Revitalizing an aging notebook on the cheap

All it takes is a couple hours and about $125 to breathe new life into an old laptop.

Step 3: Replace the keyboard

Just about every old notebook has one thing in common: The keyboard has picked up crumbs, dust and things that make your skin crawl. Plus, my R50's "T" key stopped working about a month ago, so I decided to just replace the keyboard entirely.

How to do it

A notebook's keyboard is one of the easiest parts to get. Just search the Web for your notebook's model, and you'll usually have your pick of dozens of sellers. (See "Parts Is Parts" for a list of likely sources.) If you shop carefully, you can get the keyboard for about US$45.

All told, it takes about 5 minutes to remove and replace. For this job, use a small Phillips screwdriver to loosen and remove the three screws on the bottom of the laptop. No surprise, they're marked with a keyboard logo. At this point, the keyboard should be loose. Slide it toward the screen, and gently pull it up from the front.

Carefully disconnect the keyboard cable from the motherboard, and put the old keyboard aside. At some point, you might need to cannibalize it for spare keys or a cable.

Your last task is to plug the new keyboard cable in, slide and snap the keyboard into place, and tighten the three screws.

Fire up the notebook and make sure it works. If it doesn't, you'll see a warning at start-up. Most likely that means the cable isn't fully plugged in.

Parts is parts
To get everything you need to rebuild an old notebook, the Web is your parts counter. It's all out there, from memory to hard drives. Here are a few of the most popular places to get the spare parts you'll need.
  • Notebookparts.com: This outlet has a good variety of components, including hard-to-find batteries and accessories.

  • Spare Parts Warehouse: This site with a great selection starts by asking you what make and model you have, then gets down to details with a list of available parts.

  • NB Components.com: Start on the left column of the site, where you can either pick your notebook brand or type of part. Then, dive into the details.

A word of warning: Shop around, because a notebook part that costs $100 at one site could just as easily go for $25 at another.

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