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Issue #175: November 28, 2010

Q: I’ve had my Toshiba laptop for about 3 years.  I was having a few problems and had it checked out last January.  Since then after awhile (does not seem to be a predetermined time or for any particular reason) the screen goes dark (with a blue haze in the background, actually looks like the screen when you start up and it is still dark).  The computer is still on and the only thing you can do is power it down.  No control/alt/delete, no escape, no nothing else.  I have Vista operating system.  That is the only problem I have.  Pretty frustrating when you are on line and finally find what you were looking for and the screen goes dark.

When I turn the computer back on it comes up with the screen asking if I want to start normally or in protected mode.  I go straight to normal.

Also, when I called the computer guy who fixed my computer in January he said it sounds like the screen is going and not to put any more money in it.  Well, the screen is still going, it just quits on its own.

– Jean W.
Destin, Fla

A: At three years old, your laptop is no spring chicken anymore, but neither is it ready for the scrap heap.  I know of many computers that are far older than yours that are still plugging along, including some of the ones I own.  That’s not to say computers last indefinitely.  Computers tend to age technologically much faster than other machines, because the industry that creates them keeps pushing the bleeding edge of technology forward at a blinding pace.  It’s been said that a 5-10 year old computer is the equivalent of an 80-100 year old car.  The difference is that unlike a classic automobile, an old computer doesn’t maintain that timeless charm and style, and whether to keep putting money into it is a decision only you can make.

Based on the symptoms you describe, it’s possible that the entire display is failing, but it seems more likely that your laptop is having problems with the display’s backlight.  That could be a simple loose wire, or the flat fluorescent mechanism that provides the glow behind the LCD panel could simply be worn out.  Does it ever come back on again once it goes off?  You could test to see whether it is just the backlight, or if the entire display adapter is failing by connecting an external monitor, assuming your laptop has a monitor port.  That would also be a good way to see whatever precious information was on the screen when it went dark.  Of course, if that information was in a web browser, you should be able to retrieve it when you reboot by selecting “Reopen Last Browsing Session” from the “Tools” menu in Internet Explorer.

The other things you mentioned are symptomatic of a computer that is improperly shut down.  Windows does not like to be powered off without shutting down gracefully.  You CAN do it blind via the keyboard.  Practice when your display is working, so you’ll be ready if it goes dark.  Here’s one way that works on my Vista box:  hit Ctrl/Alt/Del.  Then hit the DOWN arrow six times, then the RIGHT arrow twice, then the space bar.  If your system is like mine, you are now on a shutdown menu.  Hit the UP arrow once, then the space bar, and your system will initiate a shut down.  This will work, but if you have any programs running with unsaved documents, it will prompt you to save them and at that point all bets are off if you’re running blind.

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