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frugal technology, simple living and guerrilla large-appliance repair
Mon, 27 Feb 2017

I finally replaced my HP Pavilion g6 keyboard

I had a new keyboard, and my "n" key on the old one broke again (the replacement was never as good as the original key), so I decided to pull the laptop apart and install the new keyboard.

While putting it all together, I did get one little screw wedged in a plastic hole (I'll extract that one later and replace it), but an old laptop can get along with many fewer case screws than it ships with. If you've ever had a used or otherwise repaired laptop, you know what I'm talking about.

The keyboard replacement wasn't too hard. I probably took out a lot more screws than needed to make it happen. I could have just removed the back panel, unscrewed the keyboard-retaining screw (that's the wedged-in-plastic one) and popped the keyboard out from behind/below by aggressively pushing on the proper spot with an eraser-tipped pencil.

I tried that, and it wasn't happening. I knew the keyboard was held in "tight" due to the last time I tried to replace it when I had the wrong part.

So I took out a bunch more screws and then tried again. The extra screws probably didn't need to be removed, but at that point I was more confident in the amount of pressure I was putting on that eraser-tipped pencil to push the keyboard out through the top of the laptop's plastic case.

I got the keyboard out and pulled the ribbon cable.

Inserting the new keyboard's ribbon cable wasn't instant. It took me a couple of minutes to figure out how it snapped in. But I got it done, snapped the keyboard itself into the case and closed everything up.

It all works, and now I have a new keyboard on this laptop that will be 4 years old in a couple of months.

This keyboard isn't a "springy" as the other replacement keyboard I bought a few months back that didn't quite fit, but it'll do the job and give this laptop some more useful life.

My last laptop, a low-priced Lenovo G555, only lasted 2 years before it went to sleep and never woke up. This also-cheap HP Pavilion g6-2210us is still running at nearly 4 years old, but not without effort.

It just underscores my contention that you can't really get 5 years of service out of a laptop. If they don't fail mechanically or electronically, they'll be ancient in some other way. I'm no longer saying "don't pay more than $500 for a laptop," because I see real differences between the $500 and $700-900 laptops being offered these days. But I will say that no matter how much you pay, if you're beating the hell out of it like I do, don't expect more than two trouble-free years.

* Pictured above is the new keyboard before I put it in. After removing the hatch at the bottom of the laptop and removing a retaining screw, there is a little hole on which you can push at the keyboard from below with an eraser-tipped pencil and loosen its plastic grip with the case enough to start unsnapping it the rest of the way around for replacement.

Tue, 03 Jan 2017

Adding memory to a laptop when they don't want you to add memory

When we bought my daughter a cheap Asus laptop a couple of years ago, I knew it had only 2 GB of RAM. But I also knew, or thought anyway, that I would add memory at some point in the near future. After all, upgrading memory is easy, right?

The answer is yes, I suppose, if you have the kind of Windows laptop where you can get the battery out by switching a lever. The hard drive and memory are a plastic door and a couple of screws away.

That's how it is on my 2013-purchased HP Pavilion.

But on my daughter's 2014-made Asus Aspire E15 laptop? Nope (battery access), nope (hard drive access) and nope (memory access).

To do anything -- change the hard drive, memory or even the battery, you have to remove 18 screws from the bottom of the case, crack it open with a case-cracking tool (I use a little plastic spatula from a long-dead and -gone mini food processor), and then start taking off parts.

To get to the RAM module on this Acer, you have to remove the hard drive, pull about a dozen cables of various types and then remove the entire motherboard from the case BECAUSE THE RAM IS ON THE BOTTOM.

If I hadn't pretty much torn down and rebuilt more than a couple of laptops, I wouldn't have even attempted it.

It's frustrating. Laptops traditionally allow the user to swap in new RAM and hard drives. You might want to do an upgrade, or a drive can go bad. And batteries? Mine last about a year and a half, and then I need to replace them.

So now that tablets are ubiquitous and are basically glued together, laptops, especially cheap ones, are not serviceable or upgradable?

If the hard drive dies or I need more memory, it's just tough tacos?

No. I do not accept that.

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Sun, 06 Nov 2016

Well-used laptops don't last forever

My experience, anyway, is that heavily used laptops like mine don't last anywhere forever.

My Lenovo G555 lasted a little more than two years before it died.

And now I've had this HP Pavilion G6 2210-us for three years and six months. I'm on my third battery (luckily they're cheap), and now I'm about to replace the entire keyboard (also cheap).

I bumped up the RAM to the maximum of 8 GB a while ago. No regrets there.

The HP has had one catastrophic drop onto concrete that didn't affect it at all -- except for some nasty abrasions on the plastic case.

The drive it came with was an ample 640 GB in size. I sort of want to rebuild it as a Linux-only computer with a 1 TB drive. I generally have 100 GB of free space, and I'd have even more if I could kill out the Windows 8 instllation that I could never successfully upgrade to 8.1 and hence never even try to get Windows 10. If I don't go SSD (and I can't see doing that on this old laptop), the 1 TB would give me a lot of breathing room.

So the batteries last about a year, and the keyboard lasts 3 years. I'll replace the keyboard and hope the rest of the thing doesn't go south.

Would a more expensive laptop -- this one sold for around -- last longer? I don't think so, but you never know.

No more replacement keys, I'm just going to replace the entire keyboard

While my last key replacement was rocky yet ultimately successful, the results aren't what I'd hoped. And now the space bar is going wonky.

My "new" N key works, but it doesn't have the clicky/bouncy feel of the other keys. I'm not sure if it's the rubber cup or the hingy mechanism, but it is what it is. And it's not great.

I tried new rubber cups that I got from ReplacementLaptopKeys.com, and that didn't help.

The space bar is just generally loose and mushy, and it doesn't work on the ends all that well.

This time I'm just buying a whole new keyboard. What I didn't know is that they're cheap. For this laptop anyway.

I'm not sure if this is the case for all laptop brands, or just HP, but the market is awash with OEM replacement keyboards, and I just bought one for on eBay. Sure I'll have to take the whole damn laptop apart, but it should really have a new lease on life.

Sun, 21 Aug 2016

ReplacementLaptopKeys.com comes through again

Just like on the laptop before this one, if you bang on it and take it enough places, you end up with a busted key.

Where do you get a new one?

HP won't sell you one key.

Enter third-party individual-key sellers like ReplacementLaptopKeys.com, which attempt -- usually very well -- to send you any individual key to replace a broken one.

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Fri, 31 Jan 2014

Just because you're a former Apple manager doesn't mean your iMac's getting fixed

An extremely cautionary tale on broken iMacs, Apple's relative indifference, and how barbaric this all seems in relation to hardware from other vendors:

Readwrite: How I Fixed An iLemon -- Repairing a Mac is no simple task — take it from someone who worked at Apple for 20 years by David Sobotta

Wed, 16 Oct 2013

File under obvious: Turning off CPU fan makes computer run hot

So I noticed a BIOS option to turn the CPU fan off on my HP Pavilion g6-2210us. I tried it.

After invoking this in the BIOS, the fan didn't run all the time. It ran about half or more of the time. And the bottom of the laptop was appreciably hotter.

So I went back into the BIOS and turned the fan back to "always on."

Now the laptop runs cooler.

Obviously, right?

The fan isn't so loud that it's a problem, and it does have variable speed, so having it cycle off and on is more noticeable than just having it on all the time.

Fri, 30 Aug 2013

Sinclair ZX-81: I used to have one of these

I used to have one of these Sinclair ZX-81 computers. It plugged into the TV, allowed you to enter programs in BASIC, and save and load those programs and others via a cassette tape recorder.

It was a computer, and it cost .

I had two of the 16K memory modules that plugged into the back. They shorted out more often than not and crashed the computer.

I even subscribed to a Timex-Sinclair-related magazine that offered programs you could type in. Most didn't work. Maybe it was due to typing errors on my part, but you never know.

I eventually put the whole lot into a box and sold it off at a garage sale.

Maybe not so curiously, I think we should still be able to buy computers for . You sort of, kind of can do that.

Thu, 21 Feb 2013

Aftermarket replacement battery on the cheap for the Lenovo G555

I've had the Lenovo G555 for about 2 3/4 years at this point, and I've had another part fail -- the battery.

A laptop battery losing its ability to hold a charge after two years is by no means unusual.

Laptop batteries can be pricey. I've seen them go for -- and that's for a computer that's worth maybe .

When my LCD power inverter went when I had the Lenovo for about two years -- a bit early -- and I was able to replace what is usually a part by spending and change on eBay, I decided to look around before committing to a new battery.

I saw aftermarket batteries going for anywhere from to . That's quite a range. Some claimed to be better. Those offered a two-year warranty. Most of the time, it would take another to in shipping to complete the transaction.

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Wed, 21 Nov 2012

Is touchpad sensitivity to blame for erratic behavior?

I'm still trying to get to the bottom of the erratic cursor movement when the Alps touchpad in my Lenovo G555 laptop is in tap-to-click mode.

Having found that this happens only rarely in GNOME, I've tried to find the differences between touchpad configuration in GNOME 3 and Xfce (version 4.8 is what I'm running in Debian Wheezy).

Running a diff on the files has produced a few differences, but nothing that affects sensitivity.

So I've been delving into the many settings of Synaptics and Alps touchpads -- all accessible through interfaces meant for Synaptics touchpads, by the way.

In most modern Linux distributions, you can control the touchpad through the synclient utility. While man synclient helps in figuring this out, you need to look at man synaptics much more closely. That's where the keys to the touchpad-controlling kindgdom really lie. They tell the truth, but that's where they are.

One thing I did was write a couple of scripts that turn tap-to-click on and off. I don't think these needed to be in /usr/local/bin, but I put them there anyway. They did need to be executable. In Xfce I made program launchers on the desktop that call both of these scripts so I could turn them off and on, using the touchpad's tap-to-click when I want and turning it off when it's annoying me.

There are usually system utilities that can help you do this, but they're usually a few menu clicks away, and Xfce in Debian Wheezy -- at least the way I have it set up -- doesn't offer to toggle this behavior for me. And the scripts with launchers are faster anyway.

I'll go into detail about all of this in the near future when I have all of the settings more set.

For now I'm experimenting with touchpad sensitivity. There are a few parameters that seem to control this, and I began by focusing on FingerHigh.

I raised the number to reduce the sensitivity of taps on the touchpad, meaning it takes a harder tap to actually register a tap.

Here is how I set it in the terminal: $ synclient FingerHigh=35

I think the default value was something like 12. When I got to 40, tapping pretty much stopped working. So I'm working with FingerHigh=35 for now.

Another parameter I've been experimenting with is PalmDetect, which is supposed to ... detect your palm.

Once I get the scripts in better shape, I will both publish them on this site and in a publically available repository.

This kind of command-line tinkering and extremely simple scripting is not at all complicated. It's the kind of hacking anybody can do.

Touchpad sensitivity is a problem I've seen not just in the Lenovo G555 but in Windows 7 as well as in Linux, and the lack of control that users in Windows have over behavior of the hardware is a terrible situation.