If everything else fails, bake it in the oven

Three weeks ago, our laptop died. It’s an old Dell Inspiron 1501 we bought in 2007. Typically you’d just get a new one, recover the data from the old one, and be done with it. Thing is, while searching for a possible cause (and remedy), on one of the links Google returned, a bunch of people talked about doing a solder reflow in their ovens. If this sounds strange, just read the following:

http://russell.heistuman.com/2010/04/27/cooking-the-books-or-baking-my-macbook-pro-logic-board/

So the recipe involves removing anything that is not heat resistant (sponges, rubber parts, the battery and so on), leaving the board in question with just the connectors. You then wrap up in aluminum foil the parts of the PCB that holds the more sensitive components, put it on top of a few balls made of the same aluminum foil in a tray, and bake it for 7-8 minutes at 200 degrees Celsius (485 Fahrenheit I think).

Now, the reason why this works (and it worked also for me) is that at 200 degrees the soldering metal becomes liquid again, and fixes the soldering that went bad. This goes for pretty much any PCB with SMD components that tend to heat up – motherboards with the graphics chipset on them, video cards, you name it.

Question is, why does a soldering go bad?

The typical answer is that the graphics chipset heats up a lot, and in case of poor ventilation (like when using the laptop on a soft surface) the temperatures go high enough to break some of the soldering. This is aggravated by the fact that PCBs end up with some mechanical stress in them, so as soon as the solder goes liquid, there’s a good chance that the PCB will try to go back to its original shape – at the expense of the soldered components, which might end up with some terminals loose.

So, there you go … if everything else fails, just stick it in the oven for 8 minutes, at 200 degrees Celsius.

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