TECH Technicians

Posted On: Saturday - April 17th 2021 5:05PM MST
In Topics: 
  Curmudgeonry  Artificial Stupidity

Nope, it's not about the "TECH Totalitarians" (VDare terminology) this time but actual computer hardware technicians doing what anyone could call real technical work. We've got a Dell laptop with only about 4 years on it that won't take any power. I brought it into a local fix-it/used sales shop that I am very glad is still in business.

Let me first tell you all the problem with this computer, a) for this anecdote's sake and b) well, Adam Smith may be of help*, haha, or someone else. Why not, right? It ain't like we're charging here.

I'd thought for sure this was a matter of a loose connection of the DC power input socket. My boy has not treated this computer very well. (It's not his - tragedy of the commons, bitchez!) In addition to spilling milk all over the keyboard one time, he has put lots of stress on that connector. OK, this should be easy really, or so I thought. The back came off easily, and this socket was very easy to get at. The socket has one screw to attach it for mechanical support, and the other end is a flat ~ 7 pin plastic connecter that goes into a board. It has 4 red wires, so I guess this power goes that many ways. The actual wires are not even 1" long. There really can't be anything wrong there, but I'm open to disagreement.

While playing around with the power supply, connecting and trying to find good conduction, I saw that the power light would go on for 5 seconds and cut back off, no matter what position I put the plug at axially. This is not a conduction problem. I even saw the fan start, and the screen get some light a few times. Battery or no battery, it's the same story. The power supply has a green LED lit up, but does that mean good DC power out or just good AC power in?

I did 1/2 hour of searching for this problem with no good answer so far. OK, down to the shop. These guys know what they are doing, right?

Well, I have no complaints here about racial or gender issues - there were 5 or 6 White guys in there - that was all. Maybe a couple were sales types with no technical knowledge, so I asked for help on the problem.

"Oh, look, your plug is bent. That's it." He meant that the plug (the DC side of the power supply at the computer end) was bent about 5 degrees. I knew that, but then, you'd think if this were the problem, I'd have an intermittent connection, but not on a regular basis. What the heck, though, this guy might know something, and it would be great if this were all. Nah, he plugged in another (but only the DC side), and the same problem occurred.

"Well, maybe it's the motherboard** ..." Geeze, what does that tell me? Getting a new computer is what that would come down to for me, as with that part, and a few hours of his time (I just wasn't up for a complete overhaul), we'd be close to the price of something new. Here's my problem: no damn thought, no problem solving or troubleshooting ability was in this guy, it seemed. I was kind of hopeful about this mechanics of miniature devices being a substitute for the work of the shade-tree mechanic of yesteryear, as discussed long ago here in DIY and mechanical aptitude in Americans vs. Chinese - self rebuttal.

Let's compare: As opposed to a remove & replace guy at the dealer service center, a good mechanic has some deep understanding of the workings of the vehicle along with troubleshooting abilities. With a car, that troubleshooting could involve a great ear, use of the multimeter on all the electrical problems, or just the common sense (learned from a lifetime of doing the work), that says things like "OK, even with starter fluid sprayed in, I'm getting nothing, so it's probably not the fuel pump as I'd thought..." etc. With this laptop computer, I'd like to have heard "let's see, it's getting power, but the computer doesn't see it as good power, so the power control chip is bad or it's not getting enough current..." I'm making this up, but it's just an example of the kind of thinking that I expected more of.

The car mechanic might say "OK, I think it's the ABC module, so we can try that first, but it's not refundable. If that's not it, then I'll try B, but that's hard to get to, so it'll take a couple of hours. At least then I can see if DEF gets a signal from ___ once I get that part off...." This guy, given the symptom, had nothing but "It's not your bent power plug. Maybe it's the motherboard." That's like: "It's not that wire hanging loose. Maybe it's the engine."

The guy did have one more idea: "You could replace that connector (the part I described, taking power from the socket end of it and distributing it to a board via the flat connector)." Yeah, well, fine, spend a couple of weeks waiting for a part that really doesn't have much of a way of breaking? That's an idea. It has nothing to do with the symptoms - it's nothing but 1" of dumb conducting material - and looks fine, but it's an idea ... not a good idea, just something to do. Nah.

Perhaps I expected too much. I was ready to learn, and yes, pay what money it took if it was worth it to fix it, but this guy had nothing to teach me. He did have one piece of hope: "We can ask Jody." He had already left, but I can go find him another time, when I get a chance to go back. I guess Jody is the one guy there that actually understands a bit about the workings of these devices. If you're locked up, it's "better call Saul." If you're computer's locked up, it's "better call Jody." I hope Jody has got the understanding and troubleshooting skills, as I'd really like to get to the bottom of this.

If nothing else, they can get our data off the drive, so there's that ... which IS important, in fact.

Is America losing our human technical capital? It seem like that's the case. Don't we need it? I sure thought so.

PS: I may still find the answer to this very reproducible problem on the web. In the meantime, I realized just a while back that I had forgotten to at least check the DC voltage output on my power supply. See, the guy at the shop had only used the DC side, due to ours being bent. It'd be great if it were nothing but a bad power supply still. I can't get to that computer right now... long story.

* Keep in mind, there's one simple thing I haven't even checked yet, but I can't get to the device right now, at press time.

** Are they still saying "motherboard"? I thought it had changed to "main board", but maybe it reverted, or this guy has been messing with computers a long time - I had no problem with that.

Adam Smith
Tuesday - April 20th 2021 10:12AM MST
PS: Hello again...

Adam Smith
Tuesday - April 20th 2021 9:29AM MST
PS: Good morning everyone...

“The cpu and gpu on a laptop motherboard are soldered to the board, so if one of those goes it would be time to replace the motherboard.”

This is mostly true. Most laptop cpu's are soldered to the board, but higher quality laptops do have sockets that allow you to swap or upgrade a cpu. These lenovo's, for example, have G2 sockets that allow you to upgrade their processors...

Lenovo T430's have a maximum memory capacity of 16GB and the T530's have a maximum memory capacity of 32GB. I installed operating systems on a T430 once upon a time and I recall it being a nice machine. I've been a lenovo fan for a really long time.

These fujitsu's are pretty nice too...

They also have a G2 socket and can handle 16GB of ram.

After you get the data off your drive you'll have a drive you could tinker with. You could write zero's to it and it would be like new(ish). Or you could use it as a storage drive.

I hope that whatever sort of laptop you decide to buy that it makes all of your wildest dreams come true.

Tuesday - April 20th 2021 4:42AM MST
PS: I appreciate the tips, Adam and Alarmist. I could get into this if I had more time. If it were a 1 year old computer, yeah, I'd get into it more, on youtube, etc. and probably figure it out. Or, I could pay those guys what it takes, but then it'd be a few hundred dollars.

At this point I value my time more than the money it would take to just get a new one. (That is, unless it IS something very simple.). Were I a single guy still, I think I would get into it more.

I will get the data off the drive, no matter what, and we'll go with a bigger laptop probably, with a big screen monitor and real keyboard/mouse. It'll be the closest thing to a new desktop but something more easily moved.
The Alarmist
Monday - April 19th 2021 10:46AM MST

Related, not realtor ;)
The Alarmist
Monday - April 19th 2021 10:46AM MST

There are some good computer power tracing and troubleshooting videos on YouTube. There are a number of regulators around the board, and either one of those or, more likely a relator capacitor, has failed. You just need to work from the PS forward until you find the prob.
Adam Smith
Sunday - April 18th 2021 11:18AM MST
PS: Good afternoon everyone...

“It's not that wire hanging loose. Maybe it's the engine.” Made me smile.
Maybe it's your piston return springs...

I call it a motherboard, but I've noticed some people call it a mainboard. Apple calls it the logic board. Sometimes it's worth swapping out a motherboard to get your laptop working again, provided you're not paying for the service. Like Neo says, watch a few videos of someone doing the repair on your model of laptop first. Sometimes there are “hidden” screws that are easier to “find” after watching someone else teardown and rebuild a machine. Laptops are a little trickier to work on than a standard tower pc. Everything is smaller and things are a bit more fragile.

About your laptop... It could be a bad power supply, a bad memory module, a bad capacitor on the motherboard, a short somewhere, a blown cpu or gpu or even a bad lcd controller module.

I've had to replace these sorts of power jacks before. I tend to agree with you that this is probably not the issue from what you describe. Perhaps we are wrong. Usually when these go you can jiggle them into the right place and hold them where they will work. Maybe the jack itself has hairline cracks in the solder where it provides voltage but not enough current.* They're cheap and easy to replace, so if nothing else works I would try replacing it but that would mean ordering it and waiting a week or so for it to arrive in the mail.

It could be, perhaps likely is, your power supply. Test it for voltage with the meter. I don't know how you would test it for current without setting up some sort of “testing circuit” with a proper load, as you cannot just “stick a meter on it”, so to speak. A bad power supply can damage components with what I call “dirty power”.

Assuming you have a good power supply, I would start by “reseating” everything in the laptop. I would remove everything nonessential from the motherboard and try to boot to the bios menu (sometimes called UEFI firmware on newer computers). Take out the battery (you won't need this until you've fixed your laptop), remove the hard drive, remove the memory sticks. Install one memory stick in the first ram socket, the one labeled 0. Try to power it on and see what happens. Hopefully it boots to the bios, or gives you an error saying something like operating system not found. If it does, install the rest of the ram and try again. If it still boots to bios, install the hard drive. Hopefully it works. If you have a bad memory stick your laptop would probably show the symptoms you describe. A good computer shop should have a tool for testing ram. Though ram rarely fails, ram often needs reseating.

If it still doesn't boot I would reseat all the other connectors I could find. I would also inspect the motherboard looking for any blown capacitors. If reseating doesn't fix it there could be a short somewhere on the board or a bad cpu or gpu. The cpu and gpu on a laptop motherboard are soldered to the board, so if one of those goes it would be time to replace the motherboard.

The only other thing I would check out is the thermal compound and the heatsink on the cpu and gpu. From the way you described your situation I don't think this is the problem. If you try the laptop stone cold and it is the thermal compound or heatsink disconnecting from the chips your laptop should start for a little while before overheating and turning off. The HP DV6000's and DV9000's were notorious for overheating. Most of them could be fixed by installing copper shims between the cpu and gpu and the heatsink with new thermal paste on each surface. The ones that could not be fixed had been run too long and damaged the chips.

Something like one of these...

comes in handy for rescuing your data. You can also plug a 2.5” drive into a tower pc like a regular hard drive. If you had a bad hard drive your computer would still work with the drive disconnected.

I think you can fix it. Let me know what kind of computer you have, if you like, and maybe I can come up with something else that I didn't think of. In any case, happy tinkering, and good luck.

I hope you have a great afternoon.

*Not too long ago one of my customers had a New Holland tractor with a charging problem. The alternator was putting out about 11.75V. While it seemed like it needed a new alternator or voltage regulator, this was not the case. The exciter wire was putting out the proper (battery) voltage, but not enough current to create the magnetic field in the coil. I ran a new exciter wire from the battery with a relay in between so as not to drain the battery when the tractor was off and all was well. I've also seen starters that would not work because of insufficient ground or insufficient positive current, both problems that I didn't/couldn't detect with the meter.

Saturday - April 17th 2021 8:08PM MST
PS: Robert, I mention "Cheap China-made Crap" pretty often, but I never said "for the win". I guess it is a win for the Big-Biz involved, until everyone starts bringing crap back in for refunds no matter what the problem and how long it's been.

I think we will go with something bigger if we can't get this one going. This one has possibly never left the house in 4 years. I was thinking about getting a big monitor screen, a separate keyboard and mouse, etc. The big size would simply be for the lower price, the way thing work now.
Saturday - April 17th 2021 8:03PM MST
PS: Neo, yeah, I have a multi-meter. I'm really hoping it is just that, but I just couldn't find a good explanation for that power light coming on, and then back off after 5 seconds, very consistently. As for hardware, this is nothing but the small laptop itself.
Saturday - April 17th 2021 7:39PM MST
PS: I have no advice about your current computer, but if you want to get a repairable laptop, look for a "business" laptop. New ones aren't cheap, but anything made in the last ten years or so should be good enough for home use. I believe that Dell and Lenovo have particularly good reputations.

Or just get the cheapest thing you can, and throw it away when it breaks. Cheap Chinese Products for the win, as you have told us.

Neo Is The One
Saturday - April 17th 2021 6:46PM MST
PS Power supply. Do you have a fluke to test it out?
Too small of a power supply is a common problem with too much hardware hooked up.
A motherboard is pretty much a new machine and after the cost of replacing it you might as well just buy another one.
Check out some Tube DIY videos for your make and model or just use it until it goes out.
Shared machines have more wear and tear with not all skill sets the same.
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