The Joy of Repairing Laptops

Fixing stuff isn’t just good for the environment — it’s great for your spirits

Clive Thompson


Unscrewing the SSD, as I and my son replace the keyboard on his ASUS laptop. Check out the dust in those fans!

Recently my son’s laptop keyboard reached the end of its life. It’s only two years old, but he’s a regular gamer, so the WASD keys were shot.

At first, we took it to the local Microcenter that we’d bought it from, since we also got their repair plan, and it still had a month left on the warranty. Alas, they had a dire shortage of repair labor and were backed up for fully two months.

So we took things into our own hands. I went online, ordered the replacement keyboard part — and three Saturdays ago we opened up the machine to fix it ourselves.

I do this a lot. I’ve been cracking open laptops and replacing busted parts for almost twenty years, so it doesn’t faze me. I’ve mostly done pretty simple repairs — like replacing keyboards, power units, RAM and hard drives.

All this hardware hacking has taught me quite a bit about the state of repair-age in laptops today. I’ve learned that some machines are easier to repair than others, because they were designed to be opened up and to have components swapped in and out. Gaming laptops like my son’s? Usually quite repairable: They’re roomier inside and the parts are pretty modular, because it’s assumed that gamers might want to upgrade components. But many other devices I’ve owned were designed for skinniness — like Mac laptops in recent years, or Ipads and many phones. Those things are nightmares, and occasionally flat-out impossible to repair: Components aren’t modular, or are glued in place (to make things sleeker, but thereby also making them unremovable). Kyle Wiens and the folks at iFixit have been doing superb rankings of the fixability of devices for years now.

Anyway, the point is, when I decided we’d simply fix my son’s laptop, I knew we could do it.

But the more important thing I’ve learned from years of repairing laptops?

It feels great.

“Servicing Old Laptop,” by Dejan Krsmanovic (CC 2.0 license, unmodified)

After all, the default mode of today’s electronics is planned obsolescence, right?



Clive Thompson

I write 2X a week on tech, science, culture — and how those collide. Writer at NYT mag/Wired; author, “Coders”.