Laptop won't POST

I assume I am d0med, but before I write this off I thought I’d ask the Hivemind:

I have a Dell XPS laptop that is about 4 or 5 years old. It’s gotten a lot of use during that time and been hauled around the world several times, and I’m sure it’s been banged up, subjected to high and low temperatures, etc. Yesterday I turned it on and it won’t POST. The fans come on and the DVD drive buzzes, and the little row of lights along the top flash on and off (all normal) and then nothing happens. I tried connecting an external monitor and there’s nothing there either, so I know it’s not just the monitor. Manual shutdowns, taking the battery out and putting it back in, putting the Windows DVD in the drive, etc have not worked.

I assume the whole thing is just hosed, maybe the motherboard is out or something. I have I guess three questions:

  1. Is there something else I can do to try to fix it? I know almost nothing about laptops.

  2. Is this the sort of thing that’s worth taking to a repair shop? With my desktop I would probably just replace the mobo and see if that worked, but I don’t know if that’s possible (or cost-prohibitive) on a laptop.

  3. Assuming the laptop is now a doorstop, is there some reasonable way to get stuff off the HDD? My data was all backed up online (thank God and the Spaghetti Monster for Mozyhome!), but I had downloaded lots of pieces of software and gadgets for work that would be a PITA to reassemble. Again, in a desktop I’d just yank the HDD and try it in a new machine, but I don’t know if this is possible with a laptop.

Thanks in advance, internet!

I don’t know the answers to most of your questions, but 3) assuming it’s a mobo problem and not something going on with your hard drive, you can always stick the old hard drive in an enclosure and connect it to your new one to get your files off.

In fact, I’ve found that even when the drive isn’t bootable for whatever reason, it still spins up and I can still get to my files if I put it in an enclosure. I have found replacing the hard drive preferable to reinstalling the OS, given that an OS reinstall often destroys data.

A bad hard drive can cause POST problems and lockups, but usually you’ll get some visual indication it’s attempting to POST before it fails.

Try it without the battery entirely if you haven’t already.

Repair cost on the laptop is going to exceed its value, especially if it’s over 4 years old. Pull the drive, get your data off it, and recycle the lot or sell it for parts on eBay. If it’s an XPS in the 4-5 year range, there’s a possibility the drive is SATA, which means it’ll be easy to hook to a desktop. If it’s IDE, you’ll need to get a 2.5" IDE to 3.5" IDE adapter or a 2.5" IDE to USB adapter.

Can’t he just buy the appropriate enclosure instead of getting adapters?

That too.

A couple of quick questions. Which model XPS, and do you see anything at all on the display?

I have an older gen 1 XPS, but I can tell you I had similar issues and the verdict was not good. They were prone to have a video card failure, and mine eventually failed, I thought the entire thing was bad but it was actually just not displaying anything. Since that’s a full board replacement and I was out of warranty, Dell wanted something like 300+ for replacement. At that point, it’s a significant chunk toward another laptop, so I just upgraded instead. I hope yours fares better, but it’s worth calling Dell about your options.

It’s an XPS M1530. I see nothing on the display at all, using both the built-in display or through the external monitor hookup. I would think that if it were booting up and I just couldn’t see it, though, that I would hear the Windows logo sound and so on. I tried waiting and then typing in my password, and didn’t hear anything. Sounds like it’s just hosed, but good news at least that I can hopefully salvage the stuff on the HDD.

It’s probably one of those sporting an nVidia with the solder joint problem.

You can get the IDE adaptors for 3.5"<-> 2.5" for about $2 on ebay… it’s just a little circuit board.

Something like this:

They work just fine, the expensive ones are basically a scam.

Pull the hard drive completely out and start the PC without the drive. IF it’s a HDD issue then you should at least see the BIOS and boot screens. I’m going to assume from your description above that you will not see these, even with the HDD removed though, and thus…

…It sounds an awful lot to me like a video processor issue, especially since hooking up an external monitor won’t show a display either. Unfortunately, if it is a bad video processor you’re looking at a complete mobo replacement as (I believe) the video is built-in to the motherboard on those models and not something you can easily replace by snapping in a new card. A replacement mobo for that laptop would run around $150 retail (I did a quick check on Ebay), with probably another $150 in labor to replace, so sadly it’s probably more cost effective to simply buy a new laptop.

Everyone else covered the recovering data from your HDD bit pretty well already.

The exact same thing happened to my wife’s laptop. It is a known issue with the nVidia chip IIRC. I believe they tagged an extra year onto the warranty for that kind of failure, but you will be well outside it (as I was).

Short answer, you’re fucked.

e: yep, double checked. Dell XPS M1530 purchased between September of 2007 and January of 2009 are known to have the faulty chips. Apparently there is or was a class action:

I have this exact laptop and have had no problems…but apparently it is only a matter of time. I’m timed out of both Dell’s warranty and the class action remedies now, of course.

There is a bios update here which was intended to fix the problem. All it does is run the fan more aggressively, though.

Yep, I’ve got it. The increased fan use is noticeable, unfortunately, but if that’s the price to be paid, sign me up.

Well, I’m sure that was it. Thanks for the advice, I managed to hook up the laptop HDD to my desktop computer, so at least I have all the data and software (although documents and such were backed up anyway). A new laptop isn’t a humongous expense so I guess overall I’m annoyed but it could have been worse (I’d have been really pissed if I could get any of the data off the HDD).

Thanks hivemind!