We had an extraordinary experience last week, probably one of the best in recent times – we tried to resurrect a dead laptop by baking its motherboard in the oven at 200°C.
The extensive everyday usage of laptops tempts us to play with unconventional maintenance methods sometimes. From sloppy water pouring to hairdryer drying, from overheating to deep freezer cooling, from sticky keyboard spilled with Coca-Cola to complete bathtub washing. In fact, every described incident has happened to one single laptop – the protagonist. However, the most recent one occurred last week when we baked its motherboard in the oven at 200°C. And yes, the oven is those same one where we make pizza.
Pain in the Neck
After 4 years of usage, our protagonist stopped working as a result of the graphical chip failure. The symptoms manifested some strange vertical red lines across the screen with distorted graphics during boot-time, preventing the OS to start. After we had contacted manufacturer support, we were advised to return the laptop back to factory because of a well-known problem. However, we didn’t have much time to send it back due to complicated shipping procedures, so we put another two options on plate:
- to buy a new laptop,
- to try fix the old one by our own
We gave priority to the second option because DIY excitement was much bigger than the risk. The laptop was almost dead, so we didn’t mind experimenting a bit.
The graphical chip have dozens of solder connection points to the motherboard, all it takes is one hairline crack to cause malfunction of the chip. Many times in newer laptops, the heat generated causes the solder to get close to its melting point causing these hairline cracks, also known as micro fractures in the solder joints. With a little knowledge in physics and a short research, we found very interesting method to fix these sensitive micro fragments. The method is called "reflow" where the chip on the motherboard is heated under Highly Regulated circumstances for a pre-determined amount of time at a critical temperature. The objective is to "reflow" the solder from the chip to the board via BGA (Ball Grid Array) points on the chip. The question is how to heat the joints to that temperature?
Actually, there are few methods, some of them are sophisticated, some of them are plain, however the simplest and most fun is the "motherboard for lunch" method (as we call it), that requires literally baking the motherboard in the oven. Are we kidding? – NO!
Below are given the exact steps of how we cooked the motherboard. We took a few shots as a memo though.
- Carefully disassembled all laptop components, connectors, cables
- Removed the motherboard
- Removed all parts from it: CPU, Bluetooth modules, CMOS battery, plastic parts and caps
- Cleaned up the CPU and GPU from the thermal paste residues