Ask LH: Is It Worth Repairing A Notebook With A Dead Motherboard?

Ask LH: Is It Worth Repairing A Notebook With A Dead Motherboard?

Dear Lifehacker, My trusty Dell XPS M1530 decided to kick the bucket by motherboard suicide, and it will cost $660 to replace. Is there any way to repurpose the parts as it still packs plenty of grunt, had dedicated graphics with HDMI etc. Ideally I’d like to find a cheap motherboard and mount it all in a case to use as an HTPC/file server. Otherwise what options do I have? Is there any use for the screen or other bits? Yours, TooLegit2Quit

Dear TooLegit2Quit,

In many respects, you’re a victim of Moore’s Law — processor power has increased so much since 2008 (when that model was released) that the chances are that you won’t have to spend a whole lot more than $660 to get a replacement notebook that’s at least as powerful, and filled with brand-new parts and a newer OS as well. In purely economic terms, that’s hard to argue with.

Motherboard failure is arguably the hardest system breakdown to recover from. If the screen stops working, you can connect to a monitor and use the device as a server; if you spill wine on the keyboard, USB can help you; if the drive dies, you can slot in a new one. But a replacement motherboard has to take on a whole heap of functionality, especially if there’s lots of integrated features on the original.

As you’ve probably deduced from the tenor of those comments, I suspect your best option is to cut your losses and move on. I have no doubt that a dedicated PC builder would make the case for pulling the remainder of the system apart and hanging onto the components to use when you build another machine. I’m not saying that’s wrong, but I suspect if you were that kind of person you’d never have asked the question in the first place.

However, as I don’t profess to be an expert on building Frankenstein-style PCs on any level, I’m leaving the final word open to the readers. If anyone can suggest a low-cost motherboard that can be integrated into the shell of an XPS 1530, we’d love to hear about it in the comments.


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  • All the connectors and everything else is gonna be proprietary… So unless you can snag a broken XPS 1530 off ebay (something thats broken in a different way to your one…) there ain’t much use hanging onto any of that.

    Hangon to the battery (maybe), RAM and HDD since they’re at least worth something… but the HDD in a portable HDD case (cheap and handy), and consider putting the RAM in the next laptop if possible (if you have a spare slot, or if these RAM modules are 2gig each or something).

  • Had the same thing happen to my HP a few years back. As I have a taste for the high end of performance, a replacement would have cost 2k more than the motherboard. Got it replaced and it’s still going strong.

    I’d agree with the lifehacker guy, however when it comes to salvaging things from laptops, the best you can usually get is a spare track pad (needs a little rewiring and case), Keyboard (again rewiring and case), memory (if you have another lappy), optical drives (should be SATA if a few years old), and Hard Drives (again should be SATA).

    I’d love to say that you should be able to salvage stuff from the motherboard, but it typically is built to fit the container. Your best bet is to buy a replacement from dell, then hope like hell that you can put it all apart and put it back together. Note this sort of thing isn’t really for beginers as lots of small but important parts can go springing into the never to be seen again corner.

    • Salvage parts, and sell any you don’t have a use for – it’d be fun to hack together an adapter for that lcd panel, but somewhere out there is a guy with the same model and a cracked screen. Make the parts as public as you feel you should (ebay storefront, gumtree, whatever) and just try to sell it for a few months.

      Also worth selling: keyboard, power adapter, ram/hdd, maybe optical. They tend to be compatible across a range of models, so the potential market is there if you can reach it.

  • I feel your pain. My XPS M1530 has had two motherboard replacements (both on warranty), and is on its way out for good. It’s a beautiful machine (you know, apart from the whole overheat-and-die scenario …), so I’d love to be able to resurrect it.
    But I’m slowly coming to terms with the need to move on. Perhaps LH readers can suggest a suitable replacement? I know, MBP. Anything else?

  • Really depends on the problem with the motherboard – taking the thing apart and putting a hair dryer to it for 10 – 15 minutes is a great fix to try – and you haven’t got much to lose (just take out all your other components first :P)

    That’s how I fixed my Compaq S500 😀

  • Everyone i know (including myself) has had problems with their XPSM1530. Dont think the fan was up to scratch, and dont get me started on the battery that lasts about 2 mins.

    Mine still runs, but not sure for how much longer. The hinge broke and it is now pulled apart to be used as a dedicated Arcade machine.

    It did look good though and has a nice screen.

  • I had the joy of having my old xps 1530 die about a month ago though its main use these days was just for lounge room use. After some discussion with the parents we decided to just stuck it in the cupboard and ordered an xps 15. beat buying a second hand board online and the trouble of pulling it all apart and then trying to put it back together.

  • My xps m1330 (spec’d to the max at the time of purchase) has had everything replaced under warranty – I mean everything bar the screen replaced in one hit mid last year. So it’s essentially a new machine, component-wise. Warranty has now expired of course. I decided to upgrade the HDD to a SSD (that’s given it new life) and when it dies – I buy a new machine with a dodgy HDD and swap over my speed SSD… But honestly, I am surrounded by people using superior machines. Yet my old XPS still holds its own. I’m not in a hurry to speed the process along.

  • I think what TooLegit2Quit was wondering is if there are any way to salvage and re-purpose what was in there. Depending on the CPU (which is likely a Core2Duo) you could find a Socket 775 motherboard, but that would likely be the only component you could salvage. You would still need standard desktop RAM (DDR2) and new HDD and optical drive, not to mention the case.

    The amount you would spend on those components, you could almost build a new HTPC. I recently priced on up from an online reseller for less than $400, including TV Tuner to add PVR capabilities (not including a Windows license – if you want to use Windows for the HTPC).

  • Having not explained how your motherboard died i’ll suggest something that has helped me in the past.

    Modern high pin count ICs typically come in BGA packages. A ton of tiny solder balls make high pin counts easier but since the balls dont allow flex, they can develop cracks in thermal expansion or vibrations.

    What you can do is attempt to reflow the solder and hopefully get it to work again. Preheat your oven in the kitchen (210C has worked for me) and throw it in for 10 minutes.

    I usually remove heatsinks and anything else that won’t like heat, like stickers.

    Have resurrected a 7800GTX and a intel gigabit nic so its worth having a go since you got nothing to lose anyway.

  • Anyone want to sell their dead XPS m1530? Looking for a blue cover and ideally T9300. Burned out motherboards, dead screens, all fine as long as it’s not working (not for parts). Other colours/specs will be considered. Reply with what you’ve got and I will contact you.

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