Dell Inspiron 1520/1521/1720/1721 headphone static background noise – FIX

So, my main laptop is a Dell Inspiron 1720.  I’ve had it for about a year and a half, and the whole time, I’ve noticed a little static noise in the background when using headphones.  It’s not constant, but kind of a little whiny morse code sound.  Bugged me, but I never was able to find a fix.  Because the problem is much less pronounced when running Linux than it is when running Windows, I figured it had something to do with crappy audio drivers for Windows.

I managed to fix it yesterday.  Because of the nature of the fix, I don’t think the audio drivers have anything to do with the problem.  I don’t know why the problem is so much worse under Windows… I’m going to guess it has to do with the graphics card being more active when Windows is running.  But who knows?

Yesterday, I came across this page on Yahoo! Answers which hints at a fix, but doesn’t really tell you what it is.  Then I found these forums with a bunch of people complaining about the problem.  Inspiron 1520, 1521, and 1721 (and maybe 1525?) users also seem to have the problem.  More machines may have a similar problem as well.  Lots of threads seem to indicate that there is no solution, but finally, this one points out exactly what it is.  So, I went ahead and tried it myself, and it worked wonderfully.

Anyway, I decided to document the fix, so here it is with pictures.  Again, I have an Inspiron 1720, so these pictures are for that machine.  I believe the Vostro 1700 is pretty much the same.  Inspiron 15xx machines can be fixed in a similar manner, but there will be differences as to where the screws are and so forth.  To perform this fix, you’ll need a small Phillips screwdriver, a flat-head screwdriver or small knife, and some electrical tape.  Be warned, you have to pretty much take the computer all the way apart to get to the headphone jack on the inside, which is where we need to get.  The whole thing (disassembly, fix, and reassembly) took me a little less than an hour.  Note that I am not responsible if you somehow manage to break your computer or anything else while following these instructions.

In the pictures that follow, red arrows indicate something to be done, moved, or disconnected, and blue arrows point to screws that you need to remove.  And of course, your laptop is off and unplugged before you begin.

Start by flipping the machine over and removing the battery.  Easy enough.

Inspiron 1720 headphone noise - 1

Now, we need to remove the optical drive.  You only have to remove one screw holding it in, and then it slides right out.

Inspiron 1720 headphone noise - 2

(Oops, by the way, that paper you see taped to the bottom of my machine is there to keep it from wobbling, as it seems to be a bit uneven when it is on a flat table.  :-P)

Now, to remove the hard drive(s).  Start by removing the panel covering them.  It comes right off after loosening these two screws.

Inspiron 1720 headphone noise - 3

After you remove the panel, some more screws need to come out to remove the hard drives.  While there are holes for four screws for each hard drive, my machine only had three screws for each, with one empty.  Of course, two hard drives are shown here but you may only have one.

Inspiron 1720 headphone noise - 4

After the screws are out, give each drive a tug on the little flap at the top and they should come out easily.

Inspiron 1720 headphone noise - 5

Now, to remove the keyboard.  First, we need to remove the panel above the keyboard.  Insert a flat-head screwdriver or knife into the slot at the right, and get it loose.

Inspiron 1720 headphone noise - 6

Now, you’ll have to move the flat-head screwdriver or knife along the bottom of this panel, unsnapping it as you go across.

Inspiron 1720 headphone noise - 7

Once you get all the way across to the left side, if the screen is tilted all the way back, the panel should come off easily.  Four more screws need to be removed, and then the keyboard can slide back and out.

Inspiron 1720 headphone noise - 8

Inspiron 1720 headphone noise - 9

Now, we’re going to remove the screen.  First, flip the machine back over and remove the wireless card cover.  Only two screws and it pops right off.

Inspiron 1720 headphone noise - 10

Inspiron 1720 headphone noise - 11

Unplug the little wires from each card.  These are the connections from the card to the antenna, which is in the screen.  I only have the “standard” wireless card, but you might also have a WWAN card to connect you to a cell network.

Inspiron 1720 headphone noise - 12

Now, some more screws holding the screen in.  There are two on the bottom and two on the back.

Inspiron 1720 headphone noise - 13

Inspiron 1720 headphone noise - 14

After those screws are out, flip the computer right-side up and open the screen again.  We need to disconnect some more cables.  Remove the grounding screw near the video cable connection, and then unplug that cable.  Also, unplug the Bluetooth card if you have one, and remove the card completely (it pops right out).

Inspiron 1720 headphone noise - 15

We also need to unplug the cable that connects the microphone array from the screen.

Inspiron 1720 headphone noise - 16

Now, carefully remove the screen.  You just lift it off.  You’ll have to navigate the cables we just unplugged out of their little holding paths, including the antenna cables that go through a little hole to the other side.  Be careful, there might be more antenna cables than the ones you unplugged.  I had three extra ones for the WWAN card that I do not have, and they were kind of hidden and stuck underneath.

Inspiron 1720 headphone noise - 17

That’s it, screen is out.

Inspiron 1720 headphone noise - 18

OK, we’re getting close.  Now, we have to remove the palm rest.  This one has the most screws.  Flip the computer upside down and remove, count ’em, 16 screws holding the palm rest on.

Inspiron 1720 headphone noise - 19

Now, flip it back over and remove the last 6.

Inspiron 1720 headphone noise - 20

Now, you have to kind of wrestle the palm rest off of the computer.  Be careful, there’s still a cable going from the touchpad to the motherboard.  You shouldn’t need to disconnect it.  At this point, we’re just trying to expose the headphone and input jacks.

Here’s the culprit. There are metal tabs attached to the bottom of the palm rest, that make contact with the metal casings around the two audio jacks.  This allows for noise from elsewhere in the machine to make its way to your headphones.  I don’t really do any recording on my computer, but I bet that it would also add some noise to any audio input you have as well.

Inspiron 1720 headphone noise - Ah HA!

To compensate for this design flaw, we just need to put some electrical tape to separate the metal around the jacks from these metal tabs.  I actually put tape around the jack casings, like this…

Inspiron 1720 headphone noise - Fix

…and also on the bottom of tabs themselves.

Update, September 22, 2009: Teejay in the comments below suggests not putting the tape on the jacks, just on the tabs.  While putting it on the jacks didn’t cause any problems for me, this is something to be careful about, and if you have audio problems after this procedure and you put tape on the jacks, maybe you should remove it and see if it is resolved.  (Still put tape on the bottom of the tabs.)

And, that’s all you need to do.  Now, follow these steps in reverse to put the computer back together.  When you turn it on, you can plug in your headphones and find them to be whisper quiet.  The background noise is gone.

19 thoughts on “Dell Inspiron 1520/1521/1720/1721 headphone static background noise – FIX”

  1. Hi,

    I have a similar problem, but it happens with the system speakers, as well. Well, it was happening through the system speakers, when they worked — they don’t since I switched to a plug-in sound card, which I did in hopes that it would make the sound go away. My main question to you is, since I hear (or heard) it through the speakers, as well, if I were to open my machine, I’d need to be fixing some other part in addition to the headphone jack, correct? In all your searching for a solution, did you notice comments from computer owners who heard the noise through their speakers, as well?

  2. You’re right… if you hear the noise out of the built-in speakers, then it is (probably) not the same problem I had. It might be a similar problem — some metal is touching somewhere where it probably shouldn’t be, creating a connection that allows noise to be carried through to the speakers — or something else altogether.

    Unfortunately, I didn’t come across much about noise coming out of the built-in speakers while I was searching, so I can’t be of much more help.

  3. hi, i did this also

    JUST PUT THE TAPE ON THE TABS, NOT ON THE JACKS

    I first put the tape on both, BUT, the audio was sounding bad and phase issues so just put tape on top tabs ONLY

    ____

    Also, you can put tape on the Plastic parts to hide the blue LED’s on the front and the side if they annoy you, they annoyed me so I Did :)
    ____

    PS. Great Page, it was helpful, thanks man :D

    -Teejay

  4. Just did this, it worked wonderfully. Like teejay, I just put tape over the tabs.

    Regarding Lara’s comment, I think I hear some noise from the speakers too, but it’s a lot less annoying than the noise from the headphones was. As Aaron says, I think it’s a connection, probably some more metallic tabs touching the speakers.

    Great guide, thanks a lot man.

  5. I can confirm that this works perfectly for the 1520, as well. The only difference (apart from the difference in driver and screw placements) is that there is only one metal tab making contact with the audio ports, as opposed to the two shown above.

    Thanks a lot!

  6. I have to say thanks to the author of this article, i used this guide and the static is gone forever :D

    You saved me a lot of grey hairs :p

  7. Hi there Aaron, many thanks for such a great article.

    I have an inspiron 1520 and have been struggling for weeks to take it apart in order to apply some arctic silver 5 on processor to keep things a little cooler.

    However, i always give up whenever i get to those 3 wires for the WWAN at the back of the computer, the ones you mentioned were for the cellular card which you didnt have.

    Well mine are also kinda stuck in the corner, and all 3 are tied in a sort of black tape, or the like. How did you get those out?
    May it be that i also dont have the card and they’re just put aside in that black tape, so i neednt unplug them (since they’re not plugged in the card anyway), but rather carefully maneuver them out from their corner?

    if i solve this one out, path is then clear all the way down to CPU/GPU assemblies.

    Thank you a lot (and sorry for my wordiness)

  8. I don’t remember having any trouble getting those wires to come out — they were kind of stuck in the corner of the “card compartment,” but they came out along with the wires that attach directly to the wireless card easily enough. If you don’t have the WWAN card, you don’t need to unplug them (they’re just there in case you need to add a WWAN card in the future), just weasel them out.

    If you’re pretty sure that you won’t ever get a WWAN card, and you can’t figure out how to get the wires out, I guess you could always just cut them off. (But you better be sure that you and I are talking about the same wires! Not my fault if you cut something important. :-P)

    Sorry that I can’t be of more help!

  9. Thanks so much!

    20 mins and all sorted – silence finally!

    bbbobbbo:
    I had the same – 4 extra wires pushed under black tape in the corner – I just pulled them out – they weren’t hard to get out… just make sure you make a note of which wires are connected to your wireless card – they all have the same connector.

  10. Back with good results!

    First @Dom, @Aaron – thanks for the useful info!

    Now, with Aaron’s permission, I’d like to reveal a few minor tips based on my own experience of taking my 1520 apart, following Aaron’s above tutorial, so that others with same concerns might find the job easier.

    – first those cables in black plastic stuck in the upper left corner at the back of comp, as Dom suggested, it was actually VERY easy to weasel them out of there.
    Please observe first that each cable in the black plastic are further secured in a transparent plastic cap, holding the transparent cap, pull each cable out of the black plastic cover with care.
    Do NOT attempt to remove the black plastic itself, as it is stuck in the corner and is very helpful to reposition those cables back in when have finished the whole job.
    Then, remove each transparent plastic cab from each cable so they can fit through the whole when lifting the display assembly.

    – speaking of display assembly, I first found it very difficult to remove the webcam/microphone connector (it’s the white connector in the middle just above the keybord, as shown in picture 16, top to bottom, above)
    Well, at first i tried grasping it with my fingers, and i almost broke them. Then i thought of using some narrow pliers, that in fact is a very BAD idea, as those could slip from the white plastic connector and damage the tiny fragile wires attached into it.
    So what I did was take a slotted-tipped screwdriver (not phillips) and first put the tip on the right side between the connector and its holder, in the small gap, while propping the screwdriver rod (1cm from the tip) on the plastic support to the right, and SLOWLY pushed the screwdriver handle down so the right side of the connector slowly lifted a bit up, but not completely, then repeated on the left of the connector and there it was – completely out of its holder and no damaged wires!
    Again, refer to picture 16 above.

    – the above step was pretty much repeated when I disconnected the touchpad connector before removing the entire palm rest (i see there’s no picture showing it above, but as Aaron mentions there is a touchpad cable coming from the palm rest which connects into the motherboard, and if you need to detach the palm rest completely, as i did, that cable must necessarily be disconnected from the motherboard.)

    That’s just about all. To let people know, that way i managed to get to the CPU assembly, cleaned the dust out the fan, and applied arctic silver 5 thermal paste on the CPU – the results are bewildering: before this it idled at 55C, now it’s 42-43C, truly worth it.

    All i need now is to get a right size star screwdriver to do the same for the GPU (it idles now at 57C, so improvements on that are much needed)

    Good luck all.

  11. Hi Aaron,

    I just got the exact same Wireless N card as you and I’m having troubles getting it to work. Not sure if I downloaded the wrong driver or have the wires hooked up wrong or WHAT I didn’t do.

    Any help would be appreciable.

  12. Great article!

    I took a shortcut when performing this fix on my 1720. Instead of taking apart the whole computer, I removed two screws sitting under the right corner, where the audio output is located. I then pried open the palm rest slightly. Got it up enough so that I could slide a piece of electrical tape between the metal tab and the output. Static gone!

    Smacked down again the palm rest and put the screws back in.

  13. thank you. it worked like a charm. keep it up. plz update keywords so it can show up in top google results.
    thanks again

  14. Tried this fix out. I put tape on the the jacks and the tabs and a bit more all around for good measure and it worked like a charm. I was getting horrible feedback when using my earphones and now it’s barely noticeable. Thanks!

  15. Thank you so much for this!!! I have an Inspiron 1520, and that noise has been bothering me for years. I usually just avoided listening with earphones, but I noticed the noise is on my recordings, too. Uggh. Thank you for this fix, it works great now!

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