Upgrading and Repairing Laptops, ISBN 0789728001, by Scott Mueller

Reviewed by: Thomas V. Kappel, February 2004, sende-mail
Published by: QUE Books, go to the web site
Requires: N/A
MSRP: $49.99

Laptops are not fun to work on. They’re not like desktop machines where there is at least some symmetry to the interior layout of components. Laptops are all different. Hard drive placement, battery placement, DVD & CD-ROM drives and memory all vary in their type, size and location from machine to machine. On the other hand, no matter which laptop you've got (or which one you have to service) the components are all there, inside that tiny case, in some shape or form somewhere. This is exactly why a reference book like Upgrading and Repairing Laptops comes in handy.

This nearly 900 page book with accompanying CD is a reference book, an educational primer and a time saver. This is true whether you’re a computer repairman or a laptop owner looking to upgrade an older machine with a larger hard drive or more memory. As a former owner of a repair shop for a number of years, I know the value of, and am a great believer in, reference books of this type. They not only provide you with information, but save you from costly mistakes and lost time.

With most laptops having custom motherboards, many with proprietary components, you might figure this book would be a waste of money. You’d be wrong. As a reference book, Upgrading and Repairing Laptops is outstanding. There are chapters on processors, memory, motherboards, power supplies, hard drives, removable drives, graphics and sound, operating systems, problem solving and troubleshooting.

As a repair manual it does the best job it can in a general fashion, but don’t expect it to show a lot about the aforementioned machines loaded with proprietary componentry. This book does show you how to take any laptop apart though and the accompanying video on the CD helps make the instructions much clearer and simpler. In fact, the hour long video on the CD is alone worth the price of the book, especially if you're considering throwing away that laptop with the smashed screen that you dropped or ran over with your car. Memory, hard drives, optical drives and other things can often be salvaged from ruined machines and reused in case of another similar emergency, especially if your replacement laptop is the same or similar model.

This brand new 2004 copyrighted book is as up to date as you can get today. The Key Vendor Contact Information chapter provides the names, phone numbers, e-mail addresses and web sites of computer manufacturers for nearly all machines out there. This is a wonderful reference and time saver all by itself.

Did you know your laptop can have up to three different types of batteries? The main battery, of course, that makes it a portable, but also a suspend/standby battery and a CMOS/clock battery. The first two batteries are rechargeable, but the CMOS battery is not and may need replacement after a while. Good to know? Right! It’s in the book.

A kind of corollary benefit provided by the book is that it will help you better understand laptops when you go out to buy one. What the internal components are, how they work and can fail, what you may need to get the job done and what you’re actually buying with your hard earned money are all areas covered nicely in the book. It's yet another example of a part of this book worth the $50 price tag all by itself. I've listened to a few store salespeople provide wrong answers to questions from the general public wishing to buy their first laptop for themselves, their children, or grandchildren. I think this book and Repairing and Upgrading PC’s by the same author, should be required reading for dunder-headed sales people. Upgrading and Repairing PC’s by Scott Mueller, 14th Edition (2003) is actually included in PDF format on the CD.

The Cons:

This book is not all honey and wonderful. The explanation on how to open your memory access panel and upgrade your memory is only a couple of pages in length. On the other hand, the types of memory used in machines, how to identify them, what they look like, and what you may need to purchase takes up the other 30 pages in the chapter.

The troubleshooting and repairing chapter of 40 pages is mostly composed of pages of Power On Self Test (POST) beep codes and IBM POST error messages. There are a few pages of questions and answers (on topics such as "My speakers quit working" and "The keyboard doesn’t work"). These are okay and a help, but there’s not enough information about the relative value of all the different diagnostic software available on the market. Only two software diagnostic programs are recommended, but with no in-depth explanation of their value. The product web site addresses are given for further information

I looked for and didn’t find some real down-to-earth help until I watched the video. All of that information was there on the CD-ROM. So, don’t buy the book used, even if you can find one, without the CD.

The teeny-tiny screws used in laptops can be of different lengths and types. When you take a laptop apart, pay attention to where the screws came from (around the edge of the bottom case), how long they are and put them in separate, well marked little plastic storage boxes. The video suggests paper cups, but I’ve had paper cups fall over much too easily. A magnetic tipped screwdriver can be a great help here as well, again as the video suggests, and a power screwdriver also makes things easier.

These next two tips I looked for and didn’t find, but I include them here as examples:

You often find the inside shields soldered together as part of the grounding system of the machine and a temperature controlled soldering iron, or at least something other than a blowtorch-sized gun, is a great help. The machine they disassembled in the video did not have any solder connections, but many I’ve taken apart do, especially older ones. A soldering iron wasn’t mentioned for disassembly. The book does discuss the importance of getting a repair manual for your laptop. Unfortunately manuals are not always available and the book doesn't say much about how to work without a manual. Here’s a suggestion I would have included. Work slowly and carefully and diagram and mark where things come from especially if you have to order a part from the manufacturer. In fact, if you have a good digital camera, a few stored pictures can be a real help when a few weeks later you need to put the machine and all its short little ribbon cables and plugs back together again. Perhaps we’ll see more of this type of information in future editions. In the meantime, its absence doesn’t take away from the value of this first edition book or the CD-ROM.

I no longer own that repair shop, but I still love to pick up a good deal on a used older portable computer and upgrade them and give them away to college bound family members and friends as gifts. I did that three times last year alone and was examining a couple of other laptops to purchase just yesterday. It keeps my skills and knowledge up and makes for wonderful and surprising gifts.

Consequently, I’m thrilled to see Scott Mueller put together in one volume and disk all this information and knowledge about laptops. I know I will find it a great help in my dalliances with laptops and, if you have the need, I certainly recommend this book to you as well.

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