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How to Manually Clean the Inside of Your Laptop

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In a previous post I explained why it is necessary to clean the inside of modern laptops every year or so. Since it was more than a year since I last dusted the inside of my Dell XPS L702X, I decided to disassemble it, clean it, and make a tutorial out of the whole process.

Preparations

To disassemble and assemble again a laptop, you will need the following:

  • Phillips screw drivers
  • a set of hooks and picks to get hold of small cables
  • a plastic tool to pry open the laptop’s case
  • cleaning tools, such as window cleaner with no alcohol content, cotton buds, cotton pads, paper towels, pieces of cleaning cloth
  • a table to put all the screws and inside parts of the laptop
  • your laptop’s service manual
  • excellent fine motor skills and steady hands
  • slight experience with electronics

You might want to read the service manual beforehand and have it printed out (or opened in another laptop). It’s nice to have help at hand should you run into trouble or should you not know how to proceed. As an example, my laptop’s service manual is available here.

If you are well-prepared, you have half the job already done.

Tools prepared

Tools prepared

Taking a laptop apart might be a bit scary the first time, but it is a routine job the second time around.

Step by Step Tutorial

Step 1

Before you start, make sure that you wear clothes that don’t generate static electric charges. You could kill your laptop’s insides with a touch of a fingertip, if it is loaded with a static charge.

Step 2

Turn off your operating system and your computer.

Step 3

Wait for 15 minutes, so that the inside parts have time to cool down. Otherwise, you might burn your fingers.

Step 4

Take out the laptop’s battery.

Step 5

Remove service cover which protects the hard drives and memory modules.

Step 6

Take out the hard drive(s) — first the screws holding them in place, then disconnect the drives by pulling them up and away.

Tip

Label all screws or at least put them near the part they belong to. Making it visually clear which screws belong to which component makes the assembly process very fast and efficient.

Screws in their correct places

Screws in their correct places

Step 7

Take out the optical drive — in my case it is held by only one tiny screw, then I can pull it out.

Step 8

Take out the SD card dummy placeholder.

Step 9

Remove the screws holding the palm rest (upper cover), then carefully pry and lift the palm rest assembly with a plastic tool — a metal tool might scratch or damage the plastic surfaces of the laptop.

Lift palm rest with a piece of plastic

Lift palm rest with a piece of plastic

Step 10

If there is dirt around the touchpad’s clickers, you can unscrew those, too. There is a flat cable there which you need to unlock and pull out.

Important Note

All cables are unlocked by pulling up their retainers by 90 degrees. Then they pop and you can easily pull out the cables from their connectors.

Step 11

Carefully lift up the keyboard. There are 1 or 2 cables connecting the keyboard to the motherboard depending on whether you have a back-lit keyboard.

Keyboard cable with locked retainer

Keyboard cable with locked retainer

Keyboard cable free to pull out with unlocked retainer

Keyboard cable free to pull out with unlocked retainer

Step 12

Turn the laptop over to access the bottom cover. There are 2 long screws in the corners, 4 long screws at the battery bay’s corners, and 2 tiny screws inside the battery bay — remove them all.

Step 13

Turn the laptop again and remove the screws holding the bottom cover. In my case there are 11 of them and are labeled M2.5×8.

Step 14

Before removing the bottom cover completely, disconnect any cables that might be still holding the two parts together. In my case I had to disconnect the WiFi’s cable by carefully pulling it out of its connector.

Step 15

Disconnect the fan — it is held by screws and a cable. The cable can be carefully pulled out the same as the WiFi cable.

Step 16

Uncover the fan’s blades by removing the tiny screws holding the casing.

Step 17

Disconnect the IO (input/output) cable located below the fan.

Cleaning

I clean the components as I remove them, so that I place them on the table already clean and ready to be assembled again.

I clean the inside parts thoroughly with cotton pads and cotton buds, especially the keyboard, touchpad, and various narrow locations.

Important Note

When using any cleaning materials inside your laptop, make sure that there are no leftovers anywhere — they could pose a fire hazard and damage your laptop.

I dust the larger areas using various pieces of cleaning cloths.

The most dust collects in the fan and in the ventilation area.

Dusty fan

Dusty fan

Dusty ventilation area

Dusty ventilation area

First, I clean these surfaces with cotton pads. Then I take them outside and blow out the remaining dust — remember, don’t spit, just dry blow. Next, I carefully lift the copper heat pipes and clean the surfaces under them. Then I blow out the remaining dust again.

And the ventilation is clean…

Clean ventilation area

Clean ventilation area

Combine a cotton pad and a cotton bud to gain access to the areas between the fan’s blades. I also use a bit of window cleaner to make the cleaning more effective.

Process of cleaning the fan

Process of cleaning the fan

It is tedious work, but there is a large amount of dust there that makes the fan noisier than necessary and much less effective in its purpose.

And the blades are clean…

Clean fan blades

Clean fan blades

And here is the mess that was trapped inside the laptop…

Dirt

Dirt

Assembly

I had to remove 46 screws, 4 drives, and 6 cables to take my Dell laptop apart.

Laptop internal parts

Laptop internal parts

Before assembly, make sure that everything is clean, that there are no leftover pieces of cotton or cloth anywhere inside the laptop, and that all components and parts are dry.

Laptop casings

Laptop casings

To assembly the laptop, follow the steps listed above but in the opposite order.

In case you placed all components and screws on the table in a logical order, the assembly process should take less than 10 minutes.

See the Difference

As soon as I start up my laptop, I can hear that the fan works more silently. After working with the laptop for a while, I notice that the fan activates less frequently than it used to before the dusting.

But what about the laptop’s inside temperatures?

I used Speccy before the cleaning to take a snapshot of the laptop’s internal temperatures:

speccy-before-dusting

Speccy — Temperatures before dusting

And here are the numbers after the dusting.

Right after boot up:

speccy-after-dusting-after-boot-up

Speccy — Temperatures after dusting (boot up)

And after working for an hour with the cleaned laptop:

speccy-after-dusting-60-minutes-in

Speccy — Temperatures after dusting (one hour later)

The difference is a noticeable 10-20% reduction in internal heat:

Component Temp Before Temp After Temp After +1 Hour Difference
CPU 54°C 45°C 45°C -16.7%
Motherboard 54°C 44°C 44°C -18.5%
Graphics 52°C 41°C 45°C -21.2% to -13.5%
HDD 1 37°C 26°C 37°C -29.7% to 0%
HDD 2 37°C 30°C 39°C -19% to +5.4%
Overall 234°C 186°C 210°C -20.5% to -11.3%

I bought my Dell XPS L702X to last for ten years without losing its high-end performance. That was four years ago and this laptop is as good as new. (The only upgrade I made was adding an SSD as the boot-up drive.)

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