Over the years, I’ve encountered my fair share of hardware failures while writing for AnandTech. For example, nearly every SFF I reviewed back in my early days failed within a couple years (usually a dead motherboard); Both of the first AM2 motherboards I reviewed also died within six months. I’ve seen more than a few bad sticks of memory, particularly overclocking RAM that couldn’t handle long-term use at higher voltages. And let’s not even talk about hard drives—lately I’ve noticed an uptick in the number of people coming to me with laptops that have a dead hard drive; so far I’ve only managed to successfully recover data from one drive using the famous (infamous?) “put your hard drive in the freezer” trick.

Needless to say, when a friend came to me with an old Gateway P-6831 FX from early 2008—a laptop I awarded a Gold Editors’ Choice award to, no less!—and it was giving him a “Code 43” error on the GeForce 8800M GTS graphics, I didn’t have much hope of fixing the problem. Still, five years out of a $1300 gaming notebook isn’t too bad, and when I saw some suggestions online that I might be able to fix the GPU by putting it under the heat of a hair dryer for a couple minutes, I figured, “What do we have to lose?” Well, what we had to lose was about four hours of my time, as this particular notebook is something of a pain to disassemble down to the GPU. But in the interest of testing out the “hair dryer” trick, I though it worth a shot. Here’s the video footage of the process.

Much to my surprise, all of the effort proved worthwhile, at least in the short term. Most fixes of this nature will only prolong the lifetime of failing hardware, but if you can get another several months—or dare we hope for a year?—out of a laptop with such a simple solution, that’s pretty good. I did take a moment to at least do a quick check of graphics performance. Five years ago, the 8800M GTS was one of the fastest mobile GPUs on the block—surpassed only by the more expensive 8800M GT and 8800M GTX. 64 DX10 CUDA cores running at 500MHz might not seem like much, but the 256-bit memory interface (clocked at 1600MHz) is nothing to scoff at.

And what sort of performance does the 8800M GTS deliver? Even when paired with a now-decrepit Core 2 Duo T5450 (1.66GHZ), the notebook still managed a reasonable score of just under 7000 in 3DMark06. To put that in perspective, however, Intel’s HD 4000 with a standard voltage mobile CPU now manages around 7500. Of course, 3DMark06 optimizations are pretty common, but we’re basically looking at top-end mobile GPU performance from five years back now being found in Intel’s IGP. When Haswell launches in a few months with GT3 and GT3e mobile parts, we’ll likely see IGP performance start to encroach on decent midrange GPUs like the GT 640M and HD 7730M—at least, that’s what I’m hoping to get!

Anyway, if you’ve got a failing GPU or other component and you’re at the point where you’re ready to throw it in the trash, if you’ve got a bit of time you might give this hair dryer trick a shot. I’ve seen others recommend baking a GPU PCB in the oven at 200C for eight minutes, and while that could work as well it seems more likely to burn out some other component if you’re not careful. Sadly, this trick (and the freezer trick) both failed on another recent HDD failure; next up on my list of hardware tricks to try: transplanting a dead HDD’s platters into a working drive. Wish me luck; my dad’s data needs it!

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  • boozed - Tuesday, March 19, 2013 - link

    I've repaired two Dell XPS M1730s to working condition by "re-baking" the GPUs, though I don't know how they're going now; both owners replaced them not long afterwards.

    The common component here is a higher end mobile Geforce 8000 series GPU. You'll remember they had some horribly dodgy batches a few years back. Surprisingly though the ones I fixed were well out of warranty by the time the problem manifested.

    Depending on the circumstances the heat either reflows solder balls that have cracked or become separated underneath the GPU package, or for solder that has an excessively high Tin content, melts the whiskers that have grown between the solder balls and caused shorts.
    Reply
  • Galcobar - Tuesday, March 19, 2013 - link

    200C, not 200F. Significant difference between half-melted solder at 200C and not-quite-boiling water at 200F.

    I resorted to baking my desktop GPU a few times -- an 8800 GTS 640MB, as it happens.

    It generally is a short-term fix. At 200C, the temperatures are generally too low to completely liquify the lead-free solder now used in electronics, so it's unlikely to resolder any joins which have cracked due to heat cycling. However, the solder does soften enough to close those cracks back up. You end up with a mechanical joint rather than a chemical one, which means more heat cycling can open those cracks back up.

    I kept that card alive for two years with periodic rebaking. Probably would have been required less often if I could have found proper replacements for the stock thermal pads. The failure was invariably in the card's memory, which the heatsink doesn't actually touch -- the thermal pads have to span a good millimetre or two.

    The point of doing it in an oven, rather than with a heat gun, is to get a slow and even rise in temperature. This way you can avoid burning any component. That, and you'd have to heat most of the card anyway since you don't know where exactly the broken connection is hiding.
    Reply
  • dragosmp - Tuesday, March 19, 2013 - link

    Agreed it's a temporary fix. On the laptop board it was so temporary that the laptop had to stay on after baking/remounting (still warm). Once you turned it off and it cooled it wouldn't start - I suppose the inner solder joints would crack again due to the thermal stress. It had a 7xxx Nvidia chipset, from the same soldering lineage as the 88xx.
    ...and it was 200C (though I used 180C).

    Since it had to be done a few times on that laptop board I found an easier way: unplug the fan from the motherboard and leave it cook. The CPU turns itself off at over 100°C and the chipset continues to cook itself for a few seconds before the board shut down. This made the whole thing a 15mn fix.
    Reply
  • marc1000 - Tuesday, March 19, 2013 - link

    that's one brave cooker! Reply
  • Wolfpup - Tuesday, March 19, 2013 - link

    Hmm, I hope newer GPUs don't fail like this. I have a mobile Geforce 9650GT that hits temps of 105c and crashes probably once a week if not more on average, but then it's I think 55nm and basically the same as the 8600GT m and the like.

    I've got a newer desktop Geforce GT 430 though that's literally been running Folding @ Home (which pushes it to the max) 24/7 for 2 years, sooooo not sure if newer ones are just more reliable, or of notebooks just have much much worse cooling.
    Reply
  • JarredWalton - Tuesday, March 19, 2013 - link

    I think newer GPUs have learned from past mistakes (e.g. the 8000M series from NVIDIA), but that 9650GT probably needs to have new thermal material applied because anything over 95C is far too hot for normal use. Reply
  • epoon2 - Tuesday, March 19, 2013 - link

    yeah I read about this somewhere else, on Dan's Data. It's related to the soldering.
    http://www.dansdata.com/io130.htm
    Reply
  • shriganesh - Tuesday, March 19, 2013 - link

    Wow! Nice one! I would be really interested to know about the HDD transplant method! Reply
  • marc1000 - Tuesday, March 19, 2013 - link

    yeah me too! GLHF on that hdd transplant, Jarred! Reply
  • Orbs - Wednesday, March 27, 2013 - link

    If that works, I'd love to see a video of that too :). Good luck! Reply

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