I finally found a semi-working solution to the Inspiron wandering pointer issue. First, let me introduce you to the problem. On the right you see a standard Inspiron model keyboard. Please note the pointer stick protruding in the middle. Wonder why Dell doesn’t make this type of keyboards anymore?
It’s because they suck! You see, in most cases the little knob rises above the keys enough to actually touch the LCD when the lid is closed. This is not always the case, but most of the laptops I have worked with have this happening. My own laptop has a noticeable mark on the LCD right where the stick is touching it.
I’m not an expert on pointer hardware but I know one thing. The constant interaction between the knob and the screen be good for the pressure sensors that capture the stick movements. In the long run it kills the whole keyboard. If you have ever owned a 3-4 year old Inspiron 4xxx model you will probably recognize the symptoms. When you hit ‘H’ or ‘G’ the mouse shoots up to one of the upper corners of the screen and stays there. The slightest movement makes the mouse go “nuts”.
Sometimes applying pressure to the left side of the palm rest (right above the battery), or picking the left side of the laptop up 2-3 inches from the table can break the wandering cycle and give you back control of the mouse. It does not always work though. Usually the only long term solution is to replace the keyboard. Once you do that all the symptoms go away.
Some people actually removed the rubber guard from the stick hoping that this will fix the problem. It wont. When you get the “wandering pointer problem”, the rubber part is the least of your worries – what is broken is the underlying circuitry.
But, if you don’t feel like getting another keyboard there is one thing you can do. Go to Dell’s website and download the Synaptic touch pad driver. Most people don’t use it but it has one very important feature which windows drivers miss. The Synaptic software lets you to completely disable the pointer stick. Once you do that, you should be all set. Try it! It worked for me :)
Unfortunately this solution does not work on Linux so my Kubuntu laptop still has bouts of mouse madness every once in a while. :P