On a Budget: Fixing my ACER V3-731 Thermal woes

Don’t buy a new one – just fix it up!

Thermal design of Electronics is very important. Electronic parts get hot. The resistance of materials results in heat. Nothing in modern mass-produced products get much hotter than the CPU in a PC. It’s simply the sheer size of the circuits on the die, billions of transistors switching at insane frequencies, fighting against the resistivity of their locality, all made worse by parasitic capacitance. Energy wasted – energy transformed to heat!

My trusty big lump of a laptop started spending a lot of time with the cooling fan on at full speed, and was getting quite hot during even moderate CPU load. I eventually got fed up of getting cooked, and bit the bullet, ordered some CPU thermal paste, and a fresh can of air duster.

My plan was to strip it down, remove all the dust, dog hair and biscuit crumbs clogging up the innards. I’d read that CPU thermal compound can dry out and reduce in efficiency over time, so I would strip it right down to the CPU, making everything shiny and start again. Since this laptop is three or so years old, and still acceptable with Windows 10, it was worth making better.

 

First step: Gather the tools

acer v3-731
Air duster, cotton-tips, spudger, philips and flat screwdrivers, thermal paste and spatula. Don’t forget the ESD work surface, wrist strap, Oh, and a fine needle. We’ll need all these things. Large bottle of Isopyopyl Alcohol not shown.

 

Make it safe to work on

I shut the machine down completely, no hibernation or standby for me. Flipped out the battery, and put it to one side.

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Flip the orange switch and out it pops!

 

Remove all of the things

I like to pull out as much as possible right at the start and put them to aside for safe keeping. The more pieces you can remove the better.

In this case, removing the optical drive was non-optional. Unfortunately in my haste to shut the machine down, I neglected to eject the drive. This was not an issue; I simply inserted a fine needle into the manual eject hole to seen on the right. After that, removing the drive was simply a matter of pulling on the DVD sled, the whole thing came away in one piece.

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The eject button is electronic, so only works when the power is on. Manual eject effected by overriding the locking latch with the hole bottom right.

 

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Gently pulling the drive tray, to disconnect the drive assembly from the motherboard connector. No screws, no wires, no fuss.

 

For this laptop, there are a few upgrade options, so a separate bottom panel (with sensible captive screws) can be removed.This reveals the memory slots, wireless card, GPU upgrade slot and not one, but two hard drive slots. This is a big laptop, with a 17.1″ screen, so plenty of space inside for extra toys.

The next task was to pop out the hard drive, RAM DIMMS, and wireless card and set them aside somewhere safe (and ESD safe too!)  We don’t want to damage them accidentally.

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Some people insist laptops can’t be upgraded. This one can.

 

A word of caution regarding flying wireless wires, with dinky little micro RF coaxial connectors – don’t pull them off with the wires. If the crimping is not up to standard you’ll weaken or even rip off the connection. Then you’ll have a bad day. Merely prise under the connector gently, with a spudger, and it will pop off.

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Correct way to remove a micro RF connector – not touching the wire at all.

 

Unscrew all the screws

I find it hard to work out which screws to remove and which not to when doing partial disassembly. In this case, it was a total strip down, so I removed all the visible screws in the case lower half, making notes as to the number and size/type of each one, and where it came from. Trust me, make notes now, and save the pain later. There were only three types of screw in this case, so it was quite painless. Well done Acer.

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Two sneaky, flat and incredibly short screws hiding under the optical bay.

 

Disconnect the cables to the mainboard

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LCD / LVDS Cable. Check.

 

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Flat or ribbon cables. Remove these by flipping up the locking tab (the little white tab on the socket body) with your spudger. Never pull the cable – it is ZIF (Zero Insertion Force) and is clamped in place with the tab.

 

Remove the track-pad and keyboard assemblies

The plastic around the track-pad was not held together with screws, just plastic clips around the edge. Careful application of the spudger around the join between the upper and lower parts all the way around the left, bottom and right edges a little at a time was needed. Application of a little pressure and a bit of a wiggle allowed me to slide it along till the assembly came away.

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Exactly the same deal with the keyboard assembly. There were a couple of screws holding the keyboard down to the mainboard. Another ribbon cable removed, and the keyboard was removed to reveal the whole mainboard.

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Keyboard connector

 

In order to get the mainboard out, before removing the screws, I peeled back the fabric cover over the LED bank.

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Careful with this. It’s sticky, and if you peel it off, and put it aside, and fluff sticks to it, it’ll be less sticky for when you try re-apply it later.

 

Removal of the remaining screws will free the mainboard from the clutches of the case.

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Same deal. Make a note of all the screw locations.

 

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Don’t forget this sneaky little screw. The fan is firmly attached to the CPU via the heat pipes, and really won’t move!

 

It’s Free!

So, once a thousand or so tiny screws have been located and removed, I got this far. A naked laptop. It was evident that it wasn’t generally too dirty, and a bit of a clean around with the air duster and some IPA got all the dust and grime off.

 

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Naked!

 

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Swabbing around with a cotton bud soaked in IPA. Some of the ports were sticky! Not sure what was spilled here, but I don’t want it hanging around.

 

Carefully, Clean the fan impeller

Using the air duster to blast the bulk of the dust out, proved that main problem was the heat exchanger end of the heat pipe (far left part of the fan body) was clogged with dust and dirt.  The impeller blades were pretty dirty too. I was careful not to allow the fan to spin too fast using the compressed air can, so as not to cause bearing damage. I found it sufficient to just stick a finger on it, and spin it a little by hand as the air duster did the heavy lifting.

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Gentle squirts at the impeller to remove the bulk of the dust.

 

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My theory was that if it got wiped over with solvent, any stickiness would be removed and dust would not stick so well in the future. Time will tell. Anyway, it’s cleaner now.

 

Disconnect the fan & heat pipe

This was pretty straightforward, just remove the fan connector, and remove the CPU cooler screws in the order 1-2-3-4.

acer v3-731

 

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Removed (and reassembled) in the order 1-2-3-4. I’m unsure if this was exactly correct, but I had no issues. The order is purely to enforce tightening of the diagonal screws first to prevent stress on the edge of the die and keep the thermal paste in place anyway.

 

 

acer v3-731
And it’s free.

Reassembly is the reverse of disassembly

Reapplying thermal compound is simple. I just wiped / scraped off the old stuff, and cleaned away the residue carefully with a cotton bud soaked in IPA, being very careful with the exposed CPU die!

acer v3-731
Whilst the CPU die is flip-chip mounted (active circuits and IOs pointing down) onto the package substrate, you still want to be really gentle with this. Silicon is very brittle. Just make it clean, and shiny and leave it be.

 

acer v3-731
Clean up the copper on the heatsink to remove all traces of old compound

Apply the thermal compound

Sometime called thermal grease, this stuff is more like a liquid gasket material. It is very thermally conductive, being loaded with particles of silver and other thermally conductive materials. It’s job is to flow into all the little gaps and maintain an intimate contact between the CPU die and the heat sink end of the heat pipe. It doesn’t set hard, is very sticky and allows the thermal contact to be maintained as the various components expand at different rates as the CPU temperature varies. It is wise to do some research and buy specialist, high performance compound for this very demanding job. The stuff I used is a cheaper Chinese copy of a Japanese product who’s name escapes me, but had good reviews during testing, and wasn’t terribly expensive.

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Tiny little syringe, but you don’t need much

 

I applied a generous blob, direct to the CPU die, and spread it into a consistently flat layer. I didn’t worry too much, as the excess will leak out the sides. I made sure to cover every bit of the die, so there could be no hot spots.

acer v3-731

 

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Eugh it’s all sticky.

Screw the CPU heat sink back on

From this point on, it was pretty easy going. I made sure to drop the heatsink back on square on, to not disturb the thermal goo too much, then simply tightened the screws in the marked order 1-2-3-4.

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Tightening the screws 1-2-3-4. Diagonals first, or you will regret it!

 

Reassembly complete: Testing

I forgot to take a screen shot of the temperatures the CPU was getting to during light usage, but lets’s just say 60 Degrees Celsius is far too hot. After reassembling the laptop, in pretty much the reverse order as above, I was rewarded with much lower core temperatures. Shown is at approx 50% CPU load, during light web browsing. Consequently, the cooling fan was operating at very low speed, and was almost inaudible. No more scorched thighs for me.

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Cool running

 

Final Thoughts

Funny how things catch up with you isn’t it? It wasn’t even a whole month before the keyboard started to fail! I’m pretty hard on keys, and having hammering away without a care for the last few years, there were groups of them starting to not register presses. This resulted in some very strange comments from friends, until I realised what was going on.

Had I the forethought (or had it started failing slightly earlier) I would have replaced the keyboard assembly whilst I was inside the laptop. Sadly, less than a month later, it was in pieces again to replace the keyboard. It’s quite an easy fix, and not expensive to buy via eBay. Still, you live and learn don’t you? Perhaps, If someone reading this is attempting the same – it might just be worth your time popping a new keyboard in whilst you have the case open eh?

Just a thought.

Building a Hackerspace

Unit F, Liner’s Industrial Estate, Pitt Road, Southampton

Our Hackerspace, So Make It (Southampton Makerspace) was located in Unit K6 on the same industrial estate as our current location. After a year in our first paid-for dedicated space, we decided it was getting a bit cramped. The physical space could not contain our ideas, and people were getting uncomfortable jamming in there.  After a brief budget meeting, we decided on a budget for rent for a new unit, and looked around. Our landlord, Andrew gave us the keys to a recently vacated unit, less than 100 yards away! So a few of the trustees went around to nose about.

Empty Unit all unloved

Unit_F_Viewing
(One of) Our early viewings of the empty unit

 

empty_unit_f_50pc
The long view, showing all 1200 Square Feet of potential

 

empty_unit_f_2_50pc
Much to do. Lots of staring at the walls required

The new unit was on one level (BIG plus) compared to our old one, and was easily 2.5 times the size. We signed on the dotted line, and the landlord (Andrew) offered us access a month early for free, so we could get in and sort the place out! What a star!

Fixing

There was dirt. Lots of it. The walls, the floor, every window, every wall fixture. The whole thing was absolutely filthy. Various things were hanging off, broken or just missing! The previous tenants ran an MOT inspection garage here, so there was car-related dirt all over. Diesel vehicles kick out a lot of particulates, which meant that every surface, vertical or horizontal was thick with sticky black carbon. It took a lot of cleaning, but we got to the end of it. We’re all practical people, so we just got on with it.

We had help from a pool of members, some 20 strong, day and night for at least three weeks straight, without a break. As a team, we scrounged stuff out of skips, re-cycling companies, the internet, peoples loft storage. Anything we could lay our hands on to reduce costs and build an awesome space.

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I don’t think the previous tenants bothered answering the phone. A job for BT to fix.

 

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Big and totally not needed welding supply transformer. We ripped that off to make more usable wall space 🙂

Anything we didn’t need was removed to make more space and maximize access to the wall space. All the holes in the ceiling and walls were patched up, after root cause was identified and fixed. Everything was cleaned out and repainted. After heavy rain (we started this project in December, which is a wet month in the UK and cold) over several days, the unit flooded. Water was pouring in under the roller shutter. Clearing the external drains solved this!

 

unblocking_surface_drainage_50pc
One of our members is a plumber. So he cleaned out the drains that were already backing up. A very important job in a unit with a large floor-to-ceiling roller shutter!

 

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The roof leaked. In various places including near this ceiling extractor fan. We fixed that.

Not fixing. Not touching.

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3-phase power supply, and lots of scary mains stuff in here. Nobody wants to touch this! Unidentifiable grime remove whist wearing thick gloves!

 

Cleaning. Lots of cleaning

degreasing_the_roller_shutter_50pc
The Author, de-greasing the roller shutter slats with a paint brush and a gallon of ‘Gunk’ engine de-greaser. What a way to spend an evening.

 

More Cleaning and Painting walls, Ceiling, and things

paint_the_walls_50pc
Sugar soaped and washed all the walls. Filled all the holes, repainted the walls and ceiling. This one job took over two weeks. So much grime. So many buckets of water.

 

Once the cleaning and painting was done, we started the construction phase. The plan was to build a partition wall, roughly midway between the first two visible (but painted over!) windows. The idea was to zone the space into dirty (workshop) and clean (open hacking) areas to keep the dust and dirt contained at source. The wall would be rock-wool insulated for thermal and noise reasons. Each zone has a separate fire escape, so there were no legal issues with doing this. The kitchen would be located at the camera viewpoint, to the left of the roller shutter. Conveniently near the water supply and waste connections to the external drain.

 

Building the kitchen

worktop_carpentry_50pc
Paul the plumber is ace at fitting kitchens too. Very handy. Brand new Ikea worktop got for free locally via Freecycle!

 

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Half a kitchen, and one of the many minor floods before we fixed the leak!

Our members are very resourceful, and we managed to acquire a complete kitchen for virtually no outlay. I think we only spend £100 on some missing parts and purchasing cupboard carcasses and doors from a local who was having a new kitchen fitted. Second hand is good enough for us.

All the white goods were donated, so outlay was zero. We even have a slimline dishwasher!

 

Help from the Landlord

gantry
Our awesome landlord, Andrew lent us all kinds of useful things to help us along – like this cool wheeled gantry. Here we’re starting the first parts of a partition wall

 

Building the Partition Wall

One of our trustees, Bracken, learned how to build a stud wall the hacker way – watching YouTube! To be honest, it’s not really all that hard if you have the right materials and tools. The gantry was loaned by the landlord, all the power tools we had already. Timber for the structure, beams, uprights, noggins, and door frame were all bought and delivered from a local company, Totton Timber, that offered us a very good discount.

Insulation came from spare loft insulation members had spare. The wall boarding was donated by a local shipping company after a member applied some gentle pressure to the warehouse manager! The super-solid double doors came from a skip at one member’s workplace. All costs of timber, nails for the air gun, screws and fixtures were paid for by a member who runs a local software company. I think it cost about £500 in all.

 

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Screwing the main structural beams to the floor and walls prior to framing.

 

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Most partition framing done, just the doorway to build.

One of the trustee’s father is a retired carpenter, so on a visit (from Scotland, where he lives!) to his son, he got to pass down some knowledge, and get the massive double-doors into the workshop hung and swinging true. And a solid job it is too.

 

Moving in

moving_in_1_50pc
Moved in! Most of our stuff is hidden behind the partition wall, in the workshop which is piled to the ceiling with our toys as we plan the space.

 

Donations, donations and more donations

donations_2_50pc
(Wood) Thickness-er, air tools, many spanners.

 

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One of the many boxes of donated tools and parts we were given during our build

 

Additional Resources

Build Time-lapse

Hackerspace Build Finished!

(Okay, Hackerspaces are never finished)

So, as of writing, we’re just shy of two years in, and getting cramped again! We’ve acquired or bought new tools, such as 3D printers, metalworking lathe and a large A2 sized industrial laser cutter 🙂 We’re getting itchy feet again, so perhaps another space upgrade is in the near future?  Right now, we’re working on better space utilisation and storage solutions.

So Make It Hackerspace 10 March 2015
An recent-ish webcam snapshot

 

First Year Time-lapse

 

360-Degree Tour Video

 

The Future

We’re always on the lookout for new members, so if you live in Hampshire, UK around the south coast, near Southampton, New Forest or Portsmouth regions then drop in an say “Hi.” Our opening times and location are on our visiting page. We’re always interested in receiving donations, hosting tools you don’t use so often (you can lend us things and we’ll look after them!) hosting groups or just making useful contacts!  Fancy chatting to us? We’re on slack.

 

The Author

I’m Dave and I’m a Foster Carer,  Electronic Engineer, trustee for So Make It: Southampton Makerspace and director of my own Electronics Design Company, So Build It. I offer bespoke Electronics Design, Prototyping as well as contract effort on bigger projects. I cover the UK and specifically Hampshire. I live in Hythe, Hampshire with my wife of 13 years, our two three dogs and our foster child.

Electronic Design Services

Electronic Design Service

My company Sobuildit Limited offers Electronic Design Services to other businesses and individuals. I will make a free quotation after discussing your technical needs, even if an NDA is needed – that is no problem!

Located in Hythe, Hampshire in the UK I cover the local area and surrounding cities with a personal service. I’m able to travel, so customers in the whole UK and beyond are welcomed.

Prototypes will be lovingly hand-built and tested before shipping to guarantee a good and fast result.

Electronic Design Capabilities

  •  System modelling
  •  Analog and Digital Electronics
  •  Micro-controller hardware/firmware
  •  PCB design including mechanical, thermal and EMC/EMI design
  •  Custom power supply design
  •  FPGA hardware and RTL design
  •  Physical prototyping (traditional leaded and doubled-sided SMD)
  •  Production test jig design and automation
  •  Application software development
  •  Pre-certification testing and management.
By the hour or longer projects accepted, at very competitive rates. Call now to get started on turning your idea into reality. No job is too small. Personal service guaranteed, with an experienced engineer on call when you need it most.
call: (+44) 7597 936824 (Southampton, Hampshire)

I started a company

Update 29 Sept 2016

I Changed a few links and added separate design and retail website links

So, the big “R”. Redundancy. It will happen to every engineer eventually, no matter how good you are, how pleased your boss is with your performance, or much cash you saved them with your last design change. Sometimes, you’re just in the wrong place at the wrong time, and you’re just one row in a spreadsheet analyzing the cost savings of a particular scenario in the mind of some faceless manager somewhere else in the world.

Sometimes you’re only a single cell.

So rather than just spending my time playing the soul destroying game that is job hunting in the UK – writing CVs targeted to fake jobs pushed by recruiters only interested in getting your CV on file – I did the only obvious thing and created my own company.

I truly believe that the only way to be secure and free from external influences is to work for yourself, or at least in a tight group.

Since my career so far has been quite varied. I started with embedded software for a few years, working with prototype digital TVs in the early 2000s which was fun while it lasted. I dodged the big “R” the first time, and moved on to the next stage; Semiconductor manufacturing. A tonne of training and a quick change of company later, and I’m in the IC test development game. A few years of hardware and software design later, and another jump – to digital IC design. With a tonne of experience gained in embedded software, digital circuit design, microcontrollers, FPGAs, PCBs and all that good stuff, I feel very much able to handle working on projects by myself. So when I got the final push out into the real world, it was just a matter of learning about building a company and a brand.

This was not so easy. But I completed it, and So build it was born. The company has two halves; Retail and Design services.

The first is my retail site, running on the fantastic Shopify platform and I’m very pleased with it’s performance. It links to eBay sales via the InkFrog app plugin, and syncronises stock across the two platforms, whilst giving consistent looking listings.

logo-colour

The second part is design services. I offer electronics design covering all aspects of product design:

  • Idea and specification / requirements capture
  • Spice modelling
  • Schematic concept and prototype design
  • PCB layout for prototyping and production
  • Component specification and selection
  • Hand assembly and rework of prototypes; SMD and double-sided no problem!
  • Firmware/Embedded programming
  • Evaluation rig design and test programming
  • Technical / report writing

Design services: design.sobuildit.com

If you would like to work with me, you can contact me on my company email: devel@sobuildit.com

 

 

 

So Make It: Southampton Makerspace New Location!

Southampton Makerspace moved!  We grew, our old unit K6 on Liner’s Industrial Estate got too pokey:

unit_k6_in_the_dark
Dark, dingy and cramped. It was home for a while.

So we looked around.  We took over unit F!  This latest unit on the same estate became vacant at the beginning of 2015, so we were kindly allowed in early by our awesome landlord to clean and repaint.

Unit_F_Viewing
New unit it 1200 sqft and needs a panoramic camera to take it all in!

It was a LOT of hard work, especially since we have a 2.4m high ceiling, so we needed to borrow a gantry just to repair and paint the ceiling and reach the top of the walls.

gantry
Our awesome landlord has then most useful things in his cupboards – like a gantry some we could paint the ceiling!

So there we have it, we now have 1200 sqft, split into 1/3 and 2/3 chunks, the smaller is a workshop kitted out with custom designed benches and power tools, with an insulated wooden partition wall (kindly sponsored by Embecosm) and door to keep all the noise and dust in 🙂

Unit_F_Wall_Construction
Building the dirty zone clean zone partition

There’s still lots to do, specifically adding more power outlets (you simply can’t have too many sockets) network infrastructure and better lighting in the workshop but progress has been pretty good so far. (here’s a dodgy webcam shot from one of our Tuesday night openings…)

SMI_10Mar15
aaaand relax.

So Make It is growing so fast in membership and activities that I expect we’ll be looking for our own warehouse in the not-so-distant future!  Here’s hoping.

Loads of pictures of can be found here: https://www.flickr.com/groups/somakeitpics/pool/

Our website is http://www.somakeit.org.uk

Our youtube channel is https://www.youtube.com/channel/UCLKCovZIuD5iL-TdbuFiOBw