; expensive toys that come with many promises. They aim to make our lives easier, more fun, super connected, and of course they are status... Read More . Some laptop issues, however, are often easier to repair than you would expect. This brief troubleshooting guide highlights the most likely damages, explores how to identify the culprit, and refers you to material that demonstrates how to fix it.

We have previously provided similar guides for desktop computers. Learn what parts can fail and what to do about it Every Computer Dies In The End: Learn What Parts Can Fail, & What To Do About It Most computers develop problems over time. Learning what they are and how you can deal with them is important if you don't want to be paying through the teeth for professional repairs. Don't worry though... Read More , as well as how to diagnose hardware problems when your computer won’t turn on How To Diagnose Hardware Problems When Your Computer Won't Turn On Last week I showed you some of the simplest DIY repairs and upgrades that you can do yourself, but one reader asked how to diagnose which component was the problem. Today I’d like to walk... Read More . Finally, you might want to consult some online resources to learn how to repair your own computer 5 Sites to Learn How to Repair Your Own Computer Read More .

Some Things Cannot Be Fixed

There are some critical laptop parts that are very difficult and expensive to fix. They include the motherboard and everything that is molded on top of it, including the CPU (central processing unit) and the GPU (graphics processing unit). When you are sure that one of these are broken, proceed to the end of this article. For your next laptop, however, note that you can prevent damage of the CPU and GPU, by making sure they don’t overheat How to Fix an Overheating Laptop: 3 Key Tips and Solutions The greatest threat to your laptop is overheating. Here's how to cool down your laptop and prevent it from getting too hot. Read More .

CPU Heat Sink

Operating System

Symptoms: If your laptop sounds perfectly normal, if the disk drive seems to be working, and if the display turns on, but the system just won’t boot all the way through, the problem may lie with the operating system.


Fix: Assuming you are running Windows, you can try to start in Safe Mode How To Start In Windows Safe Mode & Its Uses The Windows operating system is a complex structure that hosts a lot of processes. As you add and remove hardware and software, problems or conflicts can occur, and in some cases it can become very... Read More to diagnose and potentially fix the issue. Maybe it’s a faulty driver or a damaged registry. Rather than wasting hours trying to fix your operating system, it’s probably better to re-install it. You can back up data from a computer that won’t boot How to Back Up Data From a Computer That Won't Boot When your computer won't boot, your data might still there. Here's how to install Linux on a bootable USB flash drive to recover your files. Next time keep a backup though. Read More using a Linux Live CD / USB The 50 Cool Uses for Live CDs Live CDs are perhaps the most useful tool in any geek's toolkit. This live CD how-to guide outlines many uses live CDs or DVDs can offer, from data recovery to enhancing privacy. Read More .

Hard Disk Drive / Solid State Drive

Your hard or solid state drive is the home of your operating system and stores all of your data on the computer.

Symptoms: Hard drives don’t always fail out of the blue. Sometimes there are warning signs, including:

  • slow / poor performance;
  • frequent freezes;
  • BSODs;
  • corrupted data;
  • accumulation of bad sectors;
  • strange sounds.

I have summarized all of these signs in an article on signs your hard drive lifetime is ending 5 Signs Your Hard Drive Is Failing (And What to Do) Since a majority of people today own laptops and external hard drives, which get dragged around quite a bit, a realistic hard drive lifetime is probably around 3 - 5 years. This is an extremely... Read More . When you spot any of these signs, be sure to back up your data before it’s too late. After that, your only hope is to temporarily revive your hard drive to back up data How to Repair a Dead Hard Disk Drive to Recover Data If your hard disk drive has failed, this guide will help you with the hard disk drive's repair and data recovery. Read More .


A sure sign that your HDD or SSD has died is if the display turns on, the laptop’s indicator lights are blinking, but nothing else happens. You might see an error message that says something along the lines of a primary boot device missing. If the laptop is completely dead, however — no sounds, no lights, nothing — and if you have checked the charger, it’s very likely that the motherboard or one of its components has failed. In that case, proceed to the end of this article.

Fix: If your HDD or SSD has died, you can fix your laptop by replacing it. That is usually very easy. Remove the old drive, get a new one with an identical connector (IDE or SATA What Are the Different Computer Cable Types You Need to Know? Not sure what that cord is for? Here are the most common computer cable types explained, from monitor cables to network cables. Read More ), and mount it in place of the old drive. My colleague Matt has demonstrated how to install a new laptop hard drive How To Upgrade Your Laptop In a Flash: Add a New Hard Drive & Increase RAM Laptops are not as easy to upgrade as desktops. Many components are simply soldered on to the motherboard and others, though technically replaceable, are restricted by technical skill and cost. There are, however, two upgrades... Read More in a previous article.

Laptop Hard Drive

CMOS Battery

The CMOS battery provides power for storing BIOS settings when the computer is turned off.


Symptoms of a bad CMOS: The laptop mostly boots up fine and everything appears to be normal, except for some petty issues:

Any one of these issues can be caused by a number of things. But if a few of them coincide, then it’s a sure sign that your CMOS battery is failing.

Fix: My colleague Chris has previously written an article that addresses replacing the CMOS battery Why Does My Motherboard Have a Battery? Did you know there is a battery on your computer's motherboard? Here's what the CMOS motherboard battery does and why you need it. Read More on a desktop PC. Even on a laptop, the procedure is not so hard. The battery is usually accessible via the laptop’s underside. On some models, like my old HP Compaq nw8440, it might sit under the keyboard. In any case, it’s not as easy to access as the RAM or HDD / SDD, as it doesn’t come with its own door or panel. If you can manage to expose the motherboard as shown below, replacing the CMOS battery is just a matter of popping it out and replacing it with a new one.

Laptop CMOS Battery



The RAM is your computer’s short-term memory. It temporarily stores any information the system needs to run as it is running.

Symptoms of bad RAM:

Fix: Should your computer still boot, run a memory test Test Your Computer's Memory For Errors with Memtest Read More to check for errors, for example using MemTest86.

If you’re lucky, maybe one of your RAM sticks isn’t sitting properly in its socket. Open the latch on the underside of the laptop to examine the RAM sticks How To Upgrade A Laptop's RAM, Step By Step Is your laptop old, slow, and has the hardware never been upgraded? Working on a slow computer can be a real drag. Before you buy a completely new one, however, you should consider ways to... Read More , take them out and reseat them.

Laptop RAM

If that doesn’t solve your issues and if you only have one RAM stick, try moving it to a different slot. If you have two sticks, try booting the computer with one stick removed and try both sticks in different slots.

Should none of that work, try to get a working RAM module for a final test, but make sure you can return it in case it turns out that something else is broken.


Until recently, I thought a display was almost impossible to fix. And then I dropped my laptop and my display was toast.

Symptoms: Other than obvious damage to the display, your display might not turn on at all. In this case, try to connect an external monitor, to exclude motherboard damage.

Fix: If everything works fine with an external monitor, chances are you can repair your laptop by replacing the broken display. I have previously described the process of dealing with a broken screen on your laptop Busted - How To Deal With a Broken Screen On Your Laptop Over the past couple of years I have traveled a lot and took my work with me wherever I went. I worked from the most ridiculous and beautiful places all over North America and Europe.... Read More . It’s not easy, but it often can be done without special tools or skills, and it’s surprisingly affordable.

Broken Laptop Display

What If Your Laptop Is Broken Beyond Repair?

Sometimes the damage is not to be found with any of those relatively easy-to-replace parts. When the motherboard, the CPU, or the GPU are damaged, or when one of the parts simply cannot be replaced easily, it’s best to salvage any parts that are still functional Disposing Of An Old Laptop - What To Recycle, What To Keep Laptops are a treasure trove of parts that can live more than one life. Whether they continue a life as spare part or become the subject of a DIY tech project, you can get a... Read More and recycle the remaining electronic waste.

Have you ever repaired an old laptop? Which part was broken and how did you fix it?

Image Credits: Zombie Powerbook Via Flickr

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  1. Jason
    November 12, 2017 at 8:41 am

    Man your content is amazingly helpful to someone who is not in the in depth computer repair field. Didn't understand anything in other sites throwing deep technical terms around and I am just someone who just wants to give a shot to fix my laptop. I took your advise in the content to single out the problem parts and did something to it and it works. Thank you so much. Hope more people like me gets to see this article

    • Tina Sieber
      November 16, 2017 at 7:04 pm

      Glad this article was helpful, Jason.

  2. bhanu prakash
    March 26, 2016 at 5:15 pm

    hello admin
    i want to check the repairs and its details of laptop
    how can i do it
    any suggestions
    thank you in advance

  3. Anonymous
    March 12, 2016 at 3:28 pm

    My screen goes blank intermittently and I have to jiggle it to get it back; fixable? Old dell Inspiron. Thanks

  4. Quazios
    December 9, 2015 at 8:58 am

    And if it doesn't turn on at all? Charger or connection problem somewhere?

    • Tina Sieber
      December 9, 2015 at 12:49 pm

      If the A/C charger is working, this is most likely an issue with the motherboard. Unless you can repair it yourself (might require soldering), this is not worth replacing.

      I'd recommend salvaging parts: drives (SSD / HDD and media drives), RAM, and screen. Either use these yourself or sell them on eBay (especially the screen), then recycle the rest.

  5. Shannon
    November 16, 2015 at 2:40 am

    Hi there! ive recently dropped my laptop and mostly everything is working perfectly, except for one small thing; it randomly freezes for a short period of time. It always freezes while im in programs such as Microsoft Office. I dont know if this is a software or hardware problem but Im hoping this isnt something to bad as I unfortunately do not have the time or money to get it repaired due to being a student, so if you have any suggestions please share! I'm a bit pushed for time as it is the end of the term!

    Thankyou so much in advance!

    • Shannon
      November 16, 2015 at 2:47 am

      Just wanted to add that the laptop was on at the time!

    • Tina Sieber
      November 19, 2015 at 10:36 am

      Shannon, I would recommend you to take your question to a Q&A forum, where you will get quicker and more than just one response.

      Office can have a habit of freezing and it might not have to do anything with your computer. But if it affects a range of other programs, it could be that some piece of hardware either was loosened when you dropped the device or got damaged. This could be easy to fix (plugging RAM sticks or a cable back in tightly) or only a matter of time until it breaks for good (damaged hard drive).

      I urge you to make backups of your data to an external drive (or free cloud storage if you must), especially if you have school work that you cannot afford to lose.

      Best of luck!

  6. Anonymous
    August 11, 2015 at 4:31 pm

    Laptop stolen, police recovered, I checked all ok, police took it away and didn't get it back for over a year, they used that finger print dust on it now nothing works at all, can it b repaired.

  7. mohamed
    April 17, 2015 at 11:50 am

    Great advise very nice. I found a website with laptop schematics all free

  8. rons
    January 5, 2015 at 7:55 pm

    did you put heat sink gunge on pad on heatsink, when fitting fan and cooler to heat sink?
    my computer kept cutting out would not start so fitted new clean heat sink past on pad tightened started now it works ok ron

  9. Adrienne Steward
    December 12, 2014 at 12:34 am name is Adrienne.and I have a gateway computer laptop PC notebook.and I had bought a new fan.and my gateway still do not come on.and I do not know if this is a power problem or what.and I need to know what I need to do about my problem.

  10. Anthony
    October 18, 2013 at 3:13 am

    I'm a professional warranty repairman for a large OEM, and let me tell you, it is possible to replace a motherboard in a laptop, but it's rather difficult, and near impossible for the layman. But at the same time, if you can find out the part number of the motherboard for your model, they can be had, usually for a few hundred dollars, usually through eBay, and then pay somebody 1 to 2 hours to install it. Depending on the laptop, it's probably not worth it though. Take out the hard disk, copy off the contents, move them to your new box.

  11. Prem
    September 28, 2013 at 6:19 am

    The article is just great and i learnt a lot. However, Tina, I have a Gateway notebook. The 'B' key on the keyboard has a mind of its own. As a result i am not able to use the notebook for any application which involves keying in words, as the 'b' comes in bbbbbbbbbbbbb thus and refuses to exit till its made me mad. Initially i thought it was a virus and subjected it to all 'cleaners' and found that the machine was squeaky clean. Now am at my wits end. I know there is something at the B key base which is 'floating' because sometimes for short periods it works fine, and just when i begin to do serious work, it goes berserk, driving me nuts. Would appreciate any advice you may have on this. Thanks.

    • Tina S
      November 11, 2013 at 8:57 am

      Only just saw your comment, Prem. Did you try to take off the B key? Keys can usually be popped off and back on. If in any way possible, you could also take out the keyboard and get the dirt out. A quick search on YouTube reveals several video tutorials about replacing a Gateway laptop / notebook keyboard; maybe your model is among them. Good luck!

  12. a boy
    August 12, 2013 at 3:39 pm

    tina i love you, you are beautiful

  13. Scapeborgologist
    August 10, 2013 at 11:58 am

    Laptop durability and parts replacement vary by brand and laptop line within a brand. For example, for more than a decade, I've bought corporate-retired Dell Latitudes. (This post is composed on an E4300 Latitude). These business machines are more durable than consumer laptops. In addition, these Latitudes tend to be modular, in terms of parts replacement. In the past, I've replaced LCD screens, keyboards, hard drives, memory and PCI Wireless cards with little-or-no-fuss, because these business machines seem designed for such replacements. Parts have been cheap, via Ebay. And, of course, their productive lives have been extended (reducing e-waste) by installing Linux.

  14. Zhong J
    August 10, 2013 at 3:29 am

    Many people would say that if the laptop cannot be turned on even though it's plugged toward an outlet, it's officially dead. But that's not the case, since technically there's something wrong with the supply switch inside the machine which enables it to draw power and if you can see lights, then you know it has power.

  15. jake
    August 10, 2013 at 2:22 am

    I've fixed several laptops thanks to ifixit dot com. I was also able to buy a used laptop from eBay and fix it up nice as a gift for my sister. Best of all, I replaced the optical drive with a 1TB hard drive in my own laptop, so now I have 1.5TB.

  16. likefunbutnot
    August 9, 2013 at 9:12 pm

    If a laptop screen is almost impossible to read except in a completely dark room, the thing that needs to be replaced is the Inverter board, not the screen itself.

    Display damage is probably the second most common issue I see with notebooks.

    The bar-none most common issue I run in to with laptops is damage to the internal AC connector. This may or may not be worth repairing. On most cheap consumer notebooks (many HP and Acer/Gateway/Emachines units), the connector is soldered to the mainboard. Even somebody with serious electronics skills will find that, once that connector has come loose, it's just going to happen again and again. Other laptops (Thinkpads) have a modular internal AC plug that can be popped out and replaced in as little time as it takes to get under the keyboard.

    Keyboard replacements are cheap and generally TRIVIAL. There's no reason to limp along with a half-working keyboard because of a liquid spill or suchlike. Some laptop keyboards (Toshiba) are also notorious for easily removed keycaps, so if you've lost a couple and it bugs you, feel free to pay the $15 - $25 for a replacement keyboard. Most keyboards come off after removing a few screws from the bottom of the laptop and perhaps one plastic bezel.

    Touchpads may or may not make sense to replace. On some laptops they're a modular component, but on many replacing the touchpad means replacing the whole wrist rest and top assembly of the laptop. That can mean a crap-ton of laptop surgery.

    If your 802.11 hardware stops working, buy a new internal WLAN card. Don't suffer having to dedicate a USB port to an external WLAN adapter. The cards come in two formats (Mini-PCI and Mini-PCI express, which Mini-PCIe having a couple different sizes as well). The slot where the card is installed is often under the same cover as a laptop's RAM, so it's literally a 90 second job to pull out an old one and stick in a new one. The internal cards often sell for $10 - $20 on Ebay and Amazon and unless you have some exotic need for a 3x3 802.11ac card, you'll be good to go.

    Anyone working on a laptop would do well to have a 2.5" SATA to USB enclosure on hand. They're $5 on Amazon and people will think you're a rock star the day you pull all their photos off their "dead" notebook.

    Some laptops are definitely better made than others. Some laptops are meant to be serviced and some are not. A laptop's price is not necessarily indicative of the level of quality - I'd rather have a three year old Thinkpad or Elitebook than a $2000 Vaio or Macbook. The one all-around suggestion that I make for people looking to buy notebook computers is to look at business products rather than consumer models. Dell sells Latitude. Lenovo sells Thinkpad. HP has Pro- and Elitebook. Toshiba has Tecra. I'll even grudgingly give Apple props for its notebooks. Those machines are generally a better overall investment than the sorts of computers one would most often find at a Best Buy or Walmart.

    • Tina Sieber
      August 12, 2013 at 11:06 am

      Awesome advice. Thank you so much for sharing! :)

  17. Doug D
    August 9, 2013 at 7:01 pm

    I bought a new display for my Lenovo t42. Lenovo supports all of these old laptops with the original technician manuals and even videos. It made me nervous, but I was able to replace the display and this 11 yr old computer still is chugging along today.

    • Anonymous
      November 10, 2013 at 6:38 pm

      THANK YOU SO MUCH!!! I have fixed my laptop and didn't need to send it in for FREE! This article was a HUGE help!!!