Last updated on 02-01-2015

Page index:
Who Needs a Geek Squad?
Before You Make Major Changes To Your Computer
How To Disinfect Files, Emails, & Disk Drives Without Opening Them
Basic Computer Maintenance for Regular People
How To Disinfect An External Disk/Thumb Drive
Spilled Coffee On My Keyboard/Mouse/Cell Phone……
Gunk All Over My Laptop’s Screen

Who Needs a Geek Squad?

By Kyle Wiens, CEO of iFix it.com as Published in Bottom Line Personal September 15, 2014

Portable electronic devices are convenient…but they are prone to mishaps and other frustrating problems. Smartphones and computer tablets often are dropped, dunked or crushed. Built-in screens and keyboards can develop problems seemingly out of nowhere. All of these devices rely on batteries that will inevitably lose their ability to hold a charge. When problems like these occur, it might seem that the only options are to replace the device (a Smartphone can cost $300 or more) or pay a computer-repair service $50 to $100 an hour and up. And some devices, especially Apple’s iPhones, tablets and laptops, are particularly difficult to repair. But certain repairs are within the abilities of even non-tech-savvy ¬consumers.

Caution: Some repairs require opening up the device. Doing this is likely to void your warranty. But it still could be worth opening the device if the warranty already has expired and/or the device has endured substantial damage that is not covered by the warranty.

Five common problems and how to fix them yourself…

Waterlogged device. It might be possible to save waterlogged electronics if you act fast, though there are no guarantees when it comes to water damage.

Immediately power down the device if it’s still on—don’t bother with the recommended shutdown procedure if there’s a quicker way to shut it off, such as holding down the power button. Remove the battery, assuming that this can be done quickly—that is, by sliding open a battery compartment or removing a few screws. If you do open the battery compartment, leave it open. Use a towel to dry off the outside of the device. (If the device is enclosed in a protective case, take this off and then dry the device itself.) Next, wrap the device loosely in a paper towel, and place it in a jar or a plastic bag full of uncooked rice. Seal this bag or jar, and leave the device inside for at least one or preferably two days. Uncooked rice absorbs moisture.

Better yet, purchase a bag specifically designed to dry out wet electronics, available at some electronics stores or websites for $10 to $30. These bags contain desiccants such as silica gel that absorb moisture even better than rice. But you must buy these bags in advance—once a device is wet, time is of the essence and it’s too late to order one.

If you don’t have rice or other desiccants handy when electronics get wet, position the device in front of an air-conditioning or heating vent until you can get them. After a day or two in the rice or dry bag, remove the device, replace the battery and try to power it on.

Helpful: If the digital device was exposed to a liquid that contained sugar or salt and the device does not power on after the procedure above, open up the device, if possible, and remove its battery. Then use cotton balls dipped in isopropyl alcohol to wipe down all of the electronic components.

Failing battery. Replacing a laptop’s battery usually is easy—you generally can remove the old battery and install a replacement without so much as turning a screw. Replacing a Smartphone’s battery is sometimes nearly as simple—just slide open an access door and perhaps disconnect a cable. But a small number of laptops (mainly Apple products), some Smartphones (including the iPhone, Motorola Droid Razr and some models of the Nokia Lumia) and most tablets have “embedded” batteries. To replace these, you will have to open up the case, which isn’t always easy. The battery itself might be glued into place, forcing you to painstakingly work it loose with gentle prying and perhaps a heat gun. In some cases, you have to remove additional parts just to get to the battery.

Examples: To replace a Nook tablet’s battery, you must remove the remove the motherboard—the main printed circuit board. The original Apple iPhone’s battery is soldered in place, making ¬replacement extremely difficult. Batteries in more recent iPhones are easier to replace.

Battery quality varies greatly, so lean toward batteries and battery sellers that have received positive feedback from large numbers of shoppers. (Brian recommends your local Batteries + Bulbs.)

Cracked tablet/Smartphone screen. It’s often feasible to replace the cracked screen on a tablet or Smartphone—it all depends on which device you own.

Examples: The iPhone 5, Motorola Atrix and certain Samsung Galaxy models are repairable. But the HTC One phone and original iPhone are hard to open without doing additional damage.

Investigate online how complicated this repair job will be for your specific device before deciding whether or not to tackle it. Also look into the cost of the replacement part. If you need to replace only the glass screen that covers the LCD panel, it should be less than $20. But costs could climb to $50, $100 or more if the LCD panel itself is broken, too, or if the LCD in your device is permanently fused to the glass and both parts must be replaced together. If you decide not to tackle the repair but to live with a cracked screen instead, consider purchasing a case that includes a transparent screen protector.

Flickering laptop display. This often is caused by a loose wire. Move the screen back and forth a little, as if opening and closing the laptop. If the flickering intensifies or improves, it’s a good indication that a loose wire is indeed the culprit. Flip the laptop over, remove its battery, then remove the screws that hold its outer case together. (Instructions for opening your particular laptop can be found online if needed. With the exception of certain Macs, laptops tend to be fairly easy to open.) Once the laptop is open, locate the LCD “ribbon cable” that runs up through the laptop’s hinge to its screen. A ribbon cable is a bundle of wires grouped together into a flat, ribbonlike piece of plastic rather than a thick cable. One end of this ribbon cable should connect to the laptop’s circuit board. Gently disconnect this, then reconnect it. If this doesn’t solve the problem, it’s probably time to bring the laptop to a professional.

Sticking/missing laptop keyboard keys. Replacing a laptop’s keyboard usually is fairly simple and inexpensive—typically easier and more likely to succeed than replacing individual keys and probably not much more expensive. You generally don’t even have to completely open the body of the laptop. Often the plastic that covers the area between the top of the keyboard and the hinge at the base of the screen can be easily removed by gently prying it up or by removing a few screws located on the underside of the laptop. Once this plastic piece is off, removing the keyboard usually is a simple matter of taking out a few small screws that hold the keyboard in place and disconnecting a cable. Most laptops are designed to allow the keyboard to be removed without taking off the more-difficult-to-remove plastic piece at the bottom of the keyboard. Replacement keyboards generally cost less than $20, though prices can climb as high as $80 or more for certain models.

Exception: It can be very difficult to replace the keyboard with some Mac laptops. You might have to replace the entire upper case instead, which can be challenging and expensive—the replacement part is likely to cost more than $100.

Kyle Wiens, CEO of iFix it.com , a website that provides repair instructions and parts for a wide range of consumer electronics and other products. In 2012, he received the Early Career Award from the Consumer Electronics Society, an organization within the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers.

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Before You Make Major Changes To Your Computer

It would be very wise if you created a current ‘Restore Point’ on your computer before you do any major work on it. Like adding or deleting programs and hardware. This way you can go back to the starting point if something were to go terribly wrong.

In XP find the "System Restore" screen. Choose "Create" and follow the prompts.

In Vista right click on "Computer", select "Properties", then "System Protection" in the left pane. Choose "Create" and follow the prompts.

In 7 click "Start" and search for "Restore". Click on "create" restore point”, then on the “create button at the bottom right.

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How To Disinfect Files, Emails, & Disk Drives Without Opening Them

Thankfully this is an easy one for most newer operating systems. Just right click on the icon or email name and select the ‘scan with’ option from the menu. Your Antivirus or Antimalware program should be listed and can scan the item without opening them up.

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Basic Computer Maintenance for Regular People

Things to do every day :

Back up your computer daily.
OK, OK I don't even do this every day. But if you did a lot of work today it is a really really good idea. At least back up weekly.

Run your Anti-Virus Program.
There are many paid and free versions on anti-virus programs available from the web. Be sure to select automatic updates and set the task scheduler to run a scan EVERY day. I personally use AVG free. I have had no problems for years.

Things to do every week :

Scan for Malware.
There are many paid and free versions on anti-malware programs available from the web. Be sure to select automatic updates and set the task scheduler to run a scan every week if available, or manually update before you run the scan. I personally use Malwarebytes' Anti-malware free & SpyBot SD free. I run one right after the other as no single program can catch all the bad stuff. I have had no problems for years.

Things to do every month :

Run the Disk Defrag program.
Windows comes with a good defragging program. You can set the Task Scheduler or do it manually. Go to 'My Computer', right click on the drive you want. Select 'Properties', click on 'Tools', then click on 'Defrag'. Windows 7 will show you a short history and allow you to customize the schedule.

Run the Disk Error Check program.
Same location as the Defrag program.

Things to do twice a year :

Remove programs and files you no longer need.
If you no longer need it, remove it! Not sure if you really need that program? Create a file of web addresses of programs you might need to reinstall. Now if you haven't used it in over a year, delete it without worrying about where to find it again. With files, pictures and videos you have it in your back up DVD or drive. You did do regular backups right? Or you can make a DVD and save it that way.
Remember - A clean computer is a happy computer! :)

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How To Disinfect An External Disk/Thumb Drive:

Hooking up to a computer with a different OS is preferable. Either way first update ALL antivirus, anti-malware, anti-spy ware, etc. Now disconnect from the web, ALL phone/fax lines, etc. so no one else can get infected and the bad guys can’t call for help. Next turn the ‘AUTO RUN’ feature on your computer off. Last step, hook up the infected drive and clean it up. Some drives may be so badly infected that you can barely get your needed files off safely. It may be wiser to trash those drives.

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WHOOPS, I Spilled Coffee On My Keyboard/Mouse/Cell Phone……

QUICK, disconnect or turn off the unit!! HURRY, remove any batteries, covers, or chips and place it upside down on a towel. If it is just plain water it will dry by itself overnight. Or a gentle breeze from a fan or hair dryer on low will help.

For sticky stuff like milk, pop, food, or liquids with sugar it gets a bit more difficult. Lots of patients and Q-tips dipped in alcohol or water are required. I also use Windex and a paper towel for cleaning dirt and grease off my keyboard and computer. In a worst-case scenario where the gunk gets inside and the keys are sticking, I have placed my keyboards in the dishwasher. This method is a last resort method. It has a success rate of 60 to 75%. It either will fix it, or finish it off. Place the unit face down, put a rubber band around any cords. Run the dishwasher on ‘REGULAR’ cycle WITHOUT SOAP. DO NOT use the heated drying cycle. Place the unit on a towel face down and let dry overnight. On extremely dirty keyboards (from a steel mill) I used about ¼ of the liquid soap for a load with an extra rinse.

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I Got Gunk All Over My Laptop’s Screen:

I use the special plastic lens cleaner I buy for my eyeglasses to clean my laptop’s screen. It is specially formulated to not leave residue or harm the coatings I get on my glasses.

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