This article describes a reflow procedure that can be performed at home in a conventional household oven for a common laptop motherboard repair of the broken graphics chip.
What is a Reflow?
The term ‘reflow’ describes a process of briefly melting (reflowing) the solder on an electrical circuit board, in this case a laptop motherboard.
Why would you perform a Reflow on a laptop motherboard?
The solder used in laptop motherboards tends to degrade over time, becoming brittle and weak. It can change from being a solid block of solder into more of a honeycomb structure. This weaker solder joint can fracture causing tiny broken connections in the circuit, invisible to the naked eye. The idea behind performing a reflow is that it melts the solder, allowing it to form a solid block again and joining up the electrical circuit.
When would you perform a Reflow?
Another common example is a laptop that will appear to power up, but there is no graphics output to the LCD panel or to an external screen. In this case, it is likely that there is a broken solder joint around the graphics chip (GPU).
A reflow is a method of last resort. In other words, you would only ever try this on a laptop motherboard that was so completely faulty that it would otherwise need to be replaced. If performed incorrectly, a reflow can damage your motherboard even further. But on the other hand, if the motherboard is broken anyway, and would otherwise be replaced, then performing a reflow won’t make the problem any worse.
Certain makes and models of laptops seem to be more prone to these GPU problems than others. It seems to be particularly common in the NVIDIA chips used in some HP laptops, especially the following models; Pavillion dv2000, dv6000, dv9000, dv9500, dv9600, dv9700 and Compaq Presario V3000, V6000.
How do you perform a Reflow?
There are expensive infra-red reflow stations which can be purchased which will do this job for you. However, if you are on a budget, the easiest method of performing a reflow is to bake the laptop motherboard in a household oven.
This might sound a bit crazy, baking your laptop motherboard in an oven, but if performed correctly, it can achieve the same end result, remaking the solder connections which may have been broken.
It is very important that the motherboard is completely stripped down before attempting this procedure. Remove the CPU, heatsink & fan, RAM, BIOS battery, wires, speakers, stickers, plastic sticky guards, foam spacers, absolutely everything that can be removed from the motherboard.
Then preheat your household oven to approximately 200°C or 385°F. If your oven does not have a digital temperature display, perhaps use an internal oven thermometer to make sure the oven is in the right temperature range.
Roll up some kitchen foil into balls, between half an inch and an inch wide, and place them on a baking tray. Place your motherboard, with CPU socket and GPU facing upwards, on top of the foil balls. It is a good idea to wrap additional foil around the more sensitive parts of the motherboard, like areas where there are capacitors and the CPU socket.
If the reflow is being performed because of a faulty graphics chip (GPU) then perhaps wrap the rest of the motherboard in foil to protect it, leaving just the GPU exposed on both the top and bottom of the motherboard.
Then place the baking tray with the laptop motherboard on it into the preheated oven.
Make sure your kitchen is well ventilated at this stage, turn on the extractor fan to full power and/or open an outside door and windows. This will help to take away any fumes. Ideally, you should leave the kitchen while any fumes are still present.
A couple of times during the procedure, have a quick look through the oven door (without opening it) making sure there are no smoke or flames visible. This is unlikely to occur, but can happen if stickers were left on the motherboard.
After 8 minutes, turn the oven off and open the oven door. Do not remove the motherboard from the oven at this stage, it could be very hot and it is a better idea to allow it to cool down gradually. Take care not to inhale any fumes that might be present.
After 20 minutes to half an hour, remove the cool motherboard from the oven and begin rebuilding your laptop. If all has gone well, it will boot up and the problem will be fixed. If the problem remains, you could try the procedure again, leaving it in the oven for a couple of minutes longer.
After performing a reflow in an oven, I recommend cleaning the oven thoroughly, then turn it on and allow any fumes that may have built up to be completely removed. This is especially important before cooking food in the oven again.
How long will a Reflowed laptop motherboard repair last?
It is impossible to say for certain how long a repaired laptop motherboard will last. It may be a few weeks or a year, there is no way to know. The problem with the solder fracturing does tend to come back again though eventually. However this technique might at least allow you to get your laptop up and running again for a while, long enough perhaps to save up for a new laptop.
Video of a Motherboard Reflow
Here is a quick YouTube video I came across of someone performing a laptop motherboard reflow in a household oven. It doesn’t cover all the points I describe here but it shows the basic principle.
*** Disclaimer: ***
Putting your laptop motherboard in a household oven is potentially dangerous and is a method of absolute last resort when trying to fix a fault. This method of performing a reflow is well documented across various sites on the internet, and although many people have had success with it, it may not work in every case. We will not be held liable for any damage, either direct or consequential, that you cause to your motherboard, to your oven or to any person or property as a result of attempting this procedure.
Please – Be safe and be sensible!