What to do with a laptop that no longer works?

Having a laptop that is no longer functioning can be frustrating. However, before getting rid of your old laptop, there are several options you may want to consider to potentially revive it or repurpose it. This article will provide an overview of common issues that can cause a laptop to stop working, troubleshooting tips, and creative ways to reuse an old laptop.

Common Causes of Laptop Failure

There are several common issues that can cause a laptop to stop functioning properly:

  • Hardware failure – Issues with the laptop’s internal components like the motherboard, CPU, RAM, or hard drive can lead to complete failure.
  • Overheating – Dust buildup in the laptop’s cooling fans or vent holes can cause overheating, which damages components.
  • Software issues – Problems with the operating system, drivers, or critical software can stop the laptop from booting up or functioning correctly.
  • Liquid spills – Spilling liquids like water, coffee, or soda on a laptop can short circuit and corrode components.
  • Physical damage – Dropping a laptop or impacts to the body can break internal parts and prevent operation.
  • Power issues – Faulty power ports, batteries, or adapters can prevent a laptop from turning on.

If your laptop won’t turn on or load the operating system, it’s likely due to a hardware failure, overheating issue, or liquid spill. Software issues, physical damage, and power problems are more likely to cause intermittent failures or freezing.

Basic Troubleshooting Tips

Before giving up on an old laptop, there are some basic troubleshooting steps you can try to get it working again:

  1. Check connections – Remove the battery and power adapter, then reseat them to make sure there’s no loose connections.
  2. Boot into Safe Mode – If it powers on, booting into Windows Safe Mode can help determine if issues are due to software.
  3. Replace thermal paste – If overheating is the cause, replacing dried up thermal paste between the CPU and heatsink can help.
  4. Boot from a USB or DVD – Trying to boot from external media bypasses the hard drive and can reveal other issues.
  5. Remove dust buildup – Use compressed air to spray out any dust clogging the internal cooling fins and fans.
  6. Try removing and reseating internal components – Removing and reconnecting the RAM and hard drive can sometimes resolve booting issues.

Performing these basic steps can help pinpoint the cause of failure and possibly get your laptop running again temporarily. However, they aren’t guaranteed to revive a dead laptop.

Advanced Troubleshooting and Repairs

If basic troubleshooting doesn’t work, more advanced diagnostics and repairs may be necessary to get your laptop functional again. Here are some options to consider:

  • Run hardware diagnostics – Use the laptop manufacturer’s diagnostics tool or software like PC Doctor to test components.
  • Check error codes – Look up any POST error codes or beep codes that display when trying to boot up.
  • Reinstall operating system – Wiping the OS and performing a clean install could resolve software failures.
  • Replace failed components – Swap out damaged hardware like the RAM, hard drive, motherboard, or LCD display.
  • Repair liquid damage – Clean corrosion, dry out, and replace any connections damaged by spills.
  • Professional repair service – Computer repair techs can fully diagnose issues and perform component-level repairs.

While complex troubleshooting and repairs may get your laptop running again, it is not always cost-effective. Replacement parts and professional services can end up costing more than the laptop is worth. Carefully consider the costs versus the laptop’s value before investing in repairs.

Data Recovery Options

Before disposing of or recycling an old laptop, you will want to salvage any important data still contained on the hard drive. Here are some data recovery options to consider:

  • Remove hard drive and use external enclosure – Connect the old drive externally to a working computer via USB.
  • Boot from a live CD/USB – Use Linux-based live media to access the drive and copy data.
  • Professional data recovery service – Experts can repair drives and extract data from platters in a cleanroom.

If the drive is physically damaged and inaccessible, professional recovery may be your only option to retrieve critical files and data. This can cost hundreds to thousands of dollars.

Ways to Reuse an Old Laptop

If you’ve fully diagnosed your laptop as dead and data recovery is complete, there are still plenty of ways to reuse your old hardware:

  • Sell it for parts – Working components like the screen, keyboard, and RAM may still be valuable to sellers.
  • Keep for spare parts – Use working components as replacements for a similar working laptop.
  • Turn into a server – You can install Linux and use as a headless home server if the core components still function.
  • Use as a dedicated media player – Install media center software like Kodi and connect to your TV to stream videos and music.
  • Give to kids as a toy – Wipe data for privacy then let young kids use as a toy computer.
  • Craft projects – Make art, jewelry, or other DIY projects from the disassembled parts.
  • Electronics recycling – Safely dispose at an e-waste recycling facility so components can be reused.

With some creativity, you can often find ways to continue using parts of an old laptop rather than sending the entire device to the landfill.

Recycle Responsibly

If your dead laptop is beyond reasonable repair and reuse options, recycling it properly is important. There are a few key considerations for responsible recycling of electronics:

  • Remove and properly dispose of batteries – Lithium-ion batteries require special handling when being recycled.
  • Protect personal data – Run disk wiping software or physically destroy hard drives to prevent data theft.
  • Find an authorized recycler – Make sure they follow environmental regulations and don’t export e-waste.
  • Consider refurbishing donations – Charities like Dell Reconnect can refurbish still usable laptops and donate them.

Proper e-waste recycling ensures toxic materials like lead, mercury, and cadmium don’t end up in landfills. It also enables recovery of reusable raw materials contained in electronics.


Troubleshooting and repairing a dead laptop may seem daunting, but is often worth trying before disposal. Basic fixes can sometimes bring old hardware back to life for continued use. For laptops beyond reasonable repair, responsible recycling and creative repurposing of components is the best approach. With some effort, an out-of-commission laptop doesn’t have to immediately get tossed in the trash.