Drilling Into a Laptop: Extreme Hinge Repair

final-2

What is it with laptop companies spending millions on design and aesthetics… and then using a cheap hinge design that is almost guaranteed to break? After [Peter Zotov] spent hours trying to find a replacement online, he decided to take matters into his own hands with this slightly unorthodox hinge repair.

The problems lies in the design of the hinge mounting to the lid. First, they’re using a non-standard screw sizes, slightly larger than an M2. Second, it’s threaded into cast aluminum — and to make matters worse, it doesn’t even look like there is sufficient thread engagement! A good rule of thumb is about 2 times thread diameter for aluminum — 1-1.5 times for steel. And it’s not just ASUS doing this, we’ve seen numerous laptops of different brands where the hinge goes after a year or two — what happened to cyclic stress tests?

Anyway, [Peter] decided to drill out the existing threads to allow for larger bolts. He threw his precious laptop up onto his CNC mill (a drill press would do just fine), and popped larger holes straight through the lid. This allowed him to put three standard M2 screws in place with a nut and washer. We admit it’s not the most elegant solution, but it’s saved him from getting a new laptop just because of planned corporate obsolescence.

53 thoughts on “Drilling Into a Laptop: Extreme Hinge Repair

  1. “the hinge goes after a year or two”

    That is within spec. Why do you think so many contracts around electronic devices are one or two years? What is really surprising is that the car companies have not caught on yet.

  2. This guy must have done a shitty job searching, I just found a couple replacement display assembly on ebay, and a company which sells hinges.

    1. Wasn’t there ~2 months ago when the hinge first broke. But that’s irrelevant anyway. Paying $150-$300 plus delivery for a replacement assembly and waiting 3-4 weeks because of six broken threads is not something I’m looking forward.

      (Hinge itself is fine; it’s the hinge mount which was broken.)

    1. You mean repair on warranty? Could’ve done that, but they asked me to leave them the laptop for >2 weeks while they (presumably) order replacement parts. I have work to do.

  3. >First, they’re using a non-standard screw sizes, slightly larger than an M2

    M2: Major Diameter: 0.0779″ [1.981mm] (max) [0.074″]1.886mm] (min)
    #2: Major Diameter: 0.0860″ (max), 0.0854″ (min)

    Could they be using Imperial sized screws? They are also a standard! Things with standards is just that you can have yours and so can I. Kind of strange that someone that have a CNC mill that say that.

    In a regular PC, there are mixed Metric and Imperial screws depending on what you are fastening. Stuff that are invented in the US uses imperial standards and stuff from Japan/rest of the world uses metric.

    Anyway, whether it is a M2 or #2, it is probably too small for the job.

    1. So are you trying to tell us that that US has invented the PC case while Japan/Europe is responsible for the motherboard? :D

      btw some brass or copper rivets would look awesome ;-)

      1. May be just the shitty hinges. :P Or the mech designer figures that M2 is too small, but for whatever reason don’t want to use M2.5, so he/she picked #2 for that extra 10+% diameter.

      2. “So are you trying to tell us that that US has invented the PC case while Japan/Europe is responsible for the motherboard? :D”

        It’s a bit like hard drives use UNC threads, floppy disk and optical drives use metric. Or if you layout a circuit board, you almost always have to deal with a mixture of imperial and metric measurements, even for similar types of devices like ICs.

        1. Electronics is in decimal inches, a hangover from the “Printed” in PCB.

          EG typical pin spacing is 2.54mm, or 0.1″. There was an attempt to change this to 2mm, but it didn’t get far.

          An LED might be 5mm, but those pins are still 1/10″ apart. It is a bit weird, but at least everyone follows the same standard. Even SMD parts are/were sized in relation to decimal inches.

          A true Imperial board would be laid out in 1/8th or 7/64th or something like that.

          1. Yes – a lot is imperial. But many modern surface mount ICs, for example, use pin pitches specified in millimeters (0.4mm, 0.5mm, etc.). The data sheets do not always specify an imperial equivalent, although one can of course calculate if required.

        2. If you look at things like SMD resistors, you see sizes like 3.2mm x 2.5mm, which of course is 1/8″ x 0.1″.

          Never mind mixing fractional & decimal inches, but those sizes aren’t an accident.

          Subsequent sizes are half those measurements etc.

      3. I have seen mixed stuff in the weirdest places. The machine that I built my laser cutter out of for example. Made in Switzerland but there were things in there that when measured only made sense with imperial measurements like hole spacing and stock size. Then there was the leadscrew for the Y axis, it was 1/4″ in diameter with a 1/2″ lead.

        Then there was a japanese hydraulic pump work on a Yasda milling machine at work. Hard metric made in Japan. All except the pressure adjust screw, 1/4″ hex. Weird.

        1. Some sizes are grandfathered in in certain areas, of there’s no real reason to change them. Plumbing stuff is mostly imperial, any metric sizes are a lie (or close enough not to matter).

          Bicycles are a good example, lots of metric but pedals have a 1/2″ thread.

    2. I think you’re right! Thanks for the tip. Never heard about Imperial sized screws before (I know, I know, but not everyone lives and breathes US air.)

    1. Only because they are designed to fail at that point. Same goes with the hinges, they use cheap hinges that are expected to fail because they know most people will buy a new conputer rather than repair it.

      1. its not that they’re cheap so much as everyone wants the thinest and lightest laptop available. and a lot of people disproportionately stress the hinges by adjusting the screen angle by grabbing the side putting most of the load on to one hinge, rather than grab the middle of the screen.

  4. Repair vs new system I often choose repair even if it is just to put off buying a new one a couple of weeks / months. I also like the challenge of completing the task. so win win.

  5. I did something similar once though not nearly as professionally. The right hinge on my old HP laptop seized up on me during a college lecture (it had been getting stiffer for months) to the point where I couldn’t close it. I happened to have some screwdrivers and a pocket knife in my bag so I unscrewed the hinge, shaved down a pencil and stuck it into the hinge’s void. I had the lid opening and closing before the lecture was over!

    That little pencil stayed in the hinge until the power supply bit the dust for the Nth time (I’d already soldered in a new cable) and the laptop was old enough that spending $100 on a new adapter wasn’t worth it and had to replace it.

    I still miss the 3:4 screen on that thing. 1280 vertical pixels is still better than my current laptop.

  6. Nice repair, but shit like this is exactly why I tell people to buy something from Dell or Lenovo’s business line with a 3 year or greater warranty on it. Some of that stuff is virtually indestructible. Costs more, but at least it does fail 6 months in you’re still supported.

    1. When I bought it, it was the only non-Mac laptop with a HiDPI (“retina”) display. Was worth it, but not without… side effects.

  7. I had an Alienware M11x that did the same thing, basically stripped out the inset sleeve that held the threads for the hinge. Had to drill through the screen lid and ran a long bolt through it.

  8. Wow, I did exactly the same fix on my laptop screen hinge just a week ago! Actually the work was done by me and a repair guy who came to my house to fix the hinge, only to find that he needed to replace plastics along with the hinge and didn’t have all that he needed. So we put my Dremel, tiny drill bits, and files to use, with results very much like those pictured here. A few days later he came to my office to finish the job and replace the plastic. All in warranty, very nice. Photo here: https://www.facebook.com/photo.php?fbid=10153305583518532

  9. Been there. I’ve repaired this kind of damage a few times. Usually the parts are cheap enough, sometimes they are not worth the expense to fix it the right way, especially on the really bad designs where you know it will fail the same way again. I’m all for repairing laptops, and will repair mine until it can no longer cope with the increasing demands I place on it. When I outgrow a laptop, I tend to refurbish it one last time, and depending on the cost (or lack thereof), I will donate it to a needy school kid, or sell it for what the parts cost. Keeps them out of landfills that way. I’ve seen a lot of hinge failures, and they’re usually due to bad designs. Can’t really blame any specific manufacturer since I’ve seen most of them make at least one or two bad designs. Just a little though, or, as mentioned, stress testing, could prevent this kind of failure, but, they’re not out to make indestructable parts, they’re out to sell you a new laptop every year.

  10. I want to know why none of the writers for this site understand how businesses work. Is it because none of them have ever had a real job? Or are they just trying to stir up controversy for page views?

    I have a hard time believing that a bunch of engineers sat around in a meeting at ASUS to plan the obsolescence of their laptops by underspec-ing the lid hinge screws. I guess at least this article didn’t mention the damned Sparkfun meters again…

    1. I fully believe that a bunch of engineers was sat around at ASUS and told to squeeze every last cent of the cost. Alternatively, I can easily see a guideline existing which dictates that in case of cost/longevity tradeoff one should always choose cost.

      “Planned obsolescence” doesn’t mean a malevolent conspiracy. It means giving reliability lower importance in an environment where such a decision economically benefits the manufacturer.

      1. I disagree. Planned obsolescence absolutely means that steps were taken to intentionally lower the expected lifespan of a product in order to force another sale at a predetermined interval. What you described is referred to as cost optimization, which has a different intent. Planned obsolescence is done with a MAXIMUM lifespan in mind, where cost optimization is done with a MINIMUM.

        It’s all about the intent. Assume that 80% of users open and close their laptops no more than twice a day, and only 10% of users keep their laptop longer than 7 years. Also assume that if your laptop lasts at least three years, 80% of people wouldn’t be mad enough to switch brands because it broke.

        Cost optimization would say that we need an MTBF of greater than 365 days * 2 times/day * 7 years * 1.5 ~= 7,500 cycles. This means that MOST people won’t have their hinges break before they’re done using the laptop anyway.

        Planned obsolescence would approach it as desiring an MTBF no greater than 365 days * 2 times/day * 3 years * say 1.25 ~= 2,700 cycles. This will force you to replace your broken laptop before you were done using it, but not so soon that you’ll switch brands.

      2. A lot of stuff, especially cheap stuff, seems to have one part that is designed to fail. You look at it when it’s broken and think “now if they only…”

        The Magic Bullet Blender is a good example. I’ve had a cheap knock-off for years and it’s worked very well, except…

        Here is the blender: http://gethealthywithheather.files.wordpress.com/2010/08/cimg4029.jpg, and here is a better shot of the cups: http://img.auctiva.com/imgdata/1/8/1/6/5/8/6/webimg/724989462_o.jpg

        See those tabs poking out of the cups? They line up with those white parts inside the blender, pushing those down starts the motor. If you twist the cup after pushing it down, the tabs act as locks.

        Nice design, except… those tabs are too weak, and snap off. No tabs = no work.

        “Now if they only they’d made those tabs twice as thick…” except they knew exactly what they were doing. The design can easily be changed to remove that weakness, but hasn’t.

        Planned obsolesce indeed.

        FWIW I glued on thicker tabs, I lose the locking function but you don’t really need it; it’s really only designed for short bursts.

  11. It’s equally valid to contemplate re-purposing hinge nuked laptops as guts for Kiosks or Printerbot and Art Hack uses. Fix the hinge Good Enough as maybe even just fixed in place with hot melt etc and never fold the pig again…

    Good Enough…Is.

  12. I did this years ago on my alienware m11x. Piece of garbage hinge broke after a week of completely normal use. Didn’t really consider it a hack though to be honest.

  13. Cracked plastic casing is even more annoying. I had to use some improvised aluminium scraps and a beast of an epoxy resin glue. Seems to hold much better than the factory default, though.

  14. I work at a computer repair shop and about 15% of the physical repairs are something like this. I generally use a mixture of epoxy and bolts like this to fix them. I see the same models over and over again, and occasionally see changes to the hinges or mounting reinforcement in the next generation, which doesn’t really seem like they’re planning on it breaking. Some of it may be related to the quality of manufacturing or simply that it wasn’t tested under very realistic conditions.

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