Apple Archive

Laptop Keyboards Fragile, Hard to Clean, Prone to Fail

A 'Best of Apple Archive' Article

- 2004.10.01

It could be argued that the keyboard is the most fragile exposed part of a laptop computer after the screen. This would especially be the case when it's the keyboard that starts having problems.

The keyboard on a laptop is composed of smaller and more fragile parts than a desktop computer's keyboard, and on a heavily used laptop, it can be damaged easily. Unlike the keys of a typical keyboard, which can usually be removed and reinserted without a problem, laptop keyboard keys often end up broken if they are removed.

I found this out over four years ago with my tangerine iBook; a key popped off while I was typing, and it never went back on. Apple had to replace the entire keyboard.

Thankfully, what seems to be more common is dust and dirt getting inside the keyboard and causing it to malfunction. In a standard computer keyboard, it's easy to clean, since the keys can be removed. However, on a laptop keyboard, it's almost impossible to clean well. I've had two keyboard problems of this sort in the past, and both were resolved by cleaning.

How do you do it?

The best way, if you can, is to remove the keyboard. Unfortunately, this can't be done easily on the newer PowerBooks, but it's not difficult on the older ones. Compressed air works quite well to get loose dirt and dust out of the keyboard, and, if you need to, a toothpick or other small object can fit in between the keys and help loosen whatever might be there.

I had problems with the keyboard not typing the correct letters on my 15" PowerBook G4. This was fixed by removing the keyboard and cleaning it with compressed air. I recently had the same problems with my 12" PowerBook G4, and while removing the keyboard wasn't an option, I was still able to get some of the dust and dirt out. In both cases, that fixed the keyboards.

But what if your laptop keyboard is really and truly dead?

While this doesn't seem to happen too often, it's not an impossibility.

There are a couple of options to remedy the situation. You can either buy a replacement original keyboard, which can be expensive - especially from a Macintosh dealer - or, you can purchase something like the TouchStream MacNTouch keyboard. This is a replacement for all titanium and aluminium PowerBooks, as well as white 12" iBooks. It features a built in touchpad and the ability to use the smooth surface of the keyboard to resize windows using two hands.

NTouch Keyboard

The best feature that I see in this keyboard, however, is that it is a smooth surface and uses no mechanical parts. It won't collect anything like as much dirt and dust as the stock PowerBook keyboards do. The only disadvantage to this solution is that it uses one USB port.

I prefer some feedback when I'm typing, and I don't think the TouchStream would quite do it for me. However, it does have its advantages, so it may be worth considering if your keyboard should be on its way out.

Otherwise, there's always eBay.

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