Sunday, October 11, 2009

Hot Rod Laptop

My six year old Dell Inspiron 1100 laptop has been a faithful friend. Oh, we've had our ups and downs, but for the most part it has been a workhorse. A couple years ago I upgraded to a bigger/faster harddrive and maxed out the internal memory. For the past year it has gotten dragged to work everyday, and back home at night.

Last Christmas the monitor went out, and I was lucky to find one on eBay which was mis-labelled as the smaller monitor, when I could tell from the picture it was the larger one. So I got it for a steal and replaced my broken monitor. Then this year the power adapter went bad and we found replacements for $6. Then the battery gave up and it turns out the laptop won't work without a somewhat functioning battery, even if it's plugged in. So we replaced that, and it kept plugging along.

A couple weeks ago the fan gave a sad little squeel and quit. Without the fan the laptop could only run for a couple minutes at a time without overheating. Once again to eBay, where I found a new fan and heatsink combo. While waiting for it to arrive I pulled the laptop apart.

There's a view I've seen all too often. The fan is on the right, and the CPU is under it, just to the left.

Pulling out the fan/heatsink as a unit, I realized the chip was cemented onto it from the years of cooking that cooling gel between them. This is actually an opportunity in disguise. Instead of trying to pry the chip off the old heatsink, or pullling just the fan out of the new one, why not buy a new CPU? The old one is a Celeron 2.3GHz. It only has a 128k cache I think.

I did a bit of research, went on the Dell forum to double check my understanding, and went on eBay again, this time looking for a Pentium 4 CPU, with a 400MHz bus and 512k cache. I had my choice of CPU speeds, since the laptop requires the more plentiful desktop CPU, not a laptop CPU, so there were many to choose from. I went with a 2.4GHz, hoping that would not increase the laptop's cooling issues. Then I sat back and waited for my parts to arrive.

Drops right in.

New heat sink and fan go in on top of it (with cooling gel between). I reassembled and held my breath as I pushed the power button. It made a noise like someone had stepped on a small animal. Uh-oh! I tried a couple more times, then followed the power cable back to the wallplug and discovered I had unplugged it! Duh! That sad little noise was the dead battery. Ok, plug it in, turn it on, and it came right up like nothing had changed. Ran a few programs, and it seems nice and quick. But the real change is online. Suddenly it can handle watching videos online, and even streaming video on Hulu - what a bonus for those long boring days at the store!

Yay - long live the Inspiron!

When I bought this laptop I was thinking it was going to be a sort of throwaway computer. My last couple desktops had grown obsolete so quickly, and I knew that laptops were even less upgradable than desktops. So when we bought it we bought the cheapest one available. It has been a great little computer, and thanks to the pages of information on the internet, as well as the easy accessability of parts on eBay, it is going to continue to be a workhorse for a little while longer. I can't complain about the six years of use I've gotten out of it so far.

1 comment:

Mer said...

I am completely blown away that you can just open up your computer and start swapping out parts. You are amazing! :)