What to do with a busted laptop screen

Laptops are built slim and sleek, which makes it great for mobility and accessibility. But how everything on the laptop is so compact makes it easy for one thing to cause an inconvenience for everything else. Components on a computer all have a part in delivering a smooth experience for the laptop user. Most of the time, once a part stops working, the entire process is disrupted.

In this case, a screen failure may root from different parts of the laptop. Each component plays a part in making images show on your screen. Without one, you’re likely to see visible changes to the screen. You’ll need to replace a faulty part for everything to go back to normal.

We will look at what causes certain screen issues in this guide, along with repair and replacement solutions. But first, let’s check out how your laptop display works.

How does a laptop display images?

Ever wondered how your computer shows you everything almost instantly? Different parts of your computer work together to create the right display images on the screen. The GPU (and sometimes CPU) works to generate a digital image feed. This is sent through the screen cable and fed into the display. It informs what colour each pixel on the screen should be. Then your screen will be able to show you whatever you’re working on, watching, or reading.

Like most things on a computer, if one part fails, the whole display process will likely face errors. All three components needed to display images on your screen can fail. To find the right solution to your screen issues, we will have to find out what’s causing them first.

Parts of a laptop screen

A laptop screen display might seem like a simple piece of hardware on first sight, but there are a few things that help visualise things. They include:

  • Screen — Where you see images. Usually LED or LCD displays for older laptop models.
  • Back cover — The back of the screen that protects the screen panel. Also the top of your laptop when closed.
  • Inverter — Controls the light for the screen for LCD displays. Discontinued for newer Macbook Air and Pro models, which use the motherboard to light up the screen.
  • Backlight — Lights up the screen.
  • Screen hinge — Provides smooth opening and closing of the laptop lid.
  • Webcam — The camera that you put a sticker over when you’re not video calling someone or taking funny selfies.
  • Wifi / Bluetooth antenna — Gets your computer connected to the wifi. Hidden away on the back cover, almost never sees the light of day.

What laptop screen damage can look like

Laptop screen failure (© Niels Heidenreich / CC BY-SA 4.0 (via Flickr)

Screen damage can be put in two categories: physically visible ones that you can see without turning on the laptop, and ones that are visible only when a display is showing on screen. Either way, you’ll need a screen replacement to fix this.

Dropping or any hard force on the laptop can cause the screen to crack, or the back cover to break or come loose. The screen cable can also come loose or break, but this is very rare. When other parts of the screen like the webcam or wifi antenna need a replacement, you’ll still need to replace the entire screen.

Other faults that you may experience include, a bleeding image, black columns, or thin lines that distort the normal display. A flickering or fading screen can also mean you’ve got a screen failure. While a fading screen can also mean issues with the screen cable or motherboard, it’s more likely to be a screen failure.

What causes screen damage?

Usually by physical accidents or improper use. Screen damage is mostly caused by end-users. Dropping or stepping on it can get you different damages on parts of the laptop. One type of improper laptop use is grabbing the laptop by the screen’s edge instead of its base when moving it around. This puts pressure on the screen that it may not be able to withstand. Most screens like computer monitors, TVs, and laptop screens can last very long, as long as you don’t break it.

What a GPU failure can look like

What GPU failure looks like

A GPU failure is another type of display issue. It can look very similar to the image distortion caused by a screen failure. This would look like vertical or horizontal columns of the wrong shade of colour on the screen. The keyboard and mouse may also look like it’s not responding as well.

These types of image distortion still look very similar. How do we distinguish between a broken screen and a GPU failure? All you need to do is to connect your laptop to an external display like a computer monitor or TV screen. If the display works and everything is responsive, you’ve got a broken laptop screen. Otherwise, it’s a GPU issue. Because the video card is having problems with generating an image feed, your laptop won’t show images normally at all.

What causes GPU failure?

The video card is a microprocessor that is generally expected to last 2-5 years. Accumulating dust and rust inside the card can cause overheating issues that lead to its eventual failure.

Processes like overclocking or heavy gaming use will also put significant stress on the GPU. Be prepared to have to replace your video card if you enjoy gaming, as powerful cards don’t usually last very long. You can always upgrade to something better anyway.

Fixing display issues

Either the screen or video card will need to be replaced. For any issues related to the laptop screen, the whole thing will need to be taken out and replaced. This involves assembling the screen and fitting it back on the laptop.

For video card issues, you can choose to replace it or upgrade with a better card. This is only if you have one that can be taken out on its own though. Desktop computers and some gaming laptops have detachable video cards that can be replaced and upgraded.

Most laptops have their video card embedded on the motherboard, and a replacement on its own is impossible in that case. If you do have an issue with an embedded video card, there could also be a problem with your motherboard. It might be time to replace the whole board.

A word on modern laptop screens

Laptop screens have come a long way. Nowadays, people want thinner, lighter laptops that are convenient for travel. That’s the trend of laptop manufacturing these days. Laptops are made sleeker and thinner.

Laptop screens of newer models are usually all glued together as one part. That’s why we usually can’t just fix the screen panel on its own. LED screens, and especially Apple Macbook retina displays are delicate and usually glued to other parts. No screws or separate parts are usually featured in this design. So trying to put in a brand new screen panel on its own onto your current laptop might just break it. Some touchscreen laptops also glue the touch panel and screen together.

Laptop models that are hard to repair

Dell laptop

The screens of high-end subnotebook laptops like Ultrabooks are known to be difficult to repair. This includes models like the Dell XPS 13 or HP Spectre x360. They offer a lightweight option that doesn’t sacrifice battery life. Because of how sleek it is, it’s difficult to put together all the glued parts without risking cracking the screen.

This is also the case for most Apple Macbook laptops, including the Macbook Air and Macbook Pro models. Apple manufactures their own screens, while brands like Dell or Toshiba make use of other branded screens. Their thin LED screens and retina displays are also usually glued together and can be hard to repair.

Back in 2015-2016, the known fault of the Apple butterfly keyboard was also known for causing screen cable issues. Users found that opening and closing up the Macbook was damaging the cable that connected the screen to the motherboard. This oversight resulted in a free keyboard replacement program offered by Apple.

Screen issues can sound like a pain to fix, but as long as you know what’s causing the problem, you can find the right replacement solution. Now let’s move on to how you can fix a laptop screen.

Replacing a laptop screen

Before doing so, you’ll need to buy the right laptop screen as a replacement. Of course, you’ll need to buy the exact same model so it’ll actually fit on your laptop. Even if a different laptop screen physically fits your laptop, the interface might not work properly with your motherboard. You can’t necessarily ‘upgrade’ to a better laptop screen.

Thinking about replacing a laptop screen by yourself? If you’re quite keen and good at DIY tech repair, it could be a good idea. You’ll need a few professional laptop repair tools to do so. Also, remember to open up your computer to disconnect the battery first too. Find specialised repair guides from tech site ifixit that can help you.

Laptop screen repairs can be quite challenging, so you might want to think about how familiar you are with tech repair before you do so. We’ve already covered how delicate this process is, and things could go wrong. Repairing an Ultrabook laptop screen might be too difficult to do at home by yourself.

Professional repairs

Since laptop screen repairs can be quite complicated, you might be thinking about going to a professional for help. Try going to a brand-authorised service provider first. There you can get specialised computer servicing for your laptop, usually free under warranty. You can check on your warranty from the warranty booklet that comes with your laptop, or you may also be able to find this from the built-in support apps.

If your laptop’s warranty has expired, or the service provider can’t help you, a third-party repair service can help you as well. Consider us, at Safemode Computer Service, to help replace your laptop screen. Located in Inner West Sydney, our experienced technicians can tackle problems from screen damage to motherboard failure. We are well-known for our excellent service across Sydney and can definitely offer you the right computer repair solution. Come by our Enmore store today for an appointment.