5 Ways To Give An Old Laptop A New Life

oldlaptopthumb   5 Ways To Give An Old Laptop A New LifeComputers seem to become slower as they age. Anyone who has kept a PC for more than three years has run into this issue. What once seemed quick begins to feel sluggish and ancient.

There are reasons for this. Operating systems tend to become more resource-hungry over time, hardware ages, and the exuberance felt during the first months of laptop ownership fades. This is why some people buy new laptops frequently, but there are ways to make an older model feel new again.

Clean It

oldlaptopclean   5 Ways To Give An Old Laptop A New Life

All computers acquire dust and dirt as they age. In a worst-case scenario your laptop can be slowly choked by invading particles. Internal temperatures rise, reducing the efficiency of your hardware. As the problem worsens some components may have to throttle their performance, slowing your laptop down.

Cleaning a laptop isn’t difficult. All laptops, even Apple’s unibody MacBooks, can have their internals accessed by removing the bottom panel. This usually requires that you take out a number of screws and then use a small, sharp object to pry the panel off.

Once inside, use a compressed air can to blow away dust, swab away dust in corners and fans with cotton Q-tips, and seal the unit back up. You may have to do this many times over the course of your laptop ownership, but it will keep your laptop running like new.

Re-Install Or Change The Operating System

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Operating systems can go wonky over time. Ideally, you should be able to fix any problems by uninstalling software, deleting bad registry entries and the like. In reality, it seems like there is a point where this becomes futile or the effort required is less than reinstalling the operating system.

While you’re thinking about reinstalling the operating system you should also think about changing it. If you’re running an older version of Windows, particularly Vista, going to Windows 7 is worthwhile (though also expensive, and again, you may feel spending so much on an old laptop is unwise).

Or you can go the other direction and install an alternative operating system. Windows users are sometimes tempted to try OS X, but I don’t recommend it. Getting a Hackintosh to work is a real pain, OS X isn’t more forgiving to old hardware, and it’s not free.

Something Linux based is your best bet.  Ubuntu is an old standby that is now quite mature. Lightweight versions of Linux are worth consideration if your laptop is over five years old. And don’t forget about Google Chrome OS, which can be installed on a broad range of hardware using the Lime build.

Install More RAM

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RAM is the default hardware upgrade recommendation for old laptops, and for good reason. New operating systems often feel slow not because there’s insufficient processing power but instead because there’s insufficient memory.

This upgrade is also easy to recommend because it’s (usually) easy to install. Most PC laptops have a small panel, usually secured with one or two screws, that covers the RAM. Remove that panel and you can upgrade without disassembling the entire laptop. There may even be instructions in your laptop’s manual.

I recommend moving to 4GB of RAM (no more, no less). You should be able to buy this for between $60 and $80 dollars. Before making a purchase do some research in to the RAM your laptop needs or just look at the RAM currently installed. It’s usually labeled.

Buy A New Wireless Adapter

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This is a frequently overlooked upgrade. If you have an older laptop it probably uses the 802.11g standard, and if it is really old, it may use 802.11a/b. These standards are inferior to the new 802.11n standard and upgrading will improve your web browsing experience.

You can buy an 802.11n USB 2.0 adapter for just $20 bucks. This is for a 150 Mbps version, which isn’t top-of-the-line, but is as fast as most users will need. Faster dual-band adapters cost a bit more on average, but are still reasonable.

A wireless router that can handle 802.11n will be required. Factor in the cost of a new router (about $50) if you don’t already have one that can support the standard.

Install A Solid State Drive

oldlaptopssd   5 Ways To Give An Old Laptop A New Life

Hard drive speed is a common issue. Most laptops ship with 5400 RPM drives, which have a slow spindle speed and low data transfer rates. Worse, the cheap drives found in many laptops typically have lethargic access times. This can make it appear as if your computer is hanging or processing something when you open a new file. It’s often not the processor’s fault – it’s the hard drive, which is slowly swinging its mechanical read/write head and the disc into a position where the correct data can be read.

Solid state drives have no mechanical parts. Even those made a few years back had access times under ten milliseconds. Today, most SSDs have access times of just a couple milliseconds. Data transfer speeds are far better, as well, so large applications will load more quickly.

There’s only one problem, and that’s the price. A decent mid-range 128GB model, like the Crucial M4, is going to set you back $150 dollars. A 256GB model can be $300. This makes it the most expensive recommendation by far and some users may feel that they’re better off purchasing a new laptop instead of dropping so much money on one that’s out of date. Personally, I don’t recommend this upgrade for laptops that are over 3 years old.

Conclusion

The tips here can help put your laptop back on its feet. I suggest trying them in order. If you aren’t happy with cleaning the laptop, reinstall the operating system. And if that still feels sluggish, upgrade the RAM.

Do you have any tips that aren’t listed here? We’d love to know about them, so leave a comment.

Image Credit: Iwan Gabovitch, Alex Gorzen

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59 Comments -

kuyado

how about graphic card? can be upgradeable?

Mike DeGeorge

As far as I know, no. They are soldered to the board.

Matt Smith

Not really. Most GPUs are soldered on, and in the cases when they are not, finding a reasonably priced replacement is nearly impossible. There have also been external video card products in the past, but they’ve never worked well.

It’s something you could pursue if you feel like geeking out on an old laptop just to see if you CAN do it, but if your goal is better gaming, just sell your old laptop and put that money towards a new one.

Mike DeGeorge

Nice Article. Well written, and has some useful information in it. I give you 2 virtual thumbs up.

Nando

SSD drives are very expensives, and in some cases with a USB pen drive to act like as live CD with a light linux distro you can give new live to a old laptop. I don’t know is how to put this pen drive inside of the laptop, and create a new usb socket for him.

Matt Smith

Pen drive inside of a laptop? Not going to happen. Not enough space. Probably no spare USB connections, either, even if you could somehow graft a USB port in there.

BennyBeat

It depends; I successfully installed a 32GB Sandisk pendrive (without the plastics) inside an old EeePC 701 and replaced the Windows XP with Xubuntu; better than their original 4GB SSD (where I put the Clonezilla Recovery partition and the GRUB menu to do this task automated).

Some motherboards have an internal unused USB port; just try to download the technical manual (not the user guide) and try if works for you. I also do this on computer towers (not Laptops) cutting a female USB connector and assembling the cables into the internal USB 5+4 pins connector, and finally connecting a Pendrive with Linux flavor and… VoliĂ ! An Old Pentium III is now a Linux Server or Firewall!

Great article!

Cheers,
Benny ^_^”

Keith

Excellent article. As to pulling the laptop apart to clean it, many laptop builders have excellent service manuals that show exactly how to do it – just download from their website. I’ve found Dell ones very good. I had the exact problem of dust and fluff build up causing slow performance on my Dell 9200. It was only when I pulled the fans out that I could see a wall of fluff across the cooling fins.

The other place to check for step by step instructions is YouTube where I found how to put more RAM in my Medion netbook.

Memory is easily added and I find that the free SIW program will quickly tell you how much RAM you have, what type it is and what slots have what in them or are spare.

Another thing to look at are all the items in your start up system. You can use MSConfig however I find ccleaner easier to turn entries on/off or remove entirely.

Also don’t forget a FULL antivirus and malware scan.

Guy

I like it Matt. Simple, to the point, and correct. Reminds me I need more RAM for my laptop. I’d also like to switch to a Linux distro, but I have my old DivX Connected device for streaming media and the server only runs on Windows. Tried Linux with WINE but that was even worse for speed.
I have a Wii and apparently I can stream media through that a few different ways. How’s ’bout an article on that? With a Linux distro as the server?

Truefire_

I’d try a dual-boot setup if I were you, to test and see which works best without ruining anything. Try xbmcbuntu for a great media setup distro: http://xbmc.org/download/

Nh-wayne

Does memory age and slow down?

Matt Smith

No, it should remain the same until it kicks the bucket. Which should not happen often. Solid state storage (which RAM is) does not frequently die.

Nicholas Bodley

As to RAM failing, I’m virtually sure it fits in with other semiconductors (especially those that don’t get hot). These are likely to fail early in life (that’s why burn-in at the factory isa good idea) If they continue to be OK, they last and work fine for quite a long time.
For techies, look into Weibull [distribution? curve? (“Bathtub”).]

Nicholas

Sorry! Previews are so helpful…

What I meant was, that if they are going to fail, they fail soon; I surely didn’t mean likely to fail, in general.

Yang Yang

The most noticable performance boost you will get is if you swap in an SSD. People complain about how expensive SSDs are but they are really cheap now. Plus the speeds are insane. I am never going back to those clunky old hard drives that need to SPIN UP lol. I keep tabs on the price of SSDs and just the past two weeks they have experienced a very very sharp decline in price. Now you can get a 500 MB/s read/write speed SSD for 0.75$/GB. They used to be 2$/GB which was a bit pricey

Matt Smith

I reviewed a laptop (I can’t say which because the laptop is not published yet) that had two SSD in RAID0. This laptop achieved maximum data transfer speeds of about 1GB per second.

It’s insane what SSDs can do.

Yang Yang

SSDs in RAID!? Isn’t that redundant? SSDs almost never fail. I can’t wait to see new laptops coming out with cheaper SSDs though. The SSD in my 2010 cost me $400 for 120GBs.

Matt Smith

RAID is not just for storage redundancy … it also can be used to improve performance.

David Ritchie

RAID 0 is striping, which says every other block is written to alternating disks… good for performance, not clear that it buys you a lot with an SSD.

Aung Htet

What about the maximum age that the laptop can use? (I mean the laptop that is not the better brand.)

Nicholas Bodley

There really is no known max. age, although tin whiskers might be a factor in newer laptops. I surely hope those have been dealt with! Otherwise, there’s no age limit; it’s more a matter of a laptop becoming a museum piece.

Nicholas Bodley

Matt, fine article, but,
/please/ do not propagate the misinformation about duster cans, implying, or saying that they contain compressed air! Except for a refillable can that was on the market some years ago, they do /not/ contain air! They have a chlorofluorocarbon (or fluorocarbon) that’s akin to a refrigerant. Duster cans could not contain liquid air; the pressure would be much too high.

There’s at least one tragic story, very likely true, about a young fellow who was inhaling can contents to get high, overdid it, and when his dad came home, he was dead. In low concentrations, the gas is non-toxic, not to worry. Getting high, afaik, is really dangerous; if you survive, you might be partly brain-dead.

A story of doubtful origin tells of an electronic tech who worked by himself at a bench in a stuffy place. Instead of trying to ventilate (maybe it was really cold out), he decided to take a big trash bag and fill it with gas from a duster can. Took a few breaths, passed out, and probably died (no oxygen!).

Please, spread the word!

Matt Smith

So that’s why those cans will spray ice if you hold them the wrong way. Always wondered about that, but I never did look it up.

Clay A.

You’re an idiot.
I used to get high on air duster all the time. Although that was stupid, even intentionally inhaling it didn’t kill me – so why is it such a big deal to use it for its intended purpose? Chill out and change your panties you disgusting alarmist.

Fred Farkle

Yay, Clay A! Anyone who hasn’t tried inhaling refrigerant is a disgusting alarmist! I do it all the time and it hasn’t done anything to me! Anyone who hasn’t done it is an idiot! People used to tell me that my personality has changed but they’re all idiots! All idiots! Sucking refrigerant hasn’t done a thing to me! They’re all idiots! I can think and converse even when my nostrils are frozen! Just watch me! They’re all idiots! I’m immortal! Just watch me! I’m sticking the plastic tube in my nose and nothing bad is happeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeee

Clay A

Hahahaha just read this part of the post:

A story of doubtful origin tells of an electronic tech who worked by himself at a bench in a stuffy place. Instead of trying to ventilate (maybe it was really cold out), he decided to take a big trash bag and fill it with gas from a duster can. Took a few breaths, passed out, and probably died (no oxygen!).

A STORY of DOUBTFUL ORIGIN tells of a guy who blah blah blah… PROBABLY DIED!

Hahahahahahaha come on!
“I heard a story one time from somebody I don’t really trust of a dude who did something and I don’t remember all the details but I think something happened to him and he probably died! (no oxygen!)”

And I’d love to argue with your reply Fred Farkle (And I’m not implying that I’m just so superior that I would undoubtedly win or anything), but I don’t want to start a flame war.

Imbavirus

You could also look at getting one of those external cooling fans underneath the laptop in a case of severe overheating….really helps a lot plus a ssd does make a huge difference in speed

Matt Smith

Yes, that does help. I encourage users try to solve the cooling problem by cleaning their machine first, however.

Chris Hunter

Matt,

Great article and really got me thinking about some upgrades to my Dell 1200 laptop!

Are there any limitations with what you’ve recommended for my laptop, in particular? I’ve been curious to try to install an SSD in it and try to upgrade it to Windows 7, but it only has an Intel Celeron 1.3 Ghz processor and the RAM is maxed out at 1GB (it has 256 MB built in).

Any advice for this situation?

Thanks a lot!

Matt Smith

You could buy a SSD, but as I briefly touched on in the article, there is a limit on how old of a laptop you should consider upgraded. I think you’ve reached it.

A Windows 7 + SSD upgrade is going to cost you about $300, and you could just buy a new Dell Inspirion 14z (for example) at $600.

Besides, 1GB of RAM won’t run Windows 7 well.

Luiz Santos

Hi Matt, nice article, but I partially disagree with your comment above. I got an Asus netbook with 1gig and I have upgraded to Win7 and it runs like a charm. Maybe because Atom processor helps hitting the nail, but seriously speaking. It works far better than XP which was the original OS.
But I’d definitely recommend Ubuntu, which run smoothly and much faster than Win7 or Xp. Oh yeah, if u got Vista, strip this crap out of your computer right away :D My mum had an old Desktop at the office and the bastards sellers installed Vista in a 512mb device… banged it down, installed Ubuntu and it went all the way nice and fast. To make it even faster I upgraded the ram to 1gig, end of the pain :)

Matt Smith

I’m glad to hear that you have Windows 7 working well. I have not had such luck with it on low-end PCs. Perhaps there were other contributing factors besides the RAM.

Chris Hunter

Thanks for the reply, Matt!

jjp

I have a Dell Inspiron mini powered by Intel Atom N450 [Pineview]. I was wondering if you can upgrade/replace it?

Matt Smith

Probably not. If the CPU happened to be removable, you couldn’t find anything to replace it.

TUSHAAR DAWDA

Very good. informative.

Sachin Kanchan

this was very useful….will try with my dad’s old dual core

Daryl

You should really change the icon for the “old laptop”. I am using that exact model. I bought it last year, and it has an intel core i7 processor, nvidia geforce gt 540m (1gb) and windows 7. It costed $1000, and is by no means old.

amrit

I have the same laptop with a config of i5 and gt520mx,only about a year and its NOT OLD!!!

Matt Smith

Hah, touche. .

Darrell Thomas

what i did was re-install a differant os now i got ubuntu on my old dell laptop and now its the fastest its ever ran ubuntu dont use much ram and harddrive space to run ubuntu and nearly every thing u can get for ubuntu is free and virus free

Matt Smith

Ubuntu is a good option. Not guaranteed to be virus free, though. Just unlikely since there’s not many users and thus not a lot of viruses designed for it.

Truefire_

An additional fan (like a fan dock) goes a long way for performance too! Modern laptops dynamically lower their clock speed to avoid melt-down as they get hotter, so that can affect performance. I can play Starcraft 2 lag-free on my HP DM4-1265dx when it’s on the fan platform.

Matt Smith

Yep…computers will throttle themselves if badly overheating. And just the overheating can sometimes cause problems too (i.e. graphics artifacts).

notbad comment

this really helped me with my apple emac. it actually speed up!

Victor Ong

I like Lenovo Laptops because most, if not all, have a “one-touch recovery” pre-boot environment pre-installed that can be used to totally re-install the OS if needed. If you don’t store much on the computer or if you backup everything first, cleaning your OS should be a breeze.

BennyBeat

Asus also have a Recovery system and old computers (more than a year) also comes with Recovery DVD (not only the hide partition). Another brands such as HP, Toshiba, Acer, etc… comes too with their own Recovery system (but without DVDs).

If you’re using Windows, I recommend you Macrium Reflect Free to create your weekly/monthly customized Backup directly from Windows. If you create another partition, you can put here the Macrium Reflect Linux recovery based ISO and Boot it with EasyBCD (or run from a Pendrive with UnetBootIn) to restore your computer from a last state; all will work like a charm.

If you use Linux (as me), then try DĂ©jĂ  Dup (like as Macrium Reflect), Redo Backup (LiveCD based) or Clonezilla (LiveCD based) and forget to miss any data/configuration ;)

Cheers,
Benny ^_^”

escher7

With lap prices as low as they are today, spending very much on an old one is questionable. Sell the old on, score a new one for $700 and you have new everything – cpu, fast ram, fast drive etc not to mention new hinges, catches, cd drive hardware etc. And most middle to high end laps have more ram than they used to – 4 to 6 gigs is normal. This is the way I will go.

John

Is there an ISA interface for a SSD as my laptop is not new enough to use a SATA interface?

Matt Smith

I’m not aware of any solid state drives that would work with a laptop that has an ISA interface.

Gian Singh

will try on my old laptop

Sam Klappstein

Just put a 256 solid state hard drive in my HP G62 Notebook PC and 2 More GB of RAM, It runs extremely fast now, boots up in less than 10 seconds

IamAshMcLean

I just wish to have Chrome OS on my old laptop, but is impossible. :(

Barbara Salvini

Thank, very helpful.

Adjei Kofi

Nice article. Great tips.

Corrado Pellecchia

This article contains excellent suggestions; I would add a mention about active cooler stands which really help mantaining cooler your laptop and avoiding performance throttling and also I would add a note about SSD stating that now you can consider installing them only if you have a SATA connection (some notebook older than 3 yrs still had an ATA connection).

Anonymous

on laptops the graphics card can not be upgraded. I love fixing old pc’s. I’m currently using a hp dv 8000 about 7 or 8 years old and is actually my main computer. All it really needs is a new battery

Sarah

So, basically: Rebuild your computer and shell out more money FIXING it than you would BUYING another one. Good advice!

Raghav Gupta

Had an old laptop and kept in trash. Will try these and see if it is useful anymore