Barring any kind of accidental damage, your laptop’s keyboard and touchpad are the parts that start to show wear as soon as you use them. Not only are they some of the only moving parts left in modern laptop design, they’re the ones that are constantly being touched by us fleshy humans, absorbing tiny amounts of skin oil and wearing away the legends on the keys. After a year or so, the keyboard deck can start to look noticeably aged.
But there’s good news: because it’s one of the parts that frequently malfunctions, many laptop keyboards are designed to be removed and replaced with relative ease. The touchpad assembly (usually integrated with the keyboard deck itself) can often be replaced as well. If you can track down the parts and you have a little patience, it’s possible to make your laptop look like new for a fraction of the cost of replacing the whole thing.
What You’ll Need
You’ll only need a few things for this job:
- Phillips and Flat-head screwdrivers in various sizes. Depending on your laptop model, you may need specific Torx screwdrivers and something to use as a small pry bar. You can grab these and m any other tech-friendly tools in one package with the iFixit Pro Tech Toolkit ($50).
- The specific replacement parts for your laptop model. We’ll discuss how to find these in Step Two.
Ready? Let’s get started.
Step One: Find a Service or Repair Manual
Service manuals are guides that manufacturers produce for the benefit of their in-house technicians or licensed service agents. They include step-by-step instructions on the most common repairs, including replacing the keyboard and touchpad assembly. You’re going to want one.
The bad news is that these service manuals aren’t available for each and every machine. In fact, the newer a laptop is, the less likely it is that the service manual is floating around. The good news is that the ones that are available are generally posted for free online in a standard PDF format. Sometimes they’re even hosted by the company itself, as is the case with the Lenovo ThinkPad I’m using for my demonstration machine. Once you’ve found the one that corresponds to your laptop model, just load it up into a phone, laptop, or another computer to guide you as you work. If you have no other options, you can always print out the specific pages you need to follow.
A simple Google search will usually be all you need to track down a service manual. For older models, Archive.org and Future Proof both keep databases of manuals on their sites. If there are no official alternatives, you can try looking on iFixIt or even YouTube for a more general guide. In any case, you want to make sure you have some kind of guide available to you before continuing.
Step Two: Find the Parts
Before you can replace your keyboard or touchpad, you’ll have to actually find a replacement part. This isn’t as difficult as it might seem: original equipment manufacturer (OEM) parts for most models can be found online from various suppliers and wholesalers, and independent sellers often list individual parts on Amazon or eBay. The specific part numbers can be found in the service manual, or with a little research if you don’t have one available to you.
If all else fails, you can find a broken laptop of the same type. As long as the keyboard or deck are intact, it doesn’t matter if the laptop has a spent battery or a broken screen; you can salvage the parts. Just follow this guide backwards to disassemble the broken unit, get the parts, then use them on your original machine.
Remember when buying your replacement keyboard or touchpad to match the laptop model number as closely as possible. Small variations in production could make parts incompatible with one another, especially when dealing with variants sold in different international markets—getting a French AZERTY keyboard layout on your US-standard QWERTY machine will cause a real headache. Also note that while the keyboard is usually a single part, the touchpad assembly is often build into the plastic or metal of the surrounding case itself, generally making it a more expensive part to procure.
Step Three: Set Up Your Work Area
This repair might be quick and easy or extremely time consuming, depending on your laptop model. But it’s probably somewhere in between. You’ll want a nice clean and flat workspace, preferably one in an area of non-carpeted floor (to minimize static). A few cups or bowls can also be a big help; they’re handy places to put different-sized screws so that they don’t roll away. Before beginning, shut down your computer and remove the battery if possible.
Step Four: Disassembly and Replacement
You’re all set, now you just have to follow the instructions in the manual, online guide, or video. These will usually start with removing at least some portion of the rear panel of your laptop, loosening or removing a retention screw, then removing some or all of the keyboard deck to access the keyboard assembly itself.
Each model will be different. Be slow and methodical, sticking to your instructions as closely as possible. If you need to pop plastic or metal tabs in the laptop body in order to remove panels, do so with firm inward and upward pressure of your pry tool.
After you’ve replaced your parts and closed up your laptop, make sure you’ve accounted for every piece and screw removed. There shouldn’t be anything left over except the original part you’ve just replaced. If you have anything remaining, retrace your steps and put it in its intended place.
Now boot up your computer and check to see if the new part is working. Good luck.