The Computer Corner
By Charles Miller
Last week in this column I described the general categories of computer hardware repairs. This week I am going to add something I have named “kitchen repairs,” which are a bit on the whacky side. Fire, water, and ice are things that may be found in the kitchen, and sometimes can be used to repair a broken computer.
Water is something you normally want to keep far away from your laptop, but sometimes when a component like a motherboard appears to be dead, it could just need grounding. Disassemble the computer; then, using a piece of wire attached to a cold water pipe, proceed to ground all the exposed electrical connections. Reassemble the computer, and sometimes you will find that it will work again. The cause of this problem was that some of the capacitors or other components were holding an electrical charge that needed to be discharged. If water fails to help, then perhaps fire.
The solder used to connect components to motherboards tends to degrade over time, becoming brittle. Solder joints can fracture, causing cracks invisible to the naked eye that break the electrical circuit. Melting the solder can restore the weakened solder connections.
This sounds a little crazy, but baking a motherboard in an oven, if performed correctly and if you are incredibly lucky, might fix a broken computer. The technical term for this procedure is “reflow.” The motherboard must be removed from the computer and completely stripped of all removable components, especially the flammable ones. You will need an accurate thermometer to heat the oven to 200°C or 385°F, which should be just hot enough to melt solder but not incinerate the fiberglass and resins. Above all, the oven and your kitchen must be thoroughly ventilated! Warning! Electronic circuit boards are manufactured with all kinds of exotic materials that when heated may put off dangerous toxic gasses. Inhaling these fumes could send you to the hospital, or worse.
If water and fire failed to fix your computer, then another last resort is ice. Too much heat is the enemy of computers and in the kitchen is found an appliance that might help. Among information technology (IT) professionals, there are stories of users who discovered that if they put an external monitor, mouse, and keyboard on the kitchen counter, connected to their laptop inside the refrigerator, they could use it there for a time without it overheating. Laptop cooling pads advertised as being able to reduce overheating are only minimally useful, and some actually exacerbate cooling problems. Caveat emptor! Still, using the refrigerator to pre-cool overheating components might work long enough to give time to copy your important data files from a failing computer or hard disk before it dies completely. Sometimes a few more minutes are all you need to save your data.
All of the information here concerning the use of water, fire, and ice for computer repairs are methods of absolute last resort. Few IT professionals would agree to use these methods because they rarely work, or work for long. There is also the fact that baking a motherboard in a household oven is potentially very dangerous.
Charles Miller is a freelance computer consultant, a frequent visitor to San Miguel since 1981 and now practically a full-time resident. He may be contacted at 415 101-8528 or email FAQ8 (at) SMAguru.com.