Breathe New Life Into an Old Computer

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Introduction: Breathe New Life Into an Old Computer

About: I love inventing and playing around with things. My projects reflect this - usually in-depth reports of problems I have solved as an inventor. I hope that my projects will inspire others to use just a littl-...

Every Year Millions of Computers are thrown into landfills because they have become 'obsolete'. Many of these computers are in perfect working condition and just need a few cheap upgrades to bring them up to standard. Breathe a new breath of life into your computer with this ible.

The goal of this project is to convert a 8 year old computer into a computer that can take notes, write documents, browse the web and play the odd game at a standard that is acceptable today.

Project Brief:

Every Year Millions of Computers are thrown into landfills because they have become 'obsolete'. Many of these computers are in perfect working condition and just need a few cheap upgrades to bring them up to standard. I have personally been given several old computers that others have no use for, and I have converted them into usable working machines that have gone on to live long and prosper in the hands of friends and family.

Smiley face

What will it cost you?

A little time and money may be required for this, some muscle grease might also be a requirement. But the experience of working with technology and learning a little about the inner workings of a computer is an invalauble experience. Converting the laptop, used in this ible, into a note-taking and document writing beast. Cost me exactly $0! The ram I got from a old computer that had literally gone up in flames! The harddrive had just been sitting around since I had scrapped some computers for a bit of extra pocket money. The CD drive had been removed from the laptop previously due to its tendency to jam shut (fixed with a paper clip).

If you don't want to buy the stuff you need, head down to your local e-waste center and ask if you can take some computers to scrap. Most will freely let you take a computer or two. Or take to ebay and craigslist. Head over to the next heading to find out what you will need.

Prerequisites

Time Needed:easy..

Difficulty:easy..

Money Needed:essy..

What this will do to your computer:

Doing this has the potential to remove EVERYTHING from your computer! Please, for my sanity as well as your precious files... BACKUP EVERYTHING!

Disclaimer:

I am in no way responsible if you stuff up your computer or delete your wedding photos because you follow this tutorial. Please make sure you understand the risks and ask any questions below before attempting to replicate what you see me doing.

Step 1: Gather Everything You Need

Find the model number of your computer, along with any other important documents and updates. Updating the BIOS might not be such a bad idea at this point. Finding a manual might be a little tricky, but even for a sworn anti-manual person like me, checking you're putting things in the right way round can be pretty helpful.

Before you start download and read carefully MAX specs of the PC from the manufacturer site as well as forum topics or articles related to the upgrade of the device in question, a few simple google searches can save you a lot of grief down the road; Check that the maximum RAM is 4GB or above and is preferably DDR2, DDR3 or DDR4, as DDR ram can be hard to find as well as can be very expensive. You want to push the RAM up to its maximum in most cases or a minimum of around 4GB (most modern OS's do not play well with anything less) unless you intend to run a more lightweight style operating system such as Linux Mint (more information regarding this at a later step).

You also should check whether the CPU is easily upgradable (this may require a google search), or whether there are physical or component based limitations on upgrades regarding the CPU. Check that the computer actually has room for the proposed drive upgrade - consider taking using both your old and new drives for some extra storage or using them in a slightly different more exotic setup. Check the format of any PCI, AGP or PCI-E lanes, as a second hand graphics card can be of a massive performance improvement to a computer, especially if you use your computer for tasks that are GPU accelerated, though the need for a GPU will differ with your usage situation. Finally check the comments below as there is a wealth of knowledge and personal experience that I could never fit into an article such as this.

Check your laptop or desktop for any physical bumps or damage that may effect the ability for it to function properly. Check that the computer does not have any damaged or leaked capacitors then move to power it on and check that it posts. If you do not see a manufactures screen in reference to the motherboard or computer model, then you need to fix that before attempting an upgrade (post in the comments with your issue or private message me, or post on a forum dedicated to the laptop or motherboard you are rocking with the utmost swag. If the laptop or computer is badly damaged or dead, this guide is not going to revive it from its dead state.

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PLEASE DO CHECK THAT THE PARTS YOU GET WORK WITH YOUR COMPUTER! I will not be responsible if you buy some ram and its doesn't fit, or your hard drive is the wrong connector type (for instance if it is IDE, while the connector type is SATA)! As a hard drive caddy or bridge connector can be not only expensive but difficult to get ahold of and a mismatched CPU or RAM component can be impossible to use.

What you need:

  • A Phillips head screwdriver
  • An Anti-Static band
  • A microfibre cloth
  • A rag or old t-shirt etc
  • A CD/DVD to put the Operating system installer on
  • A can of compressed air/oil-less air compressor

What parts you might want to consider replacing:

  • A new CPU or motherboard that fits the physical and chip limitations of the computer
  • A new Hard Drive that fits the physical and power limitations of the computer
  • A Harddrive or SSD in the appropriate size (taking into account the connector type)
  • Some new higher capacity/ higher speed ram appropriate for you computer
  • Any replacement parts that need to be installed (e.g. CD/DVD drives, keyboards)

Obviously the availability or ability for you to exchange or change any of these components is dependent on the computer in question.

Important:Before we start, put on your Anti static Wrist strap and remove the battery from your computer if it has one!

Once you have EVERYTHING proceed to the next step.

Step 2: Change Out Your Hardrive

First we will swap out the harddrive, changing out the hard drive will give us more space and even faster speeds. you have two options for hard drives, you can go with a traditional spinning platter hard drive. Because they are cheap and easy to get ahold of. Or you can go with a SSD, a newer type of hard drive that is MUCH faster, SSD's also have no moving parts so they are much more reliable. The catch is they are ALOT more expensive, although they have come down in price dramatically in the last several years, they still are a lot more expensive than traditional hard drives. Its up to you if you want to invest in one.

Changing out the hard drive:

Please be VERY Careful with harddrives, dropping one could VERY EASILY spell the end of your beloved harddrive!

  1. Remove any and all covers or obstructions from the hard drive bay
  2. Carefully Remove the bracket along with the harddrive from the computer, please do not force it as you could break the fragile SATA/ATA connectors.
  3. Remove the hard drive from the bracket and put your replacement harddrive into the bracket.
  4. Place the new hard drive into the computer and carefully connect the SATA/ATA cable/connector.
  5. Replace the harddrive bay cover and boot the computer
  6. While booting go to boot selector by pressing a dedicated key on your keyboard displayed at boot. Check that the SATA/ATA drive you just put in is recognized by the computer.
  7. Shutdown the computer ready for the Ram upgrade

Step 3: Change Out Your Ram

Our Next step is to change out the ram, high capacity ram that you have made sure works with your computer is great. Speed doesn't matter that much in my opinion, especially with these types of machines from such a long time ago. Performance benefits from high speed ram are negligible.

Changing out laptop ram:

  1. Remove any covers on top of the RAM bay
  2. Push the two levers on either side of the ram
  3. Remove the ram gently, trying as much as possible to only touch the sides of the ram modules
  4. Get the new ram and slide it in gently, when the contacts are most hidden push down and wait till you hear a click

Changing out desktop computer ram:

  1. Push the 2 plastic tabs on each side of the ram
  2. Put your fingers on the edges of the ram module and pull up
  3. Hold your new ram module in a similar fashion
  4. Gently push your new ram module into the slot on the motherboard, you can use your hand to help by pushing down on the top
  5. Push down until you hear a click

Step 4: Install Additional Compnents and Clean Up

Now that you have your computer disassembled, it can also be a good idea to have a clean out of the insides. If you've had your computer for awhile, chances are that it now gets a little bit hotter than it used to, and that fan seems to blow loudly all the time. This is because over the years debris and dust have built up on the insides of your computer and are now restricting the thermal performance of the computer in question. Depending on the environment you have had your computer in as well as the computers age the necessity for this step will vary. But to a computer that is actually slowing down itself to keep its temperatures appropriate, a good clean out can be a massive improvement.

Note: If you turn into the human embodiment of Godzilla when getting a little bit of dust in your sinuses, stop now and go and get a dust mask!

Go ahead and remove the back of your laptop and expose as much of the bare PCB as you can, making sure to be cautious while handling the components. Then move to use your compressed air can to blow air over the components and attempt to remove some of the visible dust. Run compressed air through the heat sinks (while holding the fan in place to prevent damage) and get ready for a storm of dust to appear out of seemingly nowhere.

In short blasts of your compressed air can remove blocks of grit and dust in segments and sweep it up into pieces on the side of the case - then move to remove them using a microfiber cloth. Doing this over all componenets of the disassembled computer should get them back to looking spick 'n' span

Follow your computer manufacturers instructions to install and additional components. These instructions can usually be found in the manual. I simply had to install push in my optical drive then reattach a little latch.

Once everything is installed get to work wiping down the computer with a rag, working on the appearance of your computer. Try to remove as much dust as possible! Any stickers on the computer should be removed for better ascetics. If the stickers leave any residue then grab some 99% Isopropyl alcohol and wipe it off. Grab your microfibre cloth and dampen it slightly with water. Then wipe down the screen gently removing any grit or muck. Let it dry then move to the next step!

Step 5: Installing the Operating Sytem

What Operating System do I choose?

This is no easy question to answer, Really it all comes down to personal choice. What operating systems do you: have access to, have experience with, have programs for etc. I have found that personally Windows 10 runs quite well on older hardware due to its smaller footprint - with a small trick to get it till the 28th of June 2016 being to purchase an older windows 7 or 8 license for cheap and run the upgrade to windows 10. But I have also found that some computers running windows 10 is not an option that can be explored and that LINUX is a much more prominent suggestion.

On some older hardware you may find that a lightweight Linux Distro runs amazingly and fulfills everything you require from an operating system while on slightly newer 'old' hardware you may err on the side of a full windows installation for better application and device support. I recommend that you do not run a 'old' operating system such as Windows XP. It's tempting, but support from Microsoft has been dropped and it is vulnerable to many very well known exploits and hacks. Though there are support 'hacks' it is still nowhere near ideal and not always the greatest idea. Do some research and make a educated choice about your OS!

Operating System Suggestions:

Ubuntu - A powerful LINUX based operating system based on Debain with GNOME as the desktop manager. Great support and a great alternative to the more conventional Windows Choice. (Light weight versions available - see Xubuntu and Lubuntu). FREE

Windows 10 - A powerful well supported operating system offered by Microsoft. Though it is not cheap (at least compared to the free options available) it can be a great choice if you require the support that windows offers and you believe the investment of money is justified to that end. It is also much more lightweight than windows 8 or 7, so you may want to consider upgrading if you are in the situation of using either of those. Trial Available, $120.

Windows 7/8 - The earlier versions of Windows, though I discouraged using older operating systems in the above paragraph text, these are still well supported and used around all sorts of industries. Until June 28th 2016 you are able to upgrade your windows 7 or 8 OS to windows 10 for no addition fee through the included system dialogue.

Puppydog Linux - A VERY lightweight OS that runs almost completely in RAM. Takes the emphasis off of special effects in the UI to focus more on high performance and its ability to run to damn near anything. If you are lagging behind with other operating system options this is a great choice that still allows the ability to browse the web and check your emails. FREE

ChromiumOS/CloudReady - Both of these options turn your computer into a chromebook (or at least, allow your computer to be of a similar rugby pitch). Both are also free and great alternatives if you intend to spend most of your time using the internet, checking emails and binge watching something on Netflix. The catch being you have to be connected to the internet to use this to its full potential and you are locked into logging into your google account in most circumstances. FREE

Take your time and consider the above options, as well as looking around for options that may be more appropriate if you are more experienced with Linux, or willing to do a bit of experimentation. This is a place where just trying a few different options (via your trusty 8GB USB stick) can be the best way to make a decision on what is best for you.

Preparing the CD/DVD (Skip if using retail disc):

Download the .iso file for your chosen OS then burn it to a disc or download it to a USB device using the following instructions.

Windows Users: Use the tutorial on Microsofts website

Mac Users: Follow the tutorial here

Installing the Operating System:

  1. Place the disc into the optical drive and start up the computer
  2. Press the key required to 'select boot device' and select the optical drive
  3. Follow the instructions the software gives you to install you chosen OS

Step 6: Enjoy Your Computer

Think about what you just did. You just upgraded your computer with complex electrical components and installed an operating system. Something you might have had no ideas regarding before starting. You have just taken initiative and completed one of the 3 R's, Reusing something that could have become nothing more than another brick in the piles of destruction that litter e-waste recycling sites all around the world. If you have made it this far I congratulate you and wish you the best of luck watching cat videos, checking emails, playing games, finishing homework or whatever else you choose to do with your computer computer. Take a look a user guides for when you first install these operating systems (e.g. Ubuntu, Windows 10) and get familiar with your new computer, it should hopefully serve you well.

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2 Discussions

I have an old 2007 HP Pavilion desktop with AMD Athlon 64 and 3 GB of RAM. How do I know this PC's full potential?

1 more answer

Depends on your expectations. One solution is possibly just to get the components, put your laptop into it's top shape and see if it meets your needs - as the components that I suggest above are generally widely available and cheap (especially now, 3 years on from the writing of this article).

Otherwise, you can look at benchmarks for the exact specification CPU that you have in the applications you are interested as they are usually recorded free of other-system bottlenecks. Most computers (made in the last 10 years) will handle word or excel fine with an SSD and enough RAM.