Back To School Upgrade Guide: How To Revive Your Old Laptop

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When looking to upgrade your personal notebook make sure you research online to find out how far you need to go to access the part you will be replacing. In our little guide below we take a look at a wide sample of systems that all have a unique way to get at internal components. This can make a huge difference in down-time if you aren’t experienced, turning what might be a simple five minute upgrade into an hour or more event. One policy that I think can make many of these upgrades easier it to try to take apart the notebook before you purchase any components to see what you are getting yourself into. Another method is looking at the manufacturer’s website to see if a service manual is available, and using that to see how much of your laptop you have to take apart in order to perform certain upgrades.

What Can I Do To Upgrade My Laptop?
Short of the complex disassembly of your entire notebook and replacing the processor, there are essentially three key areas where you can perform simple upgrades to improve your laptop’s performance:

  1. Upgrade the RAM. If you have a system from a couple of years ago that only came with 2GB of memory or less, moving to 3GB and beyond can make a huge difference by helping applications launch faster and allowing you to multitask with multiple programs open at the same time. If you plan on upgrading to 4GB or more, make sure you have a 64-bit operating system (and a notebook with a 64-bit processor) to fully take advantage of that much memory. For current generation notebooks you need to buy DDR3 memory and if your notebook is a couple years old then you need to buy DDR2. If your laptop still uses standard DDR memory you’re probably long past due for a new laptop. You must make sure you order the correct type of RAM otherwise it won’t even fit, let along operate correctly with your notebook.
  2. Upgrade the Hard Drive. From the factory most consumer and business notebooks only include 5400RPM hard drives. Upgrading to a faster 7200RPM model or switching to an SSD (Solid State Drive) can make a world of difference. Faster boot times, shorter application load times, and improved system responsiveness are all attributes of this upgrade. Right now the cheapest upgrade would be a 7200RPM hard drive with models starting around $50. SSDs tend to be more expensive ($100 to over $1000) but can be more rewarding in sheer speed.
  3. Upgrade the Operating System. If you are still working under Windows XP or even Vista, upgrading to Windows 7 can really overhaul the look and feel of your system. With enough RAM (aim to have more than 2GB) it can improve reliability, load faster, wake from sleep mode faster, and look great. There are also alternatives to Windows, including Linux distributions like Ubuntu that can be very user-friendly, and 100% free. On the Mac OS side, staying current with the latest version of OS X can also help, although you will want to make sure your old MacBook is compatible with the latest version of Mac OS before moving forward.

Upgrading the Graphics Card in Your Notebook
Now that we’ve talked about the easy upgrades, it’s time to address the most frequently asked about upgrade: Graphics. Few notebooks currently on the market support graphics card upgrades. The models that are generally compatible have a very limited selection of options and for the 98% of the notebooks currently on the market the GPU is soldered onto the motherboard. Short of swapping in a new motherboard you are stuck with what you originally purchased. There are a few new options for the technically inclined, including a an external graphics card solution aptly called the DIY ViDock which allows you to connect a full-size desktop graphics card to your notebook through a mini-PCIe card or an ExpressCard adapter. We will discuss this method in a future article, but for 98% of notebook users out there, don’t expect to find any solution to upgrade the graphics in your notebook.

With these essentials out of the way, let’s dive into your laptop …

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