Replacing the Chromebook Pixel 2013 Keyboard
Replacing a Google Chromebook Pixel 2013’s keyboard is probably more hassle than it’s worth but I hate when a perfectly fixable device is discarded.
The keyboard is riveted, so that causes some annoyance. I epoxied the new keyboard back in, you should probably use 1mm or 1.5mm screws to replace the rivets instead.
The process is very similar to the 13" MacBook Air actually (I’ve even read that the key hinges are compatible, but the keyboards are not!) but I haven’t seen a full guide for the keyboard part (i.e. rivets and replacement keyboard install).
The rivets are annoying and best replaced with screws, but the main takeaway from this article is that the rivets are much easier to remove by pushing hard on the keys from the palmrest/touchpad/top and popping out the rivets than trying to dremel or clip them out with other tools.
Instead of replacing the keyboard right away, the first thing you can try after opening up your Pixel is to cut about 1mm off the end of the flex-cable from the keyboard to the mainboard on the mainboard end. There’s a very slim chance it could solve your problems.
If that didn’t work, you need to order a replacement keyboard, the keyboard itself is really hard to get apart and get to the keyboard flex-matrix. I did not even attempt that. I found mine on AliExpress for about $25 shipped from China, it took about 2.5 weeks to receive after payment. Search terms that lead me to find a keyboard were: GPN-68000110 PK130QH1Z0013061900954 NSK-G20LN. The model number is NSK-G20LN. Also make sure you are order the correct layout for your country, e.g. US and UK keyboards are physically different!
Tools needed (* not necessarily needed but recommended):
- Plastic spudger (and small iPhone display suction cup *)
- Screwdriver set
- Fine tip tweezers (ideally ESD safe)
- Thermal paste*
- Adhesive tape*
Make sure you ground yourself before touching anything inside the Pixel, especially the mainboard and peripheral boards.
Let’s get started:
- First you need to open up your Chromebook Pixel and remove the bottom cover. Basically you remove the four black plastic feet in the corners, unscrew the screws underneath the plastic feet. Then you use your spudger or another opening tool along the front edge of the Chromebook Pixel to dislodge three tabs. There are two really hard tabs left and right, I found it useful to place a suction cup (or three to really apply force) in the middle of the cover and pull up while sliding the spudger around the edge as that will slight pull the edges in when the bottom case bends up slightly. Loosening these tabs is hard. Here are some Videos:
- Remove the battery (~ 9 small screws + carefully unplug connector), left and right speakers (2 screws each, and carefully disconnect the two cables from main board) + microphone jack (carefully unclip the jack connector), as well as the SD card reader (2 screws) and LTE card (or dummy card if you have the LTE-less model, 2 or 4 screws).
- Unplug both display connectors for backlight and LCD, unplug touchpad, keyboard connectors and all peripheral boards.
- Next, remove the heatsink by first removing the fan (1 screw, then lift up carefully, it is partially glued to the main case with adhesive tape), unscrew the 4 screws that hold the heatsink to the CPU, lift off the copper heatsink.
- Unscrew the mainboard (2 screws on the left side near USB ports, 1 screw for power plug, 1 screw under where heatsink was). Carefully remove the mainboard by lifting the side where the LTE card/SD readere were and pull out.
Now we can finally see the keyboard covered in white reflective foil for the backlight.
What I did next was to carefully remove the white backlight foil+assembly, you can simply peel it off.
BUT it may make more sense to keep the white foil on the keyboard — that way most of the rivets will not fly away (and need to be caught in a bag) and you can remove the backlight foil when the keyboard is out.
Then it is time to remove the keyboard from the case. The keyboard is riveted, so that causes some annoyance when putting the new keyboard back in.
The best approach I found to remove the old keyboard is to push from the palmrest side onto the keys and pop out the rivets. Cover your screen! Place a bag over the bottom of the case to catch the flying rivets if you intend to epoxy the keyboard back in and reuse them.
! The best way to affix the new keyboard is to measure the rivets and order screws that will fit and replace the rivets. I did not have the time to order the screws and epoxied the keyboard and rivets back in. Seems to hold up well but screws would be better.
The rivets measured around 1mm.
I used epoxy that allowed 25 minutes of work time, there’s a lot of epoxy to apply to small holes and you’ll need a while.
Clean the case and the keyboard carefully with alcohol so that the epoxy can properly bond.
Apply epoxy to the little rivet holes and carefully (very little!) around the edges. I found it best to dip a tool into the epoxy so that when you pull it out there’s a long thin tab (“nose” I guess) that you can carefully apply to each hole.
Then reinstall the keyboard and apply more epoxy over the holes.
Now, I hope you caught those rivets when you popped them out, it’s time to push the rivets back into their holes with tweezers.
Make sure everything looks ok because we are going to set everything and let the epoxy cure.
I used little drill screwdriver bits placed over the keyboard as “spacers” so that I could weigh down the keyboard with books. More spacers where used where the keyboard would lift so that it was properly pushed down. Weight the whole thing with books or something else heavy. I used an Ikea cutting board which is somewhat pliable as the first layer. You need to make sure your keyboard is properly pushed against the frame. Again, or just use screws — it’s easier and should be more sturdy.
You also want to open up your laptop to a 90 degree angle and let the screen hang off the edge of a table so that you don’t apply pressure on the screen and the keyboard top rests directly on the table.
! Let it cure. My epoxy needed 24 hours to cure.
The next day after the epoxy has cured (!) you can tape the new backlight foil the keyboard after making sure the epoxy bonded ok between the keyboard and the case.
Time to reinstall everything in reverse order. It is probably prudent to clean off the old thermal paste off the CPU heatsink and apply new thermal paste. Maybe you can get away without this step but I’d advise against it, the Pixel already runs too hot as is.
Everything pretty much worked after I reinstalled the parts, the only problem is that the power button can be hard to react/push because I lobbed a little too much epoxy into that corner. It still works fine though.
This repair probably took 2 hours and as I said, on a $200-$300 machine it may not be worth it but why throw away a perfectly good computer with gorgeous screen that I still use as my daily Dev machine after installing crouton.