The Frugal Computer Upgrade

After recently buying a replacement for my old netbook computer this post might come across a bit hypocritical, but I don’t actually throw money at all my computer problems.  For example, our other laptop computer while being ok for most tasks for my wife and the boys was getting a little slow.  But rather than just blindly replacing that computer I decided to do a bit more work and see if I couldn’t fix the issue with a bit less spending than a new machine. (I should point out while I’m the tech guy in my house I’m no where close to an expert, this is merely stuff that isn’t to hard for the average person to try out.)

I used a two stage process to make sure what I was doing would be worthwhile.  First up I did all the free stuff you know you should do on your computer but never seem to get around to doing.  You know, like:

  • Uninstall all the programs you don’t actually use.  If you haven’t used it in a year it is really good candidate to remove.
  • Turn off all the extra features you don’t use on your desktop (for example, a clock on a sidebar when all you do is look at the corner of the screen anyway) and remove all but the essential shortcuts.  Put any files on your desktop into folders.
  • Turn off all the programs that load every time you start the machine, but rarely use.
  • De-fragment the hard drive.
  • Install all those updates you’ve been ignoring, but your computer keeps reminding you to install.  In some cases, those help fix a slow program.

I did all of the above in perhaps an hour or so.  After that there was a noticeable improvement in the computer starting up.  So ya!  At least that was a minor battle won.

Then I started looking at the computer’s stats and realized it was a bit underpowered for RAM with only 2GB (but when you consider I bought the computer for a $1, beggars can’t be picky about the specs).  So I did a bit of research on which RAM I could use and came across this handy little tool on this website which can tell you EXACTLY what kind of RAM you need to buy if you want to upgrade your computer (you can either enter the specs yourself or have it run a little bit of software to tell you want you need).  Yes of course the website recommends their particular brand of RAM, but frankly I don’t care as it saved me hours of pissing around to sort it out myself.

Then I went to Amazon and did a search for 4GB of RAM (two 2GB chips) and found it for just over $60 (which had free shipping).  Then four business days later the RAM arrived at my house.  I had previously upgraded my old desktop computer RAM before, so this wasn’t entirely new territory for me, but I hadn’t do a laptop yet.  But when I pulled off the section where I thought the RAM was located I could find the one chip, but not the other.  Oh crap, now what?

Like any modern person, I just asked Google, which immediately brought up a Utube video showing me how to find the other chip of RAM hidden under the laptop keyboard.  Three screws and four clips later I had the keyboard up and the other RAM chip in sight.  I installed it and put everything back together and tried to turn on the computer…key word tried.

It didn’t boot up at all.  Oh crap! I had a blank screen and my cap and number lock LEDs were blinking at me.  Damn it!  Back to Google and HP’s website which pointed out the lovely three blinks I was getting was because of a memory issue and if you tried to upgrade your RAM you likely didn’t seat it right.  So I took everything back off and pulled out the new chips and put them back in again.  Then crossing my fingers I pushed the power button again.  This time I see the Window’s icon on the screen and I said “It LIVES!” (To which my wife, just laughed).

Then I tried out a few tasks on the machine and noticed it was working much better now.  So for a total of $60 and perhaps 1 hour to uninstall a bunch of software and another hour to piss around and finally get the new RAM working I have a much better computer for the rest of my family to use.  Two hours of my time and $60 is dirt cheap compared to a new laptop (which ran me about $770 if you must know).  So rather than just assuming you need a new computer when your old one starts to slow down, you might want to consider a simple clean up and RAM upgrade instead.

Ok, to all the much more savvy computer people out there…what else would you recommend people do?  Or if you have fixed this issue yourself, what did you do?

10 thoughts on “The Frugal Computer Upgrade”

  1. Replacing the hard drive with an SSD would likely have big bang for the buck, especially at start-up time. It doesn’t have to be much bigger than the amount of disk space you are currently using.

  2. Ok, so any advice for someone with a 1st generation IPad? Can’t watch You Tube any more; and most apps require a newer OS. Mine is 5.0

  3. @ Rick – blame Apple for their forced hardware obselence by restricting software – I have the same issue with an earlier iPod – perfectly good hardware but no software = doorstop (and it isn’t even a good doorstopone) -that’s the reason why I refuse to buy anything Apple – their stance on software is immoral IMO

    @ Tim – you don’t note which OS you are running but if its Windows is probably close to becoming unsupported or is unsupported (if its XP and you’re connecting to the net you want to check the security issues) – maybe Linux can fill the hole (use a Windows emulator (WINE) ) to run those Windows apps that are essential

  4. I want to add a second vote for Ken’s advice – replacing your hard drive with a solid state one (SSD) will provide an enormous speed boost.

    If you have a slightly older Macbook with an optical drive, you can get a neat kit that allows you to replace the optical drive with an SSD, then plug the optical drive into an external drive case and use it over USB.

    Detailed instructions here: https://www.ifixit.com/Guide/Installing+MacBook+Pro+13-Inch+Unibody+Mid+2012+Dual+Hard+Drive/13787

  5. Replacing the hard drives with SSDs was the one upgrade we will always do again. Even being the first thing after we buy a new computer.
    It just adds so much more speed.
    Someone we know was ready to toss their newer cheap slow laptop after the hard drive failed. I put in an SSD and they decided to upgrade their second, same, working computer as well – they were starting to look for a new one because it was too slow to work on before the upgrade.

  6. Hey guys gals people of all ages,

    Last july I bought a chrome book off groupon for 130usd and it is the best general purpose laptop I’ve owned. Dual,cores….usb 3.0 plus 2 more usb slots…Bluetooth…wifi of course…trackpad….11.6″ screen…boots in 7 sec ALWAYS….ultra secure against Trojans and viruses….sd card slot…web cam….32GB ssd but who cares it’s all in the cloud. If I need more storage I have 2 64gb USB 3.0 thumb drives..thin and really light…..multiuser secure sign in does not share data and apps between other users. So it acts like a dumb terminal in some ways. Anyone In the house can log onto the Chromebook via gmail account. now the best part…HDMI out. I use to to stream all movies, TV shows, whateveto the big big screen TV. I can’t get over how good it is. My advice watch the groupons for Chromebook sales. Get one.

  7. Hey Tim,
    Your story is nearly identical to mine. I also wanted to get more life out of my plodding PC and based on Task Manager performance I could see that my RAM was maxing out. The PC is nearly 8 years old now, so using the same (or similar) RAM guide in your article I found out which RAM sticks I could use to double the capacity. I ended up getting used ones on eBay for $17 and the PC is running great again. I made sure to wear rubber gloves when replacing the RAM to counter potential static damage.
    A further RAM upgrade is not possible for the machine, but I’d be most happy even if we just squeeze another year or two out of it.

  8. Wipe the laptop and start clean
    Assuming you have Window 7 install disks step by step here;
    http://www.digitaltrends.com/computing/how-to-reinstall-windows-7-os-pc/

    It’ll run like new because you are reverting it back to its new state. A bit of a pain to reinstall only what is absolutely necessary again – but you will see a huge pickup in performance especially on an older machine that has accumulated years of installed “baggage”.

    Best part is the cost is $0

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