How To Decide When It Pays & When It Doesn't
Your portable PC may have seemed packed with features when you bought it three years ago,
but now its sorely lacking in just about every way. Should you toss the machine you
paid nearly $2,000 for in the bin or consider upgrading your system? Well help you
answer this question.
Unlike desktop computers that come apart like a
stack of Legos to be reconfigured when the next processor hits the market, portable PCs
areshall we sayslightly less flexible. You cant just can run down to the
nearest computer superstore and pick up an extra hard drive, more random-access memory
(RAM), or an upgraded processor to pop into your machine. Instead, each portable PC has
expansion options of its own, a fact youll quickly discover when you embark upon
answering your upgrade questions.
Older Can Be Better.
Although it might be hard to believe, the older
your laptop is, the more up-grade options youre likely to have. Thats because
the length of time a machine has been on the market correlates to the time third-party
vendors have had to develop the upgrade options. Similarly, the more popular a machine,
the more likely youll find the upgrades you desire. A no-name portable PC purchased
three years ago from a company that has long since gone out of business is not likely to
give you much leeway for upgrading. In this case, its better to buy new and count
your blessings that your portable lasted this long without needing any serious
Dont overlook that in todays
competitive computer market, entry-level machines from major manufacturers, such as
Toshiba and Hitachi. Its something to consider when debating whether or not to
upgrade that old portable.
When To Upgrade.
There are many instances when it makes sense to
invest in an upgrade for your portable PC, especially when it comes to storage and memory.
RAM. If youre just looking to add
extra memory (RAM) to your portable PC, then by all means do so. This is the easiest and
most effective upgrade you can make. Either seek out extra RAM from your portable
PCs manufacturer or contact a third-party company such as PC Upgrade (http://www.performancememory.com.au +02
9906 4533) where youll find old and new portable additional RAM options.
Hard drive. Upgrading your computers
hard drive might sound daunting, but it is not necessarily impossible. You have many
options, including upgrading your portables internal hard drive or adding an
external storage device. The more convenient choice for most users is to upgrade the
internal hard drive. However, unless you have a relatively popular machine (such as IBM,
Toshiba, NEC, or Digital), you could have tough time finding these devices.
If these solutions dont appeal to you,
theres always the option of an external drive connected via the parallel port, SCSI
(Small Computer System Interface) port or PC Card slot. If your portable has a standard
Personal Computer Memory Card International Association (PCMCIA) slot that supports either
one Type III card or two Type II cards, youll be able to use a PC Card-based hard
External drives have a couple drawbacks
here: You wont have room for an additional PC Card (such as a modem or network card)
and the space available in these cards is somewhat limited. On the plus side: PC Card hard
drives are extremely durable, and they can be easily used in any machine that supports a
Type III card.
Unless your portable PC is extremely old, its
likely to support an external storage system such as the popular Zip drive from Iomega.
This device will give you the ability to move 100MB of data. Just plug the drive into your
portables parallel port, and youre in business.
If your portable PC has a removable CD-ROM and
diskette drive, you may be able to use Iomegas Notebook Zip, which fits into the
multipurpose bay slots of Toshiba, Compaq, IBM, and Hewlett-Packard portable PCs. With a
Zip drive installed in your machine, you wont have to labor with cables and
connectors. For information about Notebook Zip drives, visit the Iomega Web site. To
purchase the drive, contact an Iomega reseller such as CNF.
You also can go the traditional route with a
standard external hard drive that attaches via a parallel, SCSI, or PC Card port. This
allows you to transfer your data to any machine you desire at the expense of a lack of
portability, as most external hard drives require a power supply.
Battery. You wouldnt trade your car in
because its ashtray was full, so dont toss your portable PC because your battery no
longer works. This component is probably the most likely to be replaced during the
lifetime of your portable PC. You shouldnt expect your batterys lifetime to be
more than three or four years. If youve owned your portable PC for a couple of
years, youve probably noticed your battery pack is dying quicker each time you boot
up your PC.
Unless your machine is extremely dated, you
shouldnt have too much trouble finding a new battery for it. You may even get lucky
and be able to upgrade from the older nickel-metal hydride (NiMH) batteries to the newer
lithiumion (Li-ion) ones, which gives you more battery life per square inch.
PC Card slot add-ons. PCMCIA card slots are
the most universal input device a portable can have. If your portable is equipped with
one, you will be able to add all sorts of hardware, including a hard drive.
Typical PC Card devices include modems (internal
modems can be upgraded) and adapters for connecting to a network. This slot can make a
seemingly obsolete portable more youthful by adding multimedia capabilities, including a
CD-ROM drive and 16-bit audio. You also can add a joystick for heavy-duty game playing.
Docking station. To give your portable a
little more flexibility when it sits on your desk, consider buying a docking station. A
docking station replicates your portables present ports while perhaps adding some
additional functionality, such as extra PC Card slots and Industry Standard Architecture
(ISA) card slots, for example.
When To Not Upgrade.
There are times when upgrading your portable will
be too costly to bother with. Though its worth spending a few hundred dollars to
keep your original $2,000 investment in working order, it doesnt make much
sense to throw bad money after good by upgrading costly components in a machine that has
otherwise seen its day.
Display. If youre suffering from a
poor portable display, your options are limited. Perhaps you opted for the passive-matrix
(or dual-scan) screen over the more eye-pleasing active-matrix display for cost reasons.
Or, worse yet, maybe your active-matrix display suffers serious pixel outages.
With an active-matrix display, pixels are made up
of three dots (red, blue, and green) and if pixels go bad, the result can be a disturbing
burst of color on a portion of the display. In this case, youre not likely to find
much solace from your portable PCs manufacturer because your warranty probably has
expired when something like this occurs. Replacing a portable PCs crummy display is
too expensive. Instead, you should either purchase a new-and-improved portable computer or
an external monitor to use with your computer.
Processor. There are quite a few companies
out there that are willing to upgrade your portable PCs processor. In the past, this
type of upgrade would have been impossible, but with todays technology, its
feasible. Whether its prudent is a whole other issue.
Most CPU upgrades offered here were for the AMD
133MHz and 150MHz 5x86 CPU. If your portable still sports an old 486DX processor from
Intel, youll want to look into this upgrade option, as it promises to make your
machine four times faster.
This process is not for the faint-hearted, as the
technique involves removing the soldered CPU using a specially designed hot jet tool that
shoots hot air (up to 700 degrees) over the pins, without destroying the CPU and the
surrounding chips on the motherboard. Once the original CPU is safely removed, a new and
more powerful CPU is inserted and resoldered. You wont be performing this upgrade at
home, of course, so youll have to live without your machine while it visits the
repair shop for its operation.
A Worn-Out Machine.
If your portable is three or four years old, it
might be time to throw in the towel. If your machine didnt come with a PCMCIA slot
or a CD-ROM drive, youre likely to feel as if youre living in the Dark Ages of
computing. Just about every program comes on a CD-ROM nowadays, so unless you opt for an
external PC Card-based CD-ROM drive (which means you better have an available PC Card
slot), youll be hard-pressed to find good uses for your portable PC.
If your computer is beat up from too much wear and
tear, youll probably want to consider a new model. If, for example, your
portables keyboard has had coffee spilled on it one too many times, or the keys have
been destroyed by aggressive typing, you can plug in an external keyboard while sitting at
your desk, but your portable PC is no longer portable.