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Tom Briant

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Saturday, August 12, 2017

Fixing your old computer the easy way and saving some coin, too!

My brother’s computer went blank yesterday. He e-mailed that the screen was broken.

When I got home I looked at the screen. No apparent physical damage, no distorted picture, just ….nothing.


To cut to the chase, I resolved the problem and saved him visiting a repair shop by simply removing the memory modules and then reseating them to ensure a firm physical and electrical connection. 

After doing so, the computer came back on and went through the cyber equivalent of “spectacles, testicles, watch and wallet, “ for several minutes before returning to normal operation.

I have had this happen to three different computers, where the On/Off cycling causes tiny metal parts to flex microscopically and work its way out of their sockets. 

Now for the details. You’ll need a appropriate sized screwdriver, some good sense, and a bit of patience. Oh, and wash your hands! 

Now lay the computer on a clean cotton towel to ensure small parts don’t roll away and get lost on the floor.


How I tested the computer

I tested the video output by plugging in a VGA monitor. I’m a full-on nerd, so I’ve got a couple of extra monitors. Nothing, though, came up. I pressed all the buttons on the side of this Samsung monitor and nothing, but nothing, came up! “It’s dead Jim” 

So the problem went beyond a problematic LCD screen. So I thought through my experiences from the past 30 years of working with computers. An old Windows 2000 computer sprang back to life when I moved its single 64 Mb memory chip to another socket 3 years ago. My own late 2011 Mac mini came back to life after I reseated the hard drive’s connections. So I figured it was worth a shot on my brother’s computer. 

Now to the details

First, read the manual. “When all else fails, read the instructions,” is an old part of the Murphy’s Laws. You want to advance past fumbling amateur to Grand Nerd Extraordinaire? Read the instructions first!

If you have access to another computer, open up the search engine, whether Google, Bing, Yahoo, or DuckDuckGo, and enter the following “service manual <name of your broken computer>” You can skip the quotation marks and arrows. In my case, I entered service manual Inspirion 6400 and up popped where to go for the Dell service manual.

It’s a PDF that I downloaded. So opening it up, I found the section for Memory Modules. I read that before doing anything. It kept referring to the first steps you should always take when fixing the computer. So like an intelligent person, as you are too, I read them. Unplug the computer, touch a metal surface to discharge any static electricity, and remove the battery. 

So I removed the Dell battery, which proved even easier than removing an Apple battery. Just push a latch to one side and pull up gently (!) on the battery to remove it. Set it aside and see if it displays signs of bulging or leaking. Those are not good and fortunately, I didn’t see them with this computer’s battery.

Now to open the memory module bay, you’ll need a teeny-weeny Phillips head screwdriver to unscrew the captive screws holding the bay’s cover in place. Go to Fry’s to get a computer repair kit if necessary. From earlier work on the Mac mini, I had the necessary screwdriver (thank you, Other World Computing!)

1 teeny weeny Phillips head screwdriver


Here is the teeny-weeny little Phillips head that I got from Other World Computing while doing a project.


2 computer repair kit at Frys

Here is a computer repair kit that I found at Fry’s. It costs about $24 and should cover 99% of situations you encounter. 

I unscrewed the captive screws and laid the plastic cover aside.

One side piece of advice, use an old cotton towel on your desktop if you have small screws to keep them from rolling on to the floor.

Now for the money shot!

I looked at the memory chips or modules. Nothing unusual about them. I read the instructions again, which said to GENTLY use your fingers to spread the clips holding the module(s) in place and pull out the module. Oh, and make sure to discharge any static electricity by touching a metal object first!

I looked at the memory module. Hmm, nothing special, just a stock DDR2 memory module. No signs of corrosion or damage. So I reinserted the module into its socket GENTLY and made sure of a firm physical fit. 

3 DDR2 memory module at Frys


I reattached the memory bay cover, reinstalled the battery, flipped the computer over, and turned it on. Voila! The Windows 10 boot up sequence began. As I wrote before, Windows goes through a self-diagnostic procedure if it detects something drastic happened. Soon the desktop appeared with my brother’s user name. He sat down and logged in. 

He was ecstatic! He didn’t need a new computer, he didn’t need to track down a computer repair shop on Saturday, and he could get back to work.

As my reward, he fixed me dinner. Yum!

And that’s all there was to it. 


Tom Briant

Editor, MacValley Blog





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