Wednesday, February 23, 2011


Computer Repair and Information Sharing

by Reb Akiva @ Mystical Paths

(A little off topic from our regular articles.)

As her bat mitzvah arrived, my daughter requested a laptop as a present. Being technology oriented, it seemed a nice option and I acquired an average home oriented HP laptop for her.  Though treated well, two years later it suffered a series of failures rendering it irreparable.

l305dBeing a teenager who’s life now depended on electronic social contact with her friends she saved some money to purchase a replacement, which she did while in the U.S. visiting family (computer equipment being about 35% cheaper there).  The question we researched before she left was what brand has a reasonable reputation for quality and reliability for their lower end laptops?   She found some nice deals on Toshiba laptops and their reputation was good (as opposed to HP which had many complaints about odd failures and manufacturing defects) and purchased a Toshiba Satellite L305D.

She was very happy with her new laptop and treated it even more carefully given the failure of the previous one.  And then it happened.  “Ta, my laptop crashed with a blue screen.”  It restarted, I ran some diagnostics and checked the system log – seemed ok.  But I’ve had some problems with laptop fans and heat sinks clogging (Israel is dusty) so I installed a temperature sensor program to auto-shutdown the laptop if it gets to hot.

The laptop ran hot and shutdown.  I set it to run the fan all the time and planned to clean it.  Then it shutdown again and wouldn’t reboot, disk failure.

Hard drives do fail, they are moving parts and have about a 5 year life span.  For one to die in 1.5 years is unusual but does happen, but running a laptop hot will definitely cause an early death for the hard drive.

So how do you clean a laptop’s fan and heat sink?  A few companies have panels on the bottom of the laptop that come off over the fan, giving access for cleaning.  Unfortunately Toshiba is not one of them.  Which means……ahhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhh…complete laptop disassembly.

I’ve work on computers now and then.  Box computers are relatively easy to work with, a few screws and connect a wire or two and parts come in and out.  But working on laptops is like taking apart and putting back together a watch…little tiny pieces squeezed together with tiny screws and exact fits.  I’ve replaced a cracked laptop screen before, it’s not easy.

2011-01-31 Devorah fixes computer 001This became a father – daughter project.  Help from a hardware website provided some much needed step by step instructions.  Take off bottom panels and screws, pop out top cover panel, remove screws, pop out keyboard, remove more screws, take off top cover…..ahhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhh….. can’t access the fan from the top (almost but not quite).  Remove 12 connecting wires and more screws and remove motherboard.   OH MY GOSH, 40 screws, 30 wires, 10 panels and it’s out!  (How in the world are we going to get this thing back together???)

We cleaned the heat sink and the fan.  Strange, it’s not really clogged.  Slowly and carefully put it back together (where do those 2 long silver screws go?  Not sure, we’ll leave them aside.)  Put in a new hard disk.  Reinstall Windows.  Download the temperature program…IT’S STILL OVERHEATING!!!

Shutdown, take it apart, make sure the air path is clear.  It is.  Put it back together, it’s overheating.

Check fan speed, fan is running at normal speed.  That leaves the heat sink contact with the CPU.  Either it’s loose or needs more heat transfer grease… it’s not loose.  Off to the computer store for some heat grease.

We carefully remove the heat transfer sink from the CPU.  The heat grease from the manufacturer has solidified and is peeling off!  This is a manufacturing defect, poor quality heat grease (a $3 manufacturing cost that they probably only spent $2 on) that couldn’t stand up to the temperatures of a laptop CPU (they run hotter than desktops).

We clean off the old grease and apply the new grease.  Reassemble…reassemble…reassemble.  Turn on laptop…boot… blue screen of death, fatal error C000021a.  AHHHHHH.  Did we miss a wire, misplace a screw, not properly apply the grease or heat transfer sync?

We partially disassemble, check all the wires, remove them all, replace them all, reassemble.  Same failure.

Do it again.  Remove the hard drive and re-attach (maybe it was loose).  Remove the memory and reattach (maybe it was loose).  Reassemble.  Same failure!

Ok, maybe Windows was damaged.  Reinstall Windows, it’s running fine.  Load lots of updates and drivers…reboot.  SAME FAILURE!  AHHHHHHH.

My daughter is in tears.  This isn’t the story of a day, this is 2 weeks of constant effort.  We try, it looks like it will work and then fails.  We try again, same result.  And again, and again.

We’re about to throw it out.  What did we do wrong?

Finally I get the smart idea of googling the problem.  What do I find?

“Toshiba L305D, 2 manufacturing defects – overheating problems due to heat grease failures and won’t run Windows 7 64-bit without crashing (with a C000021a) due to a BIOS bug.  Update BIOS to install Windows 7 64-bit.”

I update the BIOS…it works! It works! HAHAHAHA, it works!

(Now what do I do with these 4 left-over screws?)

Lessons learned -

1. Google before you buy for hidden defects.

2. Google when the problem occurs for insight.  The wisdom of combined experience can (in technical areas like this) save many hours of pain.

3. Manufacturers (even supposed good ones) are getting really cheap and making small quality mistakes that are costing us big time later.


  1. So sorry to read about all of your headaches. I've "been there, done that" too, LOL! Really glad you got it ironed out. Oh yeah, save your screws, LOL, they might work elsewhere.

  2. Being highly technologically unsavvy, when my third hand computer would not start (after pressing the on button about ten times) just before a critical 9am translation deadline, I said tehillim and cried out to Hashem. Amazingly it started to work. I sent the translation and got paid. B"H.

    I will never in a million years know what was wrong it and that's ok. Sometimes ignorance is bliss.

    "shomer petaim Hashem"

  3. Most techies recommend to photograph everything you take out in the order you do, so you can put everything back without anything extra or missing.

  4. thanks for this. i also have a toshiba (satellite) laptop that overheats. i might just try fixing it now...


  5. I had a problem with an HP desktop, almost two years ago now. Less than 6 months of me getting it, the HD failed, I called HP, they had me try some things, none worked, so they shipped me the new HD, which thankfully was relatively painless to install, since it was after all a desktop. Of course, your story makes mine look tame by comparison.

  6. ben Shlomo in Silicon ValleyFebruary 24, 2011 7:11 AM

    You should consider getting an external cooling fan that you can set the laptop on, and it is powered via USB. I'm told that they extend the life of a laptop.

  7. i actually tried the external cooling fan solution. it kept the laptop running for longer (especially when I powered it via USB from a nearby desktop, rather than from the laptop itself). still, it would shut itself off after a fairly short interval.

    at one point, in order to transfer some files off of it, i ran the laptop in my freezer, perched atop some ice packs.


  8. This is very nice and informative blog.

  9. Thanks for sharing the post, it was very informative.

  10. Thanks for sharing the views with us, I hope they are of good help to us.

  11. This looks like a good quality suggestion for both the computer repair business and the customer. It gives the customer the break to phone round for aggressive quotes and it gives the repair shop versatile marketing.


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