I get a lot of questions about stuck or broken keys in keyboards.
Occasionally, it’s a software issue, but more often than not it’s a
physically broken key. On desktop machines that’s not an issue;
replacement keyboards are readily available, and easy to replace.
Laptops, however, are a different matter.
Sure enough, over the past few months my wife’s laptop started
having issues with the space bar and no amount of compressed air or
other cleaning techniques would fix it. It was time to replace it.
I brought my camera along so I could show you what it took to replace it.
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Important Important Important
This is not meant as a “how to” for your laptop. Every
laptop is different, and the steps I’ll demonstrate below will
likely be very different for different brands and models of laptops.
How you open it up, how you remove and reinstall the keyboard … heck
even if you can replace the keyboard … is going to be highly
dependant on exactly what model of computer you have. You’ll need to
check with your computer’s manufacturer for specific instructions.
That being said, I’ll show you the steps I took so you can at least
get a feel for what kind of a job it might be. If what you see
is scary and something you’d never want to try, then you know you’ll
want to take it to a pro. On the other hand if what you see seems
reasonable, you can take the next step of finding out more about your
As always, I can’t make guarantees. You could break it. Heck, I
could break it, which leads perfectly into…
The All Important First Step
It’s tempting to skip the first step. Do not skip the first step.
You will be sorry if you do.
Breaking your computer is bad.
Breaking someone else’s computer is worse.
Breaking your spouse’s computer is … better left to the
Hence, here’s the first step:
In over 30 years of working with computers, experience has shown that
whenever I’m about to play with hardware on a computer that’s even
marginally important, a backup “in case something goes wrong” is
critical. (And your spouse’s computer is always much more than
“marginally important”.) After taking a backup onto an external drive
even if the laptop bursts into flame while I work on it, I’ve got
everything safely saved to restore onto a repaired or replacement
Take a full backup before you begin.
Do not skip the first step.
Here’s the laptop:
It’s a well used Dell Latitude D610 with a fair number of “miles” on
it. You can see that the keyboard shows signs of wear.
We begin with an important second step: removing the batteries:
This prevents the machine from being accidentally turned on while
we’re in the middle of ripping it apart. (And yes, this laptop has two
batteries, one in place of a CD/DVD ROM drive.)
Next we open the D610 by carefully prying off the plastic access
cover that runs along the top of the keyboard that happens to include
the power and audio buttons:
Having done so, you can see the exposed electronics across the top of
It’s difficult to see in that photo, but there are exactly two small
screws that hold the keyboard in place. Removing those allows the
keyboard to be carefully lifted up, except:
There are two tabs on the actual laptop plastic case, one on each of
the left and right sides, that hold the keyboard in place. They need to
be carefully held aside and the keyboard can be angled up some more.
Then you can slide it up a little at which point it’s entirely free
except for the cable.
Do not stress the cable. Even on the old keyboard
which you’ll likely throw away, pulling or indiscriminately yanking on
the cable could actually damage the circuit board that it’s plugged
In the D610’s case the cable connector actually includes a plastic
tab that can be held on to so that you can carefully disconnect the
Things are a little tight, so take your time, again, not stressing
the computer, cable or keyboard.
The result, a laptop with no keyboard:
Here’s the replacement keyboard, ordered direct from Dell:
The next step is to connect the new keyboard’s cable. Once again,
this is slightly cramped work that needs to be done carefully:
Now you can slide the keyboard down into place, and the top two
screws can be replaced:
It’s at this point, before closing things back up, that I inserted
one of the batteries, booted the computer, and ensured that the new
keyboard was, in fact, working. (It was – hooray!) I then removed the
battery (perhaps not absolutely necessary in this case), and
The last step was to replace the plastic access cover by carefully
pressing it back into position:
My wife’s laptop now has a working keyboard once again.
One final, and important, picture to illustrate some fundamental
Only after I was satisfied that the new keyboard was working did I
remove some of the key tops on the old broken one. This picture shows
where the spacebar used to be. There are two things to note:
- The Dirt – keyboards have long been known to be the
dirtiest part of your computer, and you can see why. A lot of dirt, and
in our case pet hair, gets trapped underneath those keys. Regularly
blowing out your keyboard with compressed air helps some, but
over time the results are inevitable.
- The Switches – after removing the spacebar the
cause of the actual keyboard problem was fairly obvious. The spacebar
on a D610 actually activates three separate switches so that no mater
where on the spacebar you press, you get a space. What you can see, if
you look carefully, is that the switch on the left is broken – it
doesn’t come back up after being pressed down. The center switch is OK.
(The right hand switch was a casualty of removing the spacebar.)
All in all, replacing this laptop’s keyboard is “do-able” if you have
some small amount of ability and dexterity. Other laptops, as I
mentioned, may vary a great deal. Hopefully knowing that the keyboard
is likely to be the most commonly broken part of the machine, your
laptop’s manufacturer will have made it relatively easy to replace.