$1500 or $300
After the soldered-in RAM malfunctioned in my Lenovo Yoga 2 Pro just three months past the warranty expiration, their Authorized Repair Center quoted me $1500 to repair it: US$950 for a new motherboard from Lenovo, plus the technician's time, plus taxes. As that was more than the cost of buying the computer a year earlier, I threw it into our recycling bin.
(I wrote about all the problems with Lenovo's Yoga 2 Pro at https://www.worldcadaccess.com/blog/2015/12/why-ill-never-buy-another-lenovo.html.)
But then I wondered: could I get a motherboard from another source. I recalled when a roommate spilled orange juice on my daughter's laptop, making the keyboard unusable. HP wanted $400 for the repair; a local repair shop had recommended I peruse eBay for the keyboard. Probably $30, he figured. And it was.
I found several sites that sold Lenovo replacement parts. They take apart used computers, and then sell the usable parts. The first place I contacted had no motherboards for the Yoga 2 but did help me decode the matrix of numbers on the motherboard's label to acertain the one that is the part number. (See figure 1.)
Figure 1: Label on the Yoga motherboard sporting a variety of numbers
The number I needed was 4519P239L15. Now that I had the part number, it was easier for my to locate the part on the Internet. To my surprise, I found that Lenovo uses the exact identical motherboard for the original Yoga, so there never was a system improvement to the follow-up Yoga 2 model.
When I found a site that had the part in stock, I was a bit put off by the price: US$400. I hemmed and hawed, and decided that it was too much. A week or so later I found a third site that offered it for US$300. I ordered it on the spot. I rationalized that I was getting a "new" laptop for $300. It was, unfortunately, the time of the annual Christmas slowdown in deliveries, and so it took UPS quite a while to bring it to my doorstep.
When the part arrived, it was well padded inside thick cardboard and multiple layers of thin and thick bubble wrap. The motherboard, after all, is a delicate thing. (See figure 2.)
Figure 2: The motherboard used in by Lenovo in Yoga 1 and Yoga 2 laptops
The motherboard truly is a mother of a board. It has just about everything, even all of the port connectors found at the sides of the laptop. The only things it does not handle directly are the power and volume buttons, the trackpad (a separate module), and the hard drive connector.
Cutting Open the Patient's Head
I had taken this laptop apart before, such as just to have a look inside, and to replace the original 128GB SSD with a 512GB solid state drive.
9 screws hold in the bottom plate. After unscrewing them with a Phillips drive, remove the bottom plate by sticking your fingernails in the crack along the hinge end, then pulling up at 45 degrees.
Inside, the hard drive and battery take up the lower half, with the motherboard, cooling fan, and hinge mechanics taking up the upper half. Underneath the battery is the touchpad module. (See figure 3.)
Figure 3: The inside of the Yoga 2
(If you want to replace the hard drive, just undo one more screw, and then pull the drive from its connector by the clear plastic tab helper-thingy.)
Starting Brain Surgery
To replace the motherboard, follow these steps:
- Remove the battery: remove one screw, and then gently pull its connector from the motherboard.
- Remove the remaining 11 screws holding in the motherboard (two are on the metal plate shielding the power connector)
- Remove the WiFi module: undo one screw, pop off the antenna connectors, and then unplug the module from the motherboard. (See figure 4.)
- Remove the 11 other connectors. These connect the motherboard to the speakers, the display panel, the backup battery, the trackpad, the keyboard, and on and on. There are three styles of connector:
Figure 4: Location of WiFi module, and the three kinds of connectors
- Plugin connectors are used for regular wires. They just pull out: pull slowly and firmly until they come out
- Fliptop connectors are used for ribbon cable. A thin flap must be gently pried up; once up, the ribbon cable comes out effortlessly
- Gold connectors are used for braided (shielded) cables. All of the brass-looking connectors (gold, actually) are held in place with clear tape! Peel back the tape, and then pull out the connector.
5. With screws and connectors removed, you can pull out the motherboard: lift it gently in the middle, so that the external connectors can pop out of the sides of the casing. You will notice that the cooling fan comes along with the motherboard.
6. Turn the motherboard over. The copper cooling equipment is held in place with four more screws. Take them out, and set aside the cooling equipment. The CPU is the rectangle under the heat sink. (See figure 5.)
Figure 5: The heat sink and cooling fan 0n the underside of the motherboard
7. Now you can do everything in reverse:
- Attach the cooling equipment to the new motherboard (apply some more thermal grease to the top of the CPU)
- Flip over the new motherboard, and position the external connectors
- Put in the 11 screws. Notice that two screw holes are serviced by the external screws that hold down the bottom cover
- Reconnect the connectors
- Put back the WiFi module and battery
8. At this point, put the back cover on loosely, and then start up the computer to see if the replacement brain works. If so, you can screw in the screws that hold in the cover.
At this point you might think you are done, but no. Because it is a new motherboard, Windows and certain other software (that ties its license to the hardware) will think this is a new computer, and treat it accordingly.
When I started the computer, it acted like this was a new install, with Windows 8.1 reporting, "Setting up your programs" or whatever it says. When it was done, it had uninstalled several dozen programs, although it kept all data files, such as photographs.
I was particularly disappointed that all my Adobe software was wiped out, because now I need to call Adobe and ask them to disable the license number so I can reinstall it. Oddly, Libre Office and my Atlantis word processor survived the culling, although they lost all their settings.
Because it thinks this is a new install, Windows after an hour or so will announce that (1) it needs to be registered and (2) no, you can't use your old license number. It then displays the phone number to call in your country to re-register the computer.
So, yah, it's like a brand-new computer, complete with having to set up almost all the software all over again. However, after using the replacement HP Spectre X360 for the past couple months, this old Lenovo Yoga 2 Pro seems thick, plasticy, and flimsy in comparison. In particular, I had forgotten just how bad the trackpad is on it.