Broken laptop multi-drive and low cash flow - please help me find the best & cheapest solution
July 13, 2009 8:17 AM   Subscribe

Should I try and get my laptop's multi-drive repaired, or just buy an external one?

I have a Toshiba Satellite U300, and in the last week or two the DVD/CD-RW drive has stopped working. And I mean stopped. There is absolutely no power to this thing - as far as my computer is concerned it's just not there, and the only way to open and close it is to use a paper clip or other similarly sized object on the manual eject. But it does open, so I know it's not jammed.

I admit, I'm not always as careful with my laptop as I should be - I've traveled a lot and it's gone with all over the place and I've admitted that I've probably just gone and physically broken it. I have no idea what something like this will cost to repair, but given that external drives seem to be available for under $100 and that I won't be traveling as much and won't be needing to take the drive with me everywhere, does it make more sense to go external rather than trying to repair or replace this one. I don't want to have to pay someone to look at it, only to find out that I can't afford to fix it.

My questions, specifically:

1) Given that cost is the biggest factor for me right now, and that I would really like a functioning drive of some sort, what is likely to be the best solution for me?

2) If the answer is an external drive, is there anything I need to know before I buy one, like things I should be looking for or avoiding?

PS - I have a mix of formats on my DVDs, picked up from North America and overseas - my laptop never had any problems dealing with that - it would be ideal if the external drive had the same flexibliltiy.
posted by scrute to Computers & Internet (9 answers total)
"Given that cost is the biggest factor for me right now"

But external. It will be cheaper.

I have a mix of formats on my DVDs, picked up from North America and overseas

These discs must all be US region disks -- or someone hacked your drive. Region free drives are extremely rare.

Pickup whichever of these tickles your fancy: Newegg://External DVDRW's.
posted by SirStan at 8:58 AM on July 13, 2009

My main question would be whether or not I wanted to haul-around an external drive with me. Every time I'd plug-in the external drive, I'd probably look at the door of the dead drive and mutter some little curse or something.
Personally, I'd get the internal drive replaced.
posted by Thorzdad at 9:08 AM on July 13, 2009

An additional caveat for external drives: Not all BIOS can boot from external USB optical devices. This will make re-installation or recovery operations very difficult. If your computer is fairly new this shouldn't be a problem but it is something I would test before giving up on the internal drive completely.
posted by chairface at 9:29 AM on July 13, 2009

It's worth downloading some instructions for opening your laptop case (usually from your manufacturer's support site), and having a look at the cables that connect your internal drive, as these sometimes simply pop off, or are vibrated off in use. Reseating such cables is simply a matter of gently pushing them back on their connectors. In order to open the laptop, you might need a few basic tools like a small Phillips head screwdriver, and a good pair of tweezers or needle nosed pliers to remove fasteners, which you could generally find at any home improvement store.

That said, internal replacement DVD/CD-RW combo drives in the industry standard 9.5 mm thickness form factor are pretty cheap. If you can open your laptop, and remove the old one, you can easily replace it with a similar, new replacement drive, in under an hour. It's best if you replace it with a similar model, but most Toshiba products use major brand drives like Lite-On, which are easy to find and order from many online suppliers. The biggest cost if you have it professionally repaired will be labor, followed typically by a 50 to 100% parts markup. This is definitely one repair where the difficulty to savings ratio favors a person with a bit of gumption trying it themselves.

You may need to update a replacement drive's on-board firmware, to work well with your Toshiba, which you do with a small updater application you can usually get from Lite-On or your drive's manufacturer, together with a small, model specific binary file that updates the drive's internal firmware for best operation and correction of earlier firmware errata. Make sure you are running with a good battery charge and are plugged into AC power when you do this, as an interrupted or incomplete flash of the firmware can bork your new drive.
posted by paulsc at 10:01 AM on July 13, 2009

Is the drive removable? (Via a button on the side or bottom, not by opening up the case.) Try pulling it out and popping it back in.

If not, paulsc is right, these drives are mostly standard these days.
posted by gjc at 10:06 AM on July 13, 2009

I'll third the suggestion to replace the internal drive yourself (after reseating the cables to make sure it's not simply that).
posted by astrochimp at 11:14 AM on July 13, 2009

Response by poster: On this laptop, I have to take the keyboard off and expose the insides in order to access the drive - seeing as I have never done this before, I'm a bit nervous about exposing all of the insides. I would really hate to accidentally break the whole thing.

Does that change people's recommendations?
posted by scrute at 12:56 PM on July 13, 2009

"On this laptop, I have to take the keyboard off and expose the insides in order to access the drive - seeing as I have never done this before, I'm a bit nervous about exposing all of the insides. ..."

Laptop keyboards are typically a tray-type construction, usually held in place by 2 or 3 small screws in spaced tabs along the back edge, with (perhaps) one other screw around the spacebar area (on older laptops). You generally just pop off a spring loaded dress panel near the hinge area, often by sliding it a bit to the right or left, and then the keyboard tray screws are readily accessible.

For the novice do it yourselfer, it really comes down to having some basic confidence in yourself, then setting up a clean, uncluttered work area where you aren't going to lose or misplace small parts and have good light, and getting the necessary hand tools, if you don't have them. Don't force anything unduly, and remain calm as you examine and identify the parts and fasteners you'll be removing. This is not a difficult repair, and only minor dis-assembly is required. You can carefully fold over the flat cable than connects the keyboard, as you get the keyboard out of the way, to avoid having to disconnect, and reconnect it.

But it all depends on how much gumption and self-confidence you have. If you're the type who thinks of themself as clumsy and incapable, then hiring out this job may be best for you. But there is a certain satisfaction to learning to do minor fixes like this, to a machine you use frequently, and if money is short for you now, you can think of it as paying yourself about $100 an hour to learn a new skill; because it will probably cost you about $100 more in labor and parts markup for a pro to do it, than it will take to do it yourself, in about 1 hour. For many people it seems to be a big step towards being a more confident computer user, in general.

Today you replace a drive, and tomorrow, you fix your own plumbing!
posted by paulsc at 1:52 PM on July 13, 2009

Response by poster: Thanks paulsc - great explanation.

I have actually fixed my own plumbing - somehow the computer somehow seems more intimidating. I think with a bit more research, I might just be ready for this.

I just hope I don't trash the thing!
posted by scrute at 2:59 PM on July 13, 2009

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