How to deal with my busted laptop backlight?
September 22, 2006 12:52 PM   Subscribe

Should I attempt to repair my broken laptop screen?

Earlier this year, my Compaq Presario 2100 laptop (which I bought in mid-2003) started blanking out. From what I could tell, the LCD's backlight seemed to be failing. Occasionally and completely randomly, the screen would come back on, but most of the time I had to hook up an old CRT monitor to the laptop or hold a flashlight close to the screen if I wanted to access my data. Besides that, the optical drive didn't work.

Eventually I scraped some money together and took the laptop to a local independent computer repair shop. After a few days they gave me an estimate: they would replace the entire screen and the drive for a little over $1000. I snorted, reclaimed my computer, and began to look for a new laptop.

But recently I've seen indications on the Web that I'd be able to replace the backlight and drive by myself for far, far less than a thousand. I have not seen any kind of detailed instructions for doing so.

Should I, a person with little hardware experience, attempt the backlight repair? The drive repair? How much should I expect either one to cost? Could I find a less gouge-tastic repair shop? Or would I be better off just getting a new computer?
posted by Iridic to Computers & Internet (10 answers total)
Your screen is fine, the lightbar sounds like the problem, and you should be able to repair that pretty easily, I wouldn't trust a shop that wants to repair the entire screen for this problem, take it somewhere for a second opinion.

How to generally replace the lightbar.
Where to get the bulb you need.

I wouldn't try it unless you're really proficient with electronics, first I'd at least make sure that the shop wasn't trying to make some easy money off you.
posted by gregschoen at 1:13 PM on September 22, 2006

I should rephrase that, the repair is kinda easy, putting it all together so it doesn't look horrible when you're done is a little more difficult.
posted by gregschoen at 1:16 PM on September 22, 2006

you're correct that you can fix it for much less than a grand, and you're not taking any serious risk.

depending on the make of your laptop, there may be a disassembly guide. dell has them, i've used them. knowing where all the screws are is half the battle.

if you can't find a disassembly guide, just carefully work around it, take pictures at every stage and label the screws carefully on a large sheet of paper. make sure all connectors are seated properly and everything will be fine.

be careful of the little transformer that powers up the backlight, it can give you a mild but painful shock.

as far as the optical drive goes, that's cake. 1 screw and it should pop out ready for replacement. just get one from ebay...
posted by fake at 1:25 PM on September 22, 2006

You should also look on ebay for a replacement screen (ie the entire thing, not just the backlight) - I got a complete screen assembly, which obviously includes a backlight, for $60, and you don't need to take much apart to simply swap the entire unit. (This was a 14" screen for a tablet-PC which has a wacom digitiser built into the screen, all for $60 - while some outfits were (and are) selling the backlight alone for $150).
posted by -harlequin- at 1:41 PM on September 22, 2006

Also, I think you should definitely try to fix it yourself. Look online for the service manual for your laptop if you don't already have it, this should walk you through how to disassemble and reassemble everything.
posted by -harlequin- at 1:43 PM on September 22, 2006

It sounds like your CCFL tube (backlight) died, that's basically what happened to me. I bought my replacement from these guys and it took about 45 minutes to install (I'm reasonably proficient and it was a fairly difficult, if straightforward, job). They don't have your laptop listed on their page but if you open up the back and get the model number off the LCD it should be easy to index.

Be aware that it's also possible that the inverter, not the CCFL, died, but those are also much cheaper than $1k. I'd look at a laptop repair site or on eBay for the one that corresponds to your LCD model.
posted by j.edwards at 1:50 PM on September 22, 2006

I have a compaq presario 2100 that someone threw in the dumpster in front of my house last month. The mobo or power supply is dead, but alive enough to verify that everything else works, including the screen. Email is in my profile - it's yours for shipping if you think the parts would be useful.

(I was going to put it on ebay, but for a mefite... also, it may not be a 2100, but I think it is. I'd have to double check.)
posted by GuyZero at 2:02 PM on September 22, 2006

Check the archives several times this topic has been addressed here. You can do it. Brand new screen shouldn't be more than $300.00 and you only need the backlight , it seems.
posted by Agamenticus at 3:51 PM on September 22, 2006

Agreed that its a DIY task if you're even marginally comfortable taking a screwdriver to a thousand dollar piece of equipment.

However the intermittent nature of the failure makes me wonder if it isn't a cable short in the bundle of wires that goes from the motherboard to the screen lid. Not a common failure point, but it can happen. If you've got the time/space, I'd do a disassembly first and see if you can isolate the problem so you're not buying stuff you don't need. Or if you can get a good deal on a "for parts" system, then ignore me.

(One time I was sure my backlight was fried, but it turned out that the lid switch got bent and never turned the backlight on when the lid was opened. Opening the case and bending it back with my fingers saved me a huge repair bill.)
posted by Ookseer at 5:02 AM on September 23, 2006

you probably could fix it with a fair amount of effort. on the other hand, i would say 3 years is a reasonable lifespan for a laptop. compaqs are not noted for their reliability, so it may well give you more problems in the near future. if you can afford it, i would retire it and get a new one. you can get a great laptop for about $600 or $700 these days.
posted by tabulem at 8:34 AM on September 23, 2006

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