Monday, March 17, 2008

Hardware: Beware Laptop Function Keys

Here is a problem that I had to deal with today. I was given a laptop (Toshiba Tecra M5) to repair where the trackpad was not working. If you plugged in a USB mouse the laptop worked fine. Other people tried to diagnose the problem, but they were unable to figure out what was wrong. They tried all the obvious things, like checking the driver.

Just to be absolutely sure, I un-installed and reinstalled the trackpad driver from the manufacturer's site. In most cases this would have corrected the problem if it was not a hardware failure, or some type of resource conflict.

I always try to ask for a history of the problem before I start working on something. Generally you might find the answer by listening. The person who gave me the laptop said they were doing a presentation and people were fiddling with her computer before the problem happened.

Then the answer hit me like a ton of bricks. I realized that some laptops have the ability to disable certain hardware functionality through the function keys (this varies from laptop to laptop). Sure enough that was the problem, all I had to do was hit the right function key.

I am documenting this, because I am hoping it will one-day help someone who is working on a laptop and can't figure out why something is not functioning.


  • Listen before you do anything.
  • Sometimes the unobvious solution is the answer.
And a bonus lesson
  • Always double-check someone else's work, they may not have done it correctly.

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