Bake Story

I don’t usually cook. I do love the feeling you get when you make a nice meal you would share with someone else though.

This is not one such story, but something else entirely, simply tied to the fact that someone has to be happy after this.

I work as an IT Technician, hence, I’m the computer guy. A friend had a problem with her laptop. The monitor wouldn’t turn on, so she gave me the laptop to try and fix it. The symptoms weren’t exactly uplifting. The laptop would turn on, stay on, but the screen wouldn’t turn on at all. The VGA slot had no signal either. Clear sign of video card problems, I thought.

I was right – searching for the same problem on google turned up with a lot of results that were pretty much identical – laptop turns on, screen does not. The problem apparently stemmed from the solder of the NVidia GPU, basically getting damaged through wear and tear, heat and cold so much that its connection to the motherboard got loose. The professional solution would either be to replace the motherboard, or “reflow” the chip using specialized equipment.

Reflow soldering is a process in which a solder paste (a sticky mixture of powdered solder and flux) is used to temporarily attach one or several electrical components to their contact pads, after which the entire assembly is subjected to controlled heat, which melts the solder, permanently connecting the joint. Heating may be accomplished by passing the assembly through a reflow oven or under an infrared lamp or by soldering individual joints with a hot air pencil.

Now then, upon watching a How It’s Made episode on integrated circuits, reading wikipedia and watching a few people perform this reflow soldering technique by using heat lamps or heat guns, I thought that I could fix the damned thing by a way most would not think of.

On my way home from work I bought aluminum foil. With it, I made four rough foil balls. After about an hour of working my way through miniaturized parts I finally got the motherboard of the patient laptop out. Filled with disbelief and yet oblivious with joy, I transported this vital organ and the four aluminum balls to my kitchen.

I open the oven, set the aluminum balls in a square like pattern and set the motherboard squarely on them, making them act as makeshift pegs or pylons so the board won’t touch the metal grill underneath. I close the oven, put the heat up to 175 degrees centigrade and wait, watching the motherboard slowly bake into the dimly illuminated heated compartment. After about 5 minutes I turned the heat up to 200. The kitchen started to smell of burnt solder. Then after 4 more I turned it to 220 – might have been a little bit too much, but still ok. Another 5 minutes later  I opened up the oven.

It smoked slightly as it made contact with the cold air outside the compartment. It smelled bad, quite strong too. The board had a general yellow tint to it. It was also warped a little out of shape because of the unequal size of the balls on which it was placed while getting baked. I think I could feel the faint smell of food to it as well.

Not my picture, but you get the idea.

Disheartened by the appearance of the motherboard, I went back on my laptop and watched some videos as I waited for it to cool for about an hour. I took the board back from its quite hot resting place and set about putting it back into its original location. This took even longer than taking the laptop apart did, having to retrace some of my steps because I would forget to get a ribbon in or a power cord.

I did not stop until each and every part was in, I made no excuses. If the laptop would not run, I would give up. I did everything else I’ve seen on the internet, baking the motherboard was an otherworldly last idea that I thought I would never use, nor would ever work.

I plug the power source in – the power light comes up, good sign.

I press the button. The computer starts, monitor stays off.

But not for long. Strewn across the screen I see the letters COMPAQ and a huge smile runs across my face as, both agape and happy beyond belief at this vision of disbelief, I pick up the phone and dial for my friend. Of course she’s happy. I brought Lazarus back from the dead.

I’m not Jesus though – I’m Victor Frankenstein, but I am not repulsed by this life I have created out of the oven.

Note: Oven reflowing seems to be quite widespread as a common solution to motherboard soldering problems. I just noticed that while searching for a picture to put up, since I haven’t made one myself.

Also, turns out I had to disassemble the laptop and assemble it again at about 2AM because I forgot to insert the fan power cable; the processor kept overheating. Still had no discernible problem aside of the occasional crackling of the speakers. I’ve also managed to get a couple of extra screws. No idea where to put them, even after reassembling the laptop twice.

EDIT: Don’t do this at home. It’s just a temporary solution. The chip is just on a random time bomb, if the baking works to begin with. If you’re going to do this, do it on something you don’t care about anymore.


One thought on “Bake Story

  1. I always knew those Compaq laptops were half-baked.


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