I’ve got a Toshiba Tecra M4 Tablet PC. Actually, I’ve got two of them. And neither of them have worked for about five months now.
I started with one, about two and half years ago. It was my primary PC for a year and a half, and I used it to develop software first in Microsoft ASP and VB.Net and later in Ruby onRails. It’s a great computer, with a 1400×1050 high-res 14″ screen that can rotate into tablet mode and be drawn on, a fairly quick processor, not too heavy, and generally just a nice computer.
I used it to start coding on the EOL.org website. I used it to take notes in tablet mode. I used to build a messaging/networking system that I sold to a meeting registration company. I used it to train in Flight Simulator while I got my pilot’s license. I even installed Ubuntu on a separate partition and used it to code in Rails. Its a great Linux laptop.
Then one day I booted it up and the video display went crazy, almost like the matrix. I rebooted – no dice. External monitor didn’t work either, and not even the BIOS screen came up correctly – which is really bad news, since this means it’s likely not the OS or the video driver. Yuck.
It was out of warranty, so I did some Google searching and found many others with the same problem. The problem was a cooked video card, which is discrete but is soldered on the motherboard. It seems to happen a lot with the Tecra M4, since the fan on the video card doesn’t come on enough and lets the card get very very hot. The solution was a complete motherboard replacement, to the tune of $550-$600.
I still needed a computer to work on the EOL.org website and although I was still contracting with them, I was preparing to start working full-time as a regular employee, so they bought me a new computer. I went to a Mac, and got a nice shiny white Macbook. This was a truly great computer: lighter, faster, and OS X was much better for developing in Rails.
But I wasn’t quite ready to give up on the tablet. So I looked on eBay and found a used Tecra M4 for $500. I figured I would buy it, swap the hard drive out and it would be my computer again. I would then have two batteries, two power bricks, and a machine I could canablize for parts. So I ordered it, and a week later was back in action with the tablet. I even installed Vista and it worked great. The handwriting recognition in tablet mode was spookily good.
About seven months later, I had the same problem with the video. The matrix was back – no BIOS, no external monitor, nothing. Another fried video card. I still had my Macbook of course, so I resigned myself to forgetting about the tablet, cursing Toshiba’s engineers, and set both Tecra M4s on my bookshelf, next to my vintage 1999 Palm Pilot, and cell phones of bygone eras. It was a totem pole of retired hardware.
Until yesterday. Something struck me – I had an urge to get the tablet back in action. So I did some more Google searching, and found some people suggesting the video card could be resurrected with — heat. A similar issue with XBox 360s was discussed and people had pictures of XBox motherboards in their ovens, next to pancakes on their griddle, and so on. Yes, blasting it with exactly the same thing that killed it was supposed to bring it back to life. Heat gun, oven, hair dryer, whatever you had.
The theory is that the overheating of the video card due to a poorly designed fan and heatsink causes it to become separately slightly from the motherboard. The heat gun causes it to sink back in and become resoldered. Sounds like a load of crap, but like the other folks talking about it in the forums, I went through the “what the hell? its busted anyway!” thought process.
So last night I took one of the Tecra’s apart, covered the rest of the motherboard with aluminum foil for shielding, uncovered the video card, and did some computer baking with a heat gun. You know, the tool you use to strip wallpaper. I pointed it at my computer (see the photos below).
After cooking the video card for a bit and feeling the warm glow coming from the motherboard, I shut it off. I knew it was time when Karen said “it smells like something is melting!”. I watched a couple innings of the Phillies-Yankees game while I waited for it to cool.
I popped in the hard drive, flipped it over, turned it back on, and voila – the tablet is back in action!
Unbelievable. The Internet has told me something useful. And now I can browse said Internet on my resurrected tablet PC. Not sure how long it will last…but it’s better than a dead tablet. Next project: connect the power cord for the fan on the video card to the USB power, so it runs continuously (like it should). Or maybe just get one of those laptop cooling pads.
PS. I did the same thing on the ‘backup’ tablet PC that I got off eBay, and it also worked, although there are still some odd colors when Windows come up. But at least it boots and is not totally dead. Maybe it just needs some more quality time “under the gun”.
PPS. I still like the Mac better.