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UPDATE:: solution: For anyone who may land on this in the future: I ended up having the entire trackpad/armrest replaced, as nothing else seemed to fix the issue.

Short version: My touchpad on a Dell Studio 1558 running Windows 7 behaves erratically. When trying to move the cursor, it randomly teleports around the screen and clicks (both left and right) randomly. It occasionally left clicks when nothing it touching the trackpad. Also, left clicking sometimes causes the entire computer to hang up a bit (cursor movement and program response seems to lock up, but if music is playing that will continue normally).

Short list of what I did to fix/troubleshoot:

  • Uninstalled/installed drivers
  • Examined internal touchpad hardware
  • Checked with Ubuntu from live usb
  • Tested with usb mouse

Long version/background: Not too long ago, I was beginning to have overheating issues with my laptop while gaming. This had happened to me before, so I opened up my laptop to clean dust away from the fan/heat sink. Reassembled, everything seemed fine. (This may or may not be related to the issue).

A few days later, the application TwoFingerScroll stopped working properly. It would run for about 10 minutes after starting my computer, then stop. If I closed/restarted the application, it would give me the error "No Synaptic Touchpad Device Found". This didn't seem to start happening after any updates (though I'm not 100% sure about that), but I assumed it must be a driver issue anyways. I removed my current drivers and installed the most recent Synaptic Touchpad drivers. This is when the erratic touchpad behavior began. I assumed the new drivers must have caused these problems (I had switched to just Synaptic Touchpad drivers, instead of Dell specific Synaptic drivers), so I reverted to the Dell-specific Synaptic touchpad drivers (though I did start using the latest version; I'm not sure if that is the same version I had been using previously). No change.

At this point, I began to think I might have messed something up hardware-wise when cleaning my fan, so I opened up the case again and inspected the touchpad. I didn't see anything obviously wrong (wasn't entirely sure what to look), but I cleaned away a little dirt/dust from the area and reassembled the computer. The touchpad issues persisted.

In order to discern if this was a software or hardware issue, I then booted into Ubuntu from a live usb. The touchpad issues weren't nearly as severe, but they were still there.

I also tested it with a usb mouse, and as I expected, everything worked smoothly with the mouse.

EDIT: Unusually enough, after using my computer for a while (1-2hrs), most of the erratic behavior seems to have died down. I'm not sure if this is a one time thing, or if the issue will remain gone following a reboot, or it will always take a period of time for the erratic behavior to go away. Also not sure what this indicates about the source of the problem.

EDIT 2: And another hour or so later, the trackpad has stopped responding entirely. This happened once or twice before, and previously has always cleared up when the computer is turned back on. I haven't turned it back on yet this time.

--

I believe that this must be a hardware issue, but I am not sure how to go about fixing it (or even determining exactly what the issue is). I would assume it was an unplugged cable internally or something like that, but when I opened the case again to check I couldn't find anything like that.

Am I right in assuming this is probably a hardware issue?

What else can I do to troubleshoot this?

And is this likely something that I (with limited hardware fixing experience--I'm mostly a software guy) can fix myself, or will this need to be taken to a shop?

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It sounds like a hardware issue to me. It is quite likely that the overheating laptop as somehow damaged the components associated with the trackpad. Note that as laptops are largely one piece if you try and repair it you may end up having to get a new motherboard. They can be quite expensive. Are you able to disable the trackpad in device manager? Once disabled what happens when you try and use it? Is it still under warranty? Aside from the overheating have you ever dropped/split water or otherwise damaged it? –  Sam Dec 31 '12 at 20:30
    
I don't currently have the laptop (passed it off to someone who actually has experience working in this field to see if they could fix it or direct me to someone they know could fix it), and I didn't think to try disabling the trackpad. It's not still under warranty, unfortunately. Aside from the overheating, it hasn't undergone any other damage that I'm aware of. –  SnoringFrog Jan 1 '13 at 6:12
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