Strange behavior from a recently soaked laptop.
March 17, 2010 7:06 PM   Subscribe

Is there any hope for my recently soaked laptop?

Ok, I realize that this topic has been covered on askmefi before, as in people have already asked for advice on how to dry out a laptop. I'm not looking for specific advice on how to dry out my laptop. I've already done that. I'm looking for advice on the strange behaviour my laptop is exhibiting post drying.

As far as what I did to dry it in the first place, I first just toweled it off, and then let it sit and dry for a day, then tried to boot it up. It didn't work. Some of its lights flickered on for a second and then it shut off. Next, I opened it all the way up, let it dry out for a couple of days and used a compressed air can to blow dry the entire inside. When I put it back together, lo and behold it turned on, booted up, seemed to be working perfectly, and I thought my problem had been solved.

However, upon coming home later that night, when I tried to turn it on again, it booted up, but wouldn't backlight the display. I could tell that the display was on, because if I looked at it at exactly the right angle I could see a faint outline of an image, but without any backlighting it was almost impossible to see. This was while the computer was on battery power, so just to see what happened, I plugged it into the ac adapter and it immediately shut down.

Next, I tried rebooting it and connecting it to an external display, and that works. The computer, as long as it is running on battery power and connected to an external display seems to work perfectly. However, any time I reconnect it to it's ac adapter, it immediately turns off. It does charge the battery when connected to the adapter though.

What is going on here? I'm guessing there might have been some damage to the motherboard, resulting in this bizarre behavior, but given that it's not completely dead I'm wondering if there's something I can do to bring it all the way back.

Just for the record, it's a dell e1505, and while I know not everyone is a huge fan of dells, up until me spilling a big glass of water all over it, it has been a fantastic computer.
posted by farce majeure to Computers & Internet (8 answers total)
Unless the water you spilled on it happened to be distilled, there could easily be some dried residue from it partially shorting something(s) out and causing strange behavior. It's possible that further cleaning/compressed air could solve it if done correctly. Or something could be damaged permanently. Hard to say.
posted by Diplodocus at 7:47 PM on March 17, 2010

Definitely wasn't distilled water, so that may be the case. if I were to go about cleaning it further, as in actually trying to clean the motherboard, do you have any recommendations as to how one might go about that?
posted by farce majeure at 7:54 PM on March 17, 2010

Well, if it were me, I'd be disassembling and cleaning with some alcohol and some q-tips in an anti-static/static safe environment. I would carefully disassemble the computer in said static safe environment and look for any residues and would gently clean off potential problem areas.

However I'd only recommend that if you're relatively comfortable working with sensitive electronics. You mention you already "opened it all the way up", so if you've already successfully disassembled it, you're part way there. Some laptops can be tricky to take apart and put back together.

Of course I take no responsibility if you try to do this and cause further damage.
posted by Diplodocus at 8:01 PM on March 17, 2010

PS You can me-mail me if you want more specific info. I used to assemble/fix/re-assemble sensitive electronics at work all the time. Doing it in a static-safe environment is the key, besides not causing any actual physical damage.
posted by Diplodocus at 8:04 PM on March 17, 2010

One day you let it "dry?" And then, you blew a can of compressed air through it, and you thought it was dry enough to turn on? Didn't the compressed air can get a little cold in your hand? Didn't you recognize that blowing compressed air across any physical surface can cause that surface to be cooled enough to further condense moisture, particularly if the local humidity is high, due to many surrounding items being recently wet?

Holy bajoley, farce majeure. In the absence of any better protocol, you set your oven on low, remove the battery from your recently drowned laptop, wait for the oven to pre-heat and hit 200° F, or whatever its lowest stable setting is, and then turn it off. Open the oven door for 10 minutes, and then set the laptop in it. Remove the slightly warmed laptop in 1 hour, and repeat, for 3 or 4 days, minimum. Use a hair dryer, set on coolest temperature settings, to blow slightly warmed air, through the slightly warmed laptop, between oven "bakes," as you wait for the oven to pre-heat, again, between warming cycles. After 3 to 4 days of slow baking and forced air circulation with a hair dryer, you can probably turn on the machine with little chance of damage, once it is back down to room temperature.

But after what you've done? High probability that moisture still remains under surface mount components, and is shorting them out. Probability of recovery, if you now try to slow bake it?

8 ball of doom say "Success unlikely."
posted by paulsc at 10:26 PM on March 17, 2010 [1 favorite]

paulsc, you are probably right. I definitely rushed things. I was in the middle of finishing a research proposal that I was supposed to have handed in that same day, so I rushed the drying process, probably at the expense of the computer. Also, as I'm living in a tiny Japanese apartment right now, I don't have access to an oven, so that makes your method of drying it impossible for me. Otherwise I would definitely try it. Oddly enough though, the screen has started working again, and actually, the laptop works completely fine, except for when it's plugged in. I can't figure that out. Do you think it'd be worth taking it apart, carefully cleaning as much of the motherboard with rubbing alcohol as possible and then putting it back together one more time? Or should I just learn to live with the fact that I'll only be able to use the thing on battery power from here on out? I can probably guess what the answer to that question is but just thought I'd ask.
posted by farce majeure at 3:03 AM on March 18, 2010

If the screen has come back, that's a good sign. My drying method is basically the same as paulsc's, but I'm too much of a coward to actually turn the oven on. In a reasonable oven, the 40W bulb in the back is enough heat to bring the temperature to about 100°F, which is as hot as I want to keep any plastic cases.

You're suggesting that you are able to charge the battery, but not to use the laptop while the power cable is plugged in? That's kind of a funny state of affairs. I wouldn't clean the entire motherboard, but I would follow the traces from the power cord jack to the battery and the onboard voltage regulator and look for anything funny. In a tower PC the internal power supply is a discrete object that you can replace, but I have never tried to buy one for a laptop.

You should not be surprised if this computer has a "personality" for ever, even if you fix all the obvious problems now.
posted by fantabulous timewaster at 5:49 AM on March 18, 2010

You might try taking the battery out, plugging in the AC supply, and seeing if the laptop will run that way. If it does, you might find that it will then work normally, once you turn it off, and put the battery back in, but even if it doesn't, you'd know that you could use wall power, by taking the battery out.

The reason that might work is that you could have one bad cell, now, in the battery (due to water infiltration), that makes the battery look partially shorted to the power logic of the machine. The cell isn't, yet, a high enough electrical impedance to prevent the battery from delivering power, on its own to the laptop, and without the laptop running, the battery will even accept additional charge from the power brick. But the combination of the partially shorted battery, and the full demand of the computer is too great for the power brick, and the protection circuitry on the motherboard is preventing the computer from starting up, under those conditions.

If that's actually what is happening, 8 ball of doom says "Replace battery with new one."
posted by paulsc at 9:57 AM on March 18, 2010

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