I Fix It: A Guide for Repairing Electronic Devices

Nothing makes me more cranky than the care, maintenance and repair of all the electronic devices we all just can’t seem to do without. I’m always on the verge, in the words of author Corey Pein, of going, “full Ned Ludd.” So what do you do when one of these slave labor assembled devices stops working?

Yesterday the Apple Trackpad that brings you this blog stopped right clicking resulting in no Monday blog post. Thankfully I found some repair instructions on IFixIt, a handy website that I’ve used many times in the past. IFixIt posts repair instructions for everything from faulty Roombas to cracked iPhones. They’ve even posted directions lifted from Apple’s top secret repair manuals, thereby invoking the ire of the vengeful ghost of Steve Jobs.

In the case of my sticky Trackpad, IFixxIt’s instructions guided me through removing the back panel and adjusting a screw. It took all of five minutes and this post is proof of success.

Suspicious glue gob on CPU chip.

But Apple does not make these repairs easy. The back has to be pried off carefully since the primary CPU chip of the Trackpad is glued to the back panel. Let me pause here to ask why a manufacturer would attach the back panel to the CPU chip with a wad of glue? Would it be cynical to suggest that they want to sabotage any attempt at repair and get you to spend $120 on a new one?

When it comes to repairing electronic devices I’ve found this set of screwdrivers, that I got at the now defunct Radio Shack, handy. IFixIt sells screwdriver sets like this as well as tools for popping open cases. Thank you IFixIt for disrupting the disruptors!

At the risk of an apples to oranges comparison, let me say how much more I like the products of Lie-Neilsen Toolworks. Made in America by workers paid a living wage, Lie-Nielsen manufactures tools built to be taken apart, maintained and repaired by the user. One hundred years from now when the fragmented pieces of plastic from my Trackpad are choking a dolphin, someone will be producing razor thin wood shavings with my #4 Lie-Neilsen hand plane.

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  1. “One hundred years from now when the fragmented pieces of plastic from my Trackpad are choking a dolphin, someone will be producing razor thin wood shavings with my #4 Lie-Neilsen hand plane.”

    GOSH, I love you. Seriously. Love.

    Also: I once fixed an ipod and found the way it was glued together a total nightmare. On purpose. Because they didn’t want me to mend it. Alas, I am not the best technology doctor and while the mend lasted close to another year the device has since been retired–BUT NOT REPLACED, I might add.

    • Thank you. I’m not the best technology doctor either. Of course, I don’t think any of are since, as we both noticed, the damn things aren’t made to be mended. At least we can get a few more years out of these distracting gadgets.

  2. I spent a portion of my afternoon with my head under a sink helping an elderly neighbor replace the failed solenoid on her electronic touch tap kitchen faucet. The effort was complicated by the existence of a bulky garbage disposal that got in the way. The associated tangle of pipes, wires, and tubes for all these devices was ridiculous. From my perspective none of these so-called labor saving gadgets are necessary. And none of them last for more than a few years before they fail. How much effort does it take to twist a faucet to get the water to run? Or put compost in a garden bin?

    Excuse me while I adjust the elastic on my Montgomery Ward sweat pants and lean to one side of my BarcaLounger in order to tell the young people to get off my lawn. Rotten kids. Where’s the nurse? It’s time for my pudding damn it!

  3. So timely. Just yesterday I was completely frustrated to find out that a faulty charging port on my 2 year old iPad cannot be replaced by apple. I was told that iPads are not designed to have any physical repairs done to them, and that it should be replaced. So disappointed in a company whose products I used to love. Now I know why my friends refer to them as the evil empire.

  4. Yesterday (why were we all repairing things yesterday?) I was replacing the battery in an old nook (B&N, bless them, made it possible, unlike Amazon/Kindle) … and as I did so, the tiny screw that holds the unit to its back popped off and sailed, soundlessly, somewhere. The back still snapped into place, though it’s an imperfect fit.

    I haven’t any idea how to replace that screw.

    Someday, the nook, too, will become “someone else’s problem” (TM) – but at least I postponed it. Pity, the lost screw, though, because it might have just decreased the length of my postponement.

    Good on you for taking a stab at computer repair. And also for your beautiful, sturdy handmade furniture that’ll outlive so much of what we put in our homes (fiberboard, I’m lookin’ at you).

    • Irreplaceable screws and other small parts are funny things. If you accidentally drop them from a height of two feet, they will hit the floor, shoot sideways at least six feet, then scurry away to hide under something that is bolted down to the concrete.

  5. That schmutz on the chip looks like thermal paste, not glue. Often chips are pressed against larger surfaces to dissipate heat. It’s actually a smart design element, using the housing instead of adding another heat sink. If I knew more about woodworking I could probably identify an analogy to a seemingly superfluous element that is actually critical and efficient to the larger piece.

    This does not forgive them from making it impossible to take apart, of course.

    • I’m certain that’s what this is. It’s a good design from a manufacturing perspective and good for assembly if its double-sided thermal tape. This would also ensure no loss of contact with case during use and abuse. That could also be done by adding more case screws around the CPU area, but anything that adds cost and assembly time without impacting the product’s appeal to the bulk of customers is probably meticulously eliminated.

    • Thanks Tesky for explaining. That makes sense. I’d love to hear a detailed explanation of this from one of Apple’s engineers. I’m going to take a wild guess: doing the heat dissipation this way is inexpensive from a manufacturing perspective and probably also allows for a more streamlined and slim design, something Apple is known for. Of course they are also known for hostility to third party repair. To what extent this a Machiavellian way of getting us all to buy new stuff remains an open question.

  6. Much respect for the Lie-Neilsen comparison! They are marvelous tools to use, and beautiful to look at as well.

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