DIY Laptop Repairs, Upgrades: Screen Fixing, Going Headless

DIY Laptop Repairs, Upgrades: Screen Fixing, Going Headless

Is there life for laptops after a screen goes dead? Absolutely. Despite the perceived difficulty, you can replace a laptop screen for much less than the official cost, or turn your laptop into a very space-efficient desktop computer with a cheap monitor.

Photo by ianmunroe.

This post is part of a week-long series on laptop fixes that focuses on the fixes that can keep a laptop usable after the inevitable breakdown of one part or another.

Fix a Cracked or Dead Screen


Other inquisitive Mac fans have taken video while detailing the two-step process of replacing an LCD on a MacBook. Step one is removing the LCD panel:

The next step is actually taking apart the panel and replacing the LCD component inside, which actually seems less difficult than making the case separation:

Windows Laptops: If iFixit doesn’t have your model covered, and if a little Google-ing for something like “replace lcd HP g42t” doesn’t cut it, then you’ve got two real options: track down the exact part you need and replace it yourself (which can be easier than you think, as many laptops use a common LCD panel), or make your laptop a bit less portable and go “headless”.

If you’re going to go it alone, read this general guide to laptop LCD replacement at This Is My Defective Kit. It walks through the removal of the display cable, unseating of the LCD piece, and the crucial, patient process of putting everything back exactly the way it was.

As with other laptop repairs, “PC” laptops made to run Windows come in all shapes and sizes, but there’s some general procedures to repair your LCD screen yourself. DiscountElectronics provided a good, watchable demonstration of a Dell LCD repair, from start to finish:

Taking Your Laptop Headless

Photo by marksdk.

Making your laptop “headless”, or capable of running on an external monitor instead of its built-in screen, isn’t all that difficult these days. If you’ve already got a monitor, you’re in the clear. If not, pick up a screen that fits your desk.

MacBooks: You’ll need the appropriate VGA or DVI adaptor, but once you plug in your larger screen, your monitor should instantly crackle to life. Right-click (or two-finger click, as may be the case) on your monitor screen and pick “Change Desktop Background”. You can then click the back arrow from that preference pane and head into Displays, where you can set up your monitor mirroring instead of desktop extending. Now your MacBook is simply a space-saving desktop system with an extra bit of empty space — though you can usually close your MacBook lid and wake your system back up to really minimise its space use.

Windows: Plugging in a monitor while Windows is running should result in your monitor showing a mirror image of your laptop desktop. Right-click on an empty desktop spot, then choose “Change display resolution”. From this Control Panel item, you can set your monitor as your primary display, turn off your non-working laptop display, and set your resolution to your monitor’s optimal setting. If nothing happens when you plug in, try pressing the Win+P combination once, twice or three times to make Windows connect. From there, you should be able to set up your monitor as Windows’ primary display with a correct resolution.

Take Advantage of Your Screen-less Laptop’s Size

under-desk-mounted MacBookDIY iMac

That’s the starting point for our advice on replacing or adapting your laptop after its screen says good night. What would you recommend? Have you fixed your own laptop screen? We welcome your tips, advice and stories in the comments, and we’ll update our post with the most relevant stuff.


  • I love headless laptops, mostly as low-power multi-purpose servers.

    I’ve been buying cheap, broken laptops and repurposing them when necessary since about 2004. At the time, it was mostly for things like running a DC hub at a lan with a few USB drives patched into it for good measure, or hosting the CS server. Since then, I’ve used them as quick ad-hoc wireless points (they mostly come with wireless+wired networks), quick thin clients, emergency displays at work when you hook them up to a big TV, and so on.

    Their size, power requirements, and ability to run off battery in tricky situations makes them incredibly useful in a wide variety of situations. Recently, some cheap plug-sized machines have been able to tempt me away from some uses – but you can’t take one of those plugs, duct tape it to the back of my monitor, and have a quick, low footprint, powerful desktop for $150.

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