Upgrading in 2020

I have done a lot of refurbishing and upgrading of personal computers over the years, but the parameters have changed lately.

When I first started out, my typical upgrade candidate was an older desktop with an obsolete Windows operating system. Usually it ran badly – the primary reason was insufficient memory. It was easy to open the case and pop in a second stick of RAM. Then I usually installed Linux. It was free, no licensing issues and for most folks it was just as good as Windows. Job done.

Things are different now. First of all the machine that needs upgrading will be an older laptop. A typical example is this HP 4730s from 2012 that belongs to my son-in-law. He used it in his business for years but he recently got a new machine. This one was handed over to the kids. But did they want to use it?

Most desktops are worth upgrading but not all laptops are. Some were cheap and underpowered when new, and aren’t worth the effort. This HP Probook is a different matter. It is big and heavy but solidly built. It has a decent processor and a 17 inch HD screen. It was even running Windows 10.

Its major problem was (as usual) barely adequate memory capacity and a slow mechanical hard drive. with Windows and all the security programs it needed, the laptop was taking about 3 minutes to start up. The kids hated it. Who could blame them?

Turns out the laptop was very easy to work on. I didn’t have to tear it apart to get access to the memory slots and hard drive. Bonus!

I had a spare stick of laptop RAM here, so I put it in. This increased the memory capacity to a maximum of 8 GB. Not bad. But it really needed a new solid-state drive.

A 500 GB solid-state drive is pretty cheap these days. I got an entry-level ADATA one from Amazon. After removing the old drive and installing the new one, I decided to go with Linux Mint for the new operating system. The kids won’t care – they use Chromebooks at school and Linux Mint is pretty similar. Plus LM is lighter weight and faster.

I kept the old mechanical drive as is so if my son-in-law needs to retrieve any data from it he can do so.

Everything is working now and the 8-year-old laptop runs like a new machine. It starts up in less than 20 seconds, and programs like Google Chrome launch in under two seconds. Even an impatient kid will be happy with that. Linux provides all the kid-friendly apps like Steam and Spotify – just like Windows.

The main difference between upgrading now and 10 years ago is that you’ll likely have to work on a laptop, and the first thing you’ll want to do is get rid of the old hard drive and install a solid-state one. memory upgrades are still good, but not as essential.

Anyway, the old Probook has a lot of life in it now, and the kids will have another machine for homework and games. They might even want to learn about Linux someday – who knows?

Published by Ray MacDonald

Ray MacDonald is a retired food scientist who lives in Almonte, ON.
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