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Operating Systems

Troubleshoot notebook hardware disasters

When your laptop computer goes on the fritz, start your search for a solution with the usual suspects: the battery, memory modules, and hard drive.

On Saturday afternoon, my Hewlett-Packard notebook computer was working fine. On Sunday morning, the machine wouldn't start. The power would blink on and go off just as quickly.

If I held the power button in the on position, I could keep the power indicator and other of the machine's LEDs lit, but nothing would happen: no power-on self-test, no BIOS message, and definitely no Windows.

My first thought was that it was a power glitch. I unplugged the machine and tried starting it on battery power, but no go. I removed the battery and tried using just AC power, but that didn't help. I replaced the battery and tried again. Still nothing.

Next on my list of suspects was a bad memory module. The machine was only 18 months old, but it has been on a couple dozen road trips already, so it has been jostled and exposed to temperature changes quite a bit. Installing a new memory module had no effect.

I turned my attention to the hard drive. I was unable to boot from my system CD, nor from a Windows installation DVD. I went so far as to order a replacement drive, but unfortunately, the notebook remained inert, even with a new drive in place.

I wasn't quite ready to accept the fact that this machine was toast, though that conclusion was becoming more and more difficult to deny. I took the laptop to my local PC repair shop--definitely a last resort for me. The repair person disassembled the machine and concluded that the system board was fried.

It doesn't help to learn that HP tablets are prone to motherboard failures. My machine is well out of warranty, and at 18 months old it's probably not worth spending $350 for a new system board. I travel quite a bit for my job, so I rely on my notebook. That's why I bit the bullet and bought a new machine (a Sony).

What bugs me more than seeing a year-and-a-half old laptop turn into a doorstop is how difficult notebooks have become to repair. In fact, I'm beginning to think of the machines as closed-box systems. In the past, I've replaced several notebook hard drives, memory modules, and other components, but troubleshooting this HP tablet was a real challenge.

Ultimately, I needed the assistance of a PC professional to diagnose the problem. That doesn't mean you should throw in the towel when you experience technical difficulties with your laptop, though.

You'll find a great notebook-troubleshooting guide on the Developer Shed site. The InformIT site has a useful section on troubleshooting portable PCs. Finally, there's a tremendous amount of technical detail on laptop problems in this excerpt from the Laptop Repair Workbook by Morris Rosenthal.

I just hope your search for a solution to your notebook woes has a better outcome than mine did.