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Laptop makeover: 5 ways to extend its useful life

Marco Chiappetta | April 3, 2014
No matter how hard you try or how meticulously you care for it, your notebook is going to show signs of age over time. Keycaps wear down and get that off-putting, shiny-plastic look. Dirt, crumbs, and gunk get stuck in the keyboard and other crevices, while lint and dust build up in virtually every crack, seam and open port. Don't forget those inevitable scratches and nicks, either.

If you're up for the task, however, cleaning a notebook's internals can quiet down noisy cooling fans and quell any heat-related instability or noise.

Need we say, make sure the notebook is powered off completely before you rip into it.

A small screwdriver is all you'll likely need to open up your notebook, though there may be screws with different heads — like torx, pentalobes, or Allen — and different lengths, and clips that need to be disengaged as well. I'd strongly advise mapping them out first and placing each part in a bin or container that'll make it easy to remember exactly where it came from inside your laptop.

I'd also recommend searching for a service manual for your particular notebook, or even hitting up YouTube for disassembly instructions. 

You may also find that additional screws or clips are located beneath drive bays and other access panels, so move slowly and be meticulous as you navigate the machine.

Interior cleaning: Steady as she goes

I used an aged Compaq X1000 for this project. The machine had over a dozen screws holding it together, some of which ran along the edges of the machines near the I/O ports and hinges.

Once all of the screws had been removed, I disconnected any components (like the hard drive and optical drive) and found a couple of additional screws in the hard drive bay. When I removed those, I was able to remove the whole underside of the notebook. However, I had to carefully pry the edges of the enclosure over the I/O ports and eject button for the notebook's expansion slot.

In the majority of mainstream notebooks that aren't crammed full of gaming-grade gear, you're likely to find a single cooling apparatus, which links the processor, graphics processor (if the notebook has one), and the chipset. A couple of heat-plates, with a heat-pipe connecting them, will snake across all of the chips and link to an array of thin heat-sink fins.

The notebook's cooling fan will likely sit adjacent to or directly on top of the heat sink. Use the canned air and brush to gently clean any dust from the fan and heat sink, and then find the screws or fasteners holding the cooling hardware in place. Once you disengage the fasteners, the fan should pop right off the chips.

With the heat-sink assembly removed, clean any old thermal interface material from heat-plates and chips, then apply a new layer of TIM before re-installing the heatsink assembly. You should use only a tiny amount — just enough for a paper-thin layer. For more detailed instructions on cleaning a processor and installing a heat sink, check out PCWorld's guide to installing a CPU cooler. The techniques are essentially the same for both desktops and laptops.


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