Friday, June 24, 2011

Dell Inspiron 8500 Laptop Brightness Control

I really like this old laptop, a P4 machine that was one of Dell's deluxe models back in 2003. With its 15.4" screen that can do 1920x1200 resolution and very good internal speakers, it is a great movie machine. Yeah, it's big, it's heavy, more like a desktop PC than a laptop, especially compared to today's ultra-lightweight models. Back when this thing was new it went for about 2500 bucks (incredible)!  It was a throwaway from my old workplace and now you can get a used one for around 10% of that.

The other day, for no apparent reason, I lost the ability to brighten the screen, specifically the backlight. The usual method is Fn-UpArrow in the lower right of the keyboard. I could only dim the display with Fn-DownArrow, not particularly useful.

Further baffling me was that the display was brighter when I unplugged the power cord, just the exact opposite of what I'd expected. Plugging, unplugging, rebooting, trying the Windows display panel, all went for nought.



Searching the 'net high and low didn't really turn up anything useful about how to fix a broken key or how to otherwise set brightness via the OS (you'd think there'd be a way!). Regarding this particular model there wasn't anything I  could find about this problem. There was one so-called solution, which was to set the brightness in the Color Tab of the Display control panel, but that was incorrect (and I left a comment to that effect), since that only changes the brightness of the colors and has nothing to do with the backlight.
Finally, I found a reference to setting the backlight brightness for another model laptop via a BIOS setting. Sure enough, there it was on page 6 of the BIOS settings, one setting for battery power, one for AC power. The instructions were somewhat ambiguous, since it wasn't clear that the settings would persist post-boot, but they did. OK, not really a solution in the sense that my Fn-UpArrow key still has no effect, but a damn good workaround, especially since I'm not one to adjust the display brightness very often.
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