Replace Your Laptop Screen

Broken notebook display? Popping in a new one is easier than you might think.

What's more distressing than the sound of your laptop's screen cracking as it hits the floor? The voice of a tech-support rep telling you it will cost close to $1,000 to replace it. With little more than a screwdriver, however, you can replace the screen yourself and save a bundle. Read on to see if a new LCD will fix your ailing laptop, and if so, how to find and install a new screen.

Step 1: Determine if you need a new screen

If you've dropped your laptop—or dropped something on it—and the screen has fractured, the diagnosis is easy. Connect an external monitor to your notebook via its VGA-out port to verify that the notebook's other components still work. If the laptop functions properly in all other respects, it's time to start hunting for the parts to fix the screen.

If your display problems aren't the result of visible physical damage, however, the problem may not be the LCD. If your screen's backlight flickers, shuts down after a few minutes of usage, or doesn't come on at all, but you can still see a faint screen image, your problem may be the inverter, a small board that supplies power to the backlight. The good news is that these boards are available for well under $100. (We'll show you how to locate and replace the inverter.) If replacing the inverter doesn't solve the problem, the backlight itself may be faulty. If that's the case, replacing the LCD should fix your problem.

If you see gibberish, lines, or a solid color on the screen, connect an external monitor and switch to that display (if you can). If the problem is evident on the external monitor, the issue is likely with your laptop's motherboard or video circuitry, not the display. If the external display works properly, the LCD or the cables leading to it are the likely problem.

Step 2: Find and remove the bezel screws

Carefully pry back the small rubber covers on the bezel to reveal the screws holding it in place.

Before buying a new LCD, you'll want to examine, and possibly remove, the current one. Doing so will give you a chance to spot other possible causes for your display problem, and to gather the necessary part numbers to ensure that you get the right replacement screen.

Before you begin, remove the laptop's battery and disconnect the power brick. For most laptops, you'll need only a couple of tools to remove the screen: a small Philips screwdriver, and a very small flat-head screwdriver or a knife.

First, you'll need to locate the screw covers. These small rubber covers are generally found on the front of the display's bezel (surrounding frame), though on some notebooks you might find some of the covers along the side of the screen. (Note that these instructions will work for most laptop models, but occasionally you'll encounter unusual designs such as Apple's iBook G4, which uses Allen screws, or Apple's MacBook, which has no screws holding its bezel in place.)

Use the tip of a small flat-head screwdriver or knife to carefully pry back the corner of each rubber cover around the screen until you can see if a screw lies underneath. If you locate a screw, remove the cover and place it in a small plastic bag or other safe location. Typically, you'll find at least four, and perhaps six, screws on the bezel. After you've located them all, remove them and store them with the covers.

Step 3: Remove the bezel

Once you've removed all of the bezel's securing screws, gently pull the bezel away from the LCD.

At the bottom center of the LCD screen, carefully work your fingers between the bezel and the screen, and gently pull the bezel. Usually, it will easily snap loose; if not, gently pull it in different directions until it does. Carefully work your way around the rest of the bezel, pulling it away from the rear plastic of the screen cover.

Once the bezel is off, you'll see the LCD in its metal frame. On most notebooks, the inverter board is directly below the screen. You may now be able to tilt the LCD forward, away from the plastic shell behind it. If not, check for additional screws securing the frame to the shell.

If you're troubleshooting a problem that doesn't involve physical damage such as a cracked screen, check the cable connecting the screen to the motherboard and inverter for loose connections or broken wires. If you're lucky, the solution to your problem may be as simple as reseating a loose cable or replacing an obviously broken one.

Tip: If at any point the bezel doesn't pop free with a moderate amount of force, check to make sure you didn't overlook any screws.

Step 4: Find the right replacement parts

Exposing the rear of the LCD panel lets you see its manufacturer part-number info, as well as reach its cable connections.

Now that you've exposed the screen, look for a label on the back showing the manufacturer's part number. This typically consists of one or more letters, followed by a series of numbers. Manufacturers sometimes use different screens for variants of the same laptop model, so having this number will ensure that you get the proper replacement screen for your laptop.

Armed with this information, you're ready to secure a replacement screen. Chances are you can purchase the screen from your notebook's manufacturer, but you'll probably pay a steep premium. Your best bet is to search elsewhere online. Enter the part number for the LCD (or the laptop's model number and terms like "replacement LCD") in a search engine to find a variety of online resellers for laptop parts. eBay is another good source—you'll find new screens, functioning used screens pulled from broken notebooks, and replacement inverters.

A company specializing in replacement LCDs for most major laptop brands, ScreenTek is another great place to start. It also offers improved high-gloss screens for some laptop models, as well as an assortment of illustrated installation guides.

Step 5: Replace the broken screen

After you position the new LCD, screw it into place in the metal frame.

Before removing the broken LCD, you'll need to disconnect the cables connecting it to your notebook. The video cable is typically a long ribbon cable taped to the back of the screen. Remove the tape, then carefully unplug the connector from the back of the LCD. Also be sure to disconnect the power cable between the LCD and inverter. If you need to remove the inverter to replace it or to access its power connector, simply remove the screws holding the inverter in place, then unplug the power connectors from each side of the inverter board. Once the cables are disconnected, remove the screws holding the LCD to the metal frame, and slip the old LCD out. Installing the new LCD is simply a matter of reversing the process: Screw the new LCD into the metal frame, then connect the video cable and inverter.

Step 6: Power it up

Before replacing the bezel and its screws, put the new screen to the test. Attach your power brick or reinstall the battery, and power up the laptop. If the screen doesn't work properly, power down, then double-check the inverter and video-cable connections.

Once you're sure everything's working, snap the bezel in place, replace the screws, and press on the screw covers. (You might want to add a dab of mild glue, such as Elmer's, to the back of the screw covers to secure them.) Your laptop is now back in action, at a fraction of the cost you'd pay to have the screen replaced by the manufacturer.