I’ve repaired thousands of laptops since opening Chip & Bytes in 2009. Laptops are getting smaller and more compact (but less complex surprisingly). The basic parts to a laptop, however, remain largely the same.
I wish I had a convenient photo guide I could point customers to when I am talking about laptop parts – so I decided to create one. I am going to be tearing down an older, Windows XP-era Dell laptop. I don’t sell or necessarily recommend any brand but Dells of this era were generally built to be modular and repairable. They were also larger than modern laptops, making it easier to tear down and point out parts.
I’ll start with the outside and go inward:
This Dell laptop came originally equipped with an Intel Core 2 Duo processor, 2GB of memory, and Windows XP.
Here I have flipped the laptop over, and removed the battery. Most inexpensive laptops still have removable batteries. If your laptop’s battery is bad, you can most likely change it at home.
This is the Dell’s original battery. If you are considering buying another battery, look closely – the battery has useful information on the back about its voltage and power output. The new battery should match these specs.
Dell has a great system of tracking all their computers – the Service Tag. Every Dell has a service tag you can enter into their site at http://support.dell.com to get information. Some other manufacturers have a similar system. Apple laptops, for instance, have a product number that usually starts with A followed by several numbers, like A1237. This is located on the bottom of the laptop.
Here is where I start to tear down the laptop. I have removed a service door, and underneath is the laptop’s random accessory memory – commonly referred to as RAM or memory. If you hear someone say “that has 2 gigabytes of memory” they are referring to the RAM. RAM stores information temporarily while you are working in programs. If RAM fails it can cause common problems like blue error screens.
Here I am holding a system or BIOS (basic input output system) battery. This is a small battery found in most computers similar to a watch battery. This battery powers a very small amount of memory inside your computer that stores information about the time, date, and system. This memory runs all the time – even when the computer is off, so that your computer will not forget what time or day it is the next time you turn it on.
Operating System Tag
Here is another useful piece of information on the bottom of the laptop – an operating system tag. This tag for Microsoft’s Windows XP shows the original product key – this is useful when installing the Operating System.
WiFi & 3G Cards
Here is another service cover removed to expose the computer’s communication cards. Communication cards (which might be called add-in cards, add-on cards, wifi cards, 3g cards, mini PCIe cards, etc) give the computer the ability to communicate with external networks like the Internet. The card in the middle here is for WiFi.
Here is another shot with the WiFi card removed and zoomed out, to give you an idea of where these cards are located.
Here I am removing the computer’s hard drive, which is very easy on this Dell. The hard drive (or hard disk, or disk) stores all the information on your computer. A common mistake is to refer to the entire computer as a hard drive – the hard drive is just one part. The hard drive has moving parts that spin at high RPM, making it the most common failure point in laptops.
Here is a zoomed out shot showing the location of the hard drive slot on the bottom right.
Here is the CD-ROM drive from the opposite side of the laptop. Drives that read discs like CDs are known as optical drives because they use an optical laser to read the information on the disc. Your laptop may have a CD drive, a CD burner, a DVD drive, a Blu Ray drive, etc – they all work generally the same. These units are mostly replaceable in the case of failure.
Here is the Dell flipped right-side-up again. I am now going to remove the keyboard. Below the keyboard in this picture is the keyboard’s ribbon connector – this connects the keyboard to the laptop’s motherboard and feeds information.
We do not replace individual keys – here you can see why. This is the back side of a keyboard. There is no easy way to disconnect keys so it is better to replace this entire, inexpensive unit.
Before I go further into the laptop I am going to remove the screen. Here is the laptop’s screen assembly (sometimes called the LCD, LED, or monitor). The screen assembly is the top half of the laptop and includes the display, any cables that feed the display, hinges, and maybe a camera or WiFi antennas.
Here is the same screen, but broken. You can see dark lines inside – this is indicative of damage to the screen itself, even though the front glass is not broken. This would be a common break if the laptop had been dropped, or if it had been closed with something inside. Replacing these units is one of our most common repairs.
Here is the laptop screen assembly removed.
Laptop LCD Hinges
Here is the laptop’s hinge. On older laptops these were better made and less prone to breaking.
Here are connectors for WiFi. This laptop uses the screen as an antenna.
Here is the screen bezel removed. Here you can see the hinge mounted to the screen assembly. The entire hinge can be replaced if necessary.
This is an older laptop that uses an inverter to convert power for the screen. This unit is highlighted in green. If the screen on an older laptop shows information but is dim, it is most likely the inverter that has failed.
I will now disassemble the laptop base – here it is with the top cover removed. On a newer laptop this scene might be less complex, but the parts are still there. The largest part here, which everything else is mounted to, is the motherboard (also called the main board or logic board). The motherboard is the heart of the laptop, and usually only worth replacing on high-end computers with a large replacement cost.
The other RAM slot
For about ten years RAM has been designed to work in “dual channel” mode – this means two sticks syncing with each other. In this computer the other RAM slot is hidden beneath the top cover – meaning the memory on this computer is fairly difficult to upgrade.
Here I have removed a pair of heat sinks from the laptop. The components in computers generate more heat than most people would expect. These heat sinks use a special compound to transfer heat into a copper or aluminum housing that is then cooled by a fan. Heat sinks generally last the lifetime of a computer, but often times the material that transfers heat from the components to the heat sinks (known as thermal grease) will need to be replaced.
I would be remiss in a teardown if I did not point out the DC Jack (also called the power jack). This is a common repair. This is where you insert the power cord to charge the laptop. Over time inserting the power cord from different angles, or having the laptop fall while plugged in, can cause the pin inside this port to break. Sometimes the entire port will also wiggle around on the board, or the plastic around the inside perimeter of the port will crack. The jack must be removed and a new one soldered in place in these scenarios. This is not a repair most will attempt at home. The motherboard must be completely removed for this job.