Introduction: Fix Up an Old Laptop!

About: I like fixing up old technology in my spare time!

Hey! Today I will be showing y’all how to fix up an old laptop.

Why would you want to do this? Well computers really have not gotten that much better(at least CPU wise) in the last decade so old laptops can be surprisingly useful. Also sometimes you just need a really cheap laptop. Or one that you don’t have to worry about getting broken or stolen. Plus it's good for the Earth to get the maximum use out of a thing before discarding it.

In this guide I’ll be fixing up an old Lenovo T500. In each step I’ll talk in general about the repair process(in italics) and then go into detail about how it applies to this particular laptop.

My goal in this project is to get a reasonably functional computer running for as little money as possible. I got this T500 and it's power adapter from a thrift store for 20$. I bought a hard drive and RAM off ebay for 5$ each. I got a SATA DVD HD adapter for 8$. So lets see how to repair this laptop and what a 38$ laptop from 2008 is capable of!

Step 1: Evaluate the Laptops Capabilities.

If you've found a laptop you think is a good candidate for repair you should think about it's potential capabilities. Assuming it is repairable what will it be able to do when repaired? What do we want to use it for? Which software applications do we want to run? You can usually find a laptops specs by doing an online search for the particular model you have. You can sometimes find information about the laptops CPU and GPU in the laptops BIOS utility. Think about what operating system you want on it and how much if anything that will cost. What are the upgrade options for this particular laptop? Online research is incredibly useful for this part of the process. Old forum posts, product reviews and manufacturer spec sheets are all useful. I always look the laptops specs up before committing to repairing it.

Looking at the sticker on the bottom of the laptop I determined that this T500 is marked as a "Type 2055 - 45U". I then did an internet search for "T500 type 2055 - 45U". I then clicked on Lenovo's website titled "Detailed Specifications". This site gave me information on what RAM(DDR 3 1067MHz, 8 Gigabytes maximum) and operating systems are supported(Windows Vista and Windows 7 officially) by this computer. Lenovo's spec sheet also states what CPUs might be in this one. Looking at the Lenovo specification sheet I see that this laptop meets my basic requirements for this project of having a 64bit dual core CPU and being able to use DDR3 RAM.

I noticed a Windows Vista key sticker on the bottom that has been destroyed which means I will not be able to use this key to install Windows.

Cross referencing this model number on some other web sites reveals that this T500 might have an ATI 3650 video card which would be cool.

This laptops capabilities are more than enough for what I want to use it for. I want it to be able to do some light web browsing, some word processing and maybe some light gaming.

Now lets see if we think it is repairable!

Step 2: Evaluate the Laptops Physical Condition.

So you have determined that the laptops specs meet your needs. Next you should try to make sure the laptop is not broken beyond reasonable repair. If the case has major damage, the screen or screen hinge is broken, the power jack is loose/missing or the keyboard is missing critical keys I would probably not try to fix it. Somethings are too expensive or too much trouble to repair. If in doubt look up how much a particular part costs on ebay before committing to repairing it. Also look up the process to replace a particular part. Some parts are quite difficult to replace. This is also a good time to see what parts are missing.

If you have a power adapter that works with the laptop, plug it in. Often a led will light up somewhere on the laptop showing it is receiving power. This is a good sign. If the laptop still has a stick of RAM in it, try booting to BIOS to see some more detailed information on the laptop. Booting to BIOS is also a good opportunity to see if the screen is fully functional.

This T500 seems to be in good shape. The screen, keyboard and case are in pretty good condition. No signs of liquid damage. It is missing the case screws that hold the palm rest on. The RAM slots on this computer are under the palm rest. Looking under the palm rest we see that there is no RAM in the slots. Checking the right side of the computer we see that there is no hard drive or optical drive. The hard drive caddy is also missing. It has some minor damage to the case and CPU radiator as can be seen in the last photo. I don't think this damage is a problem in this particular case.

I don't have RAM yet for this laptop so I can't boot to the BIOS(on this laptop you get to the BIOS by pressing the "thinkvantage" button when it is starting up).

Upon plugging it in the little green power LED came on though so that is a good sign!

Everything looks good and we are getting a general idea of what parts we might need, so lets move onto the next step!

Step 3: Get the Tools and Parts You Need.

So now that you have decided to fix your laptop, you need to find the tools and parts to do it.

For this project I used the following tools:

  • small Philips head screwdriver
  • 32GB USB flash drive
  • Some tape
  • an additional computer to make a bootable USB flash drive with

And also the following parts:

  • broken laptop(T500)
  • power adapter for broken laptop
  • two 1GB sticks of 1333Mhz DDR3 RAM
  • 160GB hard drive
  • optical drive to hard drive adapter

Where to find parts? I usually order used ones off ebay. It is pretty cheap and I have mostly had good luck with it. You can also find parts in other dead laptops sometimes. Often these laptops will have RAM and hard drives that are salvageable.

For power adapters I would recommend sticking with the manufacturers brand name adapters. Another possible option is a generic power adapter that has interchangeable tips. These work with many different brands of laptops. Whichever adapter you go with you want to make sure it has the right voltage and enough wattage for your laptop. I lucked out and found a Lenovo branded 90 watt power adapter at the same thrift store I got the laptop from.

To find out what kind of RAM is compatible with your laptop you should check the specification sheet for the laptop. Used RAM is OK. I ended up getting two used sticks of 1GB RAM at a speed of 1333MHz. 2 Gigabytes is not much RAM by today's standards but should be OK since I'm planning on using Linux for the operating system, and am not going to do anything too crazy with it.

For storage solid state drives(SSD) are preferable to hard drives(HDD). SSDs are faster and much more resistant to damage. They are also more expensive. Another thing to look at is if you laptop still has a hard drive caddy. This is a little bracket or harness your hard drive fits in before getting mounted in the laptop. This T500 is missing it's hard drive caddy and optical drive, which gave me an idea. I had seen optical drive to hard drive adapters online before. They let you use a hard drive in your optical drive slot as long as your optical drive uses a SATA connection. This T500 does have a SATA connection in the optical drive bay, so I used one of these adapters. This way I have a generic hard drive caddy I can use in other laptops.

I could have put 8 Gigabytes of RAM and a SSD in this laptop but that would have increased costs significantly. The laptop would have been MUCH faster with the more expensive parts. You have to find the point of price vs performance you are comfortable with.

Step 4: Put the Parts in the Laptop.

Next we need to clean the laptop up. If it's dusty, use canned air to blow the dust out. Put the new parts in it. Fix anything that needs fixing. Most laptops you would have to remove the bottom of the case or a small plastic cover to get access to the RAM and hard drive. This one is a bit different in that the RAM is under the palm rest.

So for this T500 we have to first install the RAM and then install the HDD.

To install RAM we have to remove the palm rest. There are a number of screws that go through the bottom of the computers case and up into the palm rest, holding it in place. Lenovo conveniently marked the screws that you need to remove with a little chip icon(see the third photo). After removing the screws you can pry the palm rest off. Mine was already loose but if it is hard to remove start at the back by the arrow keys and work your way forward. There is a ribbon cable that connects the track-pad to the motherboard, so be careful when removing the palm rest(you can see the ribbon cable in the 4th photo). After removing the palm rest insert the new RAM chips. RAM is static sensitive so try to discharge any static you might have by touching a bare metal surface before handling the RAM. Make sure to put the chips in the right way, they have little notches in them that you need to line up with the notches in the RAM slots. The RAM is inserted at a 45 degree angle and once it is fully in the slot pushed down flat. If in doubt, watch a you tube video on it.

So next up is the hard drive. This computer was missing both it's hard drive caddy and it's optical drive so I decided to use a optical drive to hard drive adapter. To use this adapter you put the hard drive in it, minding that the SATA connections are lined up right. You then push the drive onto the connector and screw the 4 screws on the adapter into the hard drive to secure it. Then just slide it into the optical drive slot.

That's all the parts this T500 needs for basic functionality. On to operating system installation!

Step 5: Install the Operating System.

So we got the parts in the laptop. Now we need to install an operating system to make the computer usable. I personally like Linux for these kind of projects. I know it’s not for everyone though. If your laptop has a windows key sticker on the bottom you might be able to use that to install Windows Vista or Windows 7. Newer laptops that shipped with Windows 8 or 10 store the key on the motherboard and windows 8 or 10 should automatically detect it when installing.

I chose to install Ubuntu Studio 18.04 on this laptop. I chose this Linux distribution because it includes a lot of useful software out of the box(and it's free!). It also has a less resource intensive desktop environment than the standard version of Ubuntu(and way less resource intensive than Windows!). We are going to use a bootable USB flash drive to install the operating system since this system no longer has an optical drive.

To make a bootable Ubuntu Studio USB flash drive I did the following things:

First I downloaded a Ubuntu Studio 18.04 DVD disk image from the Ubuntu Studio website. I downloaded the 64 bit version because the T500 has a 64 bit processor.

Next I formatted the flash drive using Windows.

Then I downloaded the program UNetbootin from their web site.

Finally I ran the program UNetbootin. I clicked on the "diskimage" option, then selected the Ubuntu Studio disk image. They have instructions on how to do this on their website if you need further help.

Now we have our bootable USB flash drive set up! Let's install Ubuntu Studio!

On this particular T500 I ran into the problem of it not being able to boot into the Ubuntu installer. After doing some internet searches I decided the problem was with the switchable graphics in this computer. To fix this problem I had to go into the BIOS. I did this by hitting the "thinkvantage" button then F1 during startup. Then I selected "config", then "display". I changed the display adapter to always be the discrete graphics card. And I switched OS detection of switchable graphics to "disabled" so the operating system can only see the discrete graphics card. I then exited the BIOS saving changes. After that it did not have a problem booting into the Ubuntu installer.

When you are installing from the USB drive you have to tell the computer to boot from USB. On the T500 this is done by pressing the "thinkvantage" button during startup then the F12 key. Then selecting the USB drive.

Follow the onscreen prompts and it will install Ubuntu Studio for you!

Step 6: Lets See What It Can Do!

Now that the laptop is up and running lets see what it can do! Ubuntu Studio comes with a bunch of Useful programs; It has Libre Office for word processing and spread sheets, Firefox for browsing the web, GIMP for editing photos, Audacity for recording audio and a bunch of other programs!

In order to browse the internet with only 2 GB of RAM I installed a Firefox add-on called Ghostery. Ghostery is an ad/tracker blocker. I also try to only have 1 or 2 tabs open at a time.

So internet browsing and word processing work fine. Lets install Steam and try a couple games.

In order to install Steam I did the following:

I opened the terminal emulator from the main menu.

I ran "sudo apt-get update" in the terminal window to update the software repositories.

Then I ran "sudo apt-get install steam" in the terminal window and followed the prompts.

Now if you look in the games tab of the main menu there should be a shortcut for Steam.

I installed a few light weight games to test the system out. I tried Heavy Bullets, Factorio and Nuclear Throne. All of these games ran just fine. Keep in mind that this system has a discrete graphics card(the ATI 3650) so similar systems from the same era with integrated graphics might perform worse.

I also installed Minetest and The Urquan Masters from the terminal emulator.

I installed Minetest with the command "sudo apt-get install minetest"

and Urquan Masters with the command "sudo apt-get install uqm"

They both ran fine.

Well that's about it. I'm very pleased with how this laptop turned out. Thanks for reading! Good luck with your laptop repairs!

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