Dealing with a Dead Laptop Keyboard
Every once in a while, a computer user ends up with a dead keyboard. You usually have an electrical or electronic culprit in a keyboard demise. An electrical breakdown may involve a frayed or broken connecting cable; failure of the keyboard's processor, which translates key strokes into scan codes that the CPUS recognizes and acts upon, may cause an electronic problem.
Poking your head in
If your keyboard stops working, open the laptop, removing whatever pieces stand in the way of getting at the connections to the internal keyboard. (These obstacles may include plastic casings, the hard drive, the battery, and sometimes much more.) Check the ribbon cable and power connector that go between the keyboard and the motherboard. Sometimes, nothing more than a loose cable causes the problem. Remove and reattach the cable, reinstall the parts that you removed, and try the system.
For this approach, and all other work that takes you inside the covers of your laptop, be sure to consult the repair manual for your machine. You may have received a copy of the manual at the time of purchase, or you may find the manual on the Internet, available as a PDF or HTML (Web page). Place the computer on a sturdy, well-lighted surface and provide yourself with numbered or lettered containers for parts. Keep a notepad and pen nearby to keep track of all of the steps that you take. You can use an empty egg container to store your computer parts; mark each of the dozen egg cups and track which cup contains which parts in your notes. Be sure to ground yourself before touching any internal part of the machine.
If adjusting the cables doesn't fix the problem, you can choose to replace the laptop's keyboard with a new unit.
When shopping for a replacement keyboard, you may find three types of offerings:
* An original equipment manufacturer (OEM) replacement: A new unit exactly like the ones that the laptop manufacturer uses. Note that very few laptop marketers - including Dell, IBM, Compaq, HP, and Gateway - actually make their own models.
* A compatible replacement: A new unit that's promised to work in your laptop although not specifically designed for that purpose. Be very careful to make sure that the seller guarantees the replacement will fit in your machine and work properly. Be very specific about the model number and the serial number, and be sure that you agree with the seller's return policy in case it turns out to be not quite as compatible as promised.
* A refurbished replacement: Either a new unit removed from a laptop where other components have failed or a used unit that a competent technician has repaired. Be sure that you understand any warranty offered by the seller.
If you have a failed laptop keyboard, you can also try to find a way to work around the built-in unit. Unless the motherboard fails - which is a much more serious issue than a mere keyboard - you should be able to attach an external keyboard to a laptop. You may find this approach an acceptable workaround if you use the laptop on a desk, but you may not find it a great solution for the seatback tray of an airliner.
You can use any desktop replacement keyboard with a laptop; you only have to match its connector to an available port. Some laptops offer a PS/2 keyboard or mouse connector; or you can purchase a keyboard that uses a USB port for attachment.
You can attach a USB keyboard while the laptop is running. To safely add a keyboard that uses a PS/2 port (an option available only on older models), you probably want to turn off the laptop and install the plug for the new board before reapplying power; this precaution prevents accidental shorts or static jolts to the system.