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Revitalizing an Aging Notebook On the Cheap

timothy posted more than 5 years ago | from the but-I-want-a-wind-instead dept.

Portables 261

jcatcw writes "Brian Nadel's ThinkPad R50 just hit its fifth birthday, and the years haven't been kind to it. When it was new, the notebook was reliable and fast. Now it's slow and prone to annoying shutdowns. Is it a good investment to revamp a notebook that's worth about $350? It sure is, because this old notebook will get a new lease on life for about $125 — a bargain, considering what it could cost to replace." On the other hand, upgrading RAM, keyboard and hard drive don't get you a smaller (netbook-style) computer, a new battery, or the transflective screen on the Toshiba linked above.

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261 comments

Huh? (5, Insightful)

Bombula (670389) | more than 5 years ago | (#23863961)

A 5-year-old notebook is worth $350? I don't think so. Hard for me to pay much attention to the rest of any article that begins that far off base...

Re:Huh? (5, Informative)

White Shade (57215) | more than 5 years ago | (#23864091)

I've noticed that it's next to impossible, via normal channels, to get even old laptops for less than $300.. they may be worth about $1.50, but that doesn't stop people from charging the big bucks for an outdated piece of shit.

It's like craigslist syndrome; no one wants to admit that their ancient worthless crap is actually worthless.

I don't think so (3, Insightful)

FranTaylor (164577) | more than 5 years ago | (#23864485)

My 'outdated piece of shit' is doing just great and I use it every day. The new battery lasts even longer than the original and the tickless 2.6 kernel doesn't hurt, either.

Re:I don't think so (5, Insightful)

alan_dershowitz (586542) | more than 5 years ago | (#23865293)

When you can get a brand new and amazingly more powerful laptop for 400 dollars, five year old laptops are not worth 300 dollars. MOST people by that point sell the laptop rather than spend the money on a new battery, so let's say that I'm looking at one of these used laptops I see everywhere for 300+ dollars. I know that a new battery is going to cost me 80-140 dollars, so why the hell would I buy used when I can get a brand new one for around the same price?

Nope (4, Informative)

FranTaylor (164577) | more than 5 years ago | (#23865503)

I "know" that a new battery cost me $50, and it's even better than the original was.

The used laptop that I paid $300 for, over a year and a half ago, is going for $200 now, and it blows the doors off an eee.

Damn small linux (4, Interesting)

goombah99 (560566) | more than 5 years ago | (#23865689)

I took win 98 off my wife's Pentium 2, 186Mb machine and put on danm small linux. It was like a new machine. boots in under 30 seconds and all the programs with their low graphics usage run snappy. The battery doesn't work and the screen is barely back lit but that doens't matter.

try Damn small. It hardly matters if you boot of CD or HD so just try it out.

Yep! (1)

FranTaylor (164577) | more than 5 years ago | (#23864347)

Go look on ebay before you say that.

Re:Yep! (4, Interesting)

Trespass (225077) | more than 5 years ago | (#23864579)

Go look on ebay before you say that.
No kidding. Picked up a Toshiba Portege M200 convertible tablet there last week for $250 and I couldn't be happier. The prices are so low on new low-end laptops it drives down prices on used machines that often have more features.

The math does not work! (3, Insightful)

EmbeddedJanitor (597831) | more than 5 years ago | (#23865041)

If you sell it on eBay you'll probably get $200. With the extra $125 of upgrades you'll maybe get the same.

Very few buyers will worry about how much RAM etc it has. Most won't pay more than $x unless it has a fast CPU.

If you think that it is worth spending the extra $125 to have a faster machine for yourself, that's fine, but don't try rationalize it with resale value.

Or battery life! (5, Insightful)

jkerman (74317) | more than 5 years ago | (#23863971)

With a few exceptions, battery life just sucks with an aging laptop. and replacement batteries are either used up themselves, insanely expensive, or impossible to find.

Re:Or battery life! (5, Informative)

Bandman (86149) | more than 5 years ago | (#23864319)

I've seen quite a few instructables about how to replace laptop batteries [google.com] yourself.

I'd say the screen quality would be the limiting factor. Dead pixels eventually add up.

If there were a way to get new screens, then this would be the next big way to save money.

Re:Or battery life! (3, Interesting)

Technician (215283) | more than 5 years ago | (#23865119)

I'd say the screen quality would be the limiting factor. Dead pixels eventually add up.

For me that is nothing I have had problems with. Dead batteries and limitations on maximum RAM or the lack of USB ports is tht biggie ones for me.

I have an old, very old, Toshiba Sattelite laptop with Windows 3.1 and a monocorome screen. Dead pixels isn't a problem. Small hard drive, small memory, and no USB is the problem. The external monitor is color.

Next oldest is a CTX 400 laptop. Again the screen is fine. The limitations again is it is maxxed out at full capacity of 72 Meg of EDO memory and no USB. It is running it's original Windows 95 due to the lack of RAM. I use it with MIDI and my keyboard and GPS due to the built in MPU-401 port and RS-232 port. It makes a great GPS topo map display as 2D graphics isn't memory intensive.

My newest laptop is also fairly ancient a Thinkpad T21. It is maxxed out again in the memory department at 512 Meg. It only has 1 USB port. I run Ubuntu Dapper Drake as an upgrade from Windows 2K professional on it and am quite happy, but I expect to outgrow it soon. Again Pixel death is not a problem. I have replaced the cold cathode lamp. They are only $20, but you need some serious soldering skill before attempting it. The lamp is fragile, toothpick thin, and the leads need trimmed to fit. Lamp replacement is not for the faint of heart.

Max memory capacity, dead batteries, lack of modern USB, and a dying lamp on older laptops are the problems faced by me, not dead pixels.

Is there a manufacture that had a problem with pixels that die?

Re:Or battery life! (2, Informative)

Dahamma (304068) | more than 5 years ago | (#23865223)

I'd say the screen quality would be the limiting factor. Dead pixels eventually add up.

Since when??

I finally replaced an almost 5 year old Inspiron 8600. The keyboard was sticking, the mouse buttons barely worked, the drive was way too small, the battery lasted 1/2 as long as it used to, the graphics were painful for modern games, and the CPU was showing its age - but the 15.4" 1920x1080 display was as amazing as the day I got it (and still better than most new laptop displays... why is it so hard to find displays that good any more?)

Re:Or battery life! (0, Flamebait)

Jor-Al (1298017) | more than 5 years ago | (#23865341)

5 year old Inspiron 8600.

but the 15.4" 1920x1080 display
So you had a laptop with 1920x1080 display years before the WUXGA standard even came about? Can I have a ride in your time machine too?

Re:Or battery life! (1)

FranTaylor (164577) | more than 5 years ago | (#23864329)

You apparently don't know about sitee called 'ebay' or 'google'. I have several old laptops and batteries are very easy to find. They even have more capacity than the originals.

Head in the sand (1)

FranTaylor (164577) | more than 5 years ago | (#23865575)

"Replacement batteries are either used up themselves, insanely expensive, or impossible to find."

Or $50 brand new, better than the original, and available all over the place. It just depends on whether you actually bother to look first.

EEE (0, Troll)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#23863989)

Old computers suck, get an EEE PC
\thread

Those "horseless carriages" people mentioning... (4, Funny)

SilentChris (452960) | more than 5 years ago | (#23863991)

I also heard if you tie hundreds of horses together your cart may run as fast as a Ferrari (and it'd be cheaper too)! Oats cost nothing compared to the price of gas these days...

Re:Those "horseless carriages" people mentioning.. (5, Funny)

Obfuscant (592200) | more than 5 years ago | (#23864389)

I also heard if you tie hundreds of horses together your cart may run as fast as a Ferrari...

Been there, done that.

Your cart goes as fast as the fastest horse can run, minus a bit since he's now dragging the cart AND the other horses.

The vet bills to fix the broken legs of the horses that are slower outweighs the cost savings. RoHS prevents the simple solution to a broken leg.

Like Larry the Cable Guy says: I heard the right thing to do when your horse breaks its leg is to shoot it. So I did. Now I have a horse with a broken leg and a gunshot wound.

Should've upgraded (2, Interesting)

AKAImBatman (238306) | more than 5 years ago | (#23864001)

On the other hand, upgrading RAM, keyboard and hard drive don't get you a smaller (netbook-style) computer, a new battery, or the transflective screen on the Toshiba linked above.

Amen. Not to mention that the plastic casing is almost certainly weaker than a new laptop, making it more susceptible to damage. Just pay the $1099 and get a new MacBook. You'll get the latest in WiFi and Bluetooth capabilities, a beautiful TFT screen, a fast dual-core processor, plenty of RAM, a battery that's new, battery life that his 5 yr old laptop could only dream about when it was new, a massive hard disk, a multi-touch touchpad (cue nipple-warriors), and a better operating system. All in all, a pretty good deal. ;-)

Re:Should've upgraded (3, Informative)

Darkness404 (1287218) | more than 5 years ago | (#23864129)

Or you know, buy one of those EEE PCs for $350...

Re:Should've upgraded (2, Insightful)

AKAImBatman (238306) | more than 5 years ago | (#23864163)

If you're stingy and don't need a lot of power, sure. Personally, I would go mad trying to use one of those things. :-P

Re:Should've upgraded (1)

Darkness404 (1287218) | more than 5 years ago | (#23864345)

Well, yah. But between either a 5 year old huge notebook or an EEE PC for the same price, I would take the EEE.

Re:Should've upgraded (1)

LandDolphin (1202876) | more than 5 years ago | (#23865381)

"It's been 11 minutes since you last successfully posted a comment Chances are, you type faster then one word per minute"

lol, I got a good laugh form that.

Re:Should've upgraded (1)

Shrubbman (3807) | more than 5 years ago | (#23864185)

Nipples rock! It's the best part of my old Compaq LTE 5300

Side note, just for kicks I'm running SD->CF->2.5 IDE adapters instead of a hard drive in it, and with the passive heatsink on the P1 in that sucker that thing runs SILENT. Screen's in surprisingly good condition given its age. A bit annoying when it comes to installing an OS on it though, what with it pre-dating bootable CD-ROMs and all...

Re:Should've upgraded (4, Insightful)

oodaloop (1229816) | more than 5 years ago | (#23864247)

He's looking to upgrade on the cheap, and your recommendation is "just buy a new mac"? Somehow, I don't think he'll be taking that piece of advice.

You obviously aren't too concerned with processing power, hard drive size, or the latest gee-whiz features if you're interested in upgrading an old machine. An Asus Eee or similar MID might be a little closer to what you're looking for. All the portability and simplicity you're used to, without all the heartache.

Re:Should've upgraded (3, Insightful)

AKAImBatman (238306) | more than 5 years ago | (#23864897)

The way I see it, there's no real reason to throw good money after bad. If he needs a better laptop, shell out the dough and get a better laptop. Don't screw around with a money pit or you'll end up shelling out just as much in the long run. (Need a new battery? Oops. More money. LCD backlight getting dim? More money. Need Wifi? Keep bleeding.) Even worse, you'll have all kinds of weird dongles hanging out just to upgrade to support modern features like Wifi and Bluetooth. (Assuming he doesn't already have the optical disc and floppy drive dongling. :-P)

Nope. (2, Interesting)

FranTaylor (164577) | more than 5 years ago | (#23865315)

Ha ha ha.

New battery is $50. 802.11g wireless card is $30 and goes in the mini-PCI slot where the useless modem was. No dongles. You're the one with the dongle if you want to plug in your GPS.

Screen, backlight, and DVD drive still work great. Old case has nice texture instead of sexy new shiny finish that attracts scratches and fingerprints.

You've spent at least $600 and have a laptop that smells like a chemical factory. I've spend $400 and have a laptop and $200 left in my pocket.

Re:Nope. (1, Insightful)

AKAImBatman (238306) | more than 5 years ago | (#23865473)

New battery is $50.

I would be mighty impressed if you got a NEW battery for a 5 year old laptop for only $50. Batteries for older hardware get more expensive over time, not less.

802.11g wireless card is $30 and goes in the mini-PCI slot where the useless modem was. No dongles.

Except for that huge antenna sticking out. And the majority of older laptops would have to go the PCMCIA route, which is both expensive and requires more to stick out.

You've spent at least $600 and have a laptop that smells like a chemical factory. I've spend $400 and have a laptop and $200 left in my pocket.

I've spent at least $600 and have a piece of hardware which will serve me well over the next five years and keeps up with my computing needs. You've spent $200 for something that is likely to be unreliable and will continue to drain money from you, albeit not up front.

Re:Should've upgraded (1, Flamebait)

GuyverDH (232921) | more than 5 years ago | (#23864395)

Oh yeah, and you, and if you act fast, you can get a whopping 32k color screen to boot...

Oh wait...

No I don't recall what the actual color limit was, I just remember reading that new line of Mac LCD screens had appeared to revert to pseudo-color emulation using some very small subset of typically available colors...

Re:Should've upgraded (3, Informative)

nxtw (866177) | more than 5 years ago | (#23864785)

No I don't recall what the actual color limit was, I just remember reading that new line of Mac LCD screens had appeared to revert to pseudo-color emulation using some very small subset of typically available colors...


This is actually true of most LCDs under 24", and increasingly, LCDs under 30". Cheap TN screens [wikipedia.org] are present in almost all laptops and consumer level PC monitors. What are the disadvantages? Most (if not all) are natively 6-bit per color (instead of 8-bit per color). Viewing angles are poor compared to higher quality IPS or PVA/MVA/CPA panels. But response times are typically better, so "high-end" TN panels are popular with gamers.

Not too long ago, panel sizes like 20" 1600x1200 and 24" 1920x1200 were non-TN, but this has changed. The current 20" iMac uses a TN screen - the previous model did not, causing a decrease in picture quality.

Still, bigger LCD panels aren't TN for at least one good reason. The viewing angles would be unacceptable in many environments.

Re:Should've upgraded (1)

SuperQ (431) | more than 5 years ago | (#23865035)

Worse yet, some models may have a random selection of which type of panel you will get.

Thankfully a bit of research will let you know what type of panel is used for a screen you may want.

Re:Should've upgraded (-1, Troll)

GuyverDH (232921) | more than 5 years ago | (#23865491)

Thanks to whichever of my freaks that follow me around doing personal attacks did this one - or was it just some ass-hat Macboy?

Either way - I wouldn't take any apple product if I was paid to use it - they are crap - shoddy construction, over-priced, over-restrictive pieces of garbage.

That is all.....

Re:Should've upgraded (1)

everphilski (877346) | more than 5 years ago | (#23865037)

I'd take the Thinkpad. Thinkpad hardware is better than Apple hardware by a long shot. Plus no one will be questioning my sexuality.

I was using a 10 year old Thinkpad up until 6 months ago. They are rock solid machines.

Re:Should've upgraded (1)

AKAImBatman (238306) | more than 5 years ago | (#23865589)

I was using a 10 year old Thinkpad up until 6 months ago. They are rock solid machines.

It's funny, because my experience has always been the opposite. When I was supporting those laptops, we had MORE failures with Thinkpads than with any other laptop we worked with. Yet the business folks kept demanding them because they were "fit for an executive".

Plus no one will be questioning my sexuality.

Question all you want. I have work to do, which my Apple will get done a lot better than any Thinkpad I've ever used. (Speaking from personal experience of just having had my MacBook handy while stuck on the tarmac for three hours. I love the battery life on these new units, too.)

No Way! (1)

FranTaylor (164577) | more than 5 years ago | (#23865159)

My old Compaq laptop's plastic case is WAY stronger and WAY less susceptible to scratches than any of the new laptops I've used or seen. It's 6 years old and looks like brand new.

It has WiFi, who cares about Bluetooth.

My old laptop has battery life that it would not have dreamed about when it was new because the new battery ($50) has significantly more capacity than the original and the 2.6 tickless kernel uses way less power than any OS from back then.

The better OS is free! Why spend money on Vista?

My laptop cost $300 and it runs Google Earth and Firefox 3 almost as well as my gnarly Opteron workstation. With the extra $700 my wife and I can have a lot more fun than one can have with a new MacBook!

Re:Should've upgraded (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#23865459)

Just pay the $1099 and get a new MacBook. You'll get the latest in WiFi and Bluetooth capabilities, a beautiful TFT screen, a fast dual-core processor, plenty of RAM, a battery that's new, battery life that his 5 yr old laptop could only dream about when it was new, a massive hard disk,
... and a DVD/CDRW combo drive. Seriously, what's the deal with Apple not including a DVD burner in their $1100 notebook? Also, "plenty of RAM" and "a massive hard disk" seem like exaggerations to me, since it comes with 1GB of RAM and a 120GB hard disk. Lastly, the MacBook's white color makes it look like a Fisher-Price toy. (The brown Zune looks elegant in comparison.) The black MacBook looks much better, but costs $1500.

a multi-touch touchpad (cue nipple-warriors),
Since TFAuthor has been using his ThinkPad's nipple for five years, he's less likely to be impressed by the MacBook's touchpad. Also, the MacBook's chicklet keyboard is going to be a huge step down from the ThinkPad's keyboard (especially for a writer).

All in all, a pretty good deal. ;-)
TFAuthor obviously likes his ThinkPad enough to extend its life beyond five years. If you're going to recommend a "pretty good deal" for a new computer, I think he'd be better off with a new ThinkPad R series [lenovo.com], which start at $572 (15.4") and $660 (14.1") and come with many more options than a MacBook.

not much of an upgrade (1, Insightful)

gEvil (beta) (945888) | more than 5 years ago | (#23864057)

So he added some memory and doubled his hard drive size (I don't really count replacing the keyboard as an "upgrade"). He made no mention of the battery, which any 5 year old laptop will need a new one of. That in itself will be about 50-75% of his $125 upgrade budget.

Battery? (4, Insightful)

b0bby (201198) | more than 5 years ago | (#23864059)

No mention of a new battery - I know my battery is useless after less than 4 years, I only get 5 mins now. At over $100, though, it's not worth it to me to replace. I'm always near a power supply. Add the $125 he spent, plus $125 for a battery, & you're only $150 away from a new Dell. Just sayin'...

Re:Battery? (1)

Bandman (86149) | more than 5 years ago | (#23864557)

Have you thought about changing the cells yourself [summet.com]?

I've heard of people doing it, but I don't know anyone who has, so I couldn't tell you anything about it.

If it works and you don't blow yourself up, let us know :-)

Re:Battery? (2, Insightful)

mustafap (452510) | more than 5 years ago | (#23865027)

>If it works and you don't blow yourself up, let us know

Unfortunately when it does fail he wont be able to get back and tell you, because it will have burnt his house down with him in it.

I just did some work on my thinkpad (5, Interesting)

damn_registrars (1103043) | more than 5 years ago | (#23864065)

I am a cheapskate that also owns a thinkpad R-series (an R32, to be more specific). I just dropped about $60-70 in parts (more when you include shipping) to replace a crack in the LCD bezel.

I almost gave up on it, and replaced it with a new unit, until I realized just how well my 7-year-old thinkpad still runs. I've seen my colleagues replace numerous dell, apple, and HP laptops in this time. This notebook has been in 4 countries, 3 provinces, and over a dozen US states with me. Its on its third battery, but thats not bad for its age. I bought it when I was finishing my 4-year degree, and its still with me now, over halfway into my PhD.

And when I realized that I would spend over $1,000 to get a new thinkpad with the options I wanted, I realized that my repair was a great investment. And of course the IBM (lenovo) website has all the documents you need to completely disassemble your laptop (and put it back together, too).

Unless you have extra money - and I'm guessing you don't, since you bought an R-series - you would be wise to put some money into refurbishing your laptop. You'll be glad you did.

Re:I just did some work on my thinkpad (2, Funny)

MadFarmAnimalz (460972) | more than 5 years ago | (#23864501)

I almost gave up on it, and replaced it with a new unit, until I realized just how well my 7-year-old thinkpad still runs.

My punch cards never stopped working also, so like you I never saw the sense in upgrading.

What is an LCD by the way?

Re:I just did some work on my thinkpad (1)

damn_registrars (1103043) | more than 5 years ago | (#23864595)

My punch cards never stopped working also, so like you I never saw the sense in upgrading.

Ahh, yes. I see your humor. I should have added:

My 7-year-old thinkpad still runs everything I need.

It already has 1 gb of RAM, an 80 gb HD, wired and wireless networking, and can burn CDs (or even better, write to my USB flash drive).

I don't need a blazing fast system for presentations and email. I have a desktop that does the heavy number-crunching (and a cluster for even heavier). I don't care about windows vista, it is completely irrelevant to me. Same with Doom 3, Half-Life of any iteration, or any other popular game released in the past 3 years.

Maybe when Duke Nukem Forever comes out, I'll then consider buying a new laptop. Or maybe I'll just run it on our cluster instead...

Re:I just did some work on my thinkpad (1)

Abcd1234 (188840) | more than 5 years ago | (#23864961)

And when I realized that I would spend over $1,000 to get a new thinkpad with the options I wanted, I realized that my repair was a great investment.

Except, of course, you still don't have the options you wanted.

That's not to say it wasn't a good investment for you, but to compare it to a new laptop and claim it's a bargain is a little silly.

Thinkpad T21 (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#23864967)


My T21 works fine running under Kubuntu at the present and does exactly what I need it to do (it has a wireless card).

Over the last 6 years, I might have put in less than 100$ into it.

If I can find a 2nd hand laptop for under $350, I might look into but I have no need right now.

So let me laugh at your 'old' R50.

In our house we have a good desktop, a good laptop, and one old laptop and old desktop.

If the old laptop dies, it still gives me plenty of time to look around without going into a foolish purchase.

Re:I just did some work on my thinkpad (1)

robogun (466062) | more than 5 years ago | (#23865421)

Any issues with ports and connectors wearing out? On my 2003-era R40 I have lost the rear USB port, the side one is flaky, the LAN port is non-op.

Also, the case is experiencing cracking.

Other than that, it's been great. The Centrino is actually half a Core2Duo and this one has SXGA.

Investment (4, Insightful)

Rinisari (521266) | more than 5 years ago | (#23864107)

The best investment you can make is to give that laptop to some enterprising person and tell them to make a blog or site and give you the a percentage of the profits.

You might even be better of simply donating the laptop to charity and deducting the donation from your taxes.

If you really need it for some reason or cannot possibly afford something newer, consider putting Xubuntu, Puppy, or some other lightweight OS on there.

Re:Investment (1)

Bandman (86149) | more than 5 years ago | (#23864587)

I know someone who used his otherwise-junk laptop as the controller for his X10 lights.

At work, I have one that I use as a nagios display sometimes. I've pretty much stopped, since the energy used is wasted, but the idea is there.

If the screen is ok, there are lots of interesting possibilities.

Wow..... (5, Insightful)

mr_nazgul (1290102) | more than 5 years ago | (#23864133)

I've been working on and in PC's for years and have never seen THAT bad a clog. Big dust bunnies are the worst I've seen...

Where the hell did this laptop go? It looks like it sucked up a ferret (look at the page 5 gallery).
http://www.computerworld.com/action/article.do?command=viewArticleBasic&articleId=9096720&pageNumber=5 [computerworld.com]

Re:Wow..... (1)

gEvil (beta) (945888) | more than 5 years ago | (#23864219)

Seriously. I'm not sure I believe that's what was in his laptop. It almost looks like he rolled up the crap he found under his bed and dropped it onto his computer before taking the picture. I mean, isn't the dust that cakes up inside a computer usually a whole lot less billowy? Especially considering all of that was supposedly in a flat/narrow space.

Re:Wow..... (1)

basscomm (122302) | more than 5 years ago | (#23865217)

Do you work in a clean room or something? Most non-tech folks that I know don't realize you're supposed to open your computer and clear out the gunk once in a while, and where I work folks regularly bring in computers to be repaired that haven't been moved from underneath their desks since they bought them. You'd be amazed how much dirt [com.com] will pile up in five or more years if the computers haven't been moved. Less if they're in a particularly filthy environment.

Re:Wow..... (1)

SoylentRed (1246018) | more than 5 years ago | (#23865333)

I wish I had taken pictures of the computers that were in a machine/welding/fabrication type of shop. We had just a regular maintenance call to clean them out every 12 months... (they needed it every 3.) The entire inside was coated with 1/4 inch of a fine rust colored dust... it was REALLY unbelievable the machines were running so smoothly... it was the only tech clean-up job I've done where I ended up just filthy...

Yuck.... (1)

RDanW (1293566) | more than 5 years ago | (#23864159)

Was this guy living with a pack of dogs and using his fan guard as a lint filter? That before picture is bad...

Re/Install OS (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#23864169)

Windows tends to get bogged down with crap if not reinstalled every couple years or so. Of course there's always Ubuntu.

Re:Re/Install OS (1)

boristdog (133725) | more than 5 years ago | (#23864561)

Ubuntu revitalized my old laptop. Now I use it as my primary "desktop" machine (since the battery lasts less than an hour) and use my new machine as a portable.

Back up your important stuff, wipe it and load up the Ubuntu. It will be like a new machine.

Bad idea? (4, Insightful)

eebra82 (907996) | more than 5 years ago | (#23864173)

Is it a good investment to revamp a notebook that's worth about $350?
Not if you've been paying any attention lately. Nowadays, notebooks are so cheap that it's barely reasonable to upgrade them periodically.

I think the question is interesting, but really, to get an old laptop working again, you must still walk around with something that looks and feels aged, since the casing is torn, the monitor is far from what it used to be (LCD and TFT quality wears out after some time) and the keyboard is probably not what it used to be either.

Why not just spend $500 on a new computer, such as the Asus Eee or MSI Wind? You're definitely getting more performance out of it, plus the benefits of WiFi, Bluetooth, etc.

Re:Bad idea? (4, Funny)

Legion_SB (1300215) | more than 5 years ago | (#23864265)

Don't tell him to get a Wind! The last thing I need is more people trying to buy up all of the initial stock...

New is not so cheap! (2, Insightful)

FranTaylor (164577) | more than 5 years ago | (#23864651)

New Asus eee is 900 MHz. Old Compaq Evo N610C is 2.4 GHz. The Compaq has a much bigger screen, same RAM, twice the disk and goes for half the price.

Re:Bad idea? (1)

Isaac-1 (233099) | more than 5 years ago | (#23864735)

Because the EEE is not the answer for everything, I would much rather have my old 3.3 pound Compaq M300 than a 2 pound EEE PC 900. Sure the EEE is small and sexy, but have you tried to type on one? We have some we are deploying at work, and I compared them side by side, the older, slightly slower Compaq wins hands down. (of course the M300 was a $4,000 computer when new)

Re:Bad idea? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#23864849)

Funny, I was just weighing the decision to do something similar today. I have an IBM 240x, the very sexy "ultraportable" that's vintage 2000. It's got a PIII 500MHz, 192 MB RAM, and 6 GB of disk. Before you guys start, consider the purpose: I travel around the world at least twice a year, go to a bunch of developing countries for various vacations---see the world before the tourists get there (such places still exist)---and I still have to code a tiny bit and write emails, and oh, update my flickrstream.

Several considerations come to mind, perhaps all psychological:

1. LOW ATTACHMENT. As much as I've loved sporting and using this machine over the years, I wouldn't feel terribly bad, at least in my wallet, about losing it to theft, damage, or ignorant officious customs agents foreign or domestic on a trip as long as I'd backed up to a USB key or S3, whereas I might if I got one of the latest Atom-based EeePCs. Don't start about encryption and all. It goes without saying.

2. FRUGALITY. I just need a bigger disk to run Ubuntu Hardy and one or two new high-capacity batteries. Total: about USD 100. I already have a wireless card that works fine. It goes with the spirit of doing a lot more with a lot less. And to quote a Wendy's commercial, parts is parts. The cost is still tax-deductible, at least for me.

3. COOL. I like seeing how much I can do with an 8 year old machine that still travels well, and really has been around the world with me already. I remember being at a conference in 1998, and meeting one of the speakers. He was really quite brilliant, but was still carrying around and using a ThinkPad with a 486, barely able to run X11, giving his presentations with the thing. I say, go ahead, be a geek. Sometimes it's cooler to have older tech that's got character, especially if it serves.

Yep - not impressed by the article at all myself! (2, Insightful)

King_TJ (85913) | more than 5 years ago | (#23864899)

Honestly, the IBM (now Lenovo) Thinkpads are probably one of the few models of laptops that *may* make a little sense to "refurbish", to get more life out of them.

Their utilitarian, black plastic cases tend to take more abuse than most before really looking "worn out" or "old". (No fancy silver paint to flake off, or aluminum shells to get dents or real obvious scratches in them, etc.) I've also noticed that batteries for most of them can be had for less money than many other brands.

At the same time, much of their userbase tends to be people not interested in flashy "extras". They just need a reliable "not too thin/breakable" portable to connect to the Internet with, edit documents, and other such basics.

But even given all of THAT, I'd question the point to the whole thing. I mean, do we need this article to tell us the common sense that "Hey, if you upgrade your system's hard drive and RAM, it'll run as much as 30% faster!" ??

Yeah, that's been true for pretty much every computer, laptop or desktop, throughout history... and it's often a good idea to do during the *viable life* of the system (first 1-3 years of use). After that, the cost/benefits tilt towards just buying a whole new machine, if you're feeling the need to spend ANY more money on the one you've got.

Re:Bad idea? (1)

Omestes (471991) | more than 5 years ago | (#23865247)

...you must still walk around with something that looks and feels aged, since the casing is torn, the monitor is far from what it used to be (LCD and TFT quality wears out after some time) and the keyboard is probably not what it used to be either.

Who really cares how it looks?

If your just using it is a work-book then the LCD quality isn't that important. Excel will be ugly even using some nice 32bit/pixel wonder display.

Keyboards are a problem, but he replaced it. My old iBook was missing both the ;, and the w key, both of which were super glued back on (not pretty, but functional), the touchpad was completely toasted (who uses a touch pad?), I had one or two dead, or terminally stuck pixels. But I still kept it around since it worked, no point in replacing something functional, just because it's old, or not aesthetically pleasing.

The only down side I see is the old processor, which isn't that big an issue if you stick to XP, or throw Ubuntu on it. That, outside of critical failure, is the only thing that dates computers.

What happened to the days of geeks sitting on 500 old, but functional, computers and finding new uses for them? For $100 bucks, you really can't refuse refurbing it, wait a week or so, and then ALSO get an EeePC, double win.

Uh, only five years? (1)

Cthefuture (665326) | more than 5 years ago | (#23864201)

I have a 6 year old Dell C840, 2.2 Ghz P4M, 1GB RAM, nVidia graphics, built-in wireless, 1600x1200 screen. It's still going strong and I still use it as my primary rig when doing remote consulting jobs.

Sure it's big and bulky compared to modern comps but it's got a damn nice screen and enough horsepower to run VMware and everything else I need.

The only problem is the battery is shot to hell and can only hold a charge for maybe 10 minutes. I normally have somewhere to plug in so I haven't bothered replacing it.

It makes sense for quality notebooks (2, Interesting)

Isaac-1 (233099) | more than 5 years ago | (#23864211)

Refurbishment makes sense for higher quality notebooks. My grab and go travel notebook is a loaded out (max memory, 80 gig HD) nearly 10 year old Compaq M300, it weighs in at 3.3 pounds has a magnesium case, and quality construction. The P3-500 is fast enough to browse the web, play youtube videos, and all that other basic stuff. Best yet I only have about $300 invested in it, so if it breaks I am not out much. Sure I could spend $1500 on a similared sized high quality replacement, but do I really need all those extra wasted clock cycles. And if I did spend $1500 on it, would I treat it like this grab and go, toss it around, leave it in the open in motel rooms while I am away, etc.

Benefits to upgrading ... (4, Insightful)

MacTO (1161105) | more than 5 years ago | (#23864233)

Three reasons to upgrade, rather than replacement:

1. It could be cheaper. He was talking about a hard drive and memory here, both of which can offer a slight boost in functionality, which is all that some people need.

2. It may be easier. If you're only talking about upgrading the RAM, then you get to bypass the joys of installing software and reconfiguring your working environment.

3. You may have trouble getting the features you need. Have an old printer that you don't want to replace? Need a serial port on the road, but don't want to carry an adapter?

4. It just may be more environmentally friendly. It takes energy to manufacture goods. It takes time and energy to dispose of hazardous waste.

Upgrading doesn't always makes sense. But sometimes it does make sense. So why criticize people who take that less travelled path?

Re:Benefits to upgrading ... (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#23864599)

I think what people are criticizing is the somewhat ridiculous comparison to a brand-new top-of-the-line ultraportable.

Fast/noisy fan + random shutdowns (1)

Kingston (1256054) | more than 5 years ago | (#23864307)

prone to annoying shutdowns ..its fan sounds like a 747 taking off
It's because your cpu heatsink vanes are clogged with dust. Old Toshibas suffer worst from this. Mr vacuum to the rescue.

Stripped down OS's like Xubuntu! (1)

DontLickJesus (1141027) | more than 5 years ago | (#23864313)

I spent a couple years reviving old Dell Inspiron P2&3's, and I have to say that this OS has been the greatest thing since sliced bread. Extremely fast, lightweight, well supported with drivers, it has it all. Now with Wine 1.0 being released there's very little argument not to try this Linux brew. If you're not into Linux might I suggest grabbing your XP key with Jellybean and installing TinyXP or a similar stripped down version. Often you can get everything you need out of these versions save a few enterprise or development perks.

Last, but not least, spending the money on a really fast USB thumb drive and throwing your swap/page file onto the drive can give a real performance boost. I will most likely get flamed for this suggestion, however in my experience it works.

Insurance (1, Interesting)

Amphetam1ne (1042020) | more than 5 years ago | (#23864373)

Backup essential data, throw down stairs, claim on home insurance accidental damage policy, pay excess, get new laptop.

Works for me.

Firefox 3! (1)

FranTaylor (164577) | more than 5 years ago | (#23864411)

My old laptop (Compaq Evo N610c) runs like cold molasses with XP, but with a 2.6 kernel, a nice new hard drive, and Firefox 3, it runs just great.

Just get a new one (2, Insightful)

InlawBiker (1124825) | more than 5 years ago | (#23864433)

You can get a modern, dual-core laptop that will run XP or Linux like a dream for under $500 these days. It's hardly worth dropping money on an older one.

Set it aside and install Linux on it and use it for a download, firewall, torrent, web, development, java, gcc, proxy, cvs, - whatever - server. A working computer you can hack around on is always worth something.

Can't hold a candle to my Thinkpad 600E (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#23864477)

http://www.schleppingsquid.net/DJSath/thinkpad01.jpg
http://www.schleppingsquid.net/DJSath/thinkpad02.jpg

No longer runs Gentoo...but now it rocks DSL!

I have a 6 year old laptop... (1)

ForestGrump (644805) | more than 5 years ago | (#23864481)

I have a 6 year old Dell Insp 8100.(1 gig p3, 512 meg ram, radeon 7500 1600x1200 display).

It's served me well over the years and it still does most anything I need (web, email, videos). I
LOVE the high resolution display and most of the laptops I see for under 750 have lesser displays. Dell warranty replaced the hindges about 3 years ago when the thing "blew up." Today, the hindges are as floppy as a 5.25in floppy.

Is there a way to replace the hindges for cheap instead of buying a new laptop to solve this problem?

Thanks,
Grump

Fix those hinges! (1)

FranTaylor (164577) | more than 5 years ago | (#23864929)

Look around on ebay. If you can't find the hinges, buy a dead one for a few dollars and cannibalize the hinges.

Download the service manual, it gives step-by-step instructions on how to replace anything.

Use it for what it is (2, Insightful)

syousef (465911) | more than 5 years ago | (#23864517)

Sure, you can drop some money on a hard drive and RAM. That is if the notebook will take them. You may well run into memory compatibility problems or a hard drive size limit in the bios. Finding the right kind of RAM and drive may even mean having to spend big depending on where you live.

Much better to spend the money on a new machine. If you have plenty of spare time clean up the old one and use it for a picture frame. It'll be cheaper and likely have more space. Isn't this the accepted non-geek use for an old laptop? If you have LOTS of spare time, consider using it for a geeky project like controlling a robot. Serial ports use to be standard on laptops but now you have to buy USB->serial adapters. So for some things the old laptop is actually better and cheaper to use. You could even consider donating it to your local club. (I almost donated an old laptop to my r/c flying club. With a serial connected hardware module it could be used to monitor for r/c interference. In the end I decided against it because most of the guys at the club would rather have nothing to do with a computer on a Saturday morning).

Indeed, use it as a computer! (1)

FranTaylor (164577) | more than 5 years ago | (#23864877)

No problems with BIOS limitations if you put the /boot partition on the beginning of the big fat drive.

No memory compatibility issues if you do your homework.

Spare parts are WAY cheap on ebay. You can fix the broken keyboard or the flakey trackpad for just a couple of dollars.

New batteries are $50 if you look and they work even better than the originals.

Full service manuals are available for download from the manufacturers. A couple of tiny screwdrivers and a clean place to work, and that old clunker is better than new.

A 2002 laptop is made in Taiwan from from better plastic that doesn't stink like the new Chinese laptops.

I used to laugh at old laptops until I bought one and now I use it every day. The best part is that I don't worry about it getting stolen, I can buy a whole stack of them for what a new one costs.

True geek (1)

mac1235 (962716) | more than 5 years ago | (#23864605)

Some say the hard disk is half full. Some say the hard disk is half empty. A true geek upgrades anyway.

I bought a used T42... (1)

aaaaaaargh! (1150173) | more than 5 years ago | (#23864657)

...and put Ubuntu 8.04 on it. I'm using it everyday for work and have never been so satisfied with a computer before. (And that's after I've been using Macs for 15 years.) I'd say it's definitelty worth instead of some el cheapo laptop. However, I don't think it replaces any of the new netbooks, as they are much smaller, lighter, a bit faster and come with SSD. BTW, Thinkpads are very well supported under Ubuntu. Actually mine boots as fast as OS X on my 2Ghz Dual Core iMac and the GUI feels snapier.

Dear Slashot (2, Funny)

DetpackJump (1219130) | more than 5 years ago | (#23864841)

I keep shoving hair into the fan intake of my laptop and now it's not running properly. What am I doing wrong?

Flash drive? (4, Informative)

stickyc (38756) | more than 5 years ago | (#23865049)

An old laptop like that isn't going to be good for much else than browsing/email anyhow, so why not replace the drive with a CF card and laptop IDE-CF adapter. Adapters can be had on ebay for ~$5. CF cards are pretty cheap - You can run XP on a 4GB card pretty well and Win2k or linux variants on 2GB easily. Write times aren't all that great (avoid super-low memory environments where there'll be a lot of swapping), but read times are great and battery life will be much improved (which is a big deal on slower older laptops), plus they're lighter and run cooler.

The write cycle failure time on most CF cards is so long, you should get at least a few more years of use out of it (and CF cards will be that much cheaper by then). Even then, from what I understand, write cycle failures are just that - a failure to write. You can get a new drive, copy the contents to the new drive and be good to go.

Now that he's updated it... (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#23865079)

I'll give him $40 for it. That's about what it's worth.

Re:Now that he's updated it... (1)

FranTaylor (164577) | more than 5 years ago | (#23865669)

Then why are you not making lots of money on ebay, buying laptops for $40 and selling them for $300?

Must go 7200rpm hard drive (1)

invisik (227250) | more than 5 years ago | (#23865251)

The hard drive is the most time-consuming part to replace, as you have to reinstall your OS and applications at the same time. Always go the best/fastest on it. I threw a 7200rpm in my X31 and it's a noticible difference in speed, while not much different on battery life. Good stuff.

-m

Refresh a T20 and then get back to us (1)

birukun (145245) | more than 5 years ago | (#23865509)

'Refresh' an R50?

Try eliminating the spyware first. Total cost for 28% faster = $0.

I just wiped clean a T20 for my wife, added 128MB RAM to get up to 256M and loaded XP.

Works great, and the screen is nice.

Cost:
Free T20 that was getting tossed - $0
128MB from Craigslist - $5
XP license from long-gone neighbor's computer - $0
Orinoco Silver Combo card from the old days - $0

I spent $5.

OK, it took me a couple of hours to load XP and all the goodies, but I have a solid laptop that plays DVDs, burns CDs, browses the web (wired or wireless), gets email..... you get the picture.

I am laughing since you spent way too much!

Should be obvious... (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#23865515)

...but I haven't seen any other replies that mention it, so I will, just to make sure the painfully obvious isn't neglected.

Install Puppy Linux on it. That's it, $0 fix. Suddenly it's lightning fast and capable again. Won't do jack for the surely dead/dieing battery, but my experience with laptop batties is that they are a money hole anyway, docking stations FTW.

vintage 2002ish (1)

sirmonkey (1056544) | more than 5 years ago | (#23865633)

yea thats right. toshiba portege 3890ct 700mhz 256megs 12gig hd..... i spent 200 bucks on it 3 years ago? i dunno but i can say its still rocking! i do webwork with it to, and some basic photo editing with gimp.
so is an older laptop worth it? heck yea!
you just might want to learn how to rebuild battery packs :-) (its not hard!)
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