GEEKNOTE: We subscribe to a service that advises us of folks in our service area who are looking for computer repairs. I’ve noticed a growing trend of folks looking for someone to replace the broken screen on their tablet or their notebook. I don’t suppose I should be surprised, given all the hype about how the desktop computer is dead and everyone is going to be using a tablet in a year or two.
Don’t believe it.
What you CAN believe is that quite a few computers, especially tablets and notebooks are being built with absolutely no thought to common repairs.
It used to be that you could get to the hard drive on pretty much any notebook by unscrewing one or two screws on the bottom of the box and popping the drive out. Starting with some of the little netbooks that came out a few years ago, you frequently need to remove the keyboard and other components to get to drive.
Things that spin break. Get over it. That includes hard drives and cooling fans. A cooling fan is typically less than $20 and held in place with a few screws. The rub comes in trying to get TO the cooling fan on some notebooks. We had one come in this past week. The instructions for replacing the cooling fan involved: removing a dozen screws on the bottom of the notebook, prying off a cover plate at the top of the keyboard, unscrewing four more screws holding the keyboard in place, removing the keyboard, removing the bezel that surrounds the keyboard, removing the power plug on the side of the computer, removing the motherboard, flipping it over, and THEN AND ONLY THEN removing the heat sink assemply that contains the fan.
Think about the sequence above. If you figured out that the fan is on the bottom of the motherboard, right next to the bottom of the notebook, give youself a gold star. If the motherboard manufacturer had installed an access panel on the bottom of the notebook, the heat sink and cooling fan would have been easy to reach and replace.
The same goes for hard drives, which fail even more often than cooling fans. It is now fairly common to have to remove the keyboard to get to the drive.
Why are these machines assembled this way? My guess is that the manufacturer expects you to simply trash the old computer and buy a new one when something breaks. If it is an expensive hardware failure, that is one thing. If it is a viral infection that prevents you from booting the system and requiring a perfectly good drive to be pulled and slaved to a bench machine for decontamination, that is another matter entirely.
Desktop systems vary in how difficult they are to service, but even the most difficult ones are LIGHTYEARS ahead of tablets and the notebooks we are running into as far as ease of service goes.
Broken screens deserve special attention. Even more so than smart phones, the screens on notebooks and tablets seem to get broken on an all too frequent basis. They simply aren’t up for the manhandling that they get. Depending on the model, replacing a broken screen may or may not be worth even thinking about.
If you need portability, then by all means get a notebook or a tablet. Just recognize that it is going to need quite a bit of TLC if you expect it to last. If you don’t need portability, go for a desktop system.
When looking at a notebook computer, make sure to ask what is involved if you decide to replace the hard drive. If the sales person can flip the computer over and show you a well marked access panel, you are in good shape.
Have you had a portable computer that failed before its time? Let us know.
Rob Marlowe, Senior Geek