Case Studies

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Case Studies of Famous Fixes.

Summary

Some of us have a fix we're especially proud of, or can think of one which nicely demonstrates a diagnostic principle, or which taught us something new. This is a page of "Famous Fixes" which hopefully will contain an ever growing collection of gems for our shared education and entertainment.

Computers and Home Office

Windows laptop

The laptop owner (a very expert user) told the Restarter the harddrive needed "debugging" - led to blind-alley.

  • Ran a harddrive diagnostic tool (ok)
  • Mounted the drive (ok).
  • Inspected system log (ok).
  • Booted on Linux and noticed there was rubbish coming up on screen at boot - suspected a keyboard or touchpad fault - isolated the keyboard fault.

(Contribution by Ten.)

Laptop USB port

Only took over half of it, but although the owner had bought the right part it didn't make getting the old usb port off any easier. As there were two big solder points holding the case to the board, it took in a lot of heat before solder flowed. And then there were four connections at the back that you ideally needed to heat all at the same time. We accidentally ripped some of the traces off the board but still managed to fixed it by some fine wire soldered from the pins to a nearby surface mount resistor. The owner of the laptop thought she could have done it herself, and even when I did it I myself couldn't believe it worked.

(Contribution by Faraz.)

Macbook

Mysterious intermittent trackpad problem in which the trackpad button became more sensitive and then stopped working altogether.

  • Plugging in an external mouse, the mouse button was not working either.
  • Noticing that the battery icon showed no battery present when a battery was present gave a clue as to the fault.
  • Turns out the battery had gassed and was bulging, affecting the trackpad
  • After removing the battery (and safely disposing of it), the trackpad button was working fine.

(Contribution by David.)

Laptop with black screen

It was a consumer grade laptop, not too old, but the screen was completely black except for a very faint flicker on powering on or off. However the disk light seemed to indicate that it was trying to boot. So it seemed the back light was working but there was no life in the LCD.

The owner had already done a good job of disassembly and reassembly to look for faults, including reseating the video cable connector on the motherboard, but without success. We repeated that, and I couldn't see anything visibly wrong either. It looked like it was either a faulty screen (a new screen might have fixed it) or a faulty video driver (which would mean a new motherboard) but it was impossible to tell which. The owner was ready to give up and dispose of it.

As a last resort and with little hope of success I suggested we see if we could disassemble the screen. This often means complete disassembly of the laptop in order to remove the screen, but with the removal of 2 screws in the screen bezel and releasing the clips around the edge with a spudger, the bezel came off. Four more screws and we could very carefully angle the LCD forward out of the lid. Very careful examination showed that the video cable at the LCD end was unseated by the tiniest amount at one end even though secured by sticky tape. So we reseated it, reassembled the laptop, and to the owner's huge delight the screen immediately sprang to life!

The most satisfying fixes are when an apparently intractable problem eventually turns out to be something very easily put right.

(Contribution by Philip.)

Electronic Gadgets

Home Entertainment

LCD TV

Bad electrolytic capacitors in a TV which had been found dumped in the street provided a good research opportunity. Great team work, biking off to get spares while Faraz unsoldered the failing components.

(Contribution by Ten.)

Plasma TV

10p lodged inside a plasma TV
"JONNY - DON'T DO THAT!!" Err, too late. With a satisfying clunk, the 10p piece fell down somewhere inside the plasma TV beneath the SDCard slot where 4 year old Jonny had posted it.

I received a panic email from my sister-in-law. Did I think it would be safe to turn the TV on? Err, on balance, I thought, she might get away with it, but on the other hand it could prove expensive. Best not risk it.

I took the make and model number and after a bit of hunting, I found the service manual online. It appeared that the back would come off with the removal of 30 screws in 6 different sizes, and if need be, another 2 screws to remove the side panel where the SDCard slot was. I emailed her back with the details and suggested that given a cross-head screwdriver, she could probably do it. But have an egg box handy for the screws, and mark each compartment to show which screws it contained.

After dropping Jonny at preschool she took a deep breath and set to work. 45 minutes later, including working out how to take it off the stand and plucking up courage to plug it in again, Wendy was able to report with much satisfaction: mission accomplished!

(Contribution by Philip.)

Two VHS/DVD players

We don't get too many VHS players these days and the complex and delicate mechanism doesn't inspire confidence in repairability. Likewise we not infrequently have to give up on DVD players. So when two VHS/DVD combos turned up at Leightonstone, one with a dead VHS and the other a dead DVD I wasn't brimming with optimism.

Taking the lid off the first, there was nothing visually wrong. Tentatively and for lack of any better ideas, I tried tuning the cam by hand, taking great care not to get fingermarks or any other contamination on it. (The cam is a finely machined and balanced cylinder with 4 record/playback heads in its circumference. It spins at high speed with the tape wound helically around part of it.)

Initially, it seemed stiff, but it quickly eased up and was very soon spinning completely freely. Inserting a tape, it loaded it and immediately started to play! The whole operation only took around 10 minutes.

The other was a bit more challenging. It rattled when you shook it, and it had a DVD stuck in the drive. The owner was bored of watching it.

The rattle was very easily fixed. On taking the lid off it was apparent that a small child (I presume) had posted 2 or 3 DVDs into the VHS slot! But the DVD drive itself (the type with a tray which slides in and out) refused to eject.

I removed the DVD drive mechanism in order to examine it properly. Often with these there's a peg which prevents the tray from ejecting until the DVD has been unclamped from the drive spindle. Through wear, it can happen that the peg isn't withdrawn before the tray starts to move, jamming both the peg and the tray. Taking a tiny shaving off the peg with a craft knife can cure the problem, as it did in this case!

Two out of two: two very happy customers and one dead chuffed Restarter!

(Contribution by Philip.)

Kitchen and Household Items

Kettle

Mysterious kettle owned by the venue - we did not know the circumstances of the fault.

  • Check the fuse (ok).
  • Visual inspection (ok).
  • Tested for continuity from the mains plug to the base (ok).
  • Tested base for resistance and continuity (ok).
  • By logical process, the only thing left was the physical contact between the kettle jug and the base - turned out it was not making a solid contact and needed to be remade.

(Contribution by Andrew.)

Dehumidifier

This was my own, little used but worked fine for 2 or 3 years but then stopped working. On switching on, the lights seemed to indicate maybe the water collection tank was full, which it wasn't, and it wouldn't stay on.

  • Removed covers, visual inspection showed no signs whatsoever of a problem. Reseated connectors with no effect.
  • The water level alarm consisted of a float with a magnet which closed a magnetic reed switch as the float approached the full position. No visible faults, and unable to influence the problem with a second magnet close to the reed switch. Gave up for the time being.
  • Determined to have one last go before scrapping it. Followed the reed switch wires through to the logic board and hence to a pin on the microcontroller. Verified with a multimeter that the voltage on the microcontroller pin changed as one would expect on lifting the float.
  • Noticed that the silk screen printing on the logic board showed a capacitor which was not fitted.
  • Followed the copper traces on the board and found that the capacitor (if fitted) would be wired between another microcontroller pin and ground, with a resistor also connecting the pin to the positive supply.
  • Theorised that the microcontroller pin was a reset input. The capacitor (if fitted) would hold the pin in a logic "low" state and hence the microcontroller in a reset state while the capacitor charged, for long enough for the power supplies to stabilise. Without the capacitor, the microcontroller might run with unstable power supply and immediately crash.
  • Fitted a capacitor calculated to hold the pin "low" for a few tens of milliseconds.
  • Powered the dehumidifier on, and it worked like a dream!

Funnily enough, 2 or 3 years later I had a letter from B&Q. A safety issue had been found with this model of dehumidifier, and would I please bring it back for a full refund. Lucky I'd saved it from the scrap heap - I got my refund and bought a new aluminium ladder with the proceeds!

(Contribution by Philip.)

Shaver with broken catch

It was an electric shaver with a shaving head which wouldn't stay down. As a quick fix the user had taped it down with sellotape and had been using it like that for a considerable time. He took the sellotape off and I examined it closely with a magnifying glass (essential these days as my eyes no longer focus as close as they used to). It appeared that a small piece of plastic comprising the catch had popped out of the slot it was meant to locate it. With a bit of gentle easing I managed to pop it back into its rightful place, at which it functioned perfectly, holding the shaver head down but allowing it to be released for cleaning as designed.

Some problems are very simple, but you need to look closely to figure out exactly what has gone wrong.

(Contribution by Philip.)