Thursday, January 24, 2019

Revive your old PC - Part I - Hardware Upgrades - Portable Computers

After years of usage, time comes for every computer to be revived. For the first stages, utility cleanups, reinstalling the OS may improve the performance, but with loads of security patches, upgrades, fixes etc. every Windows system becomes too heavy to bare at some point.

Though Microsoft hoped to revamp its operating system legacy by introducing Windows 10, the old systems actually became to feel really slow.

Eventually, you decide to buy a newer and faster machine. But, there are alternatives otherwise.

This post shows you the alternatives you have other than buying a new system for your need for speed.

You can achieve your goal both by upgrading some hardware for a reasonable cost as well as installing alternative operating systems. I will explain both.


Facts About Components
1. In the last 10 years, CPU's haven't actually developed much other than adding more cores to the architecture to manage the applications better. Yes, the fastest commercially available CPU in the market is the new Intel Core i9-9900K (5 GHz), which is priced around 800$ including the mainboard that supports it. Otherwise, the latter is the  Core i7-3970X which is stuck at 3.5 GHz, but still very pricey.

2. Memory modules' speeds haven't increased much either. Instead by adding more memory to the existing systems proved that it does improve Windows performance. Of course there those overpriced gaming memory modules, but that's not what we are talking about here.

3. The traditional hard disks (HDD) have a streamlined alternative these days: the solid-state drives (SSD), which are generally a box packed with an IC, where chips are embedded, that are counted to be more reliable, eco-friendly, robust, faster than the traditional hard disks.

Though the world isn't still sure enough about the SSD's reliability, it is speedy indeed. Even the most basic ones are at least 20x times faster than the fastest commercially available HDDs. Plus, their price range is nearly equal to hard disk prices!

4. Graphics Processors (GPU): Though the manufacturers boast about the performance of their GPUs, they haven't developed so much in the last 10 years also, other than the improvements that are made to it. The bit rates are increased, the memory levels are steady and the graphics are more stable by adding more cores to the processors, just like the CPUs. As a downside, for some reason I cannot fathom, the power requirements of the GPUs have increased beyond boundaries, as there are some commercially available GPUs available out there with nearly 500W power requirements. These GPU's feed on direct power with a cable connecting to the power outlet of the PSU in the PC casing (the traditional power was obtained via the bus on the mainboard).

The other fact is, desktop PC's are getting less popular day-by-day as the cost of ownership of mobile machines become less. I admit I see more portable machines these days than I did 10 years ago. But as you have already discovered, mobile machines are not so upgradable as desktops machines. I will try to shine a light to both of them in parallel.

1. Hardware Upgrade: 

1.1 Laptops / Portable Computers

Upgrading the hardware of your existing portable isn't so much possible, it is not impossible.

1.1.1 Hard Disk
If you wish to revamp your old machine, the first thing you should consider is replacing your old hard disk (HDD) with a new SSD. It is the main hardware on your system that makes it SLOW !!

Windows operating systems use a lot of memory and hard disk utilization due to its virtual memory management system. Due to the constant read/write of HDDs, the waiting periods and more the annoying hourglass will be on your screen.

First things first, check online for a reliable and budget SSD for your laptop/portable. Most preferred reliable brands are KingstonSamsung, WD, Sandisk. The price of a new SSD is as low as 30$ these days.
Please note:
1. The ideas here are for computers that have been manufactured 2005 onwards as the older machines may have IDE ports instead of the SATA ports which are compatible with today's mainstream and sorry, there are no SSD's with IDE ports. Check your hardware specs to be sure.

2. Though newer SSD's have SATA 3.0 ports which provide faster throughput, they are backwards compatible with SATA 2.0 and SATA 1.0 technology and are still faster than the regular HDDs.

3. Most of the premium laptops, the hard disk isn't very easy to access and may require a technician to replace it for you.  

1.1.2 Memory (RAM)
Most probably the original OS installed on your system was good enough in the good old days, but with so many patches, antivirus software and loads more stuff it has become very little and insufficient. When RAM becomes insufficient, it loads more burden on the HDD as the operating system tries to compensate the loss by using more virtual memory; disk utilization.

Good news is, though your system is old, the memory modules are still globally available as brand new and 2nd hand. Depending on the specification of the RAM compatible with your system, you can upgrade your RAM for a fairly reasonable price up to 8Gb (on some systems it's 16Gb). Please refer to your system's manual for a compatible memory module specification. Good brands for memory modules are once again Kingston, Samsung and Adata. I strongly suggest avoiding buying used memory as no one sells memory modules unless there's something not right about them.

In most systems, it's a simple DIY task which I can guide your through (there are thousands of DIY videos on Youtube for changing memory modules specific to your hardware). Only on a small proportion of systems the memory modules are inaccessible by the user and may require a technician's intervention.

1.1.3 Battery
Yeah, it must be dead a long time ago, right ? Most probably the manufacturer either does not sell the spare battery still or it's available at a price of a new system! Good news is there are OEM batteries that can be trusted that are available globally; also that cannot be trusted. Depending on the model of your system a spare battery can be bought from sites such as Amazon or AliExpress.

I have refined the search links but you will still need to refine it more depending on the brand and the model of your system.

Revive your old PC - Part II - Hardware Upgrades, regarding desktop PCs' will be in my next post.