Laptop, upgrade thyself
Guide to Life: Breathe Life Into Your Old Computer
It seems technology should be ageless. When you pull a brand new MacBook out of the box it looks so neat and sleek and immortal; it’s hard to imagine a day when that thing will be so slow it’ll make you want to drive an adze through it. But age, lack of hard drive storage and memory have set their marks on it. Computers get old and tired and confused, just like people and basement filing cabinets. Fortunately, computers are easier to freshen up than people, and if your machine is three or four years old and lagging, there are some easy solutions to improve its performance, saving you so+me money and frustration in the process.
1 Assess the situation. Is your computer an Apple IIc or a Commodore 64? If so, it belongs in a glass case in your living room or on eBay. If it’s just a few years old (e.g., your MacBook Pro or ThinkPad circa 2009) and showing signs of age — booting slowly and loading programs slowly — then it’s a good candidate for a second chance.
2 Check your hard drive. Chances are your computer uses a plain ol’ hard disk drive (HDD) to store data. HDDs store data on a rotating disc that spins like a record and interacts with a read/write head. You can hear it whirring and feel it heating up dangerously in your lap. This is some old school technology, and while it’s a relatively inexpensive way to store information, it’s also subject to wear and tear as a result of time and use.
3 Change your hard drive. Solid-state drives (SSD), unlike HDDs, don’t have any moving parts, relying instead on microchips for storage. They’re faster and start up quicker because there’s no spinning disc or read/write head; they don’t have the same fragmentation problems as HDDs; they’re more durable; and they consume much less power. Their one disadvantage is that their cost per gigabyte of storage is more than an HDD, but prices are dropping: you can put a 120GB SSD into your old laptop for $100.
4 Upgrade your RAM If your computer is low on RAM, or memory, it could potentially run slowly. Think of it this way: when you can’t remember where you put your keys, you bumble around the house and waste a bunch of time. It’s similar with RAM. If you don’t have enough RAM and you try to browse Chrome with dozens of tabs open while using Photoshop, your computer will drag. Adding RAM is, in fact, one of the cheapest ways to improve your computer’s performance. Check out some memory options at OWC or Amazon if you have a PC.
5 Add a second hard drive. If you’re really looking to juice your old computer you can add a second SSD by removing the optical drive and installing an SSD in its bay. To do this, you’ll need to get a data doubler kit. Our test unit for this story is from OWC, which includes an SSD as well as an aluminum bracket that mounts in the optical drive bay. It also includes a second external enclosure, clear instructions (print and online), and all the tools you’ll need to make your DIY project a breeze
6 Put down that adze and pour yourself a drink. You just saved some money and kept that computer out of the landfill for another few years.