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Basis of laptop motherboard troubleshooting

Hi, I'd like to contribute to this board with some information I got from a friend who motivated me to get on laptop conmponent level
Seeing all the good information you have here has motivated me to contribute in hope that you continue to post more information of
this quallity.

So here is the beguinning of this trainning.


Laptop motherboard repairs is a quite elite occupation and anyone involved need to have a knowledge of motherboard architecture and
some experience of how they work.
Because of that this chapter will explain some basic motherboard structure, its core blocks and components and applications where they
are used.
Power blocks, control and operation, voltage controller types etc along with some bus operations and interfaces used by motherboards
will be described.

For a proper motherboard diagnostics some architecture knowledge is needed. This is described using a typical Intel based motherboard
diagram starting with the block diagram as shown later.

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05-26-2014, 04:25 AM #2

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Re: Basis of laptop motherboard troubleshooting
Motherboard block diagram

This is a 'two-bridges' architecture (as seen on the picture) and consist of a northbridge and southbridge connected together with a DMI
bus(usually 100MHz).
The interesting part of that structure is that the RAM memory is operated by northbridge which is completely different to AMD
architecture where memory controller is typically built in a main processor(CPU).#

A short characteristics of most important motherboard components :

Keyboard Controller : usually named KBC controller or EC - embedded controller is a motherboard micro-controller responsible for pretty
much everything that operates on the motherboard, from controlling the DC power and charging battery, through controlling screen
brightness, processor temperature, motherboard start control, to operating system boot up which takes control of some devices when it
finally loads up.

System Bios - a basic input-output system is a memory which is usually connected to KBC controller(sometimes directly to the
southbridge). This system includes some basic device drivers found on motherboard like hard drive, optical drive, LAN card, USB bus,
graphics card and I/O devices. System Bios has also a built in auto test procedure called POST - Power On Self Test. This procedure
allows to test all the bus interfaces and devices connected to them. In addition BIOS can display test results with a binary code(when
using specialized post cards) which is very important in diagnosing any possible faults.
POST procedure starts with RESET signal on all motherboard devices including processor. After that BUS interfaces are tested and if the
results are not correctly returned to KBC controller the POST procedure stops.
RAM memory(only first 4kB) are then tested and then the bios system is stored in RAM. Bus interfaced are initialized(PCI, USB, PCIe,
etc) and graphics card controller is started.
In the end the bios system looks for a boot device where an operating system is installed and boots from it. With this, operation of bios
system is halted until next boot or an operating system request.

Soutbridge - one of main computer components which control many motherboard functions. It operates most of devices belonging to
the motherboard, like PCI or PCIe bus interface, LAN and WLAN controllers, SD/MMC card readers, PCMCIA/Express Card, Fire-Wire and
many more.
It also controls USB bus interface, Audio, LPC, DMI(communication with northbridge) and SPI(communication with BIOS). We also cant
forgot about the PATA or SATA interfaces for hard drive and optical drive control although the most important function of the
southbridge is Real Time Clock - RTC.

Northbridge - this is another major component which controls the processor through HOST bus interface. It also controls RAM memory
and sometimes the graphics card through AGP or PCIe bus interface. In many motherboard graphics card is built in the
northbridge(GMCH chipsets - Graphics and Memory Controller Hub)
Besides that, northbridge acts as a data mediator between the processor/memory and rest of devices.

Processor - called CPU or central processing unit is a device which generally speaking takes data from the memory, interprets it and
finalizes. More about CPU can be found in many online articles.

Graphics card - or GPU, graphics processing unit is a specialized device responsible for rendering screen images. When graphics card is
integrated with the northbridge it uses RAM memory and when motherboard is equipped with a separate graphics card its uses its own
dedicated VRAM memory(video memory). Graphics chipset is connected to northbridge with an AGP or PCI/e Bus interface.

System Clock - is a clock generator for all motherboard devices and components connected to bus interfaces(FSB, AGP, PCI/PCIe etc).

Voltage converter - or a DC/DC controller is a component controlling various voltages on the motherboard powering all board devices
and components. Some of them are powered as soon as voltage is connected and some are powered after system boots up. There are
number of different DC converters including simple diode and voltage regulators. Transistors working with the Voltage Converters are
called mosfets or 'fets'.

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05-26-2014, 04:36 AM #3

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Re: Basis of laptop motherboard troubleshooting
There is many ways of finding a motherboard fault and this part will deal with basic methods used in IT industry. Before any work is
carried out the mainboard must be visually inspected for any liquid damage and if any found it must be properly cleaned either with
Isopropyl alcohol.

A battery and power supply must now be connected to diagnose a base fault. If the main power led lights up the 3V/5V controller is
likely to work properly. This is the main voltage converter and in most cases should be inspected first as it powers up other voltage
Motherboard behavior should be now observed. Usual scenarios include :

1. Does not react to power button and doesn’t charge the battery(No leds light up and the laptop is completely dead). In addition to
that, activity led in the power supply flickers constantly or the overload protection is activated(constant ticking noise can be heard).
2. Does not react to power button and doesn’t charge the battery(No leds light up and the laptop is completely dead). Power supply
does not show any signs of overload or signs of shorted circuit.
3. Does not react to power button but the battery charging is working.
4. Powers up but the battery charging doesn’t work.
5. Powers up but then shuts down immediately.
6. Powers up but then shuts down after few seconds.
7. Powers up but then reboots after few seconds.
8. Powers up but does not display anything on the screen.
9. Powers up but display distorted image on the screen.
10. Powers up, display proper image on the screen but another fault appears.

These are not all but the majority of fault scenarios.

Last edited by Kneck; 05-26-2014 at 04:39 AM.

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05-26-2014, 05:10 AM #4

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Re: Basis of laptop motherboard troubleshooting

“Does not react to power button and doesn’t charge the battery(No leds light up and the laptop is completely dead). In addition to that,
activity led in the power supply flickers constantly or the overload protection is activated(constant ticking noise can be heard).”

First thing that should be checked in this case is the voltage of the power supply connected to the motherboard. If the voltage is lower
than specified detailed motherboard its highly possible that there is a short on the motherboard.

Schematics below shows a typical power supply connection point.

The power supply is connected to the CN17 socket. The first element that can be actually shorted is the PC125 capacitor which needs to
be removed and checked. If the short still appears next capacitor in line - PC121 - should be checked.
Next in line there is a PD3 diode, but VA1 voltage also goes to pin1 of the battery charging voltage controller through the PD9 diode.
Resistance of the PD9 diode to the ground should now be checked and if there is no short the battery charging voltage controller - U1 -
is working as it should along with the PC154 capacitor.
After the PD3 diode there is a VA2 voltage point and PQ1 transistor connected to it. This mosfet powers up all the voltage controllers on
the motherboard(PWR_SRC). Resistance to the ground from drain and source of the PQ1 should be now checked. If the transistor is
shorted from both sides, D-S pins resistance should be checked. This shows that either one of the voltage controllers, controlling
transistors or in many cases filter capacitors are shorted.

A "power test" can now be performed. Laboratory power supply must be used for that test, because the standard laptop's charger
switches off in case of a shorted circuit.
"Power test" involves connecting a voltage to the Drain pin of the PQ1 transistor from the laboratory power supply. Starting with 1V and
500mA should last, but it can be set to higher values if needed (but, only in 19V main power rail!). "Power test" should be carried on
cold board. After a short while a faulty component, usually a capacitor should heat up and can be found either by simply touching it or
by using a multimeter with a thermocouple. After removing and replacing the offending component the board usually starts to work
properly. If not we continue with the "power test" until all shorted components are found and replaced.

There are two main points to notice when performing a "power test":

In case when heat can be felt on the core of either of the bridges or graphics card, test should be immediately stopped. In this cases
usually one of the transistors working with the DC controller is shorted and there is a risk of connecting high e.g. 19V voltage directly to
the bridge or graphics card which are usually powered by 1V to 5V voltage. In this case you can't tune up the voltage above value,
which is normally operated in lower values (for example, for the 1,8V power rail you can tune up the voltage only to 1,8V value
Second thing is that the power test with 19V (usual laptop power supply voltage) can be carried only in case of shorts in main VIN
voltage rails. Such voltage CAN'T be connected to any voltage controller inductors, because there is a risk of a serious damage or even
blown component.

Sometimes the damaged component can be felt with touching the board, but sometimes (because of the density of elements) it is
difficult to predict the specific item. In this case we could use freeze spray. It has a valuable property - after turning the can upside
down and spraying the air on board, we have in effect snow that lasts a long time (up to 30-60 seconds).
At this time, connect the power supply to the / in the propagation and observe how quickly the snow melts on the element that most
It looks something like this:
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05-26-2014, 05:38 AM #5

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Re: Basis of laptop motherboard troubleshooting
Part 4

“Does not react to power button and doesn’t charge the battery(No leds light up and the laptop is completely dead). Power supply does
not show any signs of overload or signs of shorted circuit.”

In this type of fault a damage range should be first diagnosed so first thing to check is the voltage around DC socket area, especially
main fuses or protecting diodes. After that if no faults found measurements of the main 3V/5V controller should be taken starting with
voltage on the main inductors in 3V/5V controller along with all the transistors in this circuit.
The 3V/5V controller in most motherboards should start automatically when power supply is connected to the motherboard.
In case of a lack of main voltages on the inductors we should continue with following :

The most important is the B+ voltage(approx 19V) as it powers up the controller and the transistors around it. Lack of this voltage can
be cause by different factors for example :
-overload protection(usually a push-pull two transistors circuit, a single transistor or a simple fuse),
-fault in overload protection,
-fault in power supply or its voltage detection circuit.

A blown fuse is relatively easy to diagnose and replace but fault in push-pull transistors circuit is usually not.
In case of such protection first thing to observe is that the PQ8 mosfet pass the voltage due to built in diode so in P2 pin there should a
B+ or power supply voltage.
Voltage across the gates (usually both gates are connected together) should be taken - if these are similar to the B+ voltage - circuit is
blocked in a 'protect mode'. That usually indicates a short in B+ voltage, one of the mosfet is faulty, or the problem relates to the
control system.
Power supply should be now disconnected from the main socket and resistance check from the B+ point to the ground should be taken.
If its shorted we can perform a power test from this point.
If there is no short then power supply should be set to approx 200mA and both drains of the transistors PQ8 and PQ9 can be shorted.
If the power supply detects a short we can perform normal power test.
If after connecting both drain pins of the transistors they draw no more than 80mA (usually between 20 and 50mA), usually the fault
lies in one of the transistors (G-S leakage) or incorrect control feed from the B+ detector circuit in which case usually the charger
controller is usually at fault.
In this case of a protection circuit a one transistor is used (Q42 mosfet). It is controlled by the charger controller - U26 or BQ24721 IC.
The U26 gives a zero state on the ACDRV# pin but to give that state a number of conditions must be met. The controller must be
powered up (VCC), voltage on ACDET pin must be in range given by the voltage divider (through R618 and R617 resistors) and the
voltage on the SYS pin cant be lower that the PVCC voltage. Also the charger controller needs to have the correct VREF5 voltage. Only
after meeting all these conditions transistor Q42 is switched on.

If all these voltages are correct net thing to check is the SHDN# signal on the charger controller. This voltage in low state switches off
the controller completely. In high state (from 3V to 19V) it turns on built in voltage regulators.

If the SHDN# is in high state, LD03, LD05 and 2VREF voltages should show up. 2VREF voltage (2V) is usually used to limit the power
output controller voltages, LDO3 sometimes powers up the EC/KBC controller or is not used at all and LDO5 is often used to power up
the controller driver (as per schematics, through low resistance resistor LDO5 is connected to VDD of the same controller).
LDO5 voltage is also used to drive the BOOST circuit which is generally speaking a feedback circuit which helps to control the charger
circuit efficiently.
Point to notice, without the proper BOOST procedure controller usually cant work due to high drain at startup which can block the
If all 2VREF, LDO3 and LDO5 voltages are correct, the ON3 and ON5 signals should be checked. Usually these signals comes from the
EC/KBC controller and they drive the controller. Both should be approx 3V.

If all these voltages are correct and the controller still doesn’t work - its usually faulty and it needs to be replaced.

If both main voltages can be found on the inductors usually at fault are :
- BIOS problem,
- EC/KBC controller issue or a problem with components which control it,
- CMOS memory control sum error.

First thing to check is the RTC battery, which powers up the RTC generator and CMOS memory. By disconnecting it the RTC clock and
CMOS memory reset. In many cases that solves the entire motherboard problem. RTC battery voltage should be checked and it should
always measure over 3V, otherwise there is a risk that the low voltage here will block the RTC clock even when power supply is

The next step is to check the clock signal (32.768kHZ) on the oscillator near the southbridge with the power supply connected and no
RTC battery. If there is no oscillations a power supply to the generator should be checked (3V on the near capacitors) and if voltage
can be found, oscillator should be replaced. Finally soutbridge faults are not rare and these can also be damaged.

If all these steps still do not help, BIOS memory should be reprogrammed or if damaged the bios module should be replaced with a new
one. Its always a good idea to make a backup of the bios before reprogramming it.

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05-26-2014, 05:52 AM #6

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Re: Basis of laptop motherboard troubleshooting
“Does not react to power button but the battery charging is working.
Powers up but then shuts down immediately.
Powers up but then shuts down after few seconds.
Powers up but then reboots after few seconds.”

There are three main power stages in motherboard power sequence(ACPI states). These are very useful when determining, in which
state the motherboard we work on, is.

S5 - usually called Standby or Soft Off. This is the G3 state from ACPI specification. In this state almost all devices are switched off,
apart from LAN controller, battery charger controller, EC/KBC, Bios, RTC clock and 3V/5V controller. In new laptops also the eSATA and
miniPCIe controller is powered up. These are powered up only with power supply connected. On battery power, 3V/5V controller, LAN
and miniPCie are usually switched off. This is due to power saving mode in mobile computers.

S3, S1 - usually called, hibernation state or SUSPEND. In this states, RAM memory and some bridges blocks are powered up. Also the
processor is powered in this state. This are the 'passing' states, usually used by EC/KBC controller to drive all the voltage controllers(PG,
Power Good signals), started in these states.

S0 - Full Power On state. Its a default work state for all motherboard where all devices are powered and used including processor. In
this state however some devices can move to low energy usage state(for CPU these are C0-C6 and for other peripherals are D0-D3) to
conserve the battery power.

All other states and their properties can be found in ACPI(Advanced Configuration and Power Interface) documentation. This can be
found at http://www.acpi.info/

After connecting power supply to the motherboard it switches on to S5 state. Pressing the power button activates the KBC
controller(usually by switching to low state on a dedicated KBC pin). A good working KBC should now step to next state S3. To check
that, some main KBC signals needs to be found. These are in most cases : MAINON, VRON, SUSON, S5_ON(PORTM section).
According to ACPI documentation, the first signal before pressing power button that shows on the KBC is the S5_ON and that signals
turns on devices that usually work in this state. After pressing the power button, KBC should switch on the S3 state by giving the high
state on the SUSON signal and turning the power led.
This feature can show any problems with power switch itself(this can be checked on KBC controller directly) or lid close-up sensor which
can in many laptop models also prevent the motherboard from powering up.
If the KBC controller does not provide a high state SUSON signal it usually means that the program built in BIOS memory is not
executed(damaged BIOS) or the KBC controller itself is faulty.
In many cases KBC controller can also be blocked by the RTC oscillators(either the bridge or the KBC one) or errors in CMOS memory.
That’s why voltage across RTC battery should be checked first along with oscillations on clocks near the southbridge and KBC controller
(32.768kHz). CMOS reset is also a good idea.
If reprogramming the BIOS memory and replacing the KBC controller doesn’t help, voltages across LPC bus can be measured. If there is
no voltage across these bus interfaces that usually indicates in a southbridge fault(hybrid bridge with integrated LPC bus interface).

KBC controller usually powers up activity LED which visually indicates that the KBC started and it moved from S5 to S3 state. In case
where is a problem in one of the states KBC stops and doesn’t go to next state. To find why, all other main voltage controllers on the
motherboard should be checked. First to check are controllers powered by the SUSON signal.
Schematics below shows that we need to look for :
1. +3V_S5(S5_ON),
2. +1.5V_S5 (S5_ON),
3. +1.8VSUS (SUSON),
4. +3VSUS (SUSON),
5. +5VSUS (SUSON).
If these signals are present, the PU2 voltage controller should give HWPG_1.5V signal. Lack of any of these voltages will prevent the
KBC from going to next state.

Next signal that shows after the SUSON is a MAINON. This signal drives the mosfets and voltage controllers. Analyse of the schematics
shows which voltage should appear when the MAINON is in high state:
1. +0.9V,
2. +1.5V,
3. +1.8V,
4. +2.5V,
5. +3V,
6. +5V.
Last of the signals given by the KBC controllers is the VRON signal. Schematics below show that it drives the

1. +1.05V,
Lack of any of these voltages will also prevent the motherboard from fully booting up. If these voltages are present the PU4 controller
should give an IMVP_PWRGD signal which is same as going to S1 state.

Because the KBC controller has all the signals needed from the controllers it should move to S0 state and after resetting all the devices
it should start the POST procedure.

The HWPG_SYS signal is taken from the main 3V/5V controller.

This is some basics diagnostics and normal power sequence is obviously more complex. There are other multiple signals which include
clock signals from function blocks of each device.
Example is shown below
Proper control of clock signals, CMOS memory reset, BIOS programming, KBC controller replacement or in worst scenario southbridge
replacement should 'wake up' a dead board. In practice a lot of different faults may occur but this is beyond the scope of this work.
Detailed diagnostics base on schematics of particular motherboards and there is thousands of architecture models which for obvious
reasons cant be described here.

“Powers up but the battery charging doesn’t work.”

In this case the whole diagnostics comes down to one charger controller circuit only. A first thing to check is to see if there is correct
communication between the battery and charger controller. The whole communication goes through bus interface between two main
battery contacts SDA and SCL and the KBC controller. If these signals are correct and can be observed on the pins of the KBC controller
the battery should be 'visible' under the operating system. These signals are also driven through the main 3V/5V controller so any
shorted to ground lines may cause a KBC or 3V controller damage. Usually these lines are pretty much straight forward without many
components and consist of two resistors and protection diodes which can be easily checked. If the signals are correct the KBC controller
may be at fault.

The second part of this circuit consist of charger controller which drives the charging processor according to data given by the KBC
controller. This circuit can be checked in pretty much the same way as the main 3V/5V controller.

“Powers up but does not display anything on the screen.

Powers up but display distorted image on the screen.”

These faults almost always tells that the Graphics card itself is faulty. On some occasions these are also due to fault with Video RAM
memory if a dedicated graphics card is used. A usual diagnostics of these faults consists of preheating the core of the graphics card to
150C for approx 30 seconds and booting up the computer to check for any differences. In many cases this short test restores
temporarily a proper video display ad indicates either damaged structure of the chip itself or broken connections between the graphics
card and the PCB.