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ashlyw42
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PostPosted: Sat Apr 26, 2014 12:39 am    Post subject: The lights are on, but nobody's home (HDD light & boot f Reply with quote

Whilst trying to solve a completely unrelated WiFi problem (which I may post later if/when this gets resolved) on my Toshiba Portege M400, I attempted to restart the machine. It went down for reboot just fine, but when the time came to actually boot back up, the power light came on and stayed on, while the HDD light came on briefly, then went out, and the screen never turned back on to display LiLo or anything. I forcibly shut the computer down by holding the power switch, tried to turn it back on, and the same thing happened. At this point, I noticed a loose screw at the bottom of the computer on the HDD cover, and tightened that, which still didn't work. Since my computer has a tendency to overheat, I just took the entire cover off, and then when I tried to boot up that time it actually worked. I went on my merry way trying to solve my internet issues, during the course of which I attempted to reboot again, and the same thing happened, only this time taking the HDD cover off didn't work. Nothing beeped or flashed an error code at any point during any of this.

What on earth is going on here??? Is it at all possible to save my beloved clunker of an 8-year-old laptop (and my very first Linux machine), preferably without buying any spare parts because I'm seriously low on funds right now, or has it finally bitten the dust?
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eccerr0r
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PostPosted: Sat Apr 26, 2014 2:42 am    Post subject: Reply with quote

If you don't see the BIOS screen and can't get into BIOS the machine may be dead :(
Likely you have some electro-mechanical problem with the board. Some people say reflowing the solder is the fix but that usually is out of hands of most consumers. Probably time to move onto another computer.
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PostPosted: Sat Apr 26, 2014 7:39 am    Post subject: Reply with quote

ashlyw42,

It may just be that the processor thermal paste has migrated away from filling the microscopic gap between the CPU and heat sink.
You cannot reuse the thermal paste.

If you are confident working on your laptop, look at separating the heatsink from the CPU and fitting new thermal paste.
While you are there, clean the airways in the heat exchanger.

Or as eccerr0r says, "time to move onto another computer."
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DirtyHairy
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PostPosted: Sat Apr 26, 2014 9:29 am    Post subject: Reply with quote

Another possible explanation: make sure that you don't have any loose parts wandering around in your machine. I once had a similar issues with my thinkpad when a spring had dislodged after falling and was causing short-circuits. Other than that, you might try to take it apart, clean it, clean the heatpipe / heatsink / fan system, apply new thermal paste, make sure that all connectors are reattached firmly and cross fingers :)

However, as eccerr0r says, the constant strain of thermal expansion and shrinking has a tendency of breaking solder connections over the years, especially those highly integrated BGA packages. It may well be that the time has finally come to say goodbye to the machine. As a last resort, you can try to replace the mainboard, this revived my old T60 after the GPU had called it a day and was considerably cheaper than a new one.
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ashlyw42
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PostPosted: Tue Jun 03, 2014 10:01 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

Thanks for the suggestions, everyone! (Sorry for the late replies, I've been terribly busy with exams and so I haven't had a chance to even touch this particular machine.) I was thinking it was something along those lines, but unfortunately I'm not exactly sure where to start as far as taking the computer apart (though I'm sure it's something that's easily Googleable), and even if I could I doubt that I could get my hands on the necessary components to fix it beyond anything like re-twisting a wire (though I might be able to access some soldering stuff). I was thinking about taking it to a friend's brother who is a certified computer technician, but my financial situation hasn't improved so it would be wonderful if it turned out to be something I could fix myself without even taking it to him. I wouldn't have the first idea how to go about getting things like thermal paste or a new mainboard, so does anybody know 1. Where something like that might be found in a small not-quite-rural town where few people know anything about computers (online shipping probably isn't an option), and 2. Whether that would be less or more expensive than the average consultation of "what's going on here and can I fix it" at a typical small computer repair place? I plan on emailing the tech (or getting in contact with him through my friend) by tomorrow, so I'll update this post when I get an estimate on what it would cost to take it in.

I also have another currently nonfunctional machine that I was thinking about resurrecting that again might just be a matter of loose parts, or a matter of having to replace something expensive and/or obsolete, but I don't know whether it would be easier or harder (or more or less expensive) to fix than this one. I might start a separate thread for that, and if I do I'll edit this post with the link to that one.
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PostPosted: Wed Jun 04, 2014 8:10 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

ashlyw42,

Don't even think about soldering a PC today, with the exception oy the very few part soldered only into holes in the PCB.
Everything else is surface mount. A few surface mount parts can be hand soldered but you need a special soldering station.

Thermal paste is about 5 GBP for enough to last a lifetime of fixing your own PCs. Thats about 5ml.
Thermal paste is actually a very good insulator compared to the silicon and copper you are trying to get into contact but its much better than the air that would otherwise be in the gap.
Too much is as bad, or worse than too little.

Taking the laptop apart is free. You will be able to 'rearrange' the thermal paste thats already there to prove a point but such a fix won't last.

A laptop stripdown usually requires a few jewelers screwdrivers and some old expired credit cards.
I understand that plastic plectrums will work in place of credit cards.


Desktop PCs are much easier to work on.
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ashlyw42
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PostPosted: Thu Jun 05, 2014 12:32 am    Post subject: Reply with quote

NeddySeagoon: I did actually take the whole thing apart with the help of http://www.irisvista.com/tech/laptops/Toshiba-Portege-M400/take-apart-tablet-pc-1.htm , clean out the fan and surrounding components with compressed air, and rearrange the thermal paste (it was missing from one side of the CPU, and there was too much on another--I've done some research, and apparently this is a pretty common problem with older Toshiba laptops in general), but no dice, plus I lost a screw inside the case when I was almost done with putting the whole thing back together, and basically just got fed up and left it there to retrieve later (I'd already been working on the thing for over 4 hours by that point). It still won't turn on (same issue with the hard drive light as before), and since I didn't have a hex screwdriver to take out the wireless card, the main wire on that ended up getting broken while I was trying to work around it in order to mess around with everything else, so I'll have to go back into the belly of the beast again anyway at some point to rectify that. I doubt I'll mess with it anymore until I can get my hands on a hex screwdriver or a new wireless card, at which point I'll hopefully be able to get a new hard drive too and see if maybe that helps, though again that brings up the issue of whether it would just be cheaper to buy another used or refurbished computer that will probably last longer instead.

Depending on how busy I am over the next couple of days and how long it takes before I can stand the sight of the innards of a computer again after that little learning experience, I'll probably have the post regarding my other currently defunct machine up within the week. Hopefully it's a more straightforward hardware problem, but I have a feeling it might entail replacing something costly and/or obsolete (I'm pretty sure it's even older than this one). Though it could just be a matter of a loose connection or something, I guess I'll find out soon enough. If it's something that doesn't have an immediately apparent solution, I'll certainly be back on the forums again with more questions--and if/when I do fix it, it's almost certainly going to get immediately switched to Gentoo, especially since I learned so much the first time around. :)
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PostPosted: Thu Jun 05, 2014 9:14 am    Post subject: ><)))°€ Reply with quote

Teegrins, ashlyw42!

ashlyw42 wrote:
I doubt I'll mess with it anymore until I can get my hands on a hex screwdriver or a new wireless card, at which point I'll hopefully be able to get a new hard drive too and see if maybe that helps, though again that brings up the issue of whether it would just be cheaper to buy another used or refurbished computer that will probably last longer instead.

A new hard-drive will most likely not make it work if you're not getting even a POST screen happening. That said, I don't imagine it being impossible for a failing drive to prevent it. You could try pulling it off completely and try booting the machine up then.

From that description alone, that the screen simply stays black, it very much seems like something is really giving up, or something is misplaced.

Are you able to tell that it actually locks up during boot, and not that it's just not giving out video output?


I have one laptop that has lost its ability to detect any disk-drives, and I think I even poked it with a soldering iron (didn't break it more, surprisingly), but either I didn't poke at the right places, or it's something terminal.

It's still useful with USB/remote drives though...
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ashlyw42
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PostPosted: Thu Jun 05, 2014 4:56 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

Chiitoo: I pulled the hard drive and tried to boot from one of my old Gentoo LiveCDs, but to no avail. I'm fairly certain that the problem lies with the hard drive, due to the hard drive light behavior I mentioned in the first post. If it was just locking up, the light would more likely stay on constantly like it usually does when this machine locks up, and if there was only a problem with the video output, I expect that the light would just do its normal flickering that it does when the computer is thinking about something. Instead of either of those, it's just starting normally and looking like it's thinking about booting up, then just deciding against it and turning completely off, even though the battery, AC, and power lights stay on.

Of course, it's also entirely possible that there's something completely unrelated that's also wrong with the machine and contributing to all this, especially considering that it's about 7-8 years old at this point and I got it used on eBay 2 years ago. (I know, probably not the best idea.)

(My apologies if this somehow ends up being a duplicate post. The internet connection on the tablet I'm posting this from is rather temperamental.)
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eccerr0r
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PostPosted: Thu Jun 05, 2014 6:53 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

I've never had a hard drive that prevented BIOS POST from at least getting to display initialization; but I have had hard drives preventing POST from reaching boot phase when it does something bad with the hard drive detect/init code in bios...

But it seems easier to hang the machine and make the hard drive LED stick on.
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PostPosted: Thu Jun 05, 2014 7:22 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

ashlyw42,

The HDD busy light it probably the HDD doing its own post as it powers up.
That boot without the HDD did not produce the "no operating system found" error indicates its not the HDD, or at least, POST failed before any attempt was made to read the HDD>.

Can you try an external display on the laptop?
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binbash
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PostPosted: Thu Jun 05, 2014 8:30 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

Also make sure it's not just a dead CMOS battery. It might be an easy fix and there only a few dollars. :)
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ashlyw42
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PostPosted: Thu Jun 05, 2014 10:27 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

NeddySeagoon: it might be possible to take a monitor from an ancient desktop computer I have lying around, but I'm not sure how much doing it would take to get it to where it could disconnect it from that one and connect it to my laptop--it's pretty well ensconced in the forest of associated cords, and the desk it's on is against a wall with very little room to pull said desk out. I might try that sometime next week (I doubt I'll get a chance to before then).

binbash: How would I go about figuring out whether it's the CMOS battery? Might it have something to do with the results of the external monitor experiment?
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PostPosted: Thu Jun 05, 2014 11:08 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

A hard drive dock would let you mount the drive from another computer, many of them have USB to SATA interfaces. This could tell you whether or not the hard drive is functional
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PostPosted: Fri Jun 06, 2014 12:46 am    Post subject: Reply with quote

ashlyw42 wrote:

binbash: How would I go about figuring out whether it's the CMOS battery? Might it have something to do with the results of the external monitor experiment?


You can try to reset the bios by taking out the CMOS battery and leave it out for 30 minutes to an hour then put it back in and try to boot up into bios. If that works but the next time you turn it on it doesn't work it could be a dead CMOS battery. Or you could just replace it with a new one so you don't have to take your laptop apart again ;)
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PostPosted: Fri Jun 06, 2014 7:03 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

ashlyw42,

A faulty battery will show first as the clock loosing time when the PC is off.
In more extreme cases, the contents of the CMOS will be lost and you will be dumped into the BIOS on boot as a CMOS checksum error will be detected.

If you do have a CMOS battery problem, the system isn't getting far enough to detect it.

On the laptap, unplug everything thats plugged in. Thats the HDD and ALL the RAM, at least.
Remove the battery too.

Run off mains power and try to boot. With no RAM, you don't expect it to get very far but you should at least get some beep codes.
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ashlyw42
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PostPosted: Fri Jun 13, 2014 6:16 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

NeddySeagoon: I unplugged the battery, the HDD, and the only internal RAM chip the machine has, and tried to boot it up. The HDD light flashed once, but other than that and the power and mains lights staying steadily on, there were no audible beeps or patterns of flashing lights. Is the HDD light behavior a simple beep code, or is it just a logical consequence of the machine trying to read a hard drive that has been removed?
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PostPosted: Sat Jun 14, 2014 2:44 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

ashlyw42,

The HDD light will flash just because power is being applied. It means nothing.
It looks as if the CPU does not start properly or you should have got some beeps.
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ashlyw42
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PostPosted: Sat Jun 14, 2014 3:26 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

NeddySeagoon: ah. Could that be an issue with the aforementioned thermal paste, or should I try to somehow get my hands on a new CPU instead?
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PostPosted: Sat Jun 14, 2014 4:15 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

ashlyw42,

The CPU will be whats called a ball grid array.
You cannot solder these at home. Google may tell you otherwise.
The usual failure mode is that the solder joints fail under the device.

It will not be a thermal paste issue as to get to the beeps from power on is only a fraction of a second.
Even with no heatsink at all, the CPU will not overheat in that short a space of time.
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ashlyw42
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PostPosted: Sat Jun 14, 2014 5:24 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

NeddySeagoon: Odd, when I removed the CPU to fix the thermal paste it seemed as though it was a pin grid array (at least according to Wikipedia's description ) rather than a ball grid array (the ball grid array article you linked to says that BGAs replaced/are descended from PGAs, but this machine could certainly be old enough to have a processor made before the changeover, though neither article gives a timeframe for when that occurred). What could cause one of those to fail?
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PostPosted: Sat Jun 14, 2014 5:56 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

ashlyw42,

If its a pin grid array (PGA) in a socket, removing the CPU from the socket and replacing it may help.
Sockets come in two sorts - zero insertion force and ordinary. Its very difficult to remove a CPU from a non ZIF socket.
Also, the CPU may be soldered to the motherboard, in which case reflowing the solder joints may help.

It may be the CPU (or some supporting part) is actually defective too.
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ashlyw42
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PostPosted: Sat Jun 14, 2014 7:23 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

NeddySeagoon: The socket says it's a PGA479M, if that helps any. I tried reseating the CPU twice and turning the computer on after each time, but still no beep code. [/url]
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PostPosted: Sat Jun 14, 2014 8:50 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

ashlyw42,

Its probably not worth spending any more time on.
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