Welcome back to FSET’s guide to CompTIA A+ certification, the main credential and most everything you need to know to break into the world of information technology.
In this edition, we’ll be talking about something that pretty much everyone has dealt with at one point or another – laptop screens!
If you own a laptop or any other kind of flat screen device nowadays, you’ve probably heard of the abbreviation LCD. This stands for Liquid Crystal Display, and the vast majority of today’s laptop screens use this technology for their displays.
With LCD screens, backlights shine through liquid crystals, colour filters and other high-tech components to show you all the graphics – ranging from text documents, to Facebook, to video games – on your laptop screen.
LCD screens present with several advantages for consumers (as well as the companies that make laptops). For one, they’re very lightweight, helping make it easy to take laptops on the go during commutes or for work in the field. Second, they don’t require much battery power, meaning you’ll be able to go longer without having to charge your device. Finally, the components used to make LCDs are relatively inexpensive, which helps lower the price tag of many popular laptop models.
Despite their advantages, LCD screens also come with some disadvantages. Because the technology uses a backlight, it can be hard (or impossible) to get what’s known as a “true black” to display on your screen. Say you’re watching a movie with black bars on the top and bottom of the screen – if you’re viewing on a laptop with an LCD display, you’ll probably notice that those bars will always look a little brighter or whitened than they ideally should. It’s also important to note that if one component of an LCD screen breaks, the others will also become useless and the entire screen will need to be replaced.
The other common type of laptop screen is known as Organic Light Emitting Diode technology, or OLED for short. Instead of using a backlight, OLED screens use five layers of organic components that light up when they are provided with an electric current – cathode, emissive layer, conductive layer, anode and substrate.
OLED displays are very thin, very light, and do not need a protective layer like an LCD does. Furthermore, because of the way the display works – that is, without a backlight – it is much easier for OLED screens to display a “true black,” as well as other remarkably vivid coloration when compared to a standard LCD.
While it’s probably fair to say that OLED screens produce slightly better images than LCDs, OLEDs don’t work so well with laptops yet and most models you’ll find nowadays still use the LCD option. This is largely because OLED technology is more susceptible to wear and tear – itself leading to breakage – which is generally more common with mobile and on-the-go devices like laptops. OLED screens (and by extension, laptops) also come with a higher price tag, and because of how the technology works, it is possible for images to get burned into the screen if they’re left still for a long enough time (just like old plasma televisions!).
Returning to LCDs for a moment, it’s important to note that nowadays, most of their backlights are in fact a series of small LED lights, usually arranged around the screen in a grid or matrix formation. If you see an older, thicker laptop, chances are its backlights are instead cold cathode fluorescent lights, or CCFL for short.
While they were popular for a while, CCFL backlights generally use more electricity and take up more space, prompting the industry to naturally move away from them as better technology became available. CCFLs also require an extra step and extra hardware, as they require an inverter inside the laptop that can convert DC power to AC power!
If the inverter ever stops working, the screen will look blank at a glance, but if you look closely – maybe even while using a flashlight – you should still be able to make out a faint version of whatever it is your laptop is trying to display. This can be a helpful tip for anyone whose older laptop screen isn’t working anymore, who also wants to transfer their data to a new computer instead of replacing the screen on the old one.
If you or a friend ever attempt to replace a laptop screen on your own, it is critical that you take note of the wires that are almost guaranteed to run around the perimeter of the laptop screen in every single model – Wi-Fi, Bluetooth, PCI-E and several other kinds of cellular signal connectors.
While some might scratch their head at manufacturers for routing these wires so far away from the rest of the laptop’s hardware (everything that’s usually kept in the lower half beneath the keyboard), there’s one very simple reason why companies like Apple and Dell do this: when the laptop is open, the signal receivers are positioned as high up in the air as possible, enabling you to get the best reception!
In addition to wires installed at the top of the screen, most laptops also come with built-in webcams and microphones, which are especially helpful for videoconferencing and remote work models, both of which are becoming increasingly common.
As these components are their own kinds of hardware, it’s a smart idea to make sure to install their latest drivers so you can be sure they work as best as possible with the rest of the computer. Usually, a quick Google search on your laptop model number combined with “webcam” and “driver” will direct you to the proper download. Lastly, it’s also a smart idea to keep both the camera and microphone as clean as possible.
Last but not least, it’s worth noting that some laptop screens have built-in digitizers, which enables touchscreen input with the use of pen-like styluses. If a laptop has this technology, you can draw on it much like you would on a piece of paper, so long as the software you’re trying to draw with is compatible.
Unlike OLED screens, digitizer technology is on the rise in laptops, as well as hybrid computers (tablet-like computer screens that plug into a separate keyboard). A few laptops, as well as many tablets also feature direct touchscreen support, meaning you can use your fingers instead of a stylus to navigate the machine’s operating system and do everything from edit documents to surfing the web.