by Kevin O’Brien
The screen on any notebook is one of the most vulnerable components and is the single most expensive part to replace in many models. If you are out of warranty, this type of repair can force you to buy a new machine as costs can spiral upwards of 500 dollars for a new panel. If the failure falls under the protection of an extended warranty you can be in great shape, but sending your notebook out for repair can take weeks. In this article we cover the DIY LCD replacement procedure as well as explain how you might acquire a panel through warranty services for an at-home repair.
Like most DIY articles and guides, this advice must be taken at your own risk, as even simple mistakes can completely ruin your notebook. Please follow manufacturer’s guidelines and take as many safety precautions as possible.
Diagnosing the problem, defect or damage?
The first step in this process is diagnosing your screen to find out if it is actually defective, and if so, if it will fall into protection under the manufacturer’s warranty policy. If a baseball hit the screen chances are it won’t be covered; in my case hot spots the size of dimes started showing up on a screen that was pushing two years old. Since no physical damage was present, it was covered under my three year extended warranty. Below is a picture showing the marks that started to appear on dark backgrounds.
Strange hot spots that started showing up on my LCD
Contacting Lenovo for support was the next step, and getting them to ship out a part that retails for almost $1,000 was easier than expected. I called the standard Lenovo tech support line during lunchtime and had a representative on the phone after 45 seconds of phone prompts. I explained my problem and didn’t have to listen to any support scripts on items like reinstalling drivers, rebooting the machine, or other irrelevant steps that I had taken to diagnose the problem. I expressed my concerns over sending my primary machine in for repair, and told the technician that I could handle the repair myself. I was warned that any damage to the notebook would not be covered during my own repair, which was expected. This applies to cracking plastic trying to pry the case open, tearing connectors, or other damage that could be blamed on an untrained individual doing the repair. Soon the replacement panel was on the way. Total time on the phone was roughly 15 minutes.
The panel arrived the next business day, one day sooner than expected. I was more than happy to see it and took an extended lunch break for the occasion. For the repair, I picked our conference room since it had such a large, clean table to lay parts on and easily keep track of the numerous small items. An anti-static mat or wrist strap would be advised for this process, but since I was lacking a proper grounding source I discharged my finger on a nearby metal framed wall.
The Lenovo Hardware Maintenance Manual describes, in a very detailed fashion, how to disassemble the entire notebook in order to replace any component you can think of. Below is the condensed version of removing the panel from the notebook, with reassembly being the procedure in reverse. It entails removing the lower screen hinge screws, removing the palmrest, keyboard, and top bezel, disconnecting the screen cable, lifting out the screen, and tearing apart the frame around the screen to get to the panel inside. Throughout the process little wires and connectors need to be disconnected, such as the Bluetooth control module, wireless antennas, and the backlight inverter board.
Some of the repair (as with most DIY projects) requires some on-the-fly thinking. In my case it was a strip of glue holding the lower half of the screen bezel in place and needing a Sherwin-Williams discount card to carefully cut the line without bending anything or damaging the fragile screen. Note that even when removing defective components, if you cause physical damage to it during the process, you will end up being charged for the part when you return it. In this situation I didn’t feel like paying Lenovo almost a thousand dollars for a cracked screen.
Screen assembly removed from notebook
With the panel finally removed from the notebook I was able to inspect the old screen and make sure part numbers matched the new screen. With any repair you want to make sure the parts are identical before you start to reassemble the notebook. Mistakes can happen, so you just want to make sure. The delicate process of removing the screws attaching the screen hinge to the side of the panel was the most frightening by far, requiring quite a bit of pressure. I didn’t want the screwdriver to slip in the threads, but I also had to be careful to not use too much pressure and crack the delicate panel.
Clean work environment is very important!
Total time to tear down the notebook and remove the panel was about 15 minutes. I had some past experience repairing notebooks, so I did have a slight edge. Reassembly took four times as long, but only since I rushed and forgot to reattach vital parts. I forgot to reconnect the backlight inverter board, which caused my notebook to boot with a blank screen the first time I fired it up. Needless to say that wasn’t the most comforting moment after replacing the entire screen.
Lenovo T60 partially complete to verify screen works before full reassembly
After some last minute corrections the notebook was in working order and the screen was better than it ever was. Almost 2 years of use had dimmed the backlight considerably, moving the white point from a cooler blue tint to a warmer yellow.
One message that doesn’t always get driven into the heads of new notebook buyers is the importance of a manufacturer’s extended warranty. For most components I would consider the extended warranty laughable (wireless mouse, webcam, ShopVac) but with the cost and complexity of a notebook, it can be a very wise investment. In my case it replaced a single component that roughly costs the same as a new notebook 2 years down the road for free. The repair process turned out to be easier than expected, but I did learn a few things:
- Use high quality screwdrivers. (cheap screwdrivers don’t grip finely machined screws without a lot of pressure)
- Plan out plenty of time for the repair. You don’t know what might crop up so it is best to plan out double or triple the amount of time that you think it might take.
- Be patient. Rushing through reassembly might mean that you extended the time required for the repair because you now need to take it apart again to fix something.
Overall, most repairs could be completed by beginners with a basic skillset, requiring only patience and a good screwdriver. This repair did throw a curveball at me with the strip of glue on the screen bezel, but for the most part the manual detailed the entire process with plenty of pictures and tips. I also have to give props to Lenovo for the more than helpful customer support staff that were friendly to work with and understanding of my concerns.