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Ask LH: What Can I Do With A Dead Or Broken Laptop?

Dear Lifehacker, My laptop — my enduring partner and long-lived friend — has finally succumbed to the ephemeral nature of its existence. I’ve spent a few days crying tears of love and loss, finally reaching the conclusion that the most logical course of action is to resurrect the poor, fallen computer I cannot live without. But what are my options? What can I do with a laptop whose lifeline has run short? Sincerely, Lonely Without Laptop

Remixed title image from Collin Anderson.

Dear LWL,

I’m sorry to hear about your laptop. Clearly you both were, uhm, close. Although this is an emotional time and it may be hard to hear, few options involve restoring your laptop to its former glory. Sometimes you just have to move on. But that doesn’t mean your laptop can’t find new life in other ways. Here are the many options available to you.

Try to Fix Your Laptop

Unless your laptop’s motherboard has died or you’ve rendered your display useless, fixing your “dead” laptop isn’t out of the question. In fact, it’s probably realistic. You could pay for a professional repair service to handle the problem for you, but often the cost will be higher than the actual value of your machine. If you can’t afford a new one, or simply don’t want to spend money unnecessarily, you can often fix the problem yourself. Assuming you know what’s actually broken and needs replacing, just follow these steps:

  1. Order a replacement part. You may need to call the manufacturer and provide your model number to figure out the specifications for the part you need to order. While you can often order that part directly, you’ll probably find something cheaper on Amazon (consider the used and refurbished gear in some cases if it saves a lot of money) or eBay. Alternatively, if you’ve got a Mac you can turn to the iFixIt parts store.
  2. Figure out how to replace the part. If you’re just replacing a hard drive or a stick of RAM, chances are the instructions are in the manual that came with your machine. This is because RAM and hard drives tend to be user-replaceable parts. This is not always the case, but you’ll generally find that to be a problem more often with Apple laptops than any other brand. Either way, you’ll find many repair guides for Apple and standard PC laptop hardware at iFixIt. If not, do a web search for “repair guide” and the name of your model. There’s always a chance one of your fellow internet citizens has posted some form of assistance.
  3. Order the part you need and follow the guide to replace it. (This much is probably pretty obvious.) Be sure to keep track of all the screws you remove. I find it helps to separate them into an array of small bowls so you can easily locate the different types and don’t risk accidentally brushing them off your worktable.

Hopefully once you’re finished you’ll have a working laptop again. It won’t last forever, but it’ll keep your computing companion alive a little bit longer.

Photo by S. Baker.

Strip Your Laptop for Parts

If your laptop can be an organ donor — which is to say, you’ve decided to open it up and remove the still-functioning hardware inside of its casing — there’s a lot you can do. You can sell the parts individually, or just put the entire computer up for sale at a reduced price (usually around half of its going rate as a used product) while noting that it isn’t fully functional.

You can also keep many of the parts you dissect for other uses. If they still work, the hard drive, optical drive, RAM and display can have their uses down the line. In most cases, the hard drive and optical drive can be placed in their own external enclosures to be used as individual devices on another machine. Losing a laptop sucks, but gaining a couple of handy peripherals is a better outcome than nothing. RAM is always handy to keep around in case you can use it in another machine. That machine may not be your new computer, but it makes a nice gift to a friend who could use the extra boost. Finally, the display can be turned into a standalone monitor. Additionally, it’s one of the more expensive components so you may want to sell it.

Photo by Tim Sheerman-Chase.

Transform Your Laptop into Something New

If you can’t fix your laptop and don’t want to strip it for parts, there are several DIY projects that can help you make better use of the hardware that’s still functional. What you can and cannot do will, of course, depend on what your laptop can still do. If its motherboard is dead, nothing will be an option. Virtually anything else, however, can still keep it functioning on some level.

If you’ve lost the trackpad, keyboard and/or display, you have a lot of options. For starters, these handicapped machines make great network-attached storage devices for downloading and serving files on your network. If the display still works but you’ve only lost the trackpad and keyboard, your laptop is in perfect condition to be turned into a touchscreen tablet. When a broken case is the issue, your laptop might just make a better desktop. You could even mount it on the wall or under a cabinet.

Hopefully these ideas have helped you find a way to keep your favourite laptop alive in some way. May it be with you forever, whether externally on your desk or internally in your heart.

Cheers
Lifehacker

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