Reflowing a laptop motherboard by baking it in an oven may sound a bit crazy but it can actually be a valid repair solution. Laptop computers cram a lot of powerful hardware in a very confined space so, naturally, they’re far more likely to experience problems related to overheating. The frequent heating and cooling cycles most laptops experience regularly, combined with warping of the motherboard as a result of excessive heat can lead to problems, usually with surface mounted GPUs (Graphics Processing Units).
Over time, the solder connections, underneath the GPU and other BGA chips, such as the southbridge, can weaken and begin to form microscopic cracks and gaps. These damaged solder joints can cause your laptop to display lines, dots, and other graphical errors on the screen, prevent images from being displayed at all, and even keep your laptop from powering on. The solution is to repair the damaged connections by heating the motherboard to a temperature that will allow the solder to melt and repair the damaged solder joints. This is what’s known as a reflow. There are professional reflow stations available but these units can cost hundreds, sometimes thousands of dollars. With the proper know-how and perhaps a bit of luck, the same result can be achieved by baking the motherboard for a few minutes in your oven.
Of course, before you can oven bake your laptop’s motherboard, you’ll need to disassemble the laptop. Every laptop is different and disassembly instructions will vary but if you enter your laptop’s model number along with the phrase “disassemble” or “tear down” into a search engine, you should be able to find detailed instructions on taking apart your laptop. Once you’ve taken apart your laptop and have it down to just the motherboard, before you attempt to reflow the board, be sure to take off all removable parts. That means remove the CPU, the RAM, heat sinks, any modems or network cards, wiring, stickers, and especially the CMOS battery. It is very important that the CMOS battery is removed as it can easily be damaged by the oven bake technique. On most modern laptops, the battery can be removed by disconnecting a cable, although some may require desoldering.
Once all of these parts have been removed, the motherboard is almost ready for an oven reflow. Cover any exposed plastic parts or capacitors (usually black cylindrical components with a shiny metal top) on the board with aluminum foil. Some common plastic parts to look for before performing a reflow are the cable connectors, the input/output ports, and the CPU socket. These parts are more sensitive to heat than the rest of the board and may be damaged during an oven bake if not properly insulated. Make sure to leave the GPU and southbridge chips exposed as these are most often where the problem lies.
You’re now ready to reflow your laptop via the oven bake method. First, preheat the oven to approximately 385° F. While the oven heats up, position your motherboard on a baking tray prior to the reflow. Lay a sheet of aluminum foil on the baking tray (this allows the heat to reflect up, thus heating the board evenly). The board will need to sit slightly suspended above the tray. You can crumple up some aluminum foil into small balls and use them to suspend the motherboard approximately half an inch above the baking tray. Try and ensure the board is as level as possible and make sure the side the GPU is mounted on is facing up.
When your oven reaches 385° F, it’s time to put the motherboard, along with the baking tray, inside. Let the board bake for about seven to ten minutes. Keep an eye on the board while it’s baking. If you notice any flames or heavy smoke, turn off the oven immediately. When seven to ten minutes have elapsed, turn off the heat and open the oven door but do not remove the motherboard or the baking tray from the oven yet. Reflowing the motherboard in the oven will generate some unpleasant odors and solder fumes can be hazardous to your health so make sure your kitchen is well ventilated while the oven door is open.
Wait at least 30 minutes after baking to allow the motherboard to cool before removing it from the oven. You can now reassemble your laptop. You’ll need to apply thermal paste to your laptop’s processors when reinstalling the heat sinks. Thermal paste (also called thermal compound) can be purchased at Radio Shack, Best Buy, and most other electronics stores. An in-depth guide to applying the compound can be found here.
Once your laptop has been reassembled, try to power it on. Hopefully, the oven bake was successful and your laptop is working again but, if not, you may want to try reflowing the motherboard again. Try letting it bake a few minutes longer than your first attempt
. Please remember that reflowing your laptop’s motherboard with an oven bake should only be done as an absolute last resort, when the laptop is out of warranty and all other attempts at repair have failed. Be sure to thoroughly clean your oven to remove and hazardous buildup when the process is complete.