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Are you a good screw or a bad screw? This is a question everybody ought to ask out loud before each step of any serious laptop repair or upgrade work.

The image to your left is an example of the former. This is a fine screw indeed, for one simple reason: it goes out as well as in. Let me explain. If you’d like to learn a couple of lessons about the value of persistence and stubborn devotion to duty from a guy with the sort of keen intellect and clever “outside the box” thinking of smart men like Shemp Howard, this story is for you.

Since the mid-1990’s, my life has been a series of Fujitsu laptops. Not surprisingly, the first one I owned ran Windows 95. The computer at the heart of today’s little parable is a C Series Lifebook, running Windows XP. I like it and it has a lot of expensive programs installed. Sadly, the 40 GB hard drive that came with the unit was showing signs of getting ready to give up the ghost, things like being 42% fragmented at the end of running all the defrag and disc maintenance programs on hand.

No problem. I’ve been sliding new hard drives into laptops since before a lot of you were born. I went out and bought a nice 650 GB drive and came home to enjoy the smooth and easy transition that has been my standard experience in these matters. I attached the new drive externally and ran a cloning program with no problem. After that the first screw securing the hard drive caddy – the one depicted with such loving and sharp clarity in the photo – came out with no problem. Sadly, the second one stripped and remained in place, mocking me, a part worth a fraction of a penny telling me my computer soon would be worthless and that I likely was powerless to do anything about it.

I presented this situation to my beloved wife, who cares about my wellbeing and happiness, and who doesn’t enjoy life so much when I am lying on the floor, biting the carpet with frustration and misery over some computer mishap.

“How old is that laptop?”

“Four and a half years.”

“You know, I think probably Santa would get you a new laptop for Christmas if you were a good boy.”

“That’s nice, but I’m not going to need it because I’m not going to be getting screwed by this screw. I’m going to sort this out and this new hard drive over here is going to be in that laptop over there, working fine, really soon.”

Over the subsequent couple of weeks, I learned about screw extractors at the local hardware store and I watched how-to videos. I checked out the family power drill, which I brought into the house and started to examine. I tried to use the screw extractor. I didn’t get the screw out. On the other hand, I did not damage the laptop further. My wife appeared to be relieved that this setback left me undaunted but I could tell she was worried it all would end in tears.

I slept on the problem, and decided to escalate the level of violence. I  waited until nobody but the family dog Rainbow was in the house with me.  The laptop found itself face down on a pillow on the dining room table, its battery out and its AC cord unplugged. I put the smallest bit into the drill and brandished the power drill at the prone laptop.

“You’re not mocking me anymore, are you? You’re gonna give up that screw right now and like it, or it’s gonna hurt you a lot more than it’ll hurt me. If you continue to defy me, I’ll bring Lana and Em’s brother Jason in here with his hockey mask and power saw. You’ll look back and wish you’d surrendered that screw a long time ago.”

It’s important that you show the laptop who’s boss. That’s something they don’t tell you in the computer user manuals, at least not in the ones put out by Fujitsu.

I got to the business of cutting a little doughnut in the plastic around the bad screw. I figured if I could cut away a bit of the plastic I’d be able to use tweezers or needle nose pliers to remove the screw. As I was completing the task, the drill bit touched the side of the screw and turned it. I was able to remove it with my fingers. The hard drive caddy slid out without further delay. My delight was tangible. I sent Alexis a text, telling her about what a tech-savvy spouse she’s married to.

The first three of the four screws that attached the old hard drive to the caddy came out with no problem. The fourth did not. It instantly stripped and remained in place. The last thing that could have gone wrong went as wrong as it could go wrong! Somebody explain the justice of that! Something inside me started to snap. Slowly, deliberately, I walked up a few of the stairs toward the bedroom and I got down on all fours to start chewing at my favorite spot in the carpet, when I noticed Rainbow at my side.

“Don’t do it. Your teeth are in no shape for that kind of work, and you know I’m going to get blamed for it anyway. That’s not fair. Go back and finish.”

Sometimes you have to take your dog’s advice. I went back to the table and looked at the hard drive caddy, with three screws lined up neatly to one side and one screw keeping the old hard drive held fast. I decided to do what any experienced, mature grownup would do: I grabbed that damned hard drive and began twisting it furiously until I was able to break the old hard drive off the caddy entirely. Ha! That’ll teach the #$%@& thing to mess with me for sure! I threw the old hard drive to the table with contempt and with a sense of triumph. Then I noticed the hard drive caddy in my other hand and looked at the twisted, broken piece of metal that once housed the fourth screw. That part was going to require further careful, delicate surgery. I got out a pair of pliers and flattened out the shredded piece of aluminum as well as I could.

To my delight, the new hard drive slid in with no problem and the three remaining screws mounted it straight and solid. It went into the computer and the surviving external screw, the one pictured in all its glory at the top of this post, smoothly went back into place. I plugged in the laptop, hit the ‘on’ button, and the computer booted up perfectly and has been working like a champ ever since.

Perseverance Furthers.

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    […] ago I wrote an inspirational tech piece about installing a new hard drive in an old Fujitsu laptop. Finally the time came to retire that […]

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