A lady in Llanberis recently brought in a laptop with a broken power socket. In a lot of cases this would have been the time to get out the soldering iron because the socket is soldered directly to the motherboard. On this particular laptop, however, the socket is connected via a cable harness and plastic connector. It should have been a case of dismantling the laptop, removing the old socket assembly, fitting the new one and then putting everything back together. Obtaining the correct part in this case, though, was less straight forward than it should have been and serves as an example of the difficulties in finding parts for technology, such as this laptop, that is no longer in production.
Technology manufacturers work to a constantly rolling production schedule. As new lines are introduced, old ones are phased out. On a longer schedule this would be fine, as discontinued devices would be coming to the end of their life at about the time that replacement parts for them dried up. At the current rate, however, parts become unavailable for machines which are, in every other way, working perfectly. Fortunately, the space created when the original manufacturers cease production of replacement parts, is filled by a number of independent fabricators, both large and small, and of both good and less good quality. They manufacture and distribute compatible replacement parts, mostly via the massive online auction site ebay.
Ebay is a great source of replacement parts. It has a large number of sellers who, in the main, know what they’re doing. The product range is huge and whilst the quality is sometimes dubious, the Distance Selling Regulations, coupled with ebay’s feedback system, protect you from, and weed out, the real charlatans. Sometimes, though, things go wrong and there is no clear reason why. In this case of this laptop, a Sony Vaio, there was no Sony manufactured power socket available but there were three separate models of fabricator-made power socket and harness available from three different sellers. They all had the correct size socket, the right length cable and the right kind of plastic connector at the other end. The difference was in the placing of the power pins on the back of the socket itself. In order to sit in the recessed groove of the laptop correctly, the socket needed both positive and negative pins to come out of the bottom of one corner at a 90 degree angle to the socket itself.
The first had them coming straight out the back of the socket, at the top; the second had them coming out of the side, with one at the top and the other at the bottom; and the last had them coming out the side, both at the top. In other words, they were all wrong. In addition, none of them were particularly well made so the solution was to manufacture a power socket harness that would be stronger and, more importantly, fit correctly. This entailed removing the flimsy wire harness from one socket and replacing it with one made from cable from a PC power switch, making sure that the cable was soldered in a way to minimise the angle at which it protruded. Next, the cable was cut to the correct length and the connector on the other end was attached. After some careful squeezing and maneuvering, the socket was in place and the cable ran correctly to the motherboard socket. We put the laptop back together, tested the new socket and it charged up correctly again.
It would have been a shame to have had to scrap a laptop that was still completely usable in every other respect, due to something so small yet so important. Secondary fabricators offer a great service when they get it right (and which is more often the case), and they extend the working lives of devices beyond the point at which the original manufacturer is prepared to. It would be nice if they were a bit more diligent, though.