Dell issues

by hobbitalastair

I’ve been having a few issues with my new Dell Vostro 1510. How do I always manage to make things overly complicated?

I spent some time over the last week or so beginning the migration to this machine. “Migration”, because it involved swapping a whole bunch of arguably better parts from this machine with the equivalent parts in the Dell. That went quite well – the Dell now has 4GB of RAM (as opposed to 1GB), a slightly better CPU, and an intel wifi card – probably the most important change, since otherwise I would have had to tackle the Broadcom Wifi (Arch Wiki) on Broadcom wireless cards!

The new battery which I ordered from Dell also arrived. But it didn’t work…

Either the (new) battery or the old motherboard is… broken. I’m not sure which. At this stage, I think I’ve probably gone as far as I can go – I applied 12v to what I assume are the positive and negative pins on the battery connector on the board, and said board still did not power on. So I suspect that a piece of electronics is fried. It still works… just not off a battery. I’m not brave enough to experiment with other pins…

Still, it seems that Dell went out of their way to make it complicated. Apart from Dell’s technician writing it off as a motherboard problem – which is looking likely at this point, but I believe that the battery is possibly at fault – the system is not designed to be debugged, at least not by a casual user. There’s no documentation, only a few reverse-engineered pinouts, and the battery requires special setup to ‘unlock’. Apparently, some Dell batteries also require a special code to unlock… and said code is a closely guarded secret.

Even when the battery is in the motherboard, I can’t detect any voltage (apart from charging voltages, when the adaptor is plugged in). I’m not sure whether that is a controller issue, a battery issue, or just the way I’m measuring it…

But you’d think (being – apparently – naive) that the battery would have some easy and well documented way of being tested to check that voltage was actually reaching the pins on the outside… like with a multimeter. And maybe a resistor, just to demonstrate that you did have a vague idea of what you where doing, and you weren’t going to short out the battery.

Of course, Dell wouldn’t want you to be able to do that, would they? They’d loose a potential customer for a motherboard, just to confirm that it was the battery or the motherboard that was busted… Oh yes – and apparently, Dell has ‘special’ power adaptors. They have a data pin, which is prone to breakage. If said pin is broken/bent, the adaptor will not be recognized, and the system will assume that a 3rd party adaptor is being used (oh no – we couldn’t possibly have that, could we?), halve the CPU speed, and refuse to charge the battery. There’s no way to override the system, to manually tell it what adaptor is connected, and the power adaptor protocol is a secret.
Plus, the chips inside the adaptors do break.

Also, the batteries have a end-of-life counter. Which is why I can’t test with the old battery; it had done one too many cycles, so the internal counter decided that the battery was no longer fit to be used. The internal counter can only be reset with specialized equipment…
Programmed premature death is not on, Dell!

As probably the only bonus from this whole exercise, I now have a bunch of photos of the laptop motherboard and components:

Note the arrow on the board - one good thing about the Dell was that it was easy to take apart

USB daughterboard, with a made in china sticker…

I still haven't figured out how to change the focus point on my camera...

The motherboard surface

And they have a decent service manual.

At least Dell makes it obvious what to do next!

It's more visually attractive than the other chips, at least...

Southbridge?

Cropped to remove an ugly stain...

Dell Vostro 1510 motherboard

Although the soldered joins look fine.

The possible culprit?

Taking the Dell apart was pretty simple, in the end. Dell has a Service Manual (Dell) covering disassembly and replacement of (OEM, of course) parts, although nothing on fixing the broken bits…

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