My biggest laptop repair

I am very proud of myself.  Last weekend, I undertook my most extensive laptop repair yet, and it worked!

My task: replace the keyboard in my wife's laptop.  Now, this might not sound difficult, but the problem is that my wife has a Dell Inspiron 13 7359.  It's one of those convertibles where the screen will fold all the way around to turn into a quasi-tablet.  It's actually a fairly nice laptop, and it's got more than enough horsepower for her use.  The problem is that she's kind of tough on it and the keyboard was going bad.  In fact, it had quite a few keys that were either flat-out dead or very hard to press, to the point that the keyboard was basically unusable.  So it needed to be replaced.

The problem is that you can't replace this keyboard from the top.  The top of the case is all one piece and covers the space between the keys.  So you have to do it from the bottom, which means that you need to take literally all the components out of the case.  But it's not even that simple.  You can't just  take everything out and then unscrew the keyboard.  Noooo, that would be too easy.  You need remove a layer of adhesive plastic, which is on top of a protective metal plate which is glued and plastic-welded to the case and keyboard.  Then you can remove the glue that holds the keyboard to the case and replace it.  And, of course, then you've got to put back the plate and all the components.

The good news is that I managed to get through all that without too much difficulty.  I used the YouTube video above as a guide to disassembling the core components.  Then I took the advice from this iFixit thread to use use a soldering iron to melt the plastic welds (and also the glue).  I was able to use the soldering iron to go around the edges of each plastic weld and push the melted plastic to the middle of the post, as in the image below.  I used a small screwdriver to pry up the plate as I removed each weld. The soldering iron also easily melted the glue.  After replacing getting everything out, I was able to snap the new keyboard in over the plastic posts without too much trouble.  I used a little hot glue to hold it, then replaced the metal plate, using the soldering iron to spread the plastic from the welds back over the edge of the metal.  Probably not as good as new, but good enough to hold.  Then it was just a matter of putting back the sheet of adhesive plastic and all the system components.

Inside of the case with some of the plastic welds melted

The only part that I actually had any serious problems with was reconnecting the circuit board that houses the WiFi chip to the the motherboard.  For some reason, I just couldn't get the cable to stay put.  I'm not sure if it was just loose or if I wasn't getting it seated properly.  This was especially annoying because that board is what the power button is connected to, so the system wouldn't even turn on if it came loose, which kept happening in the process of putting the back cover on.  I eventually was able to get it to stay put with some tape, so at least it worked out.

In the process, I also upgraded the laptop hard drive from spinning rust to solid-state.  I used EaseUs Todo Backup Home version to and a USB hard drive enclosure to clone the existing system from the HDD to the SSD and just swapped in the SSD when I was putting the system back together.  It worked out great.  The drive cloning process was fairly painless.  It took around 45 minutes to clone the 500GB drive.  The only annoyance was the progress bar that stayed at 53% for half an hour before jumping to 90% when it was about to finish.  The software seemed fairly nice, but I didn't use it much - I really just needed to clone that one disk.  They have a free version, but sadly it does not seem to include the system cloning feature, so I just used the free trial of the paid version.  This does require you to sign up for a subscription and cancel before the trial ends, which is annoying, but not ultimately a big deal.

So now my wife can actually type on her laptop and it has a faster disk.  Total cost: $115.  That's probably less than I would have paid for just the parts if I'd taken it to a shop (which I don't know if they're even opened now).  The break-down was $20 for the keyboard, $70 for the SSD, $15 for the hard drive enclosure, and $10 for a soldering iron.  Yes, I had to buy a soldering iron.  I'd never actually used one before, believe it or not.  But I used it successfully and only burned myself once.  Not bad for a software guy, if I do say so myself.

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