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How to Disassemble a Laptop - The Basics

written by: Jesma•edited by: J. F. Amprimoz•updated: 6/3/2009

We discuss the basic tools needed for the job, as well as various ways to prevent accidental damage to the machine. There are basic safety precautions that you need to take, and you should only disassemble a laptop that is out of warranty - otherwise it will become voided.

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    What? Disassemble a laptop? Why would anyone want to do that? You tell me. It is only my job to teach, not to question why a person is seeking these answers. I started disassembling laptops because I thought it was fun, but thats just me. I know others that end up tearing them apart because they're out of warranty and they don't have money for repairs. Sometimes this turns out ok - other times it does not.

    Perhaps the best, or at least most exciting, reason to take a laptop apart is to expse a component you're upgrading. Reading this article and the two that follow will drastically increase the chances that your laptop-disassembly adventure will not be one that you end up regretting. Let's start with the basics - tools, safety, warnings, that kind of thing.

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    Things You Need

    Small Screwdriver: A regular sized Phillips head screwdriver won't work for the tiny crannies of a laptop. You're going to need a smaller sized one, preferably with a long shaft. A lot of screws in laptops are inset and the longer shaft is needed to access them. A set of "precision" screwdrivers will do the trick nicely, but their are plenty of easier-to-handle screwdrivers out there that are up to the task.

    Prying Tool: More than likely your laptop has plenty of plastic components that are clipped together, rather than screwed together. For this situation, you'll need a prying tool. If you're concerned with maintaining the nice look of your laptop you'll probably want to find a plastic prying tool that won't mar the soft plastic surfaces like a metal pry will. It doesn't need to be anything fancy, but it does need to have a very thin tip.

    Anti-Static Mat: This, you may need to go out to the store and buy. Static electricity can build up and destroy delicate electronic components very easily. You can pick up a component and not even notice that you've completely blown its circuitry until you install it and it doesn't work. An anti-static mat is one of the prime ways to avoid damage from ESD (electro-static discharge). As you disassemble the laptop, try to keep circuit boards in particular on the mat.

    Anti-Static Strap: This goes along with the mat, and you'll commonly find them in a combo pack. It is usually a velcro or elastic band that you wear around your wrist. It has a metal fastener on it that touches your skin, and an insulated wire clips onto it. On the other end of the wire is a alligator clamp that you're going to need to clip on to the nearest exposed, unpainted metal surface. This will keep you grounded and prevent you from discharging any static buildup into delicate components.

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    Safety and Warnings

    Above we discussed keeping your components safe, but there are a couple of things you need to do to keep yourself safe. It may seem a little bit condescending to have to spell it out, but people have done crazier things out of blind ignorance.

    Safety Rule 1: Unplug the laptop. I shouldn't have to tell you that if you touch the inside of the laptop while it is plugged in there is a really good chance you'll end up electrocuting yourself - especially if you're also handling a screwdriver. It might not hurt you, but your likely to fry you gear. Even if, technically, the components shouldn't be receiving power because the laptop is (hopefully) not powered on, why risk it?

    Safety Rule 2: Remove the Battery. Again, electricity running through components that you are poking with a screwdriver isn't a good combo. The battery probably won't transmit power if the laptop is off, but you don't want to find out first hand that it isn't working as intended. The point of a battery is to hold a charge, and unless you're an electrician or electrical engineer there is nothing you can fix in there, so never mess with the inside of a battery.

    IMPORTANT NOTE ON WARRANTIES: As a last warning, disassembling your laptop - even if it's just a little bit - will void your warranty, assuming you still have one. It doesn't matter if you know what you are doing or not - if you are not a certified technician documented with that company, you are not allowed to work on a warrantied machine. Will they ever find out that you have? Probably only if you screwed it up. There is a rumor that there are hidden "seals" inside laptops that will break and let "them" know you broke the rules. That's an urban legend. Technicians are barely trained, and determining if something has been tampered with is the last thing you'd ever find in a training manual. (Then again, it's pretty easy to put a sticker on the inside of the laptop where it will be damaged by disassembly, and the first, possibly only, thing an OEM technician is trained to do, is find a reason not to honour the warranty -Ed). Regardless, disassemble at your own risk. If you mess up and get caught, you can't say I didn't warn you.

Do It Yourself: Disassemble a Laptop

You may have many reasons for wanting to take apart your laptop - perhaps its just for fun, perhaps you want to replace a part yourself, or maybe you're just piecing it out to sell on ebay. Whatever it is, this multi-part series on how to properly disassemble a laptop will help you be successful.
  1. How to Disassemble a Laptop - The Basics
  2. How to Disassemble a Laptop - Removing "External" Components
  3. How to Disassemble a Laptop - Removing and Taking Apart the LCD