E-Waste

How to Survive Without an IT Department

We’ve all had to learn a lot of new skills lately. Some of us have become unpaid IT consultants, with multiple (sometimes fussy) clients, a hodgepodge of devices and systems, and a huge list of tickets. Even if there was someone else to ask for help, inviting them into your home can be tricky. This pro bono gig is probably going to last a while. 

So how can you keep your tech working for the kid’s remote learning, your work’s video calls, and socially distanced birthday parties—while also helping newbies help themselves? You’re not alone—iFixit can help.

As a teardown tech, I’m more often breaking devices so that you don’t have to, but I’m a dedicated tinkerer, too. While not every repair is the easiest to tackle at the outset (Sorry 2009 MacBook display, we tried!), you’d be surprised what you can manage. A successful fix is an amazing feeling, but even better is seeing someone else master a repair (shout out to my Mom!). Any time is a good time to make do and mend, but some times are better than others. You got this.

Set yourself up for success

An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure. In the tech world, that means maintaining your stuff and its environment. Give your tech a checkup and take care of it so it’ll take care of you. The good news is, this is the easy stuff! Some low-hanging fruit includes:

Be gentle! Stop problems before they start by protecting your tech. 

  • Put portables in cases
  • Wrap cables loosely so that they don’t get kinked or frayed
  • Keep your batteries from running too hot

Here’s a slightly bigger job. The charging and connecting ports on devices are vulnerable to getting bent or broken from drops and plug pressure. If you’ve got a home office, or a home study setup, tidy up your cables with rubber bands, velcro strips, ties, or other cable-wrangling tools to prevent unintentional trips, yanks, and device drops. And as much as we hate to recommend wireless headphones, they can save laptops from being accidentally pulled off a desk (just try to aim for more repairable options than AirPods).

Keep it cool! Make sure your laptop is getting decent airflow, and that your PC tower isn’t drowning in a pile of dust bunnies. Cleaning out computer fans is one of the easiest gadget fixes, and it makes a computer cooler to use, aids the longevity of its components, and possibly eliminates annoying rattles and whirring. Find a guide, pop the case open, and dust those bad boys out.

Newbie tip: Cleaning all that dust out can also serve as a great introductory tour for your device!

For the more adventurous fixers—and older tech—sometimes a thermal paste refresh is just what the doctor ordered. This fix is a little more complex, and less necessary, so don’t feel like you have to check it off your maintenance list. But if your system is running hot and your fans are squeaky clean, it’s one thing to consider.

Upgrades

Okay, you’ve got your gear running optimally, but actually using it might still be a chore. Is your computer slow and your battery dies too quickly? We’ve got a great article about which MacBook upgrades you should tackle first—luckily a lot of it applies to PC laptops, too! Not sure if your battery needs replacing or not? We also wrote up tips for gauging the health of aging batteries.

Beyond these common items, you’d be surprised at what you can replace! Webcam stopped working? Don’t toss the laptop just yet! Lots of parts including cameras, headphone jacks, and charging ports can be replaced on phones, tablets, and laptops. You’d be surprised what a little MacGyvering can accomplish! Take a peek through our store or guide catalog to see if we’ve got an easy replacement for you, or proceed to the next section to learn more fix tips!

Troubleshooting help

If we lived in a perfect world, regular maintenance would be enough, but sometimes life gives you weird failures, like Touch Disease or a bum microphone. So what happens if you run into trouble and you’re stuck? Each device page on our site will ideally have repair guides and a troubleshooting section, but unfortunately we haven’t tackled every device just yet. But iFixit is a worldwide community of fixers, and we’ve got a whole forum for you to turn to. We encourage you to take a look through the 170,000 solutions (and counting!) to see if someone has already solved your issue. If not, you can always ask a question. The best questions, with the best chance of getting answered, list errors or symptoms, mention specific hardware and software details, and include the troubleshooting already tried.

Last stop: Replacement

Okay, you gave it your best shot, but your tech might still be kaput, or just can’t do the job you need to do at home. Sleep, brave soldier, you can rest now. But wait! Don’t toss your old tech too quickly. Consider donating it to a refurbishing group, or to a school for use as a disassembly project. And failing that, be sure you properly recycle your e-waste

As for what’s next? Make your replacement product last just as long, or longer! Consider buying laptops, phones, and tablets with high repairability ratings. Look for laptops that avoid soldered-on tech. You want replaceable SSDs or HDD storage, RAM in removable stick form, and maybe a replaceable CPU (at least in a desktop). If you want to buy something sleeker that happens to be less upgrade-friendly, consider buying used or refurbed. In most cases it will work just as good as new, with less environmental impact. If you’re a student and looking for help getting a computer, try contacting Computers for Schools or similar organizations.

Congrats you’re an expert now!

Well maybe not, but we hope this helped a little. Didn’t find the answers? Hop over to a social media account and give us a holler, or drop a comment below! Were you already an expert when you got here? Awesome! Consider giving your local school district a call to see if they need tech-troubleshooting volunteers, or ask if any students are short on distance-learning materials. Heck, call your dad and see how he’s getting along with all this video chatting. We’re building the online repair manual for everything, but we can’t do it without you. Let’s build a stronger community every time we build stronger tech.