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The Kennel Kernel

Quick Info Dump on Upgrading Computers, IMO that is

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I like (just as well) make do & mend & I adore a bang for me buck. Here's what I've found over the years.

Part 1: Laptops

The least easy to take apart. And the shortest lived. Some even have vital things soldered in-notably apples. Generally speaking if it was a decent quality (not necc high spec) machine to start with it's prob worth it. But screens do not last forever (not a prob, simp plug in an external monitor) the socket where you plug the power in can snap or detach from mainboard (fixable but will need a COMPLETE tear down to the bottom of the case) & generally more fragile. Battery will almost certainly hold sod all charge.

For once you want a low mileage machine. If it's seen less action, keyboards will be fresher & those screen invertors won't have seen that many hours. This is all about upgrading the internals, so spec we DGAS about.

What I would start with is something like a beyond entry grade in Sony Vaio, Lenovo Thinkpads, Toshibas aren't bad & the better Acers none too shabby at all. I hate every single HP machine I've ever worked on, plus in the past they're pulled some right weasely moves over bad chips in them. The other thing is screen size. You might as well, seeing as what with the battery this isn't going to need to be that portable) go with a 17". At least you can do some work on that & believe me for an extended period it's a lot nicer than a 15".

Another aspect is that you could treat a laptop as a 'black box'. i.e. just like a tower. Plug in your fav keyboard & mouse, you fav monitor(s if it can be docked, which mine is), close the lid & then it's just a slim thing that could live under your filing tray. If it's in a dock all you do is left it off, stick it into your bag & take it with you. This is my own arrangement. FWIW I have only one laptop, it's old, but it's business class premium quality & I've got at it too with a 500GB Samsung Evo SSD & 24GB RAM. About £2400 to have bought new back at the time. Heavy.

Addendum. Apples. Not all are bastards, only the more recent ones which is beyond the scope of make do & mend. Bit you're going to have to do your homework very thoroughly. And the last time I did look into this, looked like these are old enough to only see 4GB of RAM. I could be wrong-be nice if I was! Because Apple stuff keeps a value-you look on ebay. But as I'll say later, everyone thinks they need an i5 in it & these ones sure don't, & can't. So if you think you can turn a dime on upgrading the older macbooks I'm afraid you missed that boat a fair while ago.

Part 2: Towers

These are a bit like working in the engine bay of an old american car, vs a brand new turbo tech fiesta. There's plenty of space to get at everything. Plus no-one wants them anymore. Which is great for people like me.

For buttons you can get your old retired towers back into service (so long as SATA connections for the drives).. Good for media servers, proper DLNA NAS, managing all your CCTV needs. The only components you will prob need to swap out are any old/ original drives (although all my old IDEs are still fine) & the PSU (these degrade & are always where the corners are cut unless it was top dollar in the 1st place-still degrades though), which in a tower are all simple.

Look-£150 for the enclosure alone! FFS.…

Caveat-I'm not trade, but I muck about a fair bit with old shite. My personal list for when I sifting through old tech down the recyclcing centre:

Dual Core CPU. Might be called something like Intel Core Duo. If you're really lucky you might find an AMD multi-core cpu/gpu, because whoever had it didn't know what was inside it. (everyone thinks they need as i5 minimum these days. See part 3 below for a discussion on exactly this).

Not DDR2 RAM. That's stupidly expensive even on ebay (wrong-only 4GB laptop sticks are)

DDR3 RAM. I tend to pocket this whenever I see it. Same with DDR2 laptop ram too.

If the RAM has Kingson branding labels have it regardless. Fastest & best prices realised for anything Kingston on ebay.

SATA hard drive connections

Known branded power supply

The original Windows code on a sticker somewhere if that's what you need. Win 7 is the last really good one.

Nice extras-a graphics card. Not that I've found one though.

Don't get over fussed if there no drive in it. Never trust a 2nd hand one anyhow, but FWIW 1TB & at a push 2TB ones are more robust than anything larger. I've a WD green 500GB in my NAS, it's been running 24/7 for the last 5 years.

IMO Minimum Needs List for a Mint Linux System
>2.0GHz single core CPU-pref capable of 64 bit operation though (don't forget you can get a vastly better off ebay)

Min for Windows:
3 GB RAM (pref 4GB actually, but it will run OK on just 3-video can be a bit choppy though)
>2.2 GHz dual core cpu

When I say minimum I mean that will actually be able to do some work as it is.

What you're going to do in either scenario is max out the RAM in it (no point in going above 8GB-tried that), put a really fast CPU into it, & most importantly of all, run a solid state drive (SSD). the SSD is the real game changer here-it's how you can get away with such a small amount of RAM.

FWIW the main system here is a tall tower. Quad core AMD 3.9-4.5Ghz. Upgraded to 16GB Ram, gfx card, ssd plus conventional, shit load of fans etc. I did actually buy this new a few years ago. About £200 & when I worked it out that was cheaper than I could have done it myself. Anyhow nothing phases it. I've 3 more. One a dual core, which is an entire duplicate of our Office one. That's a total system substitute, in that should the main one explode or something, this can simply be plugged & one is back up & running 2 minutes after the smoke has cleared. The next one is only a single core on 2GB of RAM. It's heavily overclocked & has a spiffy Gfx card to take the load off. It runs win7 64 fine, but not 10 64. It works excellently with Mint Linux 64. The 3rd is so old it only has IDE drive connections & is a 32 bit cpu. I only bothered to have that back up to overclock it & store all my old IDE drives in it. However, it does run Mint Linux 32 bit fine & IIRC Win7 32 too. Not that it matters.

If you want to do be able to do serious work within Windows, has to be dual core & somewhere around 3Ghz on these oldies.

Part 3: Cpu Fixations.

Priority 1: can you actually get at it? Quite a lot in laptops are hard wired in, soldered to the board. Later apples are very much like that-hell even the RAM is soldered in.

If you fancy a car analogy I reckon Intels go like this:

i3=4 in line basic no cleverness FWD Ford Mondeo. More than adequate but sometimes you do shout at it ‘get a move on you bloody slug’.

i5=6 in line, RWD with traction control, clever mapping & a blower which come into force only when booted hard. Fun & the very best could be a reasonably competitive track day car.

i7. Beware, not all of these are actually 4 core. If full fat 4, then akin to a V8, AWD, ditto blower & very clever fuelling. Specialised rally vehicle.

The actual speed of it is equitable with engine displacement. Mere mortals don’t tend to hurl their cars around, even photoshop isn’t asking it to take a hairpin. But we do like to be able to overtake those bloody caravans. So the 2.5l is rather better than a 2.0, or heaven forbid, a 1.8Ghz cpu.. .

The smart money for a long time has always favoured a fast i5. It has a turbo facility, hyper-threading etc which the i3s do not. BTW I think we're now into the 8th generation of the Intel i ranges now. So you'll prob find an older one on ebay/ down the dump. Newer is better, but speed is king.

BIG WARNING ON OLDER i7. The recent ones are full fat quad cores. However the older ones weren't necc those, because they did come in dual cores too. Same as the i5s, which now you can see is the origination of 'i5 nearly as good as i7', but 50% of the price.

Now you do have to do your homework with these. Easiest way is to copy someone on a forum with same computer as yours who confirms it works. The basic is it has to be the same socket classification.

But that's not the whole picture. Faster, lower nano spec lithography all good, b
ut it comes at a cost-heat. Heat due to more of the buggers, but also because the interconnecting 'wires' are thinner. And faster means more heat too. Which is why a figure you should look at is the TDP wattage, esp in a laptop. You want it to be same (or lower) than the range of cpus OFFICIALLY listed out for your exact model. TBF the next models up usually only have a better heatsink on them, & you can do a lot with a hoover & using the best thermal paste when you put your cpu back in. Actually you'd be amazed by the amount of fluff & dust on the fan blades, & that the paste has invariably gone thin & solid. It's well worth doing that anyhow, regardless of upgrading the cpu. Age & heat you see.

On a tower this is rather easier as all you need is a superior quality (bigger & copper) cpu heatsink & really good fan on top of it, plus higher throughput case fans. e.g. all my towers have front fans to suck cool air in & rear to blow the heated air out (exhaust). No such thing as too much cooling!

You also have to be a little careful about the bridge technolgies too, as well as the socket type. e.g Sandy Bridge was superseded by Ivy Bridge, but they're socket compatible. It wasn't exactly the biggest leap in the tech, more of a hop really & Intel reckon you can swap them around. But whilst I'd suck & see if I had one in front of me (& you'd need to have the latest BIOS flashed) I wouldn't risk buying a different bridge to my mobo. Not unless forums confirmed it would work for my specific make, model & version of machine. And even then I'm not sure, unless the newer was a lot cheaper, which it rarely is. I suppose it might be a bit like sticking the Ford RS 2.0 litre engine into the 1.6 Mexico, but only the short engine. So you'd be retaining & running the mexico's carbs & current setup. Plus it might run too hot for the vehicle's current cooling system, which was after all designed for the 1.6. And unlike a car (where obv you could swap over the carbs, rad etc, & adjust the fueling anyhow) you canna do that with a laptop.


Corrections & superior analogies from the professionals, trade & better bodgers most welcome please

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Updated 21-06-18 at 10:30 by Editor