Dead display on Dell laptop. Tell me its not terminal.
October 23, 2008 1:43 PM   Subscribe

Dell Vostro 1400. Screen has died. I need it to not be dead, all details inside.

Dell Vostro 1400
2ghz core duo
2gig ram
160gig HD
Windows Vista Ultimate
Video card is unknown off the top of my head, checking dell in a moment to get an answer, so look below.

This computer gets a lot of use. Its a little over a year old, and all of a sudden it started to freak out. It had begun starting to run hotter than normal, then the screen went crazy. It became pixelated and wildly colored and frozen. Would not do anything until you manually shut it down.

I assumed it just overheated, but there was no blockage in the fan area and everything else seemed normal, just hot. I let it cool down and the screen came back on. The following morning after som elight usage, it did it again. I rebooted and it returned to normal. I used it the rest of the day, until I was in a conference call with my new boss and it freaked out and died. As I had been using it all day, I let it alone thinking it needed to cool off. This was 4hours ago.

Now when I boot up, the backlight comes on, but no display. The computer is ok, as I can here the windows start noises and I can blindly type in my password and it logs me in. But I cannot see a thing, just a backlit black screen.

I have opened up the few hatches in the bottom of the computer, but only see the HD, the memory slots and what looks to be the cooling heat sink. No access to a vid card or anything.

Anything I can do? Is there ANY way I am not screwed? I really need this computer now and dont have much in funds to be replacing it. I am also in Helsinki, and this was bought in NY, not sure if that makes a difference.

Thanks for any help you may have.
posted by wile e to Computers & Internet (13 answers total)
Went to for support after I wrote this. It gave me a diagnostic to do and the end result was to hook up an external monitor. Unfortunatley I do not have access to one right now, as it is midnight and I do not own one.

So any other suggestions, thoughts?
posted by wile e at 1:55 PM on October 23, 2008

Unfortunately, I came in here to suggest what you mention above - you need access to an external display.

Because you can hear the Windows start sound, it is very probably not the video card itself. If the video card were malfunctioning or suffering some hardware malady, the system would most likely either not boot or would boot, then display a blue screen or some other sort of fatal error.

The fact that you can hear it booting means that the card is most likely OK, but the display is fucked.

And if the display is fucked, there's nothing that's going to fix that except getting a new display. And since you can't do that in the short term, your only recourse is to get an external monitor.

Sorry, but sounds like you might be out of luck until you can snag one of these.
posted by kbanas at 2:02 PM on October 23, 2008

I would also say that you can get a decent CRT display for like, free dollars, these days. They are incredibly cheap, as the market is now inundated with flat panel displays. So, as a work around, you should definitely consider picking one up.

I believe the key combination on Dell machines is FN + F7 to force display to an external source.

Good luck.
posted by kbanas at 2:04 PM on October 23, 2008

Dell, like many manufacturers, recently bought a video chip from NVIDIA that has a serious flaw. Many of these chips will simply die with no warning. Im guessing this is what happened to you, especially if you plug in an external monitor and cannot get video. At this point you should contact Dell for warranty service.
posted by damn dirty ape at 2:11 PM on October 23, 2008

Ok, well that is not completely bad news. What are the chances of replacing said screen? Of course my warranty ended a month ago, so what am I looking at cost wise? Can I do it myslef? Or do I now own a very expensive desktop?
posted by wile e at 2:14 PM on October 23, 2008

It might be confused and think that the lid is closed, and therefore isn't running the display. I've had this happen before. In my case, (Dell Inspiron) I opened it up, disconnected the trackpad (where the sensor for 'lid closed' is) from the motherboard, then booted up. Display came back up. Then shut down, reconnect the trackpad, and restart. Bit of a longshot, but, who knows...
posted by fauxtoes at 2:18 PM on October 23, 2008

The screen's probably the most expensive single replaceable component in your computer. I have no idea what Dell is going to charge you, but I wouldn't be surprised if it were $200-400.

If you're asking if you can do it yourself, you probably can't. It will, more than likely, involve at least a little bit of microsoldering. Although you might luck out and Dell built this machine with ZIF ribbon-cable connectors. The problem is, of course, finding the right LCD panel. Just about the only way I can imagine to guarantee that you've got the right panel is to trawl eBay and either find a bare LCD panel or a complete (broken) machine for parts.
posted by Netzapper at 2:24 PM on October 23, 2008

Check craigslist or freecycle for a free external monitor in your area.
Here in San Francisco, I see them laying in the streets as garbage every week.
posted by bottlebrushtree at 3:18 PM on October 23, 2008

If you're asking if you can do it yourself, you probably can't. It will, more than likely, involve at least a little bit of microsoldering.

I sincerely doubt that. Laptop screens are usually designed to be easily removable for servicing and replacement. If you have ever disassembled a laptop before, you should be able to do it. Cost is a whole other story, though. You'll need to find the part number of your screen and hope it's on eBay.
posted by Krrrlson at 4:13 PM on October 23, 2008

You can definitely do it yourself. I do this for a living and screen replacements are pretty easy. I looked it up on ebay and saw at least 1 for $180 that comes with the entire casing. I would recommend getting one with the outer casing if you want this to be really easy. Dell provides disassembly guides on their site. Should be a matter of unscrewing a few screws, popping the casing near the power button and swapping them. There should be no soldering. Just unplugging a cable and plugging in a new one.
posted by meta87 at 8:02 PM on October 23, 2008

ok thank you everyone. i have no problems swapping out the screen myself. however i do have a question. why? what would cause the screen to just stop working out of the blue? if i am already going to take the screen apart to replace it, is there something i can do to repair it? i mean it must be a loose connection or something along those lines, no? what should i look for?
posted by wile e at 9:47 PM on October 23, 2008

Ok, spent two hours and a lot of running around and got an external monitor. Get back here, plug it in and the damn laptop display works again! So this means to me it has to be a connection issue, no?

I have the second monitor as a mirror in case this craps out again. But what should I do now? The display works perfectly, theres just something causing it to freak out and stop. If not a loose connection, then what? Should I take it apart and see?
posted by wile e at 2:31 AM on October 24, 2008

Now that I think about it, I had the exact same problem with my laptop. A crappy connector was to blame; fortunately, I did not have to resolder anything but just seat the connector a little more firmly. To get to the connector, I had to remove the keyboard and top panel, but of course this was a Toshiba, not a Dell.
posted by Krrrlson at 4:29 PM on October 24, 2008

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