Fixing The Future

[iFixit] (who we’ve posted about many times before) has launched a passionate manifesto promoting the skills and knowledge of repair as a solution to technological consumerism and waste. They use powerful footage of electronic waste dumps in Ghana to make the point that we must collectively change the way we use and relate to our high technology–take a look after the break.

The manifesto rallies against the practice of withholding repair knowledge such as manuals, error codes and schematics–putting responsibility in the hands of manufacturers–but also makes it clear that it is up to every one of us to inform ourselves and to value functionality over novelty.

Considering the many-faceted resource crisis that we are headed towards, any efforts to push our behavior towards a sustainable and considerate way of life should be considered. As hackers we repair, reuse and rethink technology as part of our craft–but we are also privileged by our enthusiasm for technical challenges. The real battle is to disseminate the kind of knowledge and skills we possess into the general population. This is where the heart of [ifixit]’s message comes into play: the creation of an open, editable online repair manual for every electronic device. If you have something to teach, why not pop over and help expand their database?


59 thoughts on “Fixing The Future

  1. Nice thought. However big business will never stand for this. It’s BuyNLarge (BNL) all the time.

    I tend to hold onto my computers for longer than average. My current laptop is approaching six years old. I’ve done all the maintenance on it, replacing the keyboard, palm rest, lcd, and hard drive over time.

    And here is the thing, it was cheaper than buying Dell’s service contract.

  2. This is a good idea, but specifically for electronics is not a complete solution. Sure, the computer industry has a huge repair industry grown up around it, because PC manufacturers have made an effort to build modular, replaceable parts. But what happens to the parts that you’re replacing? That’s part of the reason we have huge electronics waste piles in poor countries. Additionally, you can’t expect people to use something forever just because it works. I have a 486 somewhere, do I still use it? No…I actually can’t, it no longer fits my needs. It’s also power inefficient compared to the newer breed of laptops, smart phones, etc.

    Repairing things was a great tradition back when all electronics were made from large, simple components. We’ve been there, is what I’m saying. Part of the reason we’ve grown into a throwaway society is because our electronics have advanced beyond what is easily repairable without special knowledge or tool. Sure, occasionally there’s a simple fix like replacing a large, obviously blown capacitor…but much of the time a repair would require more knowledge and tools than 99.99% of the population has available.

    iFixit is doing a good thing, but they can’t make an appreciable dent in the electronic waste we produce. We still need to face and solve that problem.

  3. I agree – a noble sentiment, but the problem is so big that resistance is useless. Until we reach the post-apocalypse when the value of your time drops to 30 cents an hour (and it takes 4,000 dollars to buy an ounce of gold), this is mostly whistling in the dark.

    And as we all know, contributing knowledge for free is always a noble and worthy goal, unless you’re bugged by the fact that someone else is getting paid indirectly for your efforts. But that’s the future for us all.

    I for one ain’t gonna waste time reflowing a bga package with a blow torch to save a laptop. News flash: The telephone system is being dismantled.

  4. The problem with letting everyone and anyone contribute, is that you get answers for the dumbest of the everyday Joe.

    Their solution for fixing the laptop I’ve been trying to work out some motherboard issues on:

    You may be out of battery power. Check if power cord is plugged into the laptop. Also, Make sure the power plug is plugged into the wall. Check that both cord ends are plugged into the power adapter securely. Also, take out the battery and make sure that the connections are clean.

    Yes, awesome, let me just put the case and screen and keyboard back together to try this right away…

  5. Devices are too small to repair simply to make it more difficult to repair. For example, every problem I’ve ever seen with a recent iPod (since the 1st gen nanos) has been a problem with the connection to the headphone plug. On the old iPods, that would be about a $15 part, that was probably less than 5% the size of the entire iPod. Far better to repair when that happens than to throw it out and buy a new one, as most people do. With the nano, it got harder – not entirely because of the size though. There’s plenty of room in there to make the flimsy, cheap, piece of junk “connector” they use to attach it to the board able to be disconnected, as it was in the old ones. They just don’t. But it’s still possible to repair it. I’ve done it. But the new ones, like the touch – not possible. At least not easily or well. I mean I repaired mine when it hit the same issue, but it’s a matter of double-sided tape, wire, tape, etc. It no longer closes, and if you push on it the volume goes all screwy. And yet, the touch is _bigger_ than the nano. There’s plenty of room to make that detachable. There’s actually a decent bit of flat-out _empty space_ inside the touch. Also, other companies manage it just fine. I recently pulled my Archos apart to repair a cracked digitizer. Easy to do. Pull a couple screws, it comes apart (the iPod touch literally took me _months_ to get open, and I couldn’t do it without severely damaging the case). Should the headphone connector ever die, or the USB connection, or any of the buttons…they all look easy enough to repair. So why can Archos do it but Apple can’t?

    Also worth noting that the Archos is the first new MP3 player I’ve ever gotten. Every iPod I’ve had (5 of them) were “broken” when I got them. One needed a new screen – saved me about $200 and saved more than half the iPod from the trash. And the repair was something I was able to do in about 20 minutes, using no tools but a _guitar pick_ (gotta love the 1st gen nano.) One I just pulled open and reseated some connectors, and all was good. One was functional again after a _firmware reset_!

    These are the issues that are making people throw things away. I’ve _never_ seen a problem where something actually soldered directly onto the circuit board went bad. It’s always some axillary component that is – or at least _could be_ – easily replaceable. And sometimes it’s not even a hardware flaw at all. People throw things away because they don’t even consider the possibility that it could be repaired.

  6. Reverse broken window fallacy. Wage and price controls have decided that American labor is worth $9/hr.

    If it’s cheaper to deposit commodities in the safety deposit box called landfills: then it’s the right place for them.

    You have to think in rational terms of return on investment. You have 24 hours in a day. You invest in sleep as a preventative measure against lost productivity.

    Are you going to spend an hour of your time trying to keep some copper, epoxy, and antiquated silicon out of a landfill out of sentiment?

    You only should if you have something to learn from it, if you cannot get enough employment to keep yourself productively occupied, or if you have some idealogical motivation to reduce consumption of resources/use of landfills.

    Just recognize that your emotional decision to do so is a reaction to my decision not to. If I follow in your footsteps, some other reactionary will simply increase consumption due to the suppressed price in commodities resulting from the lack of demand.

    Perceived scarcity is a reaction to high prices, and percieved lack of scarcity is a reaction to low prices.

    Humanity has outgrown this rock. We can either deny that it’s happening and try to stop growing through a strained look on our face, or we can rationally approach the problem as engineers and look to expand out habbitat.

    Shed the planet like an undersized exoskeleton. It’s a necessary step in human domination of the Universe.

  7. My problem with this website is that the people who NEED to read it, won’t. Ultimately it’s going to be people like us who go there to contribute or read about fixes, but the general population with no knowledge of electronics is going to open up their device, let alone even visit this website. Even I hate opening up consumer electronics because of the dreaded “YOU WILL VOID YOUR WARRANTY” seal that is inevitably broken. Manufacturers plain and simple do not want you to fix your device, they want you do buy a new one, and although the goal of this site is admirable, it will have no real-world impact for the audience it is trying to reach.

    So for that reason, I think the site needs a way to show you “hey, here is a cool fix for a broken device that will make it work again”. I want that stuff to jump out at me and make me want to buy a broken device on eBay just so I can repair it and save some money. Going and searching for your device is good in an archive type way, but it does little to get me motivated.

  8. great idea however will never work, with people like steve jobs saying we need to replace our electronics at least once a year, companies like apple are a perpetual e-trash machine.

  9. Device drivers and Windows bloat are the real enemy when it comes to electronic waste. I “upgraded” to Windows Vista once before and discovered half my peripherals would have to be thrown in the dumpster as a result because drivers where not available and half my machines would not cope with the bloated “new” OS.

    I bet the majority of the “discarded” electronics being dumped on the third world is the direct result of Windows bloat, inefficiency, and device driver obsolescence.

  10. this manifesto is nice but ultimately useless repairing stuff is not “revolutionary”!

    they have identified one problem but completely missed the cause — the real enemy here is capitalism itself

    want to stop waste, conspicuous consumption, and a culture where disposable junk made by chinese slave labor is the norm?

    also lol @whozit for the expected libertarian free market/nerd space masturbation fantasy (or troll?)

  11. I think that the problem with the PC’s is with compatibility. Although most of them are IMB PC compatible, you need to buy a new motherboard for almost every next processor. (i’m not sure actually, i haven’t made an upgrade for 7 years, maybe upgrade guys will tell more).

  12. As someone who has done a plenty of pc component-level repairs in past, I completely agree, with what he’s talking about.
    Component level repairs still are quite popular in russia, thanks to the attitude planted into people in the soviet era, but this looks like degrading. Many people are not aware, that ‘unofficial’ service is avaliable, and prefer to throw away in exchange for something better/faster. And until you plant the idea that everything can be fixed into ordinary, non-tech people brains, this isn’t gonna work out.

  13. I know this opinion is unpopular, but Africa can go suck a fat one for all I care. If their politicians/dictators/etc want to sell their space out as low budget dumping grounds, that is their own problem, and nobody is forcing them. The US and most other countries have their own problems and people like this should think about helping their fellow countrymen and trying to help the poor, homeless, and starving WHERE THEY ARE before they even consider sending it elsewhere. Go to Detroit or East St. Louis and volunteer to help the poor there. Although at this point Africa probably can’t be cut off from aid as it seems like their entire enconomy is based on celebrity benefit concerts and foreign donations (except for nigeria, almost everyone there is a millionaire king with a large inheritance that they need your help getting to).

  14. I’d also like a detailed accounting of these peripherals left 4 dead by Vista.

    More often than not it was one attempt and they gave up.

    As far as e-waste is concerned you’ll have to convince the folks who lined their pockets creating it in the first place.

  15. Tell you what I wanna see – a website that rates consumer products according to their level of “fixability”.
    That is; next time i buy a dishwasher/microwave/LCD, I’d want to know ahead how easily i can get replacements parts and where.

    In fact, i’d be the first one to buy an open source washing machine or a fridge. If you’ve ever tried to fix one of the new models, you’ll discover that the chinese factories put screws in arbitrary places around the frame and you just can’t open anything without breaking it!

  16. With the rise in price of gold the scrap industry is alive and strong. But its rather unfortunate that machines that require a simple repair are being torn open for a few dollars worth of gold and the rest is trashed. I try and buy/repair electronics off of craigslist but its a limited market. Most people aren’t savvy enough for craigslist, or don’t realize people want to buy it, or think its unsafe, or just don’t want to waste their time. And it ends up in the trash. Really unfortunate. I wish there was a more publically accepted and known arena for disposal. A lot of electronics big box stores offer e-recycling but that just ends up in a landfill – either in the US or overseas, it doesn’t get repaired.

  17. “As far as e-waste is concerned you’ll have to convince the folks who lined their pockets creating it in the first place.”

    The folks creating it don’t line their pockets because they are de-facto slaves.
    The corporations selling these products — they are the ones who line their pockets.
    How? Because of you, the consumer.

    Wanna know how all that e-waste was created? Look in the mirror.

  18. I agree with posts that say that most advanced electronics is mostly unfixable.

    But the real savings would be done by removing software locks. Software locking (be it DRM, software keys, whatever) pushes to buy new equipment you don’t need only for software features. Why buy an Android phone when you have an iPhone and you are tired of iOS ?

    Many technically feasible things are software-locked by manufacturers and people just buy the new one. Of course, most readers of this site know how to circumvent protections, but it would be so much easier if everything was not locked.

  19. Just about anything is unfixable these days unless it’s a PSU or button/switch fault. Most contain micros that are programmed with custom, protected code and so can’t be replaced. Most stuff is surface mount and so re-soldering parts is beyond all but the most skilled solderer and quite frankly by the time I was capable of repairing such things I was paid enough to make it not worth my time, so I only do it for fun. They just don’t cost enough to make to make it worth the time invested repairing them.

    As for the “warranty void” sticker – if it’s still within its warranty just take it back, if not – dig in?

  20. The real problem of the hardware is special engineering technique that shortens the life of electronic components in predictable manner. Example: capacitors on motherboards suffer form heat generated by CPU and GPU, solder joints on GPUs suffer from thermal cycles caused by poor cooling and RoHS soldering craplloys, etc.
    An skillful engeneer will adjust cooling of GPU in laptop to cause solder joint or GPU core failing just a month or two after the warranty expires, forcing you to buy new one.

    Yes, hi-tech life is an racket. We bow to “VOIDS WARRANTY IF REMOVED” god and pay for new same crap like money cattle that we are.

    The electronic today is MADE to fail to enforce trash making system we call economy / free market mass production. Most of motherboards and graphic cards are repairable. Power supply can have extended life if cooled properly. Hard drives don’t like swap files and swap partitions.

    Before you send your old PC to landfill check if it can be repaired. Maybe it needs CPU cooler cleaning, replacing some Low ESR capacitors and new power supply. For small amount of money you could have usable firewall/router, game, torrent or DC++ server for next year or two. It will keep your new main PC load free. It’s like having an extra CPU core working for you.

    Vote with your money: don’t buy unrepairable and unreliable crap. The language of money they understand, not the English.

  21. @whozit Thanks for this part, “Humanity has outgrown this rock. We can either deny that it’s happening and try to stop growing through a strained look on our face, or we can rationally approach the problem as engineers and look to expand out habbitat.”

    It’s not going to happen though. We will run out of sufficient resources to populate a new planet long before we have the technology to reach that goal. Oil was our one best shot at doing so. A liquid and gas store of millions of years of energy from the sun, but we’ve used it to expedite the growth of our population for the sake of capitalism.

    1. We have tons of Uranium and Torium alread, only wainting for use. It can provide much more energy that oil, we only need to not be afraid of it. Its not so dangerous, if we made smart use.

  22. @whozit – Looking at the problem as engineers would be to look at our resources and live within them, not look to expand our world. The waster looks to expand to new places so they can continue wasting energy. And, in relation to that…

    @space – “For small amount of money you could have usable firewall/router, game, torrent or DC++ server for next year or two. It will keep your new main PC load free. It’s like having an extra CPU core working for you.”

    Using a PC for any of the above is just about the biggest waste of energy I can think of. You’re talking ~100W 24/7 – from an energy point of view that’s horrifically wasteful.

  23. I agree with part of the premise, that we should be able to get information on what we own. I can’t see being allowed to open up stuff and still have a warranty- assuming the risk yourself should absolve the manufacturer, because you may do far more harm than good. They never agreed that you aren’t a 10-thumbed familial idiot who should have all tools hidden from them. They said that they stood behind what they produced.

  24. Also, the anti-capitalism is pretty rich, as we all sit in front of out electronic marvels produced, generally, by some of the most rapaciously capitalist societies in the world…

    The self-righteous hack-a-day enviro-marxists are pretty funny. One of the real ironies of the ‘smash capitalism to save the planet’ trope is that before the clear superiority of capitalism in maximizing productivity was established, communists openly mocked environmentalism. Smoke belching from huge industrial plants was evidence of communist superiority, until it wasn’t, and then it magically transformed into a symbol of all that’s wrong with capitalism. Sour grapes. You look in the mirror, P.

  25. And while it really is a noble idea, and I’m fairly behind the idea, I’m capable of it.

    I can imagine a world where people take instructions from the internet, strip apart their TV and kill themselves on the HV circuit.

    I can imagine a world where botched repairs set fire to devices and kill a family, because someone saved a few quid on replacing their £10 freeview box.

    While I’m one of the original generation of people who took things apart and tried to fix them before even thinking of buying a replacement, I know my limits and I know when I can cause dangers/problems. Those who are not trained do not know, may miss the dangers and may not understand the problems they cause.

    Be careful what you wish for.

  26. Got my poster at the Maker Faire Detroit! It is awesome and hangs in my cube. Freedom to the Fixers!

    I tried to repair our vacuum cleaner. There was a plug that connected the upper canister with the lower brush that had burned up. I could only find half the plug online. I called the manufacturer to see if I could get the other half. The call center lady was very apologetic and said that I couldn’t get a new plug. If I would please cut off the cord and send it to them they would send me a new replacement vacuum cleaner. I was a bit shocked.

    The kids and I ripped apart the old one and played with the cool motors and switches. The switches have already made their way into other projects and the motors are being reserved for the CNC Machine of World Domination ;-). Only downside was that I had to send them the cord. Vacuum cleaners tend to have looong medium duty cords that make great extension cords.

  27. There’s no financial incentive (yet) to repair anything. It’s “cheaper” to throw away and buy new.

    To change things then we’d need to change the way things are designed and manufactured.

    Eventually things will have to change but not in our lifetime.

    Fixing your own stuff is interesting but try and charge a fair rate for doing so – “it’s almost as cheap to buy another one mate”.

  28. Holy @$%# burning electronics. That’s nasty. Bromated flame retardants will kills joo all. Anyone ever watched “The story of stuff”? It’s a twenty minute animated film about how stupid and nearsighted consumerism is. Designed obsolescence the stuff you buy is supposed to fail! Where the saying, “They don’t make em like they used to comes from.”

  29. When you add in the cost of shipping your unit back, the time you’re without it, the “nominal repair fee” and the chance that the replacement may also be defective, the cost of your time to repair it “right the first time” may be a better deal!

    And, there’s always the chance that you can improve on the design.

  30. Provide a counterexample, P. I didn’t claim that maximizing productivity is always a good thing, though from a thermodynamic point of view, it must be at least a consideration. If pointing out history of claims that Marxism is ‘scientific’ and collective, centrally-planned economies would crush the silly old inefficient capitalists (which, I think is pretty clear, are claims that have been completely abandoned) is trolling, then the definition has widened.

    I’ve been called far worse than ‘troll’ by people with enough confidence to use their name rather than a single letter, so your ad hominem is noted, but not regarded, Sweet P.

  31. @whozit, and others: I’ve personally saved over $200 with under 30 minutes of work repairing a device. I could have also sold it and made _at least_ $100 profit. Not bad for a half hour’s work…

    It would seem that those arguing that there’s no economic incentive for repair don’t repair a whole hell of a lot. I also am in the process of repairing my Archos MP3 player. I cracked the digitizer. It would have been over $150 to get Archos to repair it. It was $10 to get a new one off e-bay and do it myself.

    @James: “Just about anything is unfixable these days unless it’s a PSU or button/switch fault.”

    Yes, and 95% of the time, that IS what’s wrong. As I said in a previous post, I have NEVER, not ONE SINGLE TIME, seen a component actually soldered to a board go bad. At least not unless it had been abused (i.e. providing _way_ too much voltage). It’s _always_ some small auxiliary component that goes bad that makes people throw this stuff out.

  32. Fixing and conserving is great, but sometimes junk is junk and needs to be disposed of. If countries like Ghana already have an industry built around breaking down electronic waste, we should be thinking about investing in the proper equipment and infrastructure so that they can do it safely and efficiently. That junkyard wouldn’t be such a sad story if it was a clean industrial facility providing jobs and opportunities to the community.

  33. I’m a sys-admin for a small college and educating my users here on basic things has saved me so much time and effort. I’m doing a class next week in fact. The users now do triage. I’m the surgeon that takes care of the rest.

    It’s the same with this. iFixit is attempting to provide the resources. We have the responsibility to educate other people that automatically assume they can’t understand electronics. Most people, when they realize they can understand the basics, are more than happy to put a little effort into maintenance and repair.

  34. Electronic components fail primarily because of poor practices in the assembly plants. Reliability always goes down as the amount of handling increases and the low cost of labor in many Asian countries results in vastly more handling than is found in North American factories. I checked out a Chinese circuit board manufacturing plant (bare boards, no components) and stopped counting after 102 handling steps; in a North American or European plant, there might be 5 handling steps in total.

    The worst handling concerns use of soldering irons. Machine soldering takes place at temperatures at least two hundred Fahrenheit degrees below the operating temperatures of soldering irons. When soldering irons touch components such as integrated circuits, damage known as “purple plague” occurs inside the components. Because the damage is invisible, few people pay much attention to the problem.

    There’s a good explanation of the soldering heat damage phenomenon at

    The problem with repairs is, of course, they all involve soldering irons. I never buy refurbished electronics because the act of replacing components means the unit is inherently unreliable.

  35. @Jim Smith, not all problems are caused by overheating although you are right to mention the delamination and warping issue with machine soldering.

    Its interesting to note that some problems are caused by mixing different types of lead free, case in point using Ag based solder with non Ag is known to cause brittle unreliable joints.
    Best to remove *all* the old solder with braid first just to make sure.

  36. The problem of “mixing” different lead–free solders is that they may not mix. If the original solder melts, the added solder will mix with it and there will just be a uniform alloy with lower silver (Ag) content. The silver is used in lead–free solders to reduce the melting temperature.

    I suspect that you mean using standard tin/lead alloy with lead–free solder makes for unreliable connections and that is true.

    My post was to explain why components fail. Breaks in solder joints are a different story.

    And be sure that the part is solderable. If the solder is reluctant to flow, your likely cause is an unsolderable part.

    Although we work with electronics manufacturers, we try to post soldering information that will be helpful to consumers, especially on

  37. @James – “Using a PC for any of the above is just about the biggest waste of energy I can think of. You’re talking ~100W 24/7 – from an energy point of view that’s horrifically wasteful.”

    I’m typing this message on 100W PC right now, and it is on 24/7 for last four years.
    When I buy a new PC, I’ll probably have graphic card that uses more than 100W IDLE, CPU will probably use more than 50W idle. I’ll essentially use 2 to 3 times more energy just running new PC idle. I’m sorry, but I need one PC 24/7.

    If you have an information what could work 24/7 reliably, and be as functional as my 2GHz single core AthlonXP please let me know.

    btw I have 233MHz PC under the roof, working as wireless network node. 25 Watts for last five years, maintenance free. That is ~1100kWh so far, 30 euros cost in electricity total for last five yeras! Horrible. I feel so ashamed.

    Dude, there is something wrong with your reasoning.

  38. @space
    a little off topic, but to answer your question, I swapped out a 2G P4 motherboard with an Atom 1.6G 330 (jatom-GM1-330-LF)that runs 24/7 and couldn’t be happier. It’s my mail server, mythtv backend, file server, caller id server, and web server. Apache’s a little slow but not bad. I can even watch hdtv with the onboard graphics, but I rarely do because of the box’s location. It consumes a little more than 50W, and I suspect much of that goes to the pair of 1st gen pchdtv cards. I shut it down once a month to blow the dust out, and its never given me trouble.

  39. As someone who swears to DIY and now that manifesto, I agree with encouraging people to try DIY and self-repair activities. The problem is the clueless schmucks who try…either break something further or get injured/killed. The ones with common sense and good hand-eye coordination will do just fine. is a noble endeavour indeed, but the way business has been its always “make it smaller with planned obsolescence”. This isnt applied to just electronics, its everywhere in. We seriously need to stop the throw-away culture, it will come back to bite us in the ass in a few decades. Dont even get me started with cellphones !@#$.

    Kill the throw-away culture and encourage more DIY.

  40. this was wasted on the trolls…

    apart from the environment, apart from the status game of saying “my time costs monney”, fixing stuff usualy makes sense. it often takes the same ammount of time to fix something as it does to buy a new one.

    ifixit is a great idea, making it easier to fix your stuff, there’s not many articles that aren’t about fixing you mac yet, but great idea. hope it goes far.

  41. @ewan: dude, it’s not just a “status game” that my time=money, and it’s not just money that makes it (my time) valuable to me. My time every day is finite and I have to squeeze the most value out of it that I can. In many (most) cases it’s far more economical for me to toss and replace than to spend the time diagnosing a problem, researching the fix, acquiring the parts and performing the task. If I got pleasure out of the activity, it would be further up the priority scale. As it stands, I get more pleasure (and value) out of other activities.

    It’s similar to the question of whether I stand in line for an hour to save $5 ($10, $20, $50?) on a product or just pay full price and get it without having to do something that otherwise is a waste. My break point would be $50 or more is worth an hour of my time doing a task I detest. YMMV.

  42. I guess you have a busy life Alchemyguy. Ask your grand parents about the value of fixing things. It depends on what it is. I just fixed a 52 inch T.V. for someone, 200$ not 1500$. Fixing some things is worth it. Some things not. My parents wore seventh generation clothing (Requires fixing). Really I guess it depends on your income. Those poor people in the short video thought fixing computers was an opportunity. Many VERY old computers are used effectively to track inventory in many stores. Side note old stuff often needs to be fixed at some point.

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