I can't unscrew stuck screws from inside the ram compartment of my powerbook
March 25, 2006 12:43 PM   Subscribe

I can't unscrew stuck screws from inside the ram compartment of my powerbook... very tight space and very delicate. What can I do? I have a suspicion that an ant or two has crawled in my titanium powerbook G4 (let's not talk about the ants!) and I wanted to open it up by taking up the keyboard/track pad assembly so I can inspect it, armed with a nice spray can of air.

I got instructions on how to do this from the internet, specific to my model, and everything was copacetic until I got into the ram compartment where there are two philips head screws, larger than all the other screws holding on the casing, that won't budge. I tried numerous sizes of screw drivers, including a teeny flat head that fit well but almost broke while trying to turn them. I searched already here for a solution, but they all involve measures like solvents or heat that I could not possibly use near the ram. Also using needle nose pliers or screw pliers is out because the screws are so close to the wall of the recessed ram compartment. There's also the epoxy/allen wrench trick, but I'm nervous about the tight space and epoxy going where it will mess things up. Does anybody have any experience with this? An apple technician maybe? I need help.
posted by semidivine to Computers & Internet (10 answers total)
I'm not an Apple technician, but I've been inside the PowerBook you're asking about (...for stranger reasons than ants...) a few times. I haven't ever had trouble with those screws. I use (with an anti-static band, of course) a set of Sears Craftsman screwdrivers—the barrel rotates independently, so I can push down and turn—if that makes any difference. Just a data point. So, those two buggers aren't all like that!

(Sorry, no practical advice about stuck screws on printed circuit-boards.)
posted by Yeomans at 1:14 PM on March 25, 2006

Are you sure you're using a PowerBook and not HEX? If it's the latter, they're not, like, bugs, they're features...

I can't offer any advice except be very careful because what you do might end up costing you lots of money. I can give you that advice out of experience.
posted by tommorris at 1:48 PM on March 25, 2006

Are they Torx screws (sort of hexagonal star shape)? If so, you'll have better luck unscrewing them with a proper Torx tool.
posted by chrismear at 1:59 PM on March 25, 2006

[moved more to inside]
posted by jessamyn at 2:38 PM on March 25, 2006

If they are philips head you'll need the appropriate size screwdriver. Too big or too small aren't going to work on tight screws. The same goes if they are torx; use only the correct size driver.

Do you have any friends that might have more of a tool selection? I'll second the advice to be careful.
posted by 6550 at 3:10 PM on March 25, 2006

have you tried using pliers to hold and turn the screwdriver (works best with those small all-metal screwdrivers) with one hand, while you press down firmly on the screwdriver with the other? This method will give you better leverage and "grip" on the screw and usually works for me.
posted by pmbuko at 8:12 PM on March 25, 2006

Absolutely don't use anything except exactly the right size and type of screwdriver. If you have to apply significant force to a screw to shift it, and you're using a screwdriver that doesn't fit the screwhead perfectly, you'll tear up the screwdriver and mash the screwhead and make it damn near impossible to shift by any method.

If the screws are bigger than the others in the case, and you can't turn them using the same screwdriver you've used for the others, chances are you just need a screwdriver one size up. This will give you a bigger handle so you can apply more force, as well as a tip that fits the screws properly.

DO NOT use pliers to hold and turn a too-small screwdriver. Go and find one the right size.

You should also be aware that there are two kinds of cross-head screw: Phillips and Pozidriv. You're unlikely to find a Pozidriv screw inside a computer, but you may well have a Pozidriv screwdriver (look for little ribs between the main flanges). Don't use a driver that doesn't match your screws if you have to apply significant torque. Apart from the ribs, the two systems have different tapers and they WILL hose up each other's screws.
posted by flabdablet at 11:12 PM on March 25, 2006

flabdablet, sometimes even the perfect size screwdriver needs some extra torque. The perfect size driver isn't going to magically unstick a screw.
posted by pmbuko at 11:57 AM on March 26, 2006

pmbuko: That's true. It's probably true less often inside computer casings than on car engines, because it's rare to find serious corrosion inside a computer case, but it's still true.

My main point is that you should never try the pliers trick when you're working inside expensive and delicate equipment unless you're already using the correct type and size of screwdriver.

Using brute force to get performance out of the wrong screwdriver misapplies a lot of muscle power. For somebody accustomed to the amount of effort required to shift a tight screw using the wrong tools, the relative ease with which the right tool does the job actually can feel almost magical.

semidivine: it may be that the screws you're trying to shift have had some thread-locking compound applied during installation (look for blue residue on the screws you've already removed to see if the stuff's been used elsewhere in the casing). If that's the case, it might help to preheat the screws before you try to extract them. There's a way you can do this without risking damage to nearby RAM etc.

Use a small soldering iron with a pencil-point tip. Make sure it's absolutely clean and has no excess solder stuck to the tip before you start.

With the iron still cold, pick up a tiny blob of thermal transfer paste (the same stuff you'd use when fitting a heatsink to a CPU) with the very end of the tip. Push the tip gently into the top of the screwhead, position the iron so it's not going to heat up anything except the screw it's touching, and switch it on. At the first hint that the thermal paste is starting to vaporize (visible smoking or smell) remove the iron and quickly try the screwdriver again.

Because of the lubrication effect of the thermal paste, it is absolutely essential to be using the correct screwdriver for this.

If this works, wipe the excess paste off the iron with a tissue and let it cool down again before repeating the process on the second screw.
posted by flabdablet at 2:38 PM on March 26, 2006

I actually came across this same problem a few weeks ago. I was adding more RAM to my G4 Powerbook.

I had trouble getting 2 of the screws out, and was using the required Philips 00 screwdriver. After trying over and over, I switched to a flathead (same size) and tried it. It worked.

Obviously, this could've caused some serious damage to the screws, but I was desperate at that point. Try at your own risk, I suppose.
posted by fishbulb at 12:40 AM on March 27, 2006

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