Fixing Thinkpad Fan Error

My wife’s 3 year old Thinkpad Z60t stopped working after showing “Fan Error”. Such a failure always happens when the warranty becomes expired (ended last May). Did it show any sign before it happened? Yes, the fan became running more often and louder, and everything starts to run slower and slower. Did I ever clean the fan? Yes, multiple times with my Dyson vacuum, one of the greatest engineering products.

I had three options: 1) Buy a new laptop since this is old Pentium-M, which will costs $$$; 2) Buy a replacement fan part from Ebay, which will costs $$; and, finally, 3) Try to fix a fan, which costs nothing, but may cost a big waste of my precious time. Well, I define myself as an engineer, so why not trying to fixing it? The results was very successful. It was much simpler than I thought. Here I show some photos and step-by-step guideline for the guys who may end up with the same three questions I had.

You will need small philips driver set, lubricant (WD-40 works great for me), cleaning alcohol, and CPU thermal compound.

Thinkpad is well designed physiologically, though probably not esthetically, which makes us easy to replace its parts. As usual disassembly begins with removing many screws. Remember there are some hidden screws you need to figure out. Two screws are hidden with rubber caps (see arrow below at bottom). Plug out rubber caps, then you will see screw heads. Secondly, there are two screws with  that are used for external monitor port.

Remove battery and drives, and remove all remaining screws to take out the bottom cover. You may want to draw which one comes from where, since they are many.

The picture below shows the system with bottom cover detached. See the fan enclosed inside the gray cage? We can’t take out that fan from this side.

Flip over the system. You will notice the palm rest is already loose. See the black square thing next to the yellow thing, which is the connection between the system and the trackpad. Pull it upward, it will come out very easily.

The next is the keyboard. Same thing. Keyboard is already loose, so flip over. If you see one connector, disconnect it.

Now it’s time to take out the remaining cover which is blocking the fan. Unscrew the screws holding the black frame to the system, and take the cover off.

Finally, you will see tiny speakers (L & R). These speakers are pretty bad with very low volume, which is one of my complaints with Thinkpad laptops. Now we’re almost there.

Remove two screws which fix the left side speaker assembly. Then remove four screws which fix the heatsink to the motherboard. See two silver rods lying parallel on top of copper heatsink? Two screws are there at the end of each rod. The fan and heatsink comes with one part. Three pictures below show the system and the fan after they are detached.

As soon as you take the heatsink assembly out from the system, you will see the thermal compound spread on the CPU and the heatsink bottom face. I strongly recommend to clean these surfaces and put fresh compound for best heat dissipation. Now, see the very small screws on the fan cover? Remove them and you will see the fan blade under it (See the last picture).

Now detach the plastic fan case (black) by removing screws.

The image below shows the heatsink after removing the fan case, with the exhaust segments zoomed in. Actually, I cleaned with vacuum and brush before removing it. Nevertheless, the heat dissipating segments look still dirty with oily dust. The oily surface and residual dust would attract more dusts and become clogged easily. The easiest way will be submerge the heasink into the soap water, and clean with sonicator. Unfortunately I have no sonicator. Instead I cleaned it with alcohol and brush.

The picture below shows the heatsink after cleaning. Okay, I am satisfied.

Now it’s time to solve the major problem: “fan error”. If you take the blade off from the fan hub (by just pulling out), you will see the motor assembly. The source of the noise should come from the hub and the axis; either by wear or by poor lubrication. For this small part, even if there is wear, it would be small and can be overcome by enough lubricant. So, I applied small amount of WD-40 on its hub, put the blade back, and spin it by hand. Guess what? I felt it became much smoother, and that was it! I half assembled the fan, plugged the power cord, and try to hear the noise but could not. It sounds like when I first bought the laptop.

Re-assembly all parts in reverse order. My laptop is not completely usable without noise, though it cannot compete with Intel’s current Core 2 Duo products.

9 thoughts on “Fixing Thinkpad Fan Error

  1. Thank you so much! I had exactly the same problem, to the detail, on exactly the same laptop. Followed your directions, and now it works perfectly!

  2. Congratulations! I might have trashed this laptop if my wife didn’t get her iphone. Now she’s less dependent on her laptop. I still like Thinkpad’s legendary keyboard, but such a thing is fading away after Lenovo became the owner. There is only one choice left – MacBook.

  3. Hmm… That post was just about 2 years ago. I have the same problem on a ThinkPad X61 (though it is somewhat older than his machine apparently was), but I have doubts about how long the cleaning-and-WD40 approach will work… Actually, these days I don’t even have any WD40 on hand, though I could get some.

    Basically I’m posting in hopes that this reaches Nathan and that he can post a followup about how long it lasted… Barring that additional information, I think I’m inclined towards taking it to a shop and getting the fan replaced right proper.

  4. Well, for whatever it’s worth, I weighed my situation some more and finally went ahead and paid to have it fixed… I felt that the shop somewhat misled me about the price, but I don’t really want to blame them too much because I think that it was really Lenovo that basically forced them to do it that way. The repairs were actually done by Lenovo at a final price over 30,000 yen, as I recall it now. That was about 6 months ago and a couple of months after my earlier post. I can say that the computer is working pretty well, but I expect it to last at least through the warranty period… My main lesson-learned is that Lenovo is absolutely not geared towards supporting repairs for their computers. Yes, I do understand how the electronics market works and how quickly machines become obsolete and why it doesn’t make that much sense to design for longevity or repair–but I still feel bad about it and I still count it against Lenovo.

    In the last year or so, I have purchased one computer and a tablet, both Toshibas. I did not seriously consider Lenovo and I probably won’t consider them when I purchase my next machine, which will probably be at the end of this year. (I’m planning to skip Windows 8, so I’ll be shopping for a discounted Windows 7 box after the OS changes…) My experience with this fan was a big part of why I didn’t buy a Lenovo and don’t plan to, but I haven’t yet decided whether or not the next machine will be a Toshiba. (I basically want a new traveling machine so it will probably be an ultranote.)

  5. I agree that Thinkpad build quality has been degraded since Lenovo bought the PC division from IBM. Still most companies use HP, Dell or Lenovo for their employees, and I hate laptops made by HP or Dell. Lenovo at least has the best laptop keyboard as their tradition, although they finally began to change it as well on their new product line. Well, personally I too won’t buy any Lenovo product. As shown from Tablets, the trend is to remove all the moving parts such as fan or harddisk, which is a bit sad as a mechanical engineer.🙂

  6. Wow, time flies. Already three years since I fixed my X61, and the repair is still holding up.

    When Microsoft killed XP, I was basically forced to retire the machine, but then I added a dual boot to Linux, and I’m still using the machine quite productively that way.

    (I actually think the machine may be able to run Windows 10, but still can’t quite figure out what MS was thinking there… On one hand, they were definitely biting the makers’ hands that had been feeding them, or even gnawing off the entire arms, but on the other hand, the additional damage from supporting XP upgrades probably wouldn’t have mattered that much. I guess it was the third hand of being too much trouble to add the upgrade path for XP? Or maybe just the difficulty of figuring out which XP machines could run it?)

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