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Tuesday, 22 November 2011

Upgrading the LCD of the Acer Aspire NAV50 (or eMachines NAV51) to WXGA

Netbooks are great -- they're small enough to carry around like a book, but can run a full OS for development-on-the-go, and are cheap -- I got my last one (of 3 -- the wife uses one, the other's a low-power server; strange I know but it works) for under $200 last year. It's an eMachines NAV51, which is just an off-brand Acer Aspire One Nav50 with one less USB port and a matte shell which means less fingerprint smudges.

Anyway.. one thing I didn't like about the low-tier netbooks is the 1024x600 max resolution. Websites these days assume a little more vertical resolution it seems, and Eclipse was darn hard to use without a lot of tweaking to get a useable editor area. I shopped around for netbooks with a WXGA 1366x768 LCD but they were all at least $500 CDN, which seems excessive considering the specs were otherwise identical to my trusty sub-$200 unit.

I stumbled on some stories of people upgrading certain 10.1" Dell netbooks to a 1366x768 WXGA screen, so off to eBay I went to look and sure enough, I found listings for LCD panels that were claimed to be drop-in replacements.. no specific mention of the Acer Aspire series though. I downloaded the NAV50 Service Manual (pdf) and sure enough, the screen pictured there looked identical.

In an evening, carefully following the service manual I was able to swap out the display. While the original WVGA in my netbook was generic, the one purchased from eBay was an LG model which I'd heard was good. The most hair-raising part was removing the keyboard: there aren't any screws so the keyboard is held in by plastic snap edges. Netbook keyboards are a sealed assembly with a thin tin-type metal backing, and the only way to remove it according to the manual is to put a thin credit card under the top edge, get your fingertips underneath, and just pull. I panicked a bit as the keyboard bent slightly coming out, but I straightened it out again against the table and prayed it would work fine once I replaced it (which it did, whew!).

So for a mere $70 additional investment, plus one evening's work, I have a netbook which would have cost $500 or more; the display is brighter, with only one dead pixel near the very top. The 1366x768 rez might not seem like a huge upgrade, but that little extra makes a big difference when browsing and programming -- I can use Eclipse in its default layout with a generous editor window.

Blatant Plug: The screen I ordered was listed with description "10.1"LCD SCREEN ACER Aspire One 532G AO532G WXGA HD" by seller "pcwithcom". Shipping was speedy and the screen was packed perfectly -- other sellers were charging much more in shipping, so I'd recommend these guys.

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