DEV Community

Cover image for Replacing parts of my laptop
Ingo Steinke
Ingo Steinke

Posted on • Updated on

Replacing parts of my laptop

Replacing parts inside my laptop is possible, although modern portable computers are far from the modular replaceability of the robust IBM-compatible card technology that made upgrading and modding computers possible without much technical knowledge and specialized tools.

Following up on my reuse and repair series, I finally managed to call my laptop vendor and asked them to help me help myself and fix a broken fan that started to make suspiciously loud noises. Although most machine parts come from Asia, the device has been assembled in Germany, preconfigured with a matching Linux setup, and there are competent and helpful people answering the phone at TUXEDO in Augsburg!

Opening my TUXEDO laptop

What I did was quite trivial, but it still needs a certain diligence and carefulness not to destroy any electronic parts and connections unrelated to the broken fan. Also, after replacement, I found out that the old fan had taken some part of the thermal paste away from what must be my laptop's central processing unit.

Preparations and things to consider:

  • back up important data (even if you don't plan to open your device)
  • wash your hands and dry them properly (even if you don't plan to open your device)
  • touch a grounded piece of metal to remove static electricity (is this still a thing or has it been an urban myth to make fun of inexperienced enthusiasts?)
  • have compressed gas handy to dust off the machine (likewise?)

Dusting off the computer case using compressed gas

  • clean the computer case from the outside
  • use a clean workspace where nothing can fall off or get lost
  • have small screwdrivers handy (just the regular ones unless it's an Apple device)
  • place your laptop in front of you so that the bottom faces upwards
  • unscrew the screws and open the case carefully
  • think again if you want to proceed

Think again if you want to proceed

Without the plastic cover, many inner electronics are unprotected in front of me. Any mistake might destroy something! This is how it looks like:

opened laptop case

When I talked to the official vendor support, they asked me to confirm that I trusted myself to replace the fan. I confirmed and said I would go to a local computer shop if I changed my mind. They said that's a possible alternative.

Removing the Fan

The fan is part of a larger component fixed with several screws to make sure that it is fixed to touch the thin layer of thermal paste above what must be the CPU. As an additional challenge, there is a small cable connected to the mainboard that is dangerously close to another connection, both fixed with small pieces of adhesive tape.

That's how it looks like after removing the fan.

Laptop motherboard without a fan

Here is the old fan with some traces of thermal paste.

fan component with thermal paste remainders

old fan and new fan
Old fan and new fan: can you tell the difference?

After putting everything back into place, it looks exactly like before, and it doesn't seem to matter that some screws seem to be missing despite trying to be careful when opening the case.

Upside Down Smoke Test

A so-called smoke test is the moment when we power on a device after building or repairing it. We can do this without closing the case, when the laptop is still upside down.

Laptop operating upside down

Everything works, and the fan is moving slightly without making noise. But it's quite cold in the room, and the computer has no reason to heat up yet.

I decided to turn it off again, close the case, and contact tech support about the thermal paste issue. After turning the computer on again, I check my software menu and find a system monitor app that shows the CPU temperature, frequency, and fan speed. Values vary between 20 to 30 per cent in the idle state up to 90% after opening PhpStorm (which currently has an issue making it reindex infinitely. I already opened a YouTrack issue and decided to downgrade to the previous release to continue my work without worrying about putting my device at risk and wasting unnecessary energy).

TUXEDO control center showing fan speed and CPU values

Update: tech support responded that they always recommend replacing the thermal paste when changing a fan unit, but that my reported system values "don't sound unusual".

Conclusion: DIY is possible!

It's still possible to swap some computer parts. I would love to be able to do the same with my smartphone. Or maybe I won't! But I believe we should be able to do it, so we should demand more modular devices from manufacturers and prefer those to the sealed disposable devices that dominate the market these days.

Top comments (2)

moopet profile image
Ben Sinclair

With a lot of these, as long as the fan doesn't have any damaged fins, you can take the fan apart without detatching the copper pipe, then lift out the blades, clean everything and put it back together. I mean, as long as you're in there you might as well replace the thermal paste, but for a case like this I would try cleaning it before replacing any parts.

ingosteinke profile image
Ingo Steinke • Edited

Thanks, and yes, that would be even more do-it-yourself and less throwing away. Hopefully, they will examine and clean the fan so that it can be reused.