Laptop power jack repairs - are they that bad?
February 12, 2010 9:10 AM   Subscribe

Does anyone have experience repairing the power jack on a laptop? My wife's old (circa 2006) Dell laptop won't charge, due to what seems like a loose power jack connection. I've repair found tutorials, and it doesn't seem that bad, does it? (More details inside)

My wife got her Dell laptop around December 2005/Jan 2006, and it's worked wonderfully for us. The only issue is that it's never been great on battery life. She's played , so we've always had it plugged in, and we've knocked the jack around a few times while it was plugged in.

A few weeks ago, the power adapter wouldn't always make contact with the jack (or the internal bits), because the laptop would go into battery-use only mode (dimmed screen) if we shifted the laptop. We'd hold the power plug just so, and it was fine. But then it no longer worked. Since this has been the only problem with it, and it's served our needs for a laptop, we wanted to repair it rather than replace it.

Searching about, I found a few repair tutorials (generic, Dell Inspiron-specific). It seems fairly straight-forward, and I've built desktop systems before, but laptop repair and soldering are things I haven't done yet.

We went to BestBuy and asked their repair desk folk what it would cost, and the guy said around $250, not counting parts and time, so in the end we could buy a new laptop for that Price. A friend of mine has a soldering kit, volt meter, and experience with it all, so we could possibly fix it for the cost of some solder and maybe a new DC jack.

The questions:
1) Am I oversimplifying the process?
2) Should I try to salvage the existing DC jack, or buy a new one?
3) If I should proceed with this, any tips?

posted by filthy light thief to Technology (11 answers total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
1. Not at all. It's often a really simple thing to fix. I've done a few, and they were all pretty much (i) open case, (ii) identify broken solder joint, (iii) solder.

2. You'll have to open it up and see. It's quite likely just a quick soldering job.

3. Not really. Just take care not to force anything. As you remove the screws, lay them out on a piece of paper against a sketch of the area they came from - it's not unusual to end up with screws of several different lengths. If you have a digital camera, take close-up shots of everything at each stage of disassembly - that way you have a reference to help you put it back together.

It'll be a breeze. Just don't tell your neighbours you fixed it yourself, or you'll be that guy who can fix laptops.
posted by le morte de bea arthur at 9:25 AM on February 12, 2010

Soldering isn't a difficult skill and power connectors are big, chunky, heat resistant, and mechanically sound: ideal for the beginner to solder on. Opening and closing the case will probably be the hard part. I'd go for it, especially if your friend has any soldering experience and can guide you.
posted by chairface at 9:37 AM on February 12, 2010

I haven't tried this repair myself, but no matter what I'd ignore Best Buy's repair quotes. A friend of mine was recently told her laptop was as good as dead, hundreds to repair, may as well get a new one, etc. when in fact all she needed was a new hard drive. $50 for the drive, unscrew the back, pop the old one out and pop the new one in, do the install dance. I'm sure there are good and bad Best Buy employees, but there's no way to know which you're going to get going in.
posted by Jim Biancolo at 9:51 AM on February 12, 2010

Agree with above. For someone with a little soldering skills, it's a simple fix. I bought a new power jack via eBay for less than $10.

It helps if you have a solder vacuum (?). Not sure of the proper name, but you need a way to get the old solder out of the way.
posted by SuperSquirrel at 10:04 AM on February 12, 2010

1) Not difficult if you've some soldering experience.
2) Buy a new DC jack if you can, the problem is as likely to be inside the jack as in the solder connections from the jack to the circuit board. You might need to remove the old one first to make sure to know exactly which one to buy.
3) Go for it, it won't cost much and the lap top is useless until fixed.
posted by Long Way To Go at 10:14 AM on February 12, 2010

Solder vacuum is sometimes known as a solder sucker.
posted by DMan at 10:14 AM on February 12, 2010

The same thing happened to my wife's Toshiba laptop about 3 years ago. We got someone to fix it, but he warned us that it was a design flaw on the motherboard and not to expect the solder to hold for very long. Sure enough, a few weeks later, it broke again.
posted by Ratio at 10:47 AM on February 12, 2010

I wish I had the links, but a few months ago I was helping a friend research a similar problem with a Dell laptop of similar vintage, and it turns out to be a whole can of worms. Search for your model of laptop along with power supply problems or battery life issues and you'll see what I mean; if yours falls into the same category, it might be a driver/bios issue, or the connector on the motherboard, or the power supply brick itself.

Hopefully your model isn't one of the ones having the problem, though.
posted by davejay at 11:16 AM on February 12, 2010

(i) open case, (ii) identify broken solder joint

Do this before you buy the part. It's probably what your repair manuals suggest, but if it's something further upstream you won't have wasted the time and money on a part you don't need.

Also I recommend video soldering tutorials. They will give you a better idea of the timing of things how long it takes to heat the solder and such. Make's got one here.
posted by edbles at 11:48 AM on February 12, 2010

I just (tried) to do this and (more or less) destroyed my motherboard. :)

I am fairly experienced in electronics repair, but I missed a vital step in the process.

My Dell was a different model, and yours looks much simpler. Mine had these "tube" type things that passed through the motherboard that I mistook as being parts of the jack itself, and removed them when I pulled the old jack out.

You can buy a new jack on ebay dirt cheap. (this was my seller, no connection, but I can vouch for at least my transaction going as it should have)
posted by davey_darling at 12:14 PM on February 12, 2010

If anyone is still tracking this: the issue was with the AC adapter, not the DC port. The second link in the OP worked for disassembling the laptop, but we found that the port was still in good shape.

So we then tested the adapter with a voltmeter, and found that the computer end had no output, while a different adapter was live. Now, I'm looking for a replacement adapter. Note to others: this is probably something you should check in the beginning, to avoid taking apart the laptop.
posted by filthy light thief at 4:55 PM on March 12, 2010

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