My laptop is busted
January 15, 2007 9:19 PM   Subscribe

My laptop's backlight is acting up. And so is the power button.

A few hours ago, I was using my laptop (Acer TravelMate 4402WLMi) when the backlight turned off. Through the creative use of lighting I found that it was still displaying an image, so it's just the backlight that wasn't working. I tried to force a restart by holding the power button, but nothing happened. So, I hit the keystrokes to get into the start menu and restart, and the backlight was once again working.

After another hour of computing, and a clean virus scan, the backlight went off again. Forced restart failed again. I hit the function key combo to do a standby, which makes the PC speaker beep. For the duration of the beep, the backlight turned itself back on. I hit the spacebar to come back out of standby, and through use of the touchpad enable/disable function, which activates the PC speaker, I determined that yes, the backlight was responding to the PC speaker. Bizarre.

Since restarting fixed the backlight, at least temporarily, the last time, I hit the keys to get into the start menu and restart. Unfortunately, I accidentally ended up shutting down instead. And, as you may have guessed from my failed forced-restart attempts, the power button is unresponsive.

The laptop is out of warranty. The data on the hard drive, which is not backed up anywhere (I know...), is important enough that I will absolutely not ship the laptop to Acer for repairs (I don't trust them nearly enough for that).

What could possibly be causing this problem? What are my options here? My number one priority is saving what's on the hard drive.
posted by punishinglemur to Computers & Internet (6 answers total)
It sounds like a hardware problem. You could pull the hard drive first and then bring the laptop somewhere for repairs. There are a few methods for getting the data off the drive and since your situation doesn't make it sound like the data has been corrupted in any way, you shouldn't need to worry too much.

Depending on the cost of the repairs, you might be better off just getting a new laptop. Hopefully it's not too serious. At least the backlight still works; maybe it's just that some connections are out of whack.
posted by roomwithaview at 9:26 PM on January 15, 2007

My best guess, from your description, is that you are having problems with the power management circuitry on your motherboard. This could be everything from a broken, intermittent power cord connection, to a failed battery charger circuit, to other more exotic problems in your charging and power control circuits.

If data security is your #1 concern, pull the hard drive immediately, and use another computer to copy it's contents to backup media. You may need a special cable or adapter to do this, as the hard drives in most laptops don't use the standard IDE drive connectors. You don't want to boot off this drive when it's connected to flaky hardware. You may need a copy of something like Acronis True Image or something similar to clone your drive, as well as, obviously, a target drive of equal or greater capacity.

With the hard drive backed up or copied, you could poke around and troubleshoot with more confidence, but I'm betting your best course of action, if you're not experienced in laptop repair, will be to turn it over to professionals. If the machine is more than 2 years old, it will probably make more economic sense to repair than replace it.
posted by paulsc at 9:36 PM on January 15, 2007

Er, "repair replace than replace repair it."
posted by paulsc at 9:39 PM on January 15, 2007

In the world of warranty service, I'd probably just replace the system board, which on the laptops I work with, has the backlight driver built in. If your laptop's under warranty, that's probably the best bet. If it isn't, that could get a bit pricy.
posted by Alterscape at 4:13 AM on January 16, 2007

I'd bet it's much simpler than you imagine. It's probably a hardware issue -- meaning a slightly unseated connector going to your backlight. There could easily be pins crossed which cause the bizarre behavior. See if Acer has the disassembly guides/service manuals for your machine, open it, and re-seat the connectors going to the display. This has worked for myself, my friends, and other askme users in the past. I'm 99% sure it's your problem.

And you don't have a warranty to screw up, so go for it! All you need is a screwdriver and some confidence.
posted by fake at 5:23 AM on January 16, 2007

I had a similar problem with my HP notebook (backlight turning off intermittently). Turned out to be the inverter. I bought a new one from HP's part service on their website; had a guy at a local repair shop put it in, and it was good as new.

It's a pretty small part - in my notebook its located in the screen panel directly below the screen itself. Cost me about $70.
posted by whataboutben at 10:21 AM on January 16, 2007

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