A laptop that’s hard to type or point with isn’t much of a help when you’re getting things done away from your desk. But you can fix and replace your keys and touchpad rather than take a big credit card hit.
Photo by Brymo.
This post is part of a week-long series on laptop repairs and upgrades that focuses on the fixes that can keep a laptop usable after the inevitable breakdown of one part or another.
Bad Keyboards and Trackpads
Similar to losing your screen, an unworkable keyboard or pointing device can be overcome with a cheap USB or Bluetooth keyboard/mouse combo. If you’re intent on keeping your system portable, and you don’t want to spring for a tiny Bluetooth mouse, you’ve still got options:
Clean out and de-stick your keys:
If you’ve got a laptop where the keys can be popped out, perhaps with a little bit of tug, you should set aside the time to:
- Take a picture of your keyboard layout, so you can easily reassemble.
- Gently remove the keys, taking care not to pull too hard if a key isn’t easily popping out—there may be a metal hook that needs sliding just a few inches to fully release the key.
- Gather the keys in a fine mesh bag, cheesecloth, or unneeded pantyhose.
- Run the keys in the dishwasher, whether along with your dishes or in a separate cycle.
- Remove and dry the keys on paper towels, then gently return them to their original positions.
On a MacBook, the keys don’t necessarily look like they should be removed, but they’re built in fairly similar fashion to most keyboards, just with a little more design. Here’s how to pop them off:
If you can’t quite get at your individual keys, there are other means of cleaning out the dark nether-regions between keys. You can try a hair dryer (set on cool), clear tape or Post-It Notes, or simply some spare white printing paper.
We’ve also previously posted a link to Computing.net’s hardcore keyboard cleaning regimen. It involves rubbing alcohol, tweezers, Super Lube Dry Film spray, and other tools, and the author suggests needing two hours for the whole shot. But if your keyboard is starting to grate on you every day, it’s probably worth the effort, and far less time than if you’d had to work for the cost of a new laptop.
They’re far more tricky to clean and repair than keyboards, due to their touch-sensitive nature, calibration, and location in the computer’s chassis. Still, where there’s a will, there’s a way.
If the issue is that your trackpad looks and feels gross, try Adam Dachis’ new favorite tool: the Mr. Clean Magic Eraser. A little scrubbing with that soft brick, and you’ll find out just how much hand oil and other gunk has built up around your touchpad.
If the trackpad on your device is unresponsive or inaccurate, and you don’t want to make due with a wireless mouse, you can take a shot at replacing it, or its equally likely conspirator, the trackpad control cable.
• MacBooks: All-things-repair site iFixit has both the parts and the how-to guides you need to replace your Mac trackpad. Here’s the MacBook Pro unibody model TrackPad and its instructions, but take note that iFixit considers it difficult to repair components in this section of the MacBook—mostly because it requires a more thorough disassembly of your system. That’s not to say you can’t do it, and others have done it. Being the modern age, they’ve also posted videos of how they did it:
• Windows/PC laptops: Your manufacturer controls how easy or difficult it is to service or replace a touchpad, and that’s just the way it goes. On a modern ThinkPad, for example, the front top section of the computer’s bottom half snaps off easily when you’ve removed the labeled screws for memory access, and implementing a cable or trackpad replacement is fairly simple. Google around with your specific model number (“replace touchpad hp pavilion 8gt7”), and consider learning more of your favorite program’s keyboard shortcuts, as a kind of triage in the meantime.
So ends our series on trying to save laptops to get the most for your money out of them. How have you saved your own laptop’s keys or pad? Share your success stories or cautionary tales in the comments.
Send an email to Kevin Purdy, the author of this post, at email@example.com.
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