This Old Notebook

SAN FRANCISCO (06/23/2000) - Two classic PC upgrades--adding memory and adding a new hard disk-- will work for notebooks, too. But keep in mind that introducing external add-ons (connected via a parallel port, USB port, or PC Card slot) can extend the life of an old notebook as well.

Chances are your old notebook has plenty of life left. So instead of spending a grand or more on a new one, you could upgrade the old one for a few hundred dollars and have yourself a faster and more useful notebook.

Two popular desktop PC upgrades--memory and hard drive--are (usually) easy to perform on a notebook. You can add RAM to almost any notebook and boost its performance significantly. While notebook manufacturers generally make the modules only for their current models, third-party vendors like Kingston Technology Co. and Simple Technology supply a wider range of upgrade parts.

Slide-in drives simplify adding larger-capacity hard drives to the newest notebooks. Upgrading older models may require more work, but if you're comfortable with the projects we cover in this column, you shouldn't have any problems.

Though RAM and hard drive upgrades for notebooks cost much more than upgrades for standard-issue desktops, they can still be a wise investment. For example, upgrading a Toshiba Satellite Pro notebook from its original 8MB of RAM and 750MB hard drive to a hefty 40MB of RAM (the maximum) and a 6.4GB hard drive cost us US$512 from Kingston and $504 from Simple.

Of course, as illustrated above, external peripherals--simple to install and light in weight--offer another upgrade route.

Two caveats: First, the lack of standardization among portables means you must take time with manufacturers and vendors to tailor your upgrade to your specific notebook and to do some comparison shopping. Vendors' Web sites can help you find the correct parts, even though you may choose not to buy through them. In some cases, you may conclude that the process simply isn't worth the time and effort. Second, consider the following procedures a guide to typical upgrade steps. The actual steps (especially for installing the hard drive) will vary depending on your notebook and on the particular upgrade solution you choose.

Before You Begin

1. Do some research. Find out the amount of RAM in your notebook (watch your display at start-up or right-click My Computer, select Properties, and look on the General tab) and the size of your hard drive (open My Computer, right-click the drive's icon, and select Properties). Check the Web site of your notebook's maker to see whether it has upgrades available. Then visit the Web sites of companies that specialize in upgrades (third-party vendors are likely to be cheaper).

2. Prepare to upgrade. It's an excellent idea (though not essential) to confirm that your notebook's BIOS is up-to-date. Visit the support section of your notebook vendor's Web site. To ensure that your old hard drive is trouble-free (you'll need to copy data from it later), run both ScanDisk (Start*Programs*Accessories*System Tools*ScanDisk) and Disk Defragmenter (Start*Programs*Accessories*System Tools*Disk Defragmenter). Finally, completely back up your hard drive. If you don't have a tape backup for your notebook, back up your data files onto floppy disks.

Adding RAM

1. Find the old RAM and install the new RAM. Don a properly grounded antistatic wrist strap (available at your local electronic parts store), and make sure your notebook is turned off and unplugged from AC power. Remove the battery, too. Follow the instructions that came with your RAM upgrade (or check your notebook's instruction manual) to find the RAM sockets. You may need to remove one or more screws to access it. Carefully remove the new RAM from its antistatic packaging, and install it in your notebook. Make sure it's firmly seated in the socket. Reattach the RAM cover and the battery.

2. Check it out. Turn your notebook on. You should see the new amount of RAM displayed on the screen at start-up. If you don't, go back to the RAM compartment (disconnecting power and using the antistatic guard as before) and make sure the new RAM is correctly installed. If that doesn't help, call tech support.

Installing A New Hard Drive

1. Copy the old to the new. Install the software that came as part of your hard drive upgrade kit, and follow the directions for copying the data from the old drive to the new one.

2. Remove the old drive. Put on a grounded antistatic wrist strap, make sure your notebook is turned off and unplugged, and confirm that the battery is removed. Follow the directions with the upgrade kit to remove the old drive.

This usually entails removing screws.

3. Install the new drive. Working carefully, plug in the new drive and secure it with the screws you removed in the previous step. Replace the battery.

4. Get up and running. Turn your notebook on. If the copying step worked correctly, everything will function as before, but you'll have more disk space.

If your notebook doesn't automatically recognize the new hard drive, enter your notebook's setup program (procedures vary) and make sure the BIOS for the drive is set to AUTO. (In some cases, you'll have to manually enter the drive parameters.)The Top DownBenefits: RAM, better Windows performance; hard drive, greater capacityCosts: 32MB RAM upgrade $75-$150, 64MB RAM upgrade $150-$300, hard drive upgrade (2GB-14GB) $250-$1300Expertise level: IntermediateTime required: RAM, 15-30 minutes; hard drive, 1-2 hoursTools required: Various sizes of Phillips screwdrivers, antistatic wrist strapVendors: Notebook manufacturers (check their Web sites), Kingston Technology (www.kingston.com), Simple Technology (www.simpletech.com), Crucial Technology (www.crucial.com).

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