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How to fix a broken keyboard

Broken laptop keyboards are not fun to deal with. Though you may think that stuck or unresponsive keys necessitate a visit to your local computer repair store, it’s possible to fix problems like these yourself. Here’s how.

Identify the issue

First, you need to figure out what’s wrong. Is your keyboard is still powered on? How many of the keys are still functioning? If some keys work and others don’t, the issue can be mechanical.

Are none of the keys responding? Press Caps Lock to see if that key’s indicator light goes on or off. If the lights associated with each key don’t turn on and off when you press them, the first thing you should do is restart your computer. If rebooting your machine still doesn’t seem to solve the issue, there are a few other tricks you can try to get the keyboard to work again.

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Mechanical

If one or more of your keys aren’t working, you should check to see if anything is stuck underneath them. Turning your laptop or desktop keyboard upside down may dislodge some larger pieces of debris that may be stuck under keys that aren’t working.

If the affected keys still aren’t functioning after the shake down, buy a can of compressed air or two. You can use compressed air to try to blow out whatever is stuck under your keys. The slender straw attached to the front of the can will allow you to push as much air as possible under the keys, and will likely expel any small pieces of debris that may be residing there.

You may think that small bits of material can’t really do much to keep a keyboard from working properly, but even a small piece of a potato chip can gum up the works.

If you’re still having trouble with a laptop keyboard, there are other options at your disposal. Most laptop keyboards can be removed. You may reach a point where it’s worth pulling up the keyboard from your laptop’s deck to make sure that the connector is firmly inserted in your computer. We’ll get into how to pull this off a little later.

Software

If the problems with your keyboard are software related, the issue may lie with your OS, or your keyboard’s drivers. If your driver is corrupt, out of date, or simply missing, the keyboard may cease to work.

In Windows laptops, the Control Panel’s Device Manager may help you identify the problem. If you see a yellow triangle or a red circle on top of the entry for your keyboard in Device Manager, it means the keyboard’s driver is either corrupt or simply not working for some reason. Right-click the affected device and click Update driver software. Windows will check for a new driver, and if it finds one, the installation process will begin. Alternatively, you can use Windows Update to check for new keyboard drivers.

Related: How to speed up your computer

What if nothing works?

If you’re still not making progress and your problems lie with a laptop keyboard, you can try to replace it. However, the process can be incredibly time-consuming and difficult, especially if you don’t have experience in this area. The steps can vary greatly between individual models and makers as well. There are many screws in every laptop, and because the bulk of them are not related to what you’re trying to do, it’s important to know exactly what you need to do before you attempt to pull this off.

The iFixit site, which is community-driven, offers guides for almost every Apple product. Through this site, you can buy officially licensed replacement parts, and note the tools that the site’s contributors use to complete each project. The website also provides a difficulty rating for each task, detailing how hard a specific device will be to repair and put back together.

For Windows laptops, your best bet is to search for a guide based on the manufacturer’s brand and model number. Thankfully, there are a number of places on the Web that compile the correct information for properly installing a keyboard. Additionally, most computer repair stores/sites will be able to help you fix your laptop keyboard, or simply replace it outright. However, doing so will often cost you $100 or more, even if the job is fairly simple.

Also, if you own a laptop but you only keep it at work or home, you can plug a desktop keyboard into it. This isn’t an ideal solution, but it may suffice for some of you. You can plug a monitor into your laptop’s VGA/HDMI port, and a mouse into another USB port. With this approach, you can use your laptop in a pseudo desktop setup.

[Header image courtesy of David Orcea/Shutterstock]