Laptop display is suddenly very dark
April 10, 2008 6:54 AM   Subscribe

Weird laptop display problem: A second after starting it up, the screen gets very, very dark.

I have a Dell Inspiron 8600, and I'm running Windows XP. When I start it up, I can see the Dell splash screen for a second and then the Windows XP splash screen for a second, but then the screen gets very, very dark. If I stare at it really hard, I can just make out the outline of what's there. I hooked up the laptop to an external monitor, and everything works fine on that. Is this a video card problem? If so, is it something that I can probably fix myself?

Other information that may be relevant: I've been using my laptop in hot, humid tropical climate for the last month, and sometimes tiny ants try to get into the machine.
posted by sotalia to Computers & Internet (12 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
If you're able hook it up to an external monitor with no problems, I'd hesitate blaming the video card. My guess is the display is faulty.
posted by nitsuj at 6:56 AM on April 10, 2008

Check your power settings. Make sure you've not set a power setting that automatically turns down the brightness to a minimum level to save battery power. Also, try turning the brightness back up with the brightness keys, usually the Fn key with one of the function keys.
posted by rsclark at 6:59 AM on April 10, 2008

I'm no expert, but it sounds like the backlight on the display is going out. In other words, seconding that it's an issue with your LCD.
posted by knave at 7:00 AM on April 10, 2008

rsclark, I thought of that too, but playing with the brightness keys didn't help.
posted by sotalia at 7:10 AM on April 10, 2008

I had the same problem with a Dell laptop. I was able to locate step-by-step instructions online (with pictures, for I am a mechanical moron) for taking that style of laptop apart (older Dell Latitude). Alert to probable misnaming of various parts: I found the connector (looks like a length of folded up aluminum foil) that is in the hinge for the lid was giving out after several years of bending when I opened and closed it. I tried as best I could to straighten it out and arrange it in a less "bendy" position, and that bought me a few more months of mostly not-dark display. I did replace the laptop eventually, because it became cheaper to buy a new one than get the old one fixed.

You can get the whole backlight assembly widget-thingie (or a used - maybe non-working - laptop with a compatible backlight and cannibalize it) from eBay if you're comfortable installing it yourself. Or you can get a new laptop. You can also try calling Dell.
posted by SuperSquirrel at 7:17 AM on April 10, 2008

Meant to say - it sounds like the backlight, and/or whatever that connector is called that connects the backlight to .. whatever else it's supposed to be connected to.
posted by SuperSquirrel at 7:19 AM on April 10, 2008

Yep, I had this happen and it was the backlight on the LCD. It got progressively worse until I had it replaced.
posted by thejanna at 7:23 AM on April 10, 2008

posted by unixrat at 7:25 AM on April 10, 2008

Thanks, everyone. It sounds like the consensus is that it's a backlight problem. I'll try SuperSquirrel's suggestions.
posted by sotalia at 7:32 AM on April 10, 2008

I had this same problem awhile back, albeit with a mac (see here for my inquiry), and one of the tests suggested was to shine a flashlight at the screen. If you can see the information on the screen when it's illuminated by the flashlight, then you've probably got a blown backlight.
posted by the luke parker fiasco at 8:35 AM on April 10, 2008

You haven't made it completely clear whether you've tried this, but before you take anything apart, hit Fn plus the Up Arrow key to try to adjust the screen brightness.

The behaviour you've described is exactly how my perfectly fine Dell laptop acts if it boots up and the brightness setting has been adjusted - bright at first, and then it darkens to the saved setting.
posted by davey_darling at 8:37 AM on April 10, 2008

Yes, you can fix it yourself, if you're OK with a soldering iron and opening up your laptop. Googling "Dell 8600 CCFL" (Cold Cathode Flourescent Lamp) and you'll come across dozens of resources on everything from buying the right $12 replacement backlight, to detailed instructions on how to replace it.
posted by randomstriker at 9:01 AM on April 10, 2008

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