My Laptop

Those following along on twitter and Facebook will probably already be aware of the ongoing saga of my somewhat hobbled laptop. For the rest of you, about a month or so ago now my Laptop started malfunctioning, with the likely culprit (or so I thought at the time) some faulty screen part, as the screen was still operational but without the backlight coming on it was nearly impossible to see.

I took it apart, this being my second Toshiba laptop I’ve disassembled, and it was much like the first, but I’d forgotten enough that when confounded sufficiently enough I thought to search for an online guide. And what do you know, there’s a disassembly guide for just about every Toshiba laptop out there. Here’s mine, incidentally. We’ll come back to that in a minute, but suffice to say there didn’t seem to be any loose wires or shonky connections that I could find easily causing the screen to go dark, leaving the rest of the PC running normally.

So I considered alternatives. I thought about going down the apple fanatic route and buying a wireless keyboard for my iPad, or even just adjusting to typing on a glass-screen but I tried the latter for a while and it was less than satisfactory. I also heard reports from people who’d tried the keyboard+iPad technique – in particular Simon Ferrari – but he was emphatic that it was not an ideal solution. I could see his point – switching between apps is a nuisance on the iPad and in terms of formatting or looking up citations you can add that to something that can’t really be done without investing in some rather expensive apps.

So I started hunting for a new laptop. I considered buying a cheap replacement, also contemplated taking an old laptop of my parents’ when they bought a new one (though they were pretty uncertain about whether this would actually happen or not), and finally, earlier this week I asked my housemate if I could try taking apart and fixing his also broken (Toshiba) laptop which had stopped receiving power a few months previous.

So I started disassembling it (following another guide from the same site) and the process struck me as, again, remarkably similar to taking apart my own laptop, despite the fact that they were entirely different models bought 12-18 months apart. The process was so similar that by the end of it I started to feel like I knew the design methodology of Toshiba laptops, or their “best practice” or something – and I guess maybe I do.

It’s kind of like reverse engineering. In a roundabout way I’m getting a feel for how these machines are put together, but in reverse: each time you start with the keyboard bezel – this little strip of plastic with clips that sits over the keyboard looking snug and neat, hiding away the screws that anchor the keyboard in place. It’s a pretty smooth trick though, and the bezel looks and feels solidly attached. Once the keyboard is unscrewed, it can be lifted up and out of the rest of the case, with a springy connector cable attaching the keyboard to the motherboard, held fast by a neat little lock.

There’s a dozen or so screws on the underside that keep the top half of the case attached to the bottom, so we need to flip over and remove them all. But once those are all out (and there is a lot of them) there’s more of those neat little (serial?) cables connecting to the motherboard – one from the touchpad and another from the strip of buttons – the power button, mute button, etc, etc – which all need to be unlocked similar to the keyboard before they can be detached.

So we can get the top off, but the screen is still attached. Underneath some rubber stoppers are about four screws and once they’re off the plastic casing has more of the bezel-type clips that just pop out with a bit of force. It can be disconcertingly difficult the first time, and I worried about breaking the plastic on a number of occasions while disassembling, but the plastic seems to have quite a bit of bend and warp in it before breaking, it’s pretty remarkable stuff but I imagine not very biodegradable.

I did have a point here somewhere that was larger than just a description of how to take apart a Toshiba laptop. But I guess that’s it – you can adapt these set of steps to disassemble any Toshiba laptop (or so I’ve found) and that reflects something of that company’s design or manufacturing process. Or perhaps there’s a connection to be unveiled between ideal laptop design or expectation and these particular arrangement of technical objects. The screen includes hinges, cables, lighting tubes, power cables and DC to AC power converters; motherboards consist of screws, solder, laser etched rows of circuitry, Intel designed and manufactured CPUs with 45 nanometre transistors, capacitors made somewhere in South-East Asia, power coils assembled and wound by machines on a factory floor; cases moulded from the compacted remains of billion year long extinct plants and animals…

It’s an amazing arrangement of objects, and breaking one of them open to see what’s inside is quite the eye-opening exercise. I have more to say about things like this now that my favoured writing implement (this laptop) is back in action. I’ve been reading Latour’s We Have Never Been Modern and I plan to summarise my thoughts on it soon, and I’ve also been meaning to re-visit my post ‘Rhetorical Questions’ from roughly a year ago which I feel really needs updating. I remember being extremely proud of it at the time, but a year on it feels… anachronistic. It feels like I was writing against something that never eventuated, or perhaps I wasn’t writing against one thing specifically at all. We’ll see soon enough.