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How Baking A Motherboard in the Oven Worked for Me
Where Culinary Meets Computing
In the past I had read articles claiming that, dependent upon the problem, a motherboard from a computer could be fixed by baking it in the oven. The idea seemed ludicrous to me, at first. Certainly the components on the board would be damaged when thrust into such extreme heat for over five minutes I surmised. With that, I ignored the thought of ever putting a printed circuit board in the oven and carried on with my life . . .
. . . Until one wonderful Saturday, my parents called me on the phone complaining about their laptop. Apparently it was totally inoperable. The fan would kick on and the LEDs above the keyboard would flash but the screen remained blank. After about twenty seconds, the computer would shut down and restart and the process would repeat itself. Being in the field of electronics, I understand components and the issues caused by their failures, however, my electronics experience does not include an extensive knowledge of the inner workings of laptops. My parents (bless their hearts) consider me to be a computer guru and turn to me for advice regularly. I didn’t want to destroy this false identity that they had bestowed upon me so I thought how am I going to fix this?
After taking a look at the device, I could see that no components were visibly damaged. That didn’t mean some bold capacitor hadn’t failed but at least there weren’t scorch marks or busted pieces lying around inside. To me, it seemed that some solder joint had gone bad and intermittent contact was being made by some critical component. Taking ohm and voltage readings of the billion objects on the boards seemed impractical. What was a man going to do, what with it almost being lunch time?
It was at that point that I revisited that old idea of baking a printed circuit board (PCB) in the oven. After following an online tutorial for taking apart the laptop (which might be more difficult than dismantling an automobile,) I was left with a pile of plastic, small screws that were quickly being batted around by my cat, and a wildly articulate PCB. Per my own inclinations and endorsed by the advice of others, I removed the processor, the battery, and two wires (note: not traces!) that were external to the board. This left only the board, the relatively inexpensive components, copper traces, and solder on the board.
Times and temperatures online varied but the average seemed to point towards pre-heating the oven to 385 degrees Fahrenheit and, once ready, placing the motherboard inside of the oven on a cookie sheet, isolated using screws in the corners, for approximately seven minutes. I had already accumulated a pile of rubble that was once a laptop so I figured ‘no guts, no glory.’ That and I was fairly certain my father was en route to purchase a new laptop, regardless.
I preheated the oven to 385, made a sandwich, relocated most of the screws my cat had knocked under the couch, and then hand-twisted some wood screws a quarter of the way into the four mounting holes on the corners of the motherboard. In the vein of a Food Network star, I tossed the board onto a cookie sheet, chucked it in the oven, smacked my hands together, and tried to convince myself I wasn’t about to burn down the house.
A few minutes in, I definitely could smell the board cooking. If you ever took part in lighting action figures on fire as a child, you can appreciate the smell of melting plastic. The board hadn’t been in the oven for quite seven minutes and I wasn’t certain if the solder had had enough time to liquefy and make good connections. I threw caution to the wind and allowed the board to remain in the oven the full time (though I did grab a fan and open all the windows.)
Once the seven minutes were up, I turned off the oven and let the board cool down inside for about an hour. After the PCB cooled down, I pulled it out of the oven, reseated the processor, popped in the battery and began work putting the laptop back together. Without getting too far ahead of myself, I powered up the device before the whole assembly was one piece, the assumption being that the laptop would have to be ripped apart and troubleshooting would have to recommence.
Holding my breath, I plugged the power supply into the socket and pressed the power button. LEDs flashed. The fan whirred with delight. Anticipation grew. Finally, after what seemed like a slightly slower start-up, the display lit up with the PC vendor’s logo in full glory. Baking the motherboard had worked!
The laptop has been in operating condition for well over eighteen months now with nary an issue. In fact, baking the motherboard even took care of a secondary issue that involved the wireless card on the laptop not working. The product was like brand new – direct from the factory with the only hitch being that it seems to run a smidge slower than previously. Oh, the sacrifices we accept for luxury.
Is this an isolated incident? Did I just happen to luck out? There is no way of answering this with much confidence since the internet is filled with dynamic results of baking motherboards. Some computers last a week and crash again, some last as long as mine has, and others don’t recover at all after having been baked. It all depends on the issue, the severity of the solder break (if that is the issue, in the first place,) and, like any concern in life, a plethora of other factors.
What I can attest to is that the oven-bake-your-board approach not only fixed my parent’s laptop but also fixed my desktop PC after the screen began turning a bluish-greenish hue. The cable to my monitor was fine as was the monitor itself. It appeared as though a pesky solder joint had broken, taking away the R in my RGB and leaving the image of Chief Wahoo on my desktop as an amorphous black hole (you would be surprised how difficult solitaire is when the color red is removed and every card looks black.) Seven minutes in the oven and bang – Technicolor™!!!
In summation, baking a motherboard is not guaranteed to work but it can do the trick. This article isn’t intended to describe why ‘reflowing’ the board works or to even tell anyone else to try this trick. There is certainly a safety concern when baking polysynthetic materials and I would suggest letting the little ones play in the backyard while attempting to fix a motherboard this way. Keep a fire extinguisher handy, just in case, and make sure the house is well ventilated. As a disclaimer, you attempt baking your motherboard at your own risk and are liable for any damage to the board, your oven, or your property (including yourself.)
. . . and yes, I have been asked by my buddies at work when and if I will be baking a glazed Xbox or a DVD Upside Down Cake. Everybody is a comedian.
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