Replacing a Fan

It’s been less than a year since I purchased my HP Spectre x360, and while I have mostly been very happy with it1, the left fan started honking and making automobile-engine-attempting-to-turn-over sounds. I probably should’ve sent it in for warranty service, but I opted to replace it myself, with only minor damage. The damage was precisely the sort of thing I predicted – I believe I snapped one of the blasted plastic clips that hold everything together these days2, and I misjudged the sort of connector that the fan uses and mangled it a bit in the process. That said, given the compact nature of the laptop and the (lack of) serviceability of machines in general these days, it was not an awful process. Six external screws, three internal on the fan, and one little bit of tricky cable management. While I’m clearly not the authority on cracking modern electronics open without damage (I grew up ripping apart retro tech, k?) I could cause far more trouble if I were to use worse tools. So while I’m motivated, I figured I’d briefly go into the tools that I currently prefer after years of curation. Note that none of this is sponsored, nor are any of the links affiliate links, &c. This is just… stuff I like.

Spudging

Step one of the process was lifting the long rubber feet up to get to the screws hidden underneath. The simplest way to do this is with a plastic pry tool, commonly known as a spudger. These came in handy when dealing with the clipped plastic as well, though… clearly I goosed that part a bit. All of these tools are pretty much created equal, but I’m quite partial to the combination of rigidity and thin edges on the Norton’s Universal Cleaning Stick. The other most useful varieties that I’ve found are the card-style and pick-style spudgers available for peanuts on AliExpress.

Screwdriving precisely

Step two was the aforementioned six external screws, and further down the line were… more screws. I have long used Vessel Megadora drivers for standard sizes; I use the thru-tang drivers primarily and have one of the Impacta impact drivers as well. I’ve used other thru-tang drivers that I think are as good, so this largely comes down to comfort. More recently, I have started flushing out my precision drivers with their metal-bodied precision drivers. These are undoubtedly the best precision drivers I’ve used. One issue that I have with many brands is that the spinny bit on the top tends to bind. Vessel’s are the smoothest I’ve used, on both their plastic (ESD-safe) precision drivers, and on their metal drivers. The metal drivers also have incredibly tight knurling that allows for a wild amount of torque if necessary, though they’re shrouded by default with a comfortable rubber grip. They make a few oddballs as well, including the pentalobe for opening up an iPhone and several tri-wings for, among other things, Nintendo products3. Their ESD-safe plastic-bodied drivers are nice as well, but the shanks are very long, and a bit unwieldy in my opinion; I have a set that I leave heavily magnetized for pick-up and screw-starting tasks. Finally, while irrelevant to this repair, they make ceramic-tipped precision drivers, one of which I always use for pot adjustment.

Sorting screws

Step two-and-a-half (?) was putting those screws somewhere. I have tried various grid boxes, which always have too few compartments, sized far too large. For a while, I used AideTek BOX-ALL SMD cases, which I still use for small screw/parts storage, but I never found something flexible enough to adapt to the various layers and components of a given project. I finally acquired SMD snap boxes from WenTai, which are individual cubes that can be snapped together in any configuration necessary. For me, this is incredibly helpful for being able to spatially lay out where screws came from. If I find that there are more screws than I initially thought, I can add a row or column and keep the spatial relationship accurate. The cubes individually close, so longer-term storage is possible. The modular nature makes them a little bit finicky, but it was worth it for the peace of mind. I initially thought there were only four screws on the exterior, so I started with a 2x2 arrangement; I added two columns when I discovered the additional two screws. I made a different arrangement for the interior screws. This was a great investment.

Dusting and grounding

Step three was blowing some dust out from the inside of the machine, which I did with a recently-acquired DataVac ESD-safe combination vacuum/blower. This vacuum is relatively light, powerful, and quieter than expected; I’ve switched away from my Dirt Devil Scorpion to the DataVac even just for household vacuuming needs. But for electronics, it is ESD-safe, and it can be used as a blower as well as a vacuum. This was also step zero, I guess – I used the grounded lug on the DataVac as a discharge point for an antistatic bracelet. It’s a great vacuum, and it’s nice knowing it won’t fry my electronics.

Miscellanea(ing)

A couple of other things came up. Despite using somewhat-awkward AAAA batteries4, the size of the Streamlight Stylus penlight is great for handling alongside another precision tool, as well as cramming into tight spots. It doesn’t use a great LED, it only has a single brightness level, but its size makes it a great tool for working on things like this.

I used a Wiha ESD-safe chip lifter as a sort of blunt, safe hook for holding a stubborn cable back as I accessed the one truly tricky screw in the project. This is not its intended purpose, but I didn’t want to use one of my sharp Pratt-Read picks and stab anything delicate. I have lifted chips with the chip-lifter, and it does this quite well; it’s just a tiny pry bar basically.

While less directly related to the project, I mentioned above having my long-shanked Vessel precision drivers magnetized; I love the compact size of the PB Swiss de/magnetizer. It usually just chills on my fridge, though it should probably be stuck to my toolbox.


  1. On the hardware side, at least. I haven’t yet made Windows bearable or set up a dual-boot. ↩︎
  2. Future bri: start at the hinge side of the panel; if you did break a clip it was up here and there isn’t much else you can damage in this area. ↩︎
  3. It took me a while to find tri-wing drivers that weren’t cheap screw-eating monsters. The first high-quality tri-wings I found were from Moody Tools, and these are great, I just… kind of prefer the Vessels as far as how they fit my hand and handle. And Moody’s spinny bits aren’t as smooth. ↩︎
  4. I’ve been using NiMH AAAA cells that appear to be branded EBL, though EBL’s site doesn’t seem to show AAAAs so I suppose they’ve either been discontinued or mine are fake. ↩︎