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Reanimation of the dead: zombie computers

About a week and a half ago, the older boy and I were driving back to Minneapolis. We stopped at a restaurant to grab some food, and I told him he could bring his computer in. I'm kicking myself for saying that because not 15 minutes later, he moved his hand, the straw in his drink caught on his sleeve, and he commenced to dump probably half a glass of soda onto the laptop.

Uff da.

We got it shut off and pulled the battery as quickly as possible. The next day, I found a computer place that said they would clean it up for me...as best they could. Actually, once they got it open, the guy called me and said that the computer was probably no good as soda got everywhere. I told them to clean it anyway.

The main problem is with soda is that it has sugar in it. The guy at the computer store incorrectly told me that sugar is corrosive. That's not really the problem, as I seem to remember from high school chemistry that sugar is actually rather inert. The problem is that it binds with water, making it sticky. However, soda also has acid in it, which is corrosive. So you have sugar maintaining some liquid, allowing the acid to mobilize and corrode the components to various leads.

So most of the soda is cleaned off, except in those hard-to-reach spots. If you thought you had spots that were hard to reach, imagine trying to get corrosive sugar water out of gaps that are a few microns in width.

Step 2, therefore is to make sure that soda can't corrode the leads...so we're 'sucking off' the water. The computer is now sitting in a large plastic bag. At the bottom of the bag is 5 lbs. of silica gel obtained from a flower drying kit. This should prevent significant amounts of water to bind with the sugar and prevent acid from accessing the metal.

I booted up the computer tonight, and it seemed to work fine. First order of business was backing up the files, which was great. Then I shut it down and put it back in the bag.

I imagine that the older boy can use it for short periods and will have to keep it in the bag at night. The soda should stay dessicated unless the computer is out in the open for too long. If that happens, the water vapor from the air will start to bind with it and make it corrosive again.

In a couple weeks, when things settle down, we may try to crack open the computer (all warranties are void in cases of spillage) and take some flux cleaner to some of the components that look like they have attachment points underneath...although I think the processors are attached via BGAs (ball-grid arrays), which are probably a hopeless case.

In the meantime, though, at least we managed to save it for limited use. I have no idea how long it'll last, but I'm just hoping it's long enough that I can save up to get him another computer. Most likely, however, we'll look at a desktop next time...and it'll be kept far away from liquids.

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( 3 Transmissions — Comment )
May. 13th, 2010 06:44 am (UTC)
Another option is to go to the other extreme and give the 'puter a nice shower and bath with distilled water. First, spray the nooks and crannies with the water. Second, soak it in water to dilute the remaining gunk. Repeat if you feel like it. Air dry or with a hair dryer if you're impatient. Before you do this, make sure the battery and hard drive are removed. If other moving parts can be removed, do so as well.
May. 13th, 2010 01:47 pm (UTC)
I'm glad you were at least able to get the data off and can still use it for a little while. May it continue to serve you well until you can get it replaced.

May. 13th, 2010 02:42 pm (UTC)
Please contact our friend Nate, he has his own computer repair shop and won't BS you about anything. And he went to NDSU, so you know he's part of the cool people from college that were once friends the same person that you and & I both knew then...

Nathan Duffy duffy42@gmail.com
( 3 Transmissions — Comment )

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