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Loose GPU and black screens (HP dv2000, dv6000, dv9000)

A customer sent us an email regarding an HP dv6000 with the "black screen" issue that is notorious for HP dv2000, dv6000, dv9000, and Compaq F500 and F700 laptop models. While the question was model-specific, the response we sent contains a great deal of information about laptop "black screen" issues in general. Many users do not understand what "loose GPU" actually entails, nor do they realize what is involved in the possible methods of repair (and their effectiveness). We felt that this information could be helpful to customers who are facing a laptop with the "black screen at power-up" issue.

The problem you have encountered, which is common in the HP dv2000, dv6000, and dv9000 series, is possibly a graphics processing unit (GPU) ball grid array failure (but there is another unrelated possibility which I will detail later). The only proper (and permanent) fix for this issue is to use a hot air reflow workstation to remove the GPU from the motherboard, clean the solder balls off of the motherboard and GPU, use a re-balling station to apply the appropriate millimeter diameter solder balls to the bottom of the GPU, and use the reflow workstation to re-apply the GPU to the contact points on the motherboard. To ensure that the BGA reflow job has been properly performed, an X-ray imaging machine is also necessary, since that is the only way to visually inspect the BGA contact points after reflow work is completed.

Obviously, I have detailed equipment that easily adds up beyond the $10,000 mark in total. The "motherboard repair" people you see listed on eBay and Craigslist and similar places online that will fix your board and ship it back to you typically have the kind of equipment that I have detailed, and repair a significant number of boards per day to recoup those costs.

You had mentioned a "heatsink problem repair" which leads me to believe that you're talking about a fix similar to the XBOX 360 "X-clamp fix" in nature: tighten down a retention bracket or heatsink that sits on top of the chip to squeeze the chip and board together, which often forces the broken contact points in the BGA back together. Unfortunately, this kind of repair is temporary at best, and will only exacerbate the underlying issue (BGA contact point(s) are broken.) Therefore we will NOT perform this kind of repair, and additionally, we don't condone having such a repair performed. It is practically guaranteed to break again and require yet more tightening, and eventually the chip and/or board will be rendered completely useless due to warping or cracking of substrates.

An additional fix that could be performed is to heat the BGA area to a specific temperature slowly with a device such as a paint stripper heat gun, using an infrared thermometer to check the temperature. By heating up the area to the melting point of solder (which the board and electronics are designed to handle, as these items are applied using the same "hot air" style of soldering) you can effectively "reflow" the ball grid array points without actually re-balling the chip. Some people do this, and we could do it if we had an IR thermometer here. Unfortunately, the only reliable verification technique is an expensive X-ray imaging device. Obviously, one could simply power up the board and see if the board "works," but what if the "repair" "works" because of the aforementioned heatsink, which must be removed during reflow, being freshly tightened? Again, since there is no real way to verify that this repair is properly done without expensive equipment, we don't do it.

There is another issue with this series of laptops that appears to be a problematic BIOS. Apparently, on lower model numbers of the HP dv2000, dv6000, dv9000, and Compaq F500 and F700 laptops, there was a bug in the BIOS that would rarely manifest with a "black screen" on power up, where the BIOS never initializes the video. Essentially, the lights would all come on as if powering up, but the screen backlight and image would never appear, and the unit does not boot. This bad BIOS issue is generally unfixable for the casual computer technician, particularly since the fix is simple, but must be done BEFORE the problem can manifest. By flashing the most recent BIOS, the BIOS bug goes away and the unit won't black out unless another problem (such as the GPU issue) comes up. Fixing the problem in this case entails removing the BIOS chip from the board, flashing it with a different computer and special hardware and software, and re-inserting the chip in the board. While this is something that a sufficiently motivated technician with low-level hardware knowledge could do, Tritech currently doesn't do this because we don't possess the required hardware and have not encountered enough instances of this problem for it to be economically feasible as an offered service.

I don't know enough about independent motherboard repair services to vouch for any of them, but if you want to get it fixed without purchasing a completely different motherboard, that would be your best bet. Because of the issues involved, and the difficulty in verifying the fix is good (most BGA reflow people won't spend the money on an X-ray imaging machine, after all) I'd advise you to sell it off for parts and use those funds to replace it with something else rather than attempting to fix it.

If you happen to own or work for an independent motherboard repair service that performs BGA reflow work properly, and would like to discuss affiliating with Tritech, please contact us.