As we learned last week, it's fairly easy to fix a noisy overheated laptop: Open an underside panel, (carefully) blow out the dust, then enjoy the praise your wife lavishes on you for fixing her system.
I'm expecting similar praise from my cousin, who just presented me with her Dell Inspiron 9400 laptop. It wasn't noisy or overheating, but it was missing its F5 key. And the keys that remained weren't in very good shape. Many were sticky, while others failed to register presses. A lot of the letters had worn off the keys, too.
Fortunately, a laptop with a rotten keyboard is not necessarily destined for the scrap heap (nor even Craigslist). In fact, if you're handy enough with a screwdriver to know which end drives screws, you can probably replace the entire keyboard in about five minutes.
In the case of the Inspiron, my search began and ended on eBay. A quick search for Inspiron 9400 keyboard revealed plenty of options, including a brand-new replacement for all of $12. Shipped.
Then I Googled Inspiron 9400 replace keyboard and found how-to instructions in a matter of seconds. (See, you may think I'm a soopah-genius, which I am, but many times it's just a matter of knowing how to find the information you need.)
Turns out it's crazy-easy to swap in a new keyboard: Just pry up the Inspiron's bezel, remove a pair of screws, and unplug the old keyboard. Put the new one in its place, close up the machine, and presto, you're done.
Your mileage may vary, of course, depending on your laptop model. But if you're suffering with an old, cruddy, gunked-up keyboard, it may cost you as little as $12 and five minutes to replace it. Pretty worthwhile investment, no?