Why oh why won't my laptop behave?
October 17, 2006 12:57 PM   Subscribe

My laptop isn't getting along with it's power supply. I thought it was the power supply, but apparently not. Help please!

Over the weekend my Dell 5150 Inspirion laptop stopped being charged or running off the power supply. The cord was a bit screwed up so I though the power supply had died. I ordered a new one and it got here today. I plugged it in and it seemed to work... for about 5 min. Then it stopped charging the battery and went back onto battery power. The light on the power supply itself is on, suggesting it is getting power from the outlet, but it isn't transferring it to the computer. I even took out the battery and tried to run it just off the power supply. No dice. Now my laptop has about 10 min left of power on it and I have no way of giving it more power. What on earth is wrong with it?
posted by JonahBlack to Computers & Internet (11 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
Did you check the power connector on your notebook? Most likely gotten bent/lost a proper connection.

The connector to the motherboard may need. to be resoldered

I remember I had several sony laptops that did the same. Always had to wiggle the connection to find the right place where it would charge.
posted by mphuie at 1:08 PM on October 17, 2006

Response by poster: I tried to take it apart, but I could not figure out how to get at the two screws under the screen. I'd also love to hear how I can get at those so I can even look for bent/broken things in there.
posted by JonahBlack at 1:20 PM on October 17, 2006

Yeah, this is a pretty common (and frustratingly difficult to repair) problem. You could buy a new power jack and solder it in yourself, or send your computer out for repair. Unless you're an ace with tiny screws and soldering irons, I'd recommend getting it to a repair shop. Unless you're still under warranty, in which case you're going to have to deal with Dell. My sympathies.

I'm not endorsing either of the companies in those links, by the way.
posted by mr_roboto at 1:23 PM on October 17, 2006

Have you seen this? Looks like you might be a plantiff in a class action suit that was successfully settled. The settlement appears to include free repairs "that are necessary to resolve 'no power' or 'shutdown' situations."
posted by mr_roboto at 1:29 PM on October 17, 2006

And here's your computer's service manual, in case you want to do it yourself. That should tell you how to get those screws out.
posted by mr_roboto at 1:33 PM on October 17, 2006

Thanks for that link mr_roboto, I had a friend in a similar situation and now we're going to look into that.

My friends laptop had the same symptoms. The power cord plugs into a little device on the back of the motherboard that is soddered in at three tiny little points. One crack in any of those points and you get occasional or no power. With her computer (which was out of warranty) we got quotes on repairs and decided to try to solder it back on ourselves (along with another friend, who is studying eletrical engineering at Purdue (so, basically, I watched)).

Still didn't work and she ended up getting a new computer.

Hopefully the class action lawsuit mr_roboto mentioned helps you, as everyone I talked to described it as a common problem that was usually beyond repair short of replacing the motherboard.
posted by ztdavis at 2:09 PM on October 17, 2006

Response by poster: Well, I've managed to get it apart. And it's full of a metric ton of dust and dog hair. The sodders look pretty good, I don't see any cracks. Maybe it was just too much dust? I've been getting the "battery is too hot to charge" lights for awhile, but it was still charging so I thought that was some kind of fluke. Otherwise, I'm going to have to try that class action lawsuit, because I definately don't have enough money to fix it or buy a new one. Thanks for all the suggestions, if anyone has any more, I'll definately take them!
posted by JonahBlack at 3:10 PM on October 17, 2006

One more suggestion, or a query at least. When you said you bought a power supply, did you buy one direct from Dell which was explicitly listed on the Dell site as being a guaranteed replacement for your 5150 laptop's original power supply? Or did you buy a (possibly cheaper or more power-optioned) third-party power supply that said it worked with 5150 series? Or maybe just a Dell power supply which is plug-compatible and looks to match wattage?

Here's why I ask. I had a college student in the family friends network contact me because her Inspiron's power supply was no longer charging the battery or working solo. I did everything you did, stripped it down to the bare guts, and looked over the power connector really carefully -- as previously noted the jack is prone to failure, so much so that there are standing eBay auctions for that part. But it looked okay, and there wasn't even intermittent power with various wiggling, prodding, and a bit of bypassing. Tried the laptop with my wife's (slightly different model) Dell power supply that matched adapters, and which was listed as compatible on Dell's accessories site. No workie.

Since the student needed a working computer back ASAP, rather than wait for several days shipping and paying full retail from a Dell order, I visited local computer stores and found a generic power supply which was listed as supporting that series of laptops. Plugged it in. Nothing. Now, I'm done. The laptop is toast; the symptoms exactly match the Dell site list of dreaded "motherboard error" conditions, i.e. hundreds of dollars to fix. Except, that night I mentioned it to a friend of mine and he was in a mood to play with it to see what might be salvaged for her beyond the hard drive. In so doing, he located a compatible high-end power supply -- the Cadillac of power supplies judging by the price and all the items it could power -- and on test in-store, got the computer to boot. So we buy the power supply, laptop and college student are happy.

And that's the story. Dell has -- and maybe still does if they haven't learned from the lawsuits -- shipped laptops which need every single watt that their power supplies are rated for, or even beyond. If you purchase a power supply that can't hit the rating load exactly, it won't work, and there are different ratings among closely related laptops. There is no margin for error in those machines. If possible, get a power rating on a supply which exceeds the listed requirements, and definitely not a single watt lower than rating if you can't do that. Otherwise, what appears to be unrecoverably dead might not be.

Really, the only thing that kept that laptop from being recycled is a last-minute happenstance remark I made to a friend of mine who had the spare time and interest right then to fool with it. There are probably thousands of laptops every year being needlessly recycled due to similar circumstance...come to think of it, that reminds me of a certain question here from a couple of days ago.
posted by mdevore at 4:16 PM on October 17, 2006 [1 favorite]

If it isn't the soldering, you might also have to bend the metal plates in the jack to improve contact.

Replacing power adapters is a much messier business than it should be. There have been plenty of questions on that topic before, if you want to investigate them I think this is the most recent: Is this ac adapter compatible with my 600m Inspiron? Or, maybe just skip to Am I using the wrong power adapter.. If you do that, please note that I am still working on a better explanation for the low voltage case.. I tried correcting it again in the sound of silence, but I'm still not happy with it..

If you do go reading all that, please don't let it scare you. The only way to deal with these problems is to try stuff and see what happens! Technically, you can also throw obscene amounts of money at people and hope they stand behind their products and services.. I say empower yourself first!
posted by Chuckles at 4:32 PM on October 17, 2006

I had the same/ or similar thing happen to me not to long ago with my dell Inspiron 8000. After a few months of wiggling the power cord to get it to charge, it finally did not charge. At one point it even started to smoke! I took off a top pannel and could see a small arc right under the power recepticle. In my research i found that it is a common problem (askme links, 1, 2, 3)

One solution that i found recommended is using the docking port as an alternative power source. I haven't gotten as far to test this solution out, but a docking station/ port replicator is probably around $100, and this is a fraction of what it woudl cost to get the thing serviced and repaired.
posted by retro88 at 4:50 PM on October 17, 2006

I just had my power jack resoldered for about $150 by these people. It works wonderfully now. I would have done it myself but I am not a fan of mistakenly messing up my motherboard.

Now to re-solder the failed headphone jack in my Creative Zen Micro...
posted by nekton at 5:07 PM on October 17, 2006

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