13 votes

What's a good way to learn how to maintain my own computer hardware?

I have two computers (a desktop and a laptop) that broke down just before my city entered a lockdown. Being able to assemble and fix my own computer hardware is something I have always wanted to do, and if I knew that I would probably not be using a borrowed Macbook Air right now.

I have no immediate need to provide any maintenance services, nor do I require a primer in electronics or anything too advanced. Just enough to know how to assemble and disassemble a machine, identify and fix the most obvious issues without breaking anything.

I tend to learn better from sequential and structure learning materials, preferably in text/images form. But videos are also welcomed. I know the names of the things and what they are, but I don't really know how to put things together in practice.

Suggestions? :)

17 comments

  1. [9]
    Grzmot
    Link
    Modern PCs (and laptops, though they suffer from everything being a bit smaller and often soldered on, thus irreplacable) are really like lego for adults. I'd suggest looking at PC building...

    Modern PCs (and laptops, though they suffer from everything being a bit smaller and often soldered on, thus irreplacable) are really like lego for adults. I'd suggest looking at PC building videos/tutorials, because there's little more to it (especially with your laptop, look up how to disassemble the model you have). You have a few big building blocks and cables connecting them to the motherboard.

    If you don't know what broke down, go off on what the software tells you, i.e. if you got Windows bluescreen, look up the error code the OS gives. This might give clues as to what is causing the problem. If you don't have such clues, you have little recourse than exchanging each component individually, starting the computer and seeing if it works normally (i.e reproducing the steps that usually lead to a breakdown and seeing if the PC breaks down again).

    Otherwise, there's little to maintain with a computer. Keep it clean, occasionally get rid of the dust. Technically you can keep it running 24/7, but that will take a toll on the PSU, because really only server-grade PSUs are designed to run at all times. Modern hardware is good at throttling itself when it gets to hot, so that usually isn't a source of breakdown, and more a source of not running optimally.

    I don't know if there are any specific guides on how to "maintain" a computer because most people get interested in it specifically when the PC breaks down, so most guides deal with solving a specific problem.

    I'm sure the people here would be willing to help, if you provided details in how your computer broke down/what the problem is.

    14 votes
    1. PetitPrince
      Link Parent
      In some case you don't even need a screwdriver !

      lego for adults

      In some case you don't even need a screwdriver !

      7 votes
    2. [7]
      Pistos
      Link Parent
      Is it really an issue to keep a PSU running 24/7? I've kept my desktop on 24/7/365 for upwards of 6 years now.

      Is it really an issue to keep a PSU running 24/7? I've kept my desktop on 24/7/365 for upwards of 6 years now.

      3 votes
      1. [3]
        cfabbro
        (edited )
        Link Parent
        Ditto. My last computer was on pretty much 24/7 for over 8 years and my PSU was still going strong. That's why I always buy 80 PLUS GOLD or above PSUs from trusted brands though, since even though...

        Ditto. My last computer was on pretty much 24/7 for over 8 years and my PSU was still going strong. That's why I always buy 80 PLUS GOLD or above PSUs from trusted brands though, since even though it's an efficiency certification and they are more expensive, IME they are also significantly more reliable due to the build quality and quality control testing on them generally being much higher/better. And I absolutely wouldn't trust some off-brand, non certified PSU, especially since I have witnessed first-hand some of those fail spectacularly (i.e. catch fire or totally kill the mobo due to power spiking), even with infrequent use.

        7 votes
        1. [2]
          krg
          Link Parent
          Plus, a power supply isn't really going to become outdated, so it's worth spending extra on a really good power supply that you'll take with you into multiple builds. I have a Corsair AX860 (80+...

          Plus, a power supply isn't really going to become outdated, so it's worth spending extra on a really good power supply that you'll take with you into multiple builds. I have a Corsair AX860 (80+ Platinum) and I don't think I've even ever seen the fan spin. 7 year warranty, too. Though, if I were to buy again I might go with EVGA as they have a 10 year warranty.

          5 votes
          1. cfabbro
            (edited )
            Link Parent
            Yeah, that's a good point too. The only reason I got rid of my old 1000w one was because my newest comp is a mini-ITX and it wouldn't have fit in the case, and I have no intention of running SLI...

            Yeah, that's a good point too. The only reason I got rid of my old 1000w one was because my newest comp is a mini-ITX and it wouldn't have fit in the case, and I have no intention of running SLI like in my previous build so I have no need for such a beast of a PSU... otherwise I would have keep using since it was still working just fine. And incidentally, Corsair is my go-to brand for PSUs and EVGA for video cards as well. They are both rock solid, and I have never once had a problem with them.

            3 votes
      2. the_funky_buddha
        Link Parent
        Same, mine stays on, at least until a few years ago now I only keep it fully on in the winter as it adds a bit of heat to the room. I've even heard that thermal cycling involved with powering a PC...

        Same, mine stays on, at least until a few years ago now I only keep it fully on in the winter as it adds a bit of heat to the room. I've even heard that thermal cycling involved with powering a PC on and off is even worse for the hardware than keeping it on. Of course I still recommend turning off when unnecessary to save energy.

        2 votes
      3. SleepyGary
        Link Parent
        As long as you buy a somewhat decent PSU it's fine. I've got computers running for the better part of a decade as well and it's never the PSU that fails, it's always the components with moving...

        As long as you buy a somewhat decent PSU it's fine. I've got computers running for the better part of a decade as well and it's never the PSU that fails, it's always the components with moving parts.

        Personally when I'm speccing a new computer there are two things I don't cheap out on the PSU and Motherboard, everything else is upgradable and replaceable, a bad power supply can do a lot of damage and upgrading a motherboard usually means a whole new set of components.

        2 votes
      4. drawkcab
        Link Parent
        I don't believe so. I suspect PSUs will degrade over time but it all depends on their workload and quality of components just like any part in a PC. I do tend to prioritize my PC-building budget...

        I don't believe so. I suspect PSUs will degrade over time but it all depends on their workload and quality of components just like any part in a PC. I do tend to prioritize my PC-building budget to a quality PSU because it's important for stability and longevity.

        2 votes
  2. [2]
    Greg
    Link
    iFixit make amazingly thorough and detailed disassembly/repair tutorials - they originated as an Apple spare parts company, but they've expanded beyond that now and they're a big community voice...

    iFixit make amazingly thorough and detailed disassembly/repair tutorials - they originated as an Apple spare parts company, but they've expanded beyond that now and they're a big community voice for the right and ability to repair your hardware.

    I find their teardowns particularly interesting; if you want to get an idea of how a (somewhat specialist) modern desktop is put together then the 2019 Mac Pro disassembly will give you a fairly solid overview.

    12 votes
    1. joplin
      Link Parent
      I have had pretty good luck using their guides. So consider this a recommendation from me as well.

      I have had pretty good luck using their guides. So consider this a recommendation from me as well.

      1 vote
  3. [2]
    weystrom
    Link
    I know it will sound stupid, but just do it. Build a machine yourself, there are plenty of build guides on Youtube. You can throw together a decent machine for less than $1000 these days. Here are...

    I know it will sound stupid, but just do it. Build a machine yourself, there are plenty of build guides on Youtube. You can throw together a decent machine for less than $1000 these days. Here are some great resources:

    https://pcpartpicker.com/ - use this tool to pick the parts, take a look at build guides first to get an idea of price range and expected peformance.
    r/BuildaPC - good subreddit with tons of information
    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=1Zt1P41pjE4 - here's a good example of AMD-based build with a guide on how to put it together.

    For your laptop i suggest checking out iFixit, they provide step-by-step guides for replacing most parts in your MBA. You might need to get a decent set of tools though.
    Don't be afraid to try it!

    4 votes
    1. wexx
      Link Parent
      Was pretty much going to say this. Laptops are a bit different, but most desktop computers are the same and are relatively foolproof as long as you check the connectors/wires/ports before pulling...

      Was pretty much going to say this. Laptops are a bit different, but most desktop computers are the same and are relatively foolproof as long as you check the connectors/wires/ports before pulling the trigger and buying a new component.

      If you're more into trying an incremental upgrade, I'd probably recommend just picking one component (the processor is probably the most annoying one if you have to remove/reinstall a heatsink) and going for it. It's way easier than you think.

      1 vote
  4. [3]
    reese
    (edited )
    Link
    Assembly and disassembly is the best way to learn, but there are some specific things I've learned to check over the years. I repaired desktops and laptops professionally from 18 to 21, but I've...

    Assembly and disassembly is the best way to learn, but there are some specific things I've learned to check over the years. I repaired desktops and laptops professionally from 18 to 21, but I've built PCs since I was 13, and have always been tech support for friends and family. Here are some common hardware issues I've observed:

    • Frequent crashes, especially if they correlate to increased memory usage? Run a memory test, or even swap out the RAM. If there are two sticks, you can literally swap them. One of them might be going bad, but probably not both.
    • Beeping noises? Maybe flashing lights? Those are error codes that should be documented in the motherboard's guide (FYI, most the instructions you need on assembly and disassembly should be in said guide), but most of the time it's a dying battery (looks like this) that needs replacing—if you can't order one, you might be able to steal a compatible one out of another device you don't use.
    • Fan(s) may have stopped working, leading to overheating where the computer turns on, but automatically shuts itself off shortly afterward to avoid melting the processor.
    • You'll observe the same symptom as above when the thermal compound between the processor and heatsink needs reapplication. Seems like every few years I look into it, there's new and improved types of compound, and the ways to apply them can differ slightly. There are plenty of videos on this. When I reapply thermal paste, I clean the processor off by way of rubbing alcohol (>90%) doused on a coffee filter.
    • Maybe a component isn't seated properly—reseat all of them with care.
    • A short circuit in a video card or another component can make it seem like the motherboard is dead, when in reality the problem may be isolated to one component. Try running the machine with the least components possible, adding them back one by one to troubleshoot which is being wonky. Remember that fan(s) can also go bad on video cards.

    With custom-built PCs, I've noticed one thing that just can't ever be helped: people skimp out on power supplies and motherboards far too often so they can afford higher-end video cards. Shitty PSUs, in particular, create the absolute worst and weirdest cascading failures I've ever seen. They can cause permanent damage to other equipment. Never, ever buy a cheap PSU from some no-name outlet, and make sure there is enough power to support all of the other components, including a water cooling system, for instance. Relatedly, always plug your electronics into surge protectors, and furthermore make sure your home's grounding isn't fucked up if you live in a really old house (>30 years). When I was a teenager, I lived in a house where the conductive rod was so corroded it had to be replaced.

    There are worse things, too. A friend of a friend knew a guy whose desktop computer became a Floridian cockroach breeding resort, since, you know, it was a consistent heat source. He never cleaned the dust out of the computer (which @Grzmot explained why that is bad), nor did he clean his house. Gross. Anyway, one lucky cockroach learned what it's like to be an electrical conductor, and the motherboard became toast.

    Safety tip: Don't electrocute yourself. Turn the computer off, unplug it, and stay grounded when you work on it.

    3 votes
    1. PetitPrince
      Link Parent
      There was a famous analysis about 10 years ago where a French hardware magazine (CanardPC) published a deep-dive review (including dissassembly) of such non-name PSU (here; the Google Translate...

      Never, ever buy a cheap PSU from some no-name outlet,

      There was a famous analysis about 10 years ago where a French hardware magazine (CanardPC) published a deep-dive review (including dissassembly) of such non-name PSU (here; the Google Translate version is surprisingly accurate and readable). The reason for they did this analysis was that the samples they tested exploded (!) under load (of 240W for a 500W-rated PSU).

      The results were horrific:

      • no radio interference shielding (required under European law, and probably US too)
      • under-sized and/or mislabeled internal components (e.g. 330nF condensers while they are supposed to be 470nF)
      • presence lead soldering (it was already banned in Europe)
      6 votes
    2. vektor
      Link Parent
      Talking about cascading failures when regarding power supplies: Never, ever, use a power supply with cables that do not belong to that power supply. Modern modular PSUs have sockets on the inside...

      Talking about cascading failures when regarding power supplies: Never, ever, use a power supply with cables that do not belong to that power supply. Modern modular PSUs have sockets on the inside end. Might look like this. These are NOT standardized, even though they might look like it. If you use a cable from one vendor with a PSU from another, it's really easy to short out the PSU (bad) and similarly easy to fry a component with too much voltage (very bad). It might be tempting to leave the cables in when upgrading because whoever built your PC did some nice cable management, but don't. Consequently, when storing your PSU cables, keep track of things. Don't mix the old with the new, just to surprise yourself down the road. PSU cables can have rather minimalistic branding.

      I've learned this the hard way.

      5 votes
  5. nothis
    (edited )
    Link
    Every Laptop tends to have a slightly different layout, with some recent Apple-laptops literally gluing parts into place, for example, making disassembling near-impossible. On most laptops,...

    Every Laptop tends to have a slightly different layout, with some recent Apple-laptops literally gluing parts into place, for example, making disassembling near-impossible. On most laptops, though, there's a good chance the harddisk, RAM or battery are pretty much plug-and-play, once you unscrew the bottom plate. Just google your exact model name/number and look for tutorials on which screws to screw and what the correct parts are that fit (so you can order them online). It's on a difficulty level of, say, changing a car battery.

    PCs are even easier in theory, since they're standardized – though there's also more parts to choose from and check for compatibility. There's a couple of ATX-sizes which basically determine the size and layout of the motherboard, which determines the size of the case. There's slots for things like RAM and the GPU, a place where you put the CPU (the hardest part is putting the huge fan on top that cools it) and some places where you have to plug in the cables that lead to your harddisks, disc drives, the PSU (power unit) and the buttons of the case exterior. I find fiddling with the cables to usually be the most exhausting part of building a PC. More than once I turned on the power button only to be greeted by a black screen – because I hadn't plugged in some tiny cable to the right part of the motherboard.

    There is no real "science" that helps you with building PCs or changing laptop hardware. It's more about knowing the part specifications of your laptop/PC, logic can't help you there. It's just some googling, dealing with manufacturer names and comparing numbers. If something truly breaks, the issue is usually either trivial (loose cable) or unfixable (part simply not responding). In-between stuff tends to be rare and/or incredibly hard to fix (requiring you to solder and studying exact circuit board layouts), it's not something you just "learn" unless you want to open up a PC repair company or something.

    The benefit of knowing how to build computer hardware is that you can identify a specific part of your computer being slow or insufficient (say, slow loading times because your computer runs out of RAM and has to swap data on your harddisk) and buy exactly the right part to fix that problem (more RAM) instead of buying a whole new PC.

    I'd say "repairing" stuff isn't really something you can do. I've been building PCs and upgrading my laptops for 20+ years now (fuck you, time!) and the only hardware I ever "repaired" was a squeaky fan... by cleaning it. I also had a broken piece of RAM which just broke random things (worse: wrote random things to my harddisks instead of the files I needed) and it took me a month to realize after desperately typing my symptoms into google (I replaced the RAM). So that's what I'd recommend PC building skills for: Knowing which parts of your computer affect which tasks (mostly obvious stuff: running out of harddisk space, laptop battery draining too fast, GPU not enough for a game...) and buying the specific part needed. From there on, it's just screws.

    2 votes