Laptop Dropped in Airport

by on November 3, 2007

Q: My son’s HP Pavilion dv5000 was dropped going through airport security. The LCD is clearly cracked and just displays lines and big blank white areas. We tried connecting it to an external monitor to see if the rest of the computer still works. The boot up goes as far as the first Windows Splash screen and then the monitor goes blank – no signal.

Here are the questions: Is there a way to verify that the CPU and hard drive are really working? Is it worth it to buy a new LCD display (17 inches)? More importantly, how can I get all the docs and music and pictures off the Hard Drive? Going to a Mac (with plenty of space) is the only option in this house.

A: Try pressing F4 together with the Fn button once the external screen goes blank. Shorthand for that is F4+Fn (do not press the + button). The Fn key should be somewhere near one of the Ctrl keys. You’ll notice that Fn and the picture on the F4 key are the same color. This is a reminder to you that to do what the picture describes, you must always hold down the Fn key too. If this procedure works and the rest of computer seems to be undamaged, then replacing the screen on your son’s laptop should be the only repair that is needed.

But before we get into what you can do about the damage to your son’s laptop, let’s examine what other people may be able to do! Many retail stores offer extended warranties. These are also known as protection plans and service agreements. Some extended warranties will cover damaged cause by accidents such as dropping a laptop. Circuit City provides something called Circuit City Advantage Plan Plus (accidental damage from handling). CompUSA offers a service called TAP it! For Notebooks. This service includes replacing the screen as many as 2 times during the term of the extended warranty. Other retail stores offer similar protection plans.

You may also wish to review the events that led to the dropping of your son’s laptop at the airport. If the laptop was damaged due to the negligence of airport security officials, you might be able to get compensated for the accident. You may wish to call or email the TSA Contact Center, which is able to assist travelers with, “filing a claim for lost, stolen or damaged items.” The phone number is 1-866-289-9673 (toll-free) and the email address is TSA-ContactCenter@dhs.gov. Don’t forget, you can always send your laptop to HP for repair. Unfortunately, in the case of a dropped laptop, HP will almost certain charge you for the repair.

Your first question asks if it is possible to confirm that the CPU and hard drive are still working. I’ll add RAM to that list before answering. A hard drive is most likely to be damaged from a fall if it is “spinning” at the time it is dropped. A hard drive most often spins when someone is working on the computer. A hard drive is idle when the computer is: off, in standby, or in hibernation.

You say that you are able to hear a DVD playing even though the screen is blank. While some newer Windows laptops are able to play DVDs without booting into Windows, laptops as old as the HP Pavilion dv5000 do not have this ability. My research indicates that your son’s laptop was probably manufactured sometime around 2005. This means that your laptop would have to load Windows in order to play a DVD. Booting Windows and playing a DVD requires that the hard drive, CPU, and RAM are all functioning within normal specifications.

You next question asks if purchasing a new LCD for the laptop would be worthwhile. Assuming that the Fn trick fails and you do not have an extended warranty or a valid claim against airport security to cover a replacement monitor, there are two possibilities that I can think of. First, you may not be getting a picture on your external monitor due to damage to your computer’s graphics card.

Unfortunately, graphics cards for laptops are always soldered directly onto the motherboard (main circuit board). While this allows computer companies to manufacture laptops at a lower cost, it also means that a damaged graphics card usually requires a new motherboard to fix. That is expensive! Even if the original motherboard can be salvaged, a new graphics card must be soldered onto the motherboard by a skilled technician. Again, that is costly. Second, you may simply not have the correct driver for Windows to communicate with your external monitor. Try using a different external monitor. I believe that certain iMacs are able to function as external monitors. You should also try waiting until Windows has started to connect the external monitors. If a different monitor and connecting after startup fail, try both again in Safe Mode. Pressing F8 while the computer is starting will activate Safe Mode. Do not use the Fn key this time.

Lastly, you want to know how to transfer files from your son’s laptop to your Mac. If you are able to get your son’s laptop working with an external monitor, the easiest way to transfer the files would be to burn them to CD or DVD. You could also use a USB flash drive, external hard drive, or similar peripheral device. Additionally, you could use the disk storage option on an iPod to turn the iPod into an external hard drive. See Apple’s article entitled Using your iPod as a storage device for instructions. You can try to use file sharing on you home network or by using a Cat 6 ethernet cable to connect the HP and Mac together. Read the About.com article entitled How To Enable or Disable Simple File Sharing in Windows XP to enable file sharing on your son’s laptop. See the Apple article called Mac OS X 10.1 or later: How to Connect to Windows File Sharing (SMB) for additional instructions on activating Windows File Sharing on you Mac.

Since you are using Windows on your son’s laptop, there are not very many options available to you if you are unable to get a picture by connecting to an external monitor. Macs have something called FireWire Target Disk Mode, allowing you to turn your Mac into an external FireWire hard disk. But as far as I know, there is nothing similar for Windows PCs. MS-DOS is unable to recognize most hard drives created in Windows. So, you are left with only a couple of options. You could perform surgery on your son’s laptop to remove the hard drive. Then put it into a Windows laptop with a working screen, or into an empty “external enclosure” for 2.5 inch hard drives. Such enclosures should be available at most large computer stores. You could then connect the enclosure to your Mac and transfer the files. If you are uncomfortable performing this task, use a service such as Geek Squad from Best Buy.

Good Luck!