Fixing the Horrible Wi-Fi Toggle Button on an HP dv8t Laptop

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Update 2011-09-06: The fix worked great until yesterday. That’s probably about three and a half months. I solved the problem more permanently this time. I just unplugged the ribbon cable for the capacitive button bar. I now have fewer lights staring back at me and I no longer have dedicated buttons for volume control, but I am confident that my Wi-Fi won’t be turning itself off ever again.

I have had my HP dv8t laptop for a little over a year now. For the most part, I have been very pleased with this machine; it is an excellent quad core desktop replacement. It is a big, heavy laptop with an 18.4” screen. It usually spends most of its time living behind my desk plugged into a pair of external monitors.

A few weeks ago, I did a bit of traveling and I was using it in a hotel, connected to their Wi-Fi. Sometimes things were fine, other times it was disconnecting and reconnecting the Wi-Fi every few minutes.

I’ve had the Wi-Fi inexplicably turn off here at home a few times but I always assumed it was my own fault. The little blue capacitive button to toggle the Wi-Fi is just about a thumb’s length from the right side of the laptop, just above the keyboard. When I am sitting in a chair and I need to lift the laptop to adjust my position, that is precisely where I am most likely to grab a hold of it.

It usually took me a number of seconds to notice that I had inadvertently hit that switch. More and more often lately, though, I haven’t been so sure that I actually touched the switch…

The problem is ridiculously common

I asked my good friend Google about this problem and she showed me all sorts of pages with people complaining about the same problem. It looks like a design flaw. I found an excellent explanation of the problem and a description of the fix on Dave Miller’s blog!

There is a layer of foil that shields the cable that connects the capacitive button panel to the motherboard. It seems that if the laptop body is flexed ever so slightly, like when I pick it up by one side, the foil pulls away from the metal plate and becomes ungrounded. The problem also seems to occur more often when the laptop is hot. I imagine I’ve rarely experienced this problem because the laptop gets pretty good ventilation when I have it “docked” behind my desk.

I saw some forum posts that claimed it also helps to use some foil to shield the area around where the Wi-Fi antenna lead connects to the motherboard. I have no idea if this helps or if it is necessary, but I thought it was a pain in the neck unsnapping all the plastic bits to get the keyboard off. I figured it was best to do everything I might need to do while I was under there!

What I actually did

I ended up taping a piece of aluminum foil over the whole area where the Wi-Fi lead connects to the motherboard. I put some tape on the underside of the foil to make sure it wouldn’t accidentally short anything out.

I made sure that piece of foil was large enough so that it would extend over to the existing foil taped over the capacitive button cable. I know very little about electronics, but I assumed it couldn’t hurt to make sure the new foil shielding was also grounded.

Then I taped down my new foil and I taped down the capacitive panel’s lead.

So far, everything has been working just fine. I haven’t had my Wi-Fi turn off on its own even once. Hopefully the fix will hold up for a long time.