Can my computer be saved?
September 25, 2020 10:03 AM   Subscribe

I spilled an entire glass of water with a tiny bit of apple cider vinegar in it (because team #stomachproblems) onto my relatively new laptop. Is it toast?

The prolem is--and yes I know I'm a fucking moron for this--I tried turning it on after letting the water drain for a few minutes. At first it seemed fine so I thought hey, no worries, problem solved! The problem was not solved. I turned it back on a few minutes later and it wouldn't come on properly and was giving me these bizarre error messages. Then something started burning inside of it. I immediately turned it off, took off the back, and put it on a paper towel so it could keep draining.

Here is the burned part.

I'm planning on leaving it there for a few days, as per advice from the internet. It is currently sitting without a back on a paper towel. I tried calling Best Buy but the guy from the geek squad was remarkably unhelpful and just told me it was toast. Everything I read says to take the battery out, but the thing is literally hardwired into my computer and I can't. Should I flip it over at some point and let it air dry? Blow a fan onto it? Something else I'm not thinking of? I'm pretty sure the warranty ran out this month, but I'm still going to call them to see if there is anything at all they can do to help me. I guess my concern is the burned part--can it still work properly even if a tiny part of the inside is literally melted?

It's a one-year-old computer and I decide to treat myself by getting one that was nicer and more expensive. This is why I can't have nice things! What else can I do?
posted by Amy93 to Computers & Internet (13 answers total)
Anything that looks that burned on the motherboard is Not A Good Time, I'm afraid. I don't know how much taking it apart to let it dry will fix that, though I think it's worth the attempt since it.. probably.. can't get any worse.

Is there a laptop repair place (maybe not the useless Best Buy dude) near you that's open/operating? It might be costly but that may be the best way to replace that burned out part.
posted by fight or flight at 10:17 AM on September 25, 2020

It's definitely not going to just start working after drying out, because that white cable attached to the burned area is fried. The best imaginable scenario here is that you find someone willing to track down the correct cable and whatever component on the board was fried, and replace them, and then maybe it works and maybe it doesn't. But you get to pay for the labor, the components, and the time it takes to find the components regardless of whether it eventually works. All of which means that unless it's a very expensive computer it's not worth even trying. I'd prepare for disappointment on this one.
posted by jon1270 at 10:24 AM on September 25, 2020

It's probably toast. -Signed: THREE toasted laptops in a year.

What you do in the FUTURE is
a) make a rule for yourself that you aren't allowed to use uncovered drinking vessels anywhere but the dining table, as if you are a 5-year-old and also your own parent. I use these and these
b) silicone keyboard cover, Amazon has them, just search for your specific model of computer
c) (probably the most effective) use a riser for your laptop. Don't put it straight on the coffee table or desk where the kb is going to be lower than the edge of your drinking vessels. Use one of these, or a monitor stand. With those I use cheap LED-backlit usb keyboards, which are much less expensive than an entire laptop.
posted by Lyn Never at 10:27 AM on September 25, 2020 [9 favorites]

What's the model of the laptop? I've seen enough of Louis Rossman's youtube channel to know that miraculous board repairs can be done, but often it come down to parts availability (e.g. does the part-marker sell to anyone or just the manufacturer).

However, I gotta say I'm not optimistic on this one, and replacement parts, if available, will probably run into some money, though not new-laptop money.
posted by Sunburnt at 10:29 AM on September 25, 2020

I don't know how much taking it apart to let it dry will fix that,

It won't. Burned parts tend not to repair themselves, and this is a connector that's had a few of its contacts (at the top) severely overloaded causing the connector body to burn.

It's toast.
posted by Stoneshop at 10:30 AM on September 25, 2020 [3 favorites]

miraculous board repairs can be done,

The connector is a bog-standard part, but replacing it requires skills and tools that just not every electronics hobbyist has. And it may well have taken other components to their grave with it.

Replacing the entire mainboard is usually possible, though it depends on whether you can get one, or find, say, the same model laptop with a broken screen.

In both cases it depends on whether the laptop is worth the effort and cost.
posted by Stoneshop at 10:43 AM on September 25, 2020 [1 favorite]

Check your credit card to see if you have purchase protection that might cover this damage. And it's a long shot, but check your renter's insurance if you have it.

A mainboard replacement is probably the only option for repair, but that'll cost a large fraction of the purchase price.

Signed, a Macbook and a large cappuccino
posted by RobotVoodooPower at 11:20 AM on September 25, 2020 [2 favorites]

The Magic smoke got out. It's probably toast.

In the future, what you want to do is turn it off ASAP, take it apart, get some distilled water or rubbing alcohol, wash it down avoiding the battery bits since you can't take it out, let it dry for days, *then* put it back together and turn it on.
posted by zengargoyle at 11:43 AM on September 25, 2020 [2 favorites]

Yeah, likely fried I'm afraid. If this is a $1000+ computer it might be worth attempting a repair, but it'll be costly and time consuming because that whole connector and cable will need to be desoldered, removed, and replaced. That will require disassembling most of the computer. It's possible that other components are also fried due to the short, but you won't know for sure until that connection is replaced and tried.

If you're comfortable working with electronics it looks like the kind of repair that someone could attempt on their own, but only because the alternative is a non-functional computer (which you already have now).

Possible upside to all of this - your data is probably still intact if you need to recover anything, though it may be hard to get to if you have a SSD attached to the board rather than a removable hard drive.
posted by owls at 1:00 PM on September 25, 2020 [1 favorite]

Step one is def to call around for a cost estimate to repair. If you have renters insurance or similar, see if they will cover it and if the deductible is reasonable for the cost to fix it out of pocket.
posted by ananci at 1:53 PM on September 25, 2020

That's repairable, but will need someone with basic soldering skills. Best Buy is not going to do it. Do go ahead and make sure it's all dry before trying anything else though, yes that part is already burned but there are probably other wet spots. Pointing a fan at it is good, if you live somewhere with humidity you could set out a dehumidify thing, i.e. a thing that people who live somewhere humid probably know the actual name for. It's a box of stuff that you open to absorb excess humidity in the room, you just set it nearby don't put it on the laptop or anything.

You might even be able to fix it yourself, I found a great video online with a step by step teardown of my specific brand and model of laptop, it took me a while to take everything apart for the repair I needed to do but it was pretty straightforward.

If you have any sort of coverage on it though, I'd go straight to that.
posted by yohko at 3:30 PM on September 25, 2020

Response by poster: The bad news: three separate repair shops told me that it was completely unsalvageable, so it’s toast at this point.

The good news: I found out that my father has some kind of insurance on electronics that covers family members, so we filed a claim and I’m hoping I can get it replaced.

Thanks guys!
posted by Amy93 at 4:14 PM on September 25, 2020 [1 favorite]

That's repairable, but will need someone with basic soldering skills.

Basic soldering skills, my left foot. That connector is an SMD (surface mounted device) part with a contact pitch of 0.3mm. That's the centerline distance between two contact pads; the space between two solder areas is 0.2mm. If you try to work that with a conventional soldering iron, even one with a micro tip, you will have multiple shorts between pairs of adjacent contacts.

This requires skills and tools well above basic. If I was asked to fix this I'd try to see if I could, without ANY guarantee of success.
posted by Stoneshop at 1:42 AM on September 26, 2020 [5 favorites]

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