Laptop Upgrade

Rich People Skills: Make Your Old Laptop New Again

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I’ve been writing to you from the keys of an ancient device. This old laptop of mine, a Sony Vaio, is coming up on its eight year birthday. Not bad. I bet you’re wondering how it hasn’t been flung through a window, run over by the fully paid-off car, or accidentally dropped while crossing the Golden Gate Bridge. In that case, read on…

I still get a little excited about new technology, but not nearly as much as I used to. I think I just get tired of it after a while. Like the Transformers movie series; after so much sound and fury, I could use a little Ordinary People, or Mary Poppins. F*cking tinnitus. Thanks, Michael Bay.

With technology, it’s much the same. After so long, a phone is a phone is a phone. A flat screen television can get only so big before you get nauseous. You know what I mean if you’ve ever been in a living room with a 60″ behemoth staring back at you with jacked up volume and image settings set to “Costco – You buy me now, consumer sucka!” I honestly have no idea how the elderly of the late 20th century survived with 19″ cathode-ray tubes to get their Matlock fix.

oh, so grainy and small…

The Law of Diminishing Computers

Just like anything else that’s been around long enough, computers have become a commodity. You only need so much computing power to write a blog, browse the web, and curate your family photos. To be fair, there are some nifty things you can do today to integrate your computer and phones or tablets. The “ecosystem” makes life a little easier for some, and a little frustrating for others including parents and in-laws.

My trusty Sony Vaio handles everything I need it to. Photos, blog, email, iTunes. I write-up my leases and run background checks on rental applicants with it. I look up YouTube videos on how to build Lego Transformers for my kids. My Lego Optimus Prime ROCKS! Just ask my son – it’s like Christmas in September around here.

Lego Optimus Prime
My daughter’s Lego Bumblebee in the background is begging for more fancy Lego parts

Keep in mind, I’m a tech guy for my day job. I used to take apart computers and servers for a living. I know all about processors, RAM, hard drives, etc. Back in the early 90s when I got my first computer, graphics, sound, and speed were godawful. Now, you can play Doom 12 on your cell phone. Part of me misses the hobby aspect of computers. Anymore the appliance is a black box you just enjoy and don’t mess with.

 

How I Got My Vaio up to Snuff

There’s not that much to it, honestly. All you need is a set of those mini screwdrivers and the will to perform open heart surgery on your old plastic and silicon friend. It amounts to popping off two little plastic covers on the underside of your laptop. The parts you need to swap are super accessible.

Step 1 is to replace that raggedy old hard drive. Chances are, if your laptop was purchased before 2012 it has an old mechanical hard drive. You know, the kind that makes the grinding and clicking noises and adds a pound of weight to your machine?

I used theย upgrade kit andย new SSD drive shown in the pictures below. I chose to bump up the capacity of the replacement hard drive, going from 120GB to 240GB.

It took maybe an hour to wrap up this little job. The kit comes with a cord and software that allows you to create a mirror image of your current hard drive’s data and operating system. After the new drive was ready, I popped it in, and lo and behold… my faithful old Vaio fired up in less than FIVE SECONDS. A far cry from the nearly five minutes it took to boot up with the old mechanical drive.

Laptop Upgrade
This little kit made my laptop relevant again

 

Laptop Upgrade
Compared to the old hard drive, this little number is super light, quiet, and FAST!

This article at Laptopmag.com walks you through the steps in more detail, but theย Upgrade Kit has clear and easy instructions included.

Memory Rammin’

Step 2 is to ramp up your laptop’s memory. Mine came with 4GB, which is the minimum recommended to run Windows 10. I found that messing around with graphics and images for blog posts slows down old Bessy sometimes. So I took the plunge and doubled the RAM to 8GB.

This was the easiest upgrade to make. It took all of 5 minutes to remove the old chips and pop in the new ones. To make sure I had the compatible memory for my Vaio, I used this handy site. Do some comparison shopping. I found the best deal on Amazon.com for the memory chips suggested by Crucial.com.

Laptop Upgrade
WikiHow has excellent guides to walk you through the process

Final Touches

Luckily, my original Windows XP license allowed me to somehow upgrade to fancy Windows 10 free of charge. That was pretty sweet. If you’re not as fortunate, I’d still recommend purchasing a license; if for no better reason than to keep things as secure as possible. After the Equifax shit-show, I wouldn’t be taking ANY chances just to save a nickel.

A few bits of wisdom to help keep your laptop running smoothly:

  1. Don’t install any applications. Zero. None. Okay okay, you can install Office, iTunes, and an Antivirus program. But everything else you use should be cloud-driven and browser accessible. The more crap you install, the slower your computer gets over time.
  2. Try to keep your hard drive about 50% free. Even your fancy new SSD drive. For the same reason as number 1 above, the more you cram onto the machine, the more sluggish the machine gets.
  3. Use those fancy USB ports to add a wireless mouse and keyboard. It’s a great way to get more life out of old pointer pads and broken keys.
  4. Don’t use your laptop on your lap! Use a flat surface. Keeping your old machine cool is important to avoid slow performance and unexpected crashes. I tried one of those cooling fan pads, but your best bet is to just keep that thing on your desk or table.
  5. Don’t fixate on battery life. Every coffee shop I’ve been to lately has ten power outlets for every man, woman, and child in a 2 mile radius. Carrying a power pack with a cord is a few ounces of weight that’ll make you that much stronger. I’ve had to keep my Vaio plugged in 100% for the last three years. No big deal.

 

The cha-ching net of it all

I spent about $125 on the hard drive and memory upgrades. A decent new laptop would run anywhere from $500 to $1,000 taxes included. A few simple upgrades keeps your current machine out of the landfill, avoids hassle setting everything up anew, and gives you extra coin to go towards sexy index funds.

Put in purely mathematical terms, doubling the useful lifespan of your laptop from five to ten years could yield as much as a couple grand in savings over a ten-year span. It’s not the Powerball, but it’s better than a stick in your eye. Apply the same concept to every other piece of tech in your life, like cell phones and teevees, and then you’re talking early retirement-like savings.

Now that you’ve read all about my precious Vaio, let me know what you think I should name her in the comments below! “Bessy” is just a stand-in…

Footnote: Speaking of technology, I just can’t seem to get out of my way these days. I farted around with some .php code the other day and it messed up my comments submission form. Luckily I stumbled across the problem by chance and was able to restore the Theme part of my backup. Whew!

All this after recently messing up my perma-links too. And so it goes, the second time in two weeks I inadvertently sabotaged abandonedcubicle.com. IT guys are dangerous. Especially the hardware guys who mess with code!

Comments 23

  1. This is great – but for those of us with zero (OK – almost zero) tech skills, it makes me panic to think about doing what you did! I use a $300 HP laptop to do all of my online work. I KNOW it is not going to last too much longer. It’s great that you can extend the life of your laptops without much issue. I’m not one to want new technology – so keeping mine for 10+ years would be exactly what I want!

    1. Maybe we could walk you through it over Skype, Vicki? ๐Ÿ™‚
      It’s really not very complicated, and once you’ve done your first upgrade, you’re ready to take a screw driver to anything. Just avoid live outlets!

  2. I’ve been thinking of doing the same thing too. Granted, I have a 4 year old Lenovo, so it probably isn’t in the same shape as yours. I am afraid of replacing my hard drive though…seems like a lot could go wrong, and I’m not particularly handy with computers.

    p.s. As I write this, my laptop is currently in my lap ๐Ÿ™

    1. Get that laptop OUT of your lap, Dylan! If the cooling effect saving your laptop isn’t enough of a carrot, think about saving your Family Jewels! The little swimmers that live in boy parts (sorry if I’m making an ASSumption here) generally DO NOT like to be overwarmed… ๐Ÿ˜‰

  3. Oooh this is so timely! I have a dinosaur of a computer that’s 10 years old. My dad graciously gifted it to me after I’d been computerless for a while. Unfortunately it’s slow as molasses. Thanks for these tips–maybe I can look into speeding up the ol’ dino.

  4. I’ve done some RAM upgrades but never though of changing out the hard drive to an SSD – thanks! I had success extending the life of my wife’s VAIO for about three years with the System Mechanic program, which I got because a magazine (I think it was PC Mag) gave it good reviews.

    I love the idea of having as few programs as possible. However, I find that computer makers can make it extremely hard to delete a lot of the “bloatware” that they bundle with new machines.

    1. You bet, Miguel! I am not a fan of good ol’ bloatware. For readers out there who don’t know, that’s the pre-installed applications that Sony, HP, or IBM packages with your PC or laptop. They’re often redundant, and often a cause for system slowness.

  5. My laptop is an old Dell that I purchased new in about 2010 – so I guess that makes it about 7 years old now. I hardly ever use it these days as I either use our desktop computer at home, or I use my cell phone – and sometimes a bluetooth keyboard with that – if I want to work mobile. In any event, a couple of years ago I did the memory upgrade and a complete wipe of the laptop to get everything running smooth again. After doing that last year i upgraded to Windows 10 on that machine as well. It’s been running great ever since! Sometimes all a computer needs is a little love to get it running great again!

  6. I love the topic as a fellow tech guy. Good tips. I’ve always had bad luck tearing into laptops for some reason. Usually end up breaking plastic lol. Fortunately that isn’t part of my job ๐Ÿ™‚ Towers are much more friendly to me thank goodness. SSD’s are so nice aren’t they?

  7. That’s good advice if you have to buy your own tech. I knew my addiction to call phones and ultra book PC’s was severe so when I early retired I made sure my side gigs would furnish those with other people’s money in a way that didn’t cost me anything. Hard to set up but I do love my Dell XPS 15 and my Samsung Note 8 with my free Verizon plan.

    1. Hey – anything you can furnish with other people’s money is a good deal in my book. I expect to categorize these upgrades myself as business expenses come 2017 tax time. Good to have you stop by as always, Steve!

  8. For me, the idea of buying a new computer complete with all the “bells and whistles” that will “make my life so much easier…” makes my skin crawl. Perhaps it’s my age, but I like the feeling of knowing how my machine works. The computer maker’s idea of ‘intuitive’ does not always match with my intuition…grrr. Thanks for the tips on how to make the (inevitable) upgrade a little further in the future!

  9. My wifes old Dell l;aptop works well except begins to choke lately on massive HD videos.
    Thanks for the tip on the “upgrade kit”.
    Im a radio tech – a tech “type” so Im not scared!
    We got HD. Good. STOP! or give me the ability to control, select a lower res option etc. some sites do not.
    One of my hobbies is radio. I enjoy tuning through the AM broadcast band at night. I can hear stations literally halfway across the country on a $10 radio, a $5000 receiver or in my car. No upgrades, no digital. The shit just WORKS.
    ๐Ÿ™‚
    Scott

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