Staff stories: Laptop upgrades and repairs

Some DIY work could rescue a faulty or under-performing laptop.

man repairing a laptop

Some DIY work could rescue a faulty or under-performing laptop. Consumer NZ Head of Testing Paul Smith and Technical Writer Erin Bennett share their experiences with upgrading and repairing their laptops.

Upgrading a Mac

By Paul Smith
Head of Testing

My mid-2010 model 13” MacBook Pro was showing its age.

It took forever to start up, applications took ages to open, and tasks, such as photo-editing, caused long periods of the “spinning beach ball of death”.

Its new equivalent (a 3.1GHz 13” MacBook Pro) costs $3000. That’s too rich for me, especially considering everything else about my MacBook — ports, screen and battery life — was perfectly fine for my needs. So I decided to upgrade instead of replace.

At PB Tech, I found a 525GB Crucial SSD for $270 to replace the slow old 512GB HDD, and an 8GB RAM kit for $150 that would double the 4GB memory. The processor would still be 2.4GHz and I wouldn’t have the new fancy “Touch Bar” but, for a small fraction of the cost, I’d have a laptop that wasn’t too far off the latest model.

The upgrade process was quick and painless — complete in a weekend. Searching Google for “install MacBook Pro SSD” returned several step-by-step guides. The hardest task was sourcing a Torx T6 driver to remove the tiny screws securing the back cover. Mitre 10 came through for me — adding $5 to my upgrade cost. I also needed a cable to connect the SSD to a USB port so I could clone my HDD, adding another $25 to the upgrade cost. Cloning the drive made the swap simple — there was no reinstall of operating system or applications, I didn’t even need to reconnect it to my network. Using free downloaded cloning software (SuperDuper!) I copied everything to the new drive before opening up the case, then just switched the drives over. While I had the case open, I popped out the old RAM and slotted in the new modules. Cover replaced, I was done.

Turning it on for the first time post-upgrade, I’ll admit I crossed my fingers and closed my eyes, waiting for the familiar start-up chime. DONG! There it was — start-up taking just a few seconds instead of the minute it used to. “About This Mac” reported 8GB RAM and an SSD drive installed. My revitalised laptop isn’t as fast or flash as a new one, but two simple upgrades costing $450 have delayed its retirement for a few more years at least.

Repairing a laptop

By Erin Bennett
Technical Writer

When my screen went dark, I kept calm and got out the screwdrivers.

I saw the symptoms, but told myself it was an old laptop and is just finicky. The screen would flicker, black lines would appear down the screen and text became blurry. I’d adjust the screen angle and that would usually fix it. Then one day, half the screen turned black and stayed that way. No matter what angle I put the screen at, my picture didn’t come back. I stared at the dark half of the screen, contemplating what to do with my treasured device.

I used my laptop for everything, so I needed a solution quick. I didn’t want to pay for a new laptop as, other than the screen, this one was fine. An internet search for my laptop model and a description of the affliction told me it was a common problem that comes with age (doesn’t it always). Most laptops have a cable for sending power and data from the motherboard to the screen. This cable can wear and break from repeated opening and closing of the laptop. Over four years, my laptop had been opened and closed multiple times a day, so it wasn’t entirely surprising it failed.

I called a few service and repair shops asking how much a repair would cost. Most said they needed to inspect the laptop first (that’s a separate fee), but quotes ranged from $70 to $250. The Scrooge in me came out: how is that a reasonable price to replace a cable?! I found the cable cost only $3, so I set about repairing it myself.

A bit more Googling gave me detailed instructions on how to complete the repair myself (finding exact instructions is important as every model is different). I was prepared for the process to take an hour; 15 minutes later I was done. A few screws removed, and some gentle prying off of the casing around the screen revealed each end of the offending cable. The rest of the cable ran through the laptop’s hinge, which easily popped open to allow access. Replacement was simple: just unplug each end of the old cable, lay the new one through the hinge, plug it in at both ends and screw and click everything back together. It’s taken me longer to install Windows updates.

There was a nerve-racking few minutes as I started up my laptop, but it worked perfectly. The whole repair was quicker, easier and cheaper than I thought it would be. Even though I upgraded to a newer model a year later, my rejuvenated laptop is still running.

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