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Thursday, June 9, 2016

Saving money on computer hardware
giving an old computer new life

Many of us used to have a company provided laptop computer that we carried with us for use at work and at home. After separating from Intel Corp. this laptop computer is no longer available.

I understand if some of you went on a spree and bought a new laptop or desktop computer for your personal use; however, for who cannot afford the extra expense or simply are interested in stretching your hard earned dollar, there are alternatives.

If you have an older laptop or desktop computer that is 3-5 years old, it is rather easy to upgrade its performance to a very good level. In most cases processor upgrade will not buy you much performance gain, since most computer operations nowadays are I/O and memory bandwidth constrained. For those of you who are not afraid to use a screwdriver to open your computer case I would recommend the following:

Switch from a mechanical disk to a Solid State Disk (SSD). If your original hardware configuration used a mechanical disk, this upgrade will give your computer the most significant boost. This is particularly noticeable if you are using Microsoft Windows OS. Windows is performing an incredible number of mass storage access operations--more than it should... :)  If you are using Linux or OpenBSD fewer disk accesses are present, yet the overall performance improvement is just as noticeable. I found that after switching a 5 year old laptop to SSD storage, it was like an adrenaline shot. The login screen appeared within 10-15 seconds, as opposed to several minutes and all programs were significantly more responsive. The SSD that I purchased cost me $60. Not bad at all for a new lease on life.

Note that if your operating system supports file compression, it is probably a feature that is worthwhile activating, in order to squeeze more data into the mass storage device. I chose a 240 GB unit, because if I have a need for more storage, I prefer to put it on a detachable external USB drive. External USB disk storage is very cheap nowadays and it is an excellent solution for keeping bulk data files that are not frequently used, such as pictures, movies, music files, etc.
Upgrade your memory configuration to the maximum size supported by your computer. Most 3-5 year old computers use DDR3 memory which is extremely cheap nowadays. Choose memory modules that have a good normalized timing profile, like DDR3-1600 9-9-9-28. I have seen 16GB available as a pair of modules (2x8GB) offered for as low as $52. I upgraded my old laptop to its maximum configuration of 16 GB for about $60, including shipping. In my experiments, the memory upgrade did not yield as much performance boost in user experience, as the switch to SSD; however, by looking at the performance monitor numbers I could see a 10-25% overall improvement.

Buy a new battery for your laptop. Most laptop batteries degrade during use and older laptops are more power hungry than new ones. However, the market is flooded with aftermarket laptop batteries and though the quality may vary, they are very cheap. I paid $20 (including shipping) for my replacement battery.

Note that the images included in this article are not meant to be interpreted as endorsement for particular vendor products. If you have any questions or comments to this article, please click below and submit your input.

If there is enough interest about conducting a computer upgrade class, I would be willing to help.

--Dr. Flywheel 

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