Troubleshooting Laptop Display Issues after Spill =)

I bolded the issue at the bottom. The rest is just back story which may or may not be relevant. I included it just in case.

Alright. Well I had an Idiot moment yesterday. Here's the story... I was using my laptop as a GPS unit while driving. I had to brake fairly quickly, and I instinctively reached out my free arm to brace my laptop from sliding forwards and crashing into the floorboard. Problem. In the hand I reached out with, I was holding an open container of Gatorade... It was nearly empty, I was just about to drink the last sip. Unfortunately that sip (an ounce or two) ended up splashing all over the LCD of my T61p and running down the screen and splattering all over the keyboard/front bezel area.

The bad news.. I wanted to turn my laptop off immediately, I knew I should. But I was on business and need the map. So I pulled over, and quickly studied the remaining route instructions trying to commit them to memory and shut off my machine before any apparent damage occurred.

More bad news. No more than a few seconds after the initial spill, the left half of my LCD screen (exactly half) became garbled with multicolored vertical lines best described as a distorted kaleidoscope effect of the image which should have been displayed. Luckily my route instructions were on the right side, so I jotted them down and shut off my machine.

When I got home that evening I completely disassembled my machine. I removed all of the components (from the DVD/HDD to the wireless lan card and turbo memory). This was mostly unnecessary as the spill primarily landed on the LCD itself, and could have only really affected components directly beneath the LCD which the spill may have drained into.

Anyway, I meticulously cleaned all of the components and connections with an alcohol solution. Then I dismantled the LCD assembly and cleaned that as well. There wasn't much residue, as it had mostly dried and caked by that point. The areas with residue were evident, though. The main area retaining residue seemed to be the cable going from the motherboard to the LCD.

So I let it air out overnight and reassembled it this morning. This next bit probably isn't important, but... The first few times I attempted to boot the machine after reassembly I received some beeping BIOS errors (no image was on the LCD). I did hard shutdowns and reboots a few times, and received slightly different beeps, but it would never boot. So I looked up all the error codes for the beeps I'd heard. They all suggested a System Board or DIMM error. I was positive that I seated the RAM properly, so I thought I was screwed. But I opened up the case and reseated the RAM again just to be sure, and afterwords it booted.

Now it was booting up, but I was still seeing the half garbled/half good display image. I let it load into Windows, then after a few moments the garbled image started flickering, then it started to clear up and stabilize, and finally it nearly disappeared completely. The only remaining distortion (albeit very noticeable) is a washed out/grayish area which runs vertically on the far left 1/6th of the screen. I attempted to reproduce the BIOS error as well as the fully distorted/garbled half screen issue by rebooting numerous times (on Battery only, AC only, and Battery+AC), and by all methods, (shutdown/poweron, regular restart, hard shutdown, and even by trying to reset default settings by holding down the power button while off).

So ran some benchmarks/diagnostics to make sure all of the hardware was functioning properly. Check. My only remaining issue seems to be the far left 1/6th vertical of the LCD is washed out/gray. I tried to narrow down what is causing the 1/6th washed out image issue. So I took a screenshot to determine if the video card was the issue. Well, my screenshot comes out perfectly. No distorted 1/6th on the far left side. So I'm guessing it's either the LCD itself (which doesn't make much sense to me), the ribbon linking the LCD to the motherboard, or maybe the connection between the ribbon and the motherboard (although I THOROUGHLY cleaned both male/female connectors for that). I didn't think Gatorade could penetrate or ruin one of those ribbons though. But I don't know much about them... Any ideas on what might be the malfunctioning culprit causing this issue? I can post images if it would be helpful.

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  1. Here are some images of the problem. I'd really appreciate any insights as to what type of malfunctions is causing the issue.. Thanks

  2. What does it do on an external?
  3. On an eternal monitor the picture is perfect. And like I said, when I take a screenshot it' fine, too. So that leads me to believe that it can't be the graphics card.

    So it seems like it has to be the LCD itself, or something in the connection between the motherboard and the LCD.

    A friend of mine pointed out that maybe when I stopped it from sliding I struck the side of my LCD too hard and that's what caused the issue... (b/c how could Gatorade cause this problem?) It's just very odd, as you can see.. Basically, just that 1/6th or 1/8th of the screen lacks black level color depth. If I set a very light colored background: gray, white, light blue, etc. you don't even notice the issue.

    Anyway, I'm leaning towards it being the LCD itself, and I am becoming doubtful it's a correctable problem (short of replacing the LCD). I can live with it, as is. It'd just be nice to correctly diagnose the problem now in case I want pursue fixing it sometime in the future.

    Thanks in advance for any insights
  4. I'm leaning toward the LCD panel as well. I've never spilled anything on a laptop, but I've seen the results and that doesn't look like a normal result. Looks more like a general LCD failure.

    Which Thinkpad is that? T61p?
  5. Yup. It's a T61p. And personally, it's hands down the best laptop I've ever used.

    I checked ebay for new panels. $170ish for the WSXGA+ that I have, and $250ish for the WUXGA. Luckily, it's still functional as-is for everything that I need and typically use it for. So despite the annoyance of it, I guess I'm pretty lucky no further damage occurred.

    I'll likely recheck all of the LCD connections later in the week as I get some free time. If that doesn't resolve anything then I'll chalk it up to the panel, and keep an eye out for a cheap one.

    Thanks for your input
  6. Face it: you subconsciously wanted to go to WUXGA. . .

    EDIT: I use ThinkPads exclusively. Very durable and easy to fix if something were to go "awry".

    Also, Gatorade is bad for you: HFCS-- unless you use the mix.
  7. Haha, you're right. I actually wanted WUXGA from the get go. But when I bought this about a year ago, I was scouting ebay for the best deal. When I found this one for just under $1,000 (w/ the Quadro FX 570M) I couldn't resist. The configured price at was still well above 2k at the time. I figured I could toss in the T9300 and the WUXGA down the road as needed. I just didn't know "as needed" would be so soon.

    And you're also right about the Gatorade. But have you tried the new Tiger flavors? They're too delicious to resist. Plus I usually only drink water (never soda or caffeine). So for me, every now and then a Gatorade is just what's needed during a long day.

    Anyway, I really appreciate your help. Although, if something miraculous doesn't happen when I recheck the LCD connections... I think you may have just cost me $160, haha.

    Thanks again
  8. Ah, I just saw the panel on ebay you linked to is glossy. I personally like the matte finished ones myself. I somehow manage to find glare anytime/everytime I use a laptop w/ a glossy screen. Good starting point though.

  9. Yeah, I noticed that too: the glossy thing. It's definitely not an IBM / OEM panel: matte is the only option for ThinkPads; however, I am a real cheapskate.

    [off topic]
    I don't drink "sports" drinks. . . not for the last 18 months so I haven't tried the Tiger stuff. I liked the Rain flavors, though and Aldi had em for $0.92 for 32 oz bottle (I think they're up a nickle now). Fructose (and other sugars) aren't bad if you know you're going to use the energy right away, say, right before or during a long run / ride. I'll stop now because I could go on and on and on about High Fructose Corn Syrup and Partially Hydrogenated Vegetable Oil. I chew caffeinated gum during long runs.
    [/off topic]

    It's definitely damage to the LCD logic board as the array of misbehaving pixels is too specific to chalk up to damage to the panel or any of the intermidiary parts such as the diffusor foil or polarizing filter.
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