Recently I bought my first Windows machine in a decade, to program some BrightSign players for interactive displays. (See my scripts for non-interactive synced multi-channel playback. No need for Windows if you use that option!) I wanted something tiny and cheap that I could put in my bag for on-site programming.
I spent $200 on an Acer ES1-111M-C3KJ in 2014 (11.6″ display, 2x 2.16GHz Celeron N2840, 2GB RAM, 256GB conventional HD).
The screen is far from IPS and the case feels like I could twist it in half if I tried, but it gets the job done and it’s amazingly lightweight. According to Geekbench, the performance is roughly similar to my late 2007 MacBook Pro (which cost $2400 at the time and is still my daily driver in 2015.)
Acer ES1-111M Touchpad Freezes… Fixed!
After a few days I started to wonder if I had a lemon. The trackpad (AKA touchpad) would randomly stop responding to touches. At first all I could do was restart. Then I discovered that you can toggle the touchpad on/off by pressing the Fn+F7 keys. This worked, but it was annoying to reach for this key combo every few minutes.
I contacted Acer and sent it in for warranty repair with a detailed description of the problem and a reminder that I was using the latest drivers and Windows updates. It came back three weeks later with all my programs erased and a work-order that simply stated “Software Refresh”, a euphemism for “We blindly reinstalled Windows.” As expected, the problem was still there. Thanks for wasting my time Acer!
The online forum hive mind was smarter than whatever outsourced drones do service for Acer, so I pieced together a theory that the capacitive touchpad was not reliably connected to the computer’s electrical ground. (See Aspire V3-371 Touchpad Freezing from Acer forums and a step-by-step fix from http://www.iq-tm.de)
I’ve worked with raw capacitive touch sensors and they are amazingly receptive to static electricity, changes in humidity, and probably trolls and fairies. It’s a testament to touchpad firmware that they work as well as they do, but rule #1 is that they must have a low-resistance path to the ground of whatever device they are connected to.
So, I opened my ES1-111M and took a look, using the teardown instructions on myfixitguide for the similar Acer E3-111.
What I Found Inside:
The Synaptics touchpad board has 2 copper traces (inside red circles in my image) to connect to the laptop’s ground. Acer only used one, and it’s not soldered. Instead they used conductive tape to reach a nearby isolated metal plate, and then another piece of conductive tape to reach the motherboard. In my experience, conductive adhesives aren’t perfectly conductive, and they vary a lot with pressure and age. Sure enough, it measured a few ohms (too much resistance).
How To Fix It:
First I burnished all the conductive tape to make it stick better. I carefully soldered the edges of the mesh tape so that it would conduct even when the adhesive failed. Be aware that the touchpad board is the back of your actual touchpad surface. If you use too much heat on those copper pads you’ll create a shiny melted spot on your touchpad! (see http://www.iq-tm.de for example).
I also soldered a wire from the unused copper pad directly to a nearby ground point on the motherboard. It’s a little redundant but I really didn’t want to do it again!
The fix worked 100%.
I’ve been using it for weeks without a single touchpad freeze. The warranty is void but I don’t think I’m missing anything considering Acer’s total fumble on my first repair attempt!
Then the touchpad broke!
It worked great for a few months, but then the micro-switch failed so it wouldn’t register clicks anymore. I got a replacement via eBay and it worked fine. Seems like these Synaptics touchpads are pretty terrible!
- With the stock 2GB of RAM (and Win 8.1) the AS1-111M is verging on painful. While I was fixing the touchpad I also installed 8GB. It really makes the computer feel “normal”. I used Crucial CT102464BF160B because it was available locally. Check online compatibility guides or look for a 204-pin SODIMM, DDR3 PC3-12800, non-ECC, 1.35 volts (Sometimes called “DDR3L” for the low 1.35 voltage).
- There is no hard drive activity LED. I installed DiskLED which does a great job.