Tech Tips - LCD Screen Replacements

Having your opinion respected has it's benefits when it comes to article suggestions - I received a question from a reader the other week asking if I had gone ahead and upgraded the display on my X305 notebook. How do you upgrade the display on a notebook you ask? Good question. I remember when writing my review of the Toshiba Qosmio X305-Q708 that the initial $4000 asking price was far too steep. Toshiba should have included a 1920x1200 display for that kind of money, rather than stick with a then-ubiquitous 1680x1050 panel. I even remember going online and searching for 17" WUXGA screen replacements for the X305, only to come up with nothing.

Was I disappointed? Initially yes, but I haven't bothered to search since, and it hasn't been on my list of priorities. Is it worth upgrading your notebook's display for more resolution? Do older notebooks qualify? What if you're looking for an IPS display? Several online vendors today offer notebook LCD screen replacements, but before you grab for your wallet, it's worth getting familiar with the pros and cons of such an undertaking.


Working with a monitor on a desktop is so much easier, you simply grab another one, or send it away for repairs. Unfortunately, you can't really do that when dealing with a notebook. Sending the display in means sending your whole notebook in, and finding replacements for end users to swap themselves requires some serious homework.

You may also be a position where you need to use your notebook outdoors. Sunlight readable displays do exist and there are notebooks available that ship with such screens. Can you install one in your notebook? That depends on a lot of things. Likewise, you may be annoyed with your glossy display indoors reflecting off your lights/windows and prefer to have a matte screen instead.

More common is the issue of displays dimming over time as a result of the CCFL backlight slowly wearing out. Newer LED displays eliminate this characteristic, but many notebooks shipped with conventional CCFL displays will need to get replacements once the backlight is no longer adequate. Fortunately, these replacements are rather simple to do, as manufacturers will stock replacement inventory for such repairs.

With that said, it may in fact be possible to upgrade a CCFL display to one that uses a LED backlight. Some notebooks do ship with both options, and getting a replacement from the manufacturer who makes such a unit is worth a look. Once done, you'll not only eliminate the issue of having your display's brightness wear out over time, but you may even see an increase in your unplugged times away from an outlet!

Just some minor cosmetic damage...
Finally, if you happen to have a notebook that looks like the one on the right (image credit: Lily Sussman) you should probably forget about getting that screen replaced altogether. Contrary to popular belief, notebooks are not bullet-proof, therefore, anything more than a scratch or dent may make it impossible to repair or replace. Fortunately, the owner of the notebook pictured was able to get reimbursed. More amazing is that the hard drive survived!


Those used to working with a desktop will understand the benefits behind bigger screens with more screen real-estate. Engineers and graphics artists that work with detailed images or require single-pixel accuracy generally prefer a high-resolution screen in order to show finer details and more information than a smaller screen allows.

Many notebook vendors offer the ability to choose between different display resolutions when purchasing a notebook, which is great for the consumer - I always make it a habit to get notebooks with the highest option available for screen resolution, or look elsewhere at another model. But it is also possible to upgrade an existing display to one that offer a higher resolution. Chances are good if the manufacturer had it available as an option, you should be able to get that higher res screen as a replacement part for your notebook.

Moving to higher-res definitely has it's benefits for both 2D and 3D work. Being able to display more content in a browser window, view cells in a spreadsheet, multitask with multiple windows open and see more detail in your images and gaming are just some of the advantages you will now have. Making such an upgrade can considerably boost the usefulness of your notebook, enhance your productivity and provide an improved entertainment experience.


Demanding PC users will undoubtedly understand the benefits of an IPS display. In addition to the wider field of view provided, IPS offers significantly better performance than regular TN screens thanks to their higher color gamut, improved brightness/contrast, and near perfect uniformity. Colors will "pop" off the display in vivid detail, appear more rich and lifelike. Graphics artists and photographers who need precise image and color representation from their screens will want to go with an IPS panel. Fortunately, manufacturers have began meeting this demand by offering high-end notebooks with IPS displays over the last few years. While they are expensive and not always easy to get, notebooks with IPS displays offer a user experience vastly superior because of the improved viewing and display characteristics.

Once again, if the manufacturer offered IPS display as an option for your particular notebook, chances are you can get a replacement panel installed. Because these are so few and far between, however, you may want to forgo that IPS requirement and stick to a regular panel if you're desperate for a new screen.

That's because even if you don't have an IPS option for your particular model, it may still be possible to get a screen with better display characteristics. Notebook manufacturers don't necessarily use screens originating from one factory, but will source their panels from various LCD plants. This means that some LCD's will offer better specifications than others, perhaps with better contrast, more brightness, or improved color reproduction. It's definitely worth looking at the specifications for the panels available to you, as you may find key differences between panels from one LCD manufacturer to another. Pay key attention to details such as contrast ratio, brightness, refresh rate and any color performance information shown. Once you know what to look for, you will be able to identify a premium display versus an entry-level model.


There are a few key things you will need to have at hand before you can spend money on your new display. First, make sure you know the make and model of your particular notebook, since you will need to know that in order to identify your unit and not be given an incorrect replacement. It's also a good idea to know the specs of the display you currently have, such as it's size, resolution, finish (glossy or matte), panel type (TN or IPS) and backlight (LED or CCFL). More than likely, you will be searching for a screen that matches these same specs when doing your research.

Where do you look? There are several vendors online that will specialize in replacement notebook screens. Once you have found the screen that matches your notebook make and model, you can then narrow down your search for resolution, backlight and finish. Most screens run anywhere from $64 to around $120, with the price difference between a matte and a glossy panel maybe $30. Higher-end panels will command a price premium.

Another handy place to look for information is your notebook's service/maintenance manual. These usually aren't provided with machines, but can be downloaded online. HP in particular provides some very detailed information in their materials, including display specifications, part numbers, connection schematics along with step-by-step installation instructions. Once you have identified the part number, you can then in most cases order that spare part directly from the manufacturer. It'll definitely save you a trip to the local geek squad, along with your money and your time.


Think you're comfortable with a screwdriver? Doing a notebook screen replacement yourself will make you rethink that. That's because you will be required to completely disassemble your notebook. Doing so is impossible without step by step instructions, and could take anywhere from under an hour to as much as six, depending on how complicated your notebook chassis is. Once taken apart, you will then need to dismantle the notebook display to get to the actual LCD panel. Do that, swap displays, reconnect any cables and then you'll be looking at another hour or longer to put back together the rest of your notebook.

What's your definition of a fun afternoon? Especially when you end up loosing a vital screw, damage a connector, or worse, put everything back together and your notebook won't turn on.

Keep in mind as well the capabilities of your graphics card, especially if you jump for a higher resolution panel. 2D performance generally shouldn't be impacted, but gaming is an entirely different matter. 3D performance demands GPU muscle when moving up to a higher resolution display, and you may find that games that used to play well are now slow or unplayable. Your money may be better saved investing in a newer notebook that has the resolution and the graphics power to get what you want done.

Trying to breathe new life into an older notebook? Again it can be a decision based on what you need and how much money you can afford. Most ~$600 budget notebooks older than 4 years may not be worth the expense of a new panel - unless you're desperately strapped for cash, you're smarter investing your money in a new notebook with better performance. Older, high-end notebooks may be worth the expense, especially if they have much-appreciated features like quality speakers, digital volume dial or killer keyboard. I would definitely recommend saving a notebook that shipped with a 1920x1200 display for example.

Given all the options, however, you may find that even with a spare panel available for your particular notebook model, you're wiser spending your money elsewhere. Buying new not only gives you that display you want, but new hardware - a consideration for dual-core machines or older. Likewise, you get to enjoy a fresh installation of the OS with a new notebook, something you may desperately need if your unit came with Vista and the manufacturer did not offer a Windows 7 upgrade disc.


What alternatives can you choose from if there is no replacement panel available? If all you want is a matte display, grabbing a screen protector can be had for $50-100. In addition to eliminating that annoying glare, a screen protector will also help guard against scratches. Some will even double as a privacy filter preventing those off to the side from viewing your screen. Best of all they are simple to apply, and will stay in place even with your notebook closed.

On the other hand, if you are desperate for an IPS panel with a quad-core processor on board, why not consider getting a desktop? You'll open up your hardware and display choices considerably, especially if you also want a backlit keyboard, great speakers and/or high-end graphics. Never mind the fact that dropping $2500-3000 on a desktop system will get you performance and features simply unheard of in any notebook.

Of course, there is an ultimate price for mobility, and you may find that buying a new notebook is your only alternative, especially for the on-the-go mobile road warrior. You may be in the camp that needs just a compact and inexpensive $400 netbook to run around with. You're an executive who needs to convey style and attention with the thinnest $2999 gold-encrusted ultra-portable. Or you're a hard-core enthusiast requiring a full-blown 17" desktop replacement notebook with workstation-class internals costing $8600. These are extreme examples, but your usage requirements will always determine what you need, so it is important to learn to use the right tool for the job.


Deciding to replace the display on your notebook, especially if it is in still working order, is a brash move. In any event, make sure to research all your options, compare vendors and identify exactly what you need and what works with your notebook. Don't even begin to commence disassembly without a service manual at hand, and make sure to set aside an afternoon with a few hours of time. Done properly, you can very well enjoy new life in your notebook with a brand-new LCD and extend it's usefulness.

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