I recently upgraded my wife Heather’s notebook computer.  It’s a two-year-old Dell Inspiron E1505 running Vista Home Premium.  When I bought it, it was about the time that the first Core 2 Duos were being released, so I got her the best I could for less than $1K.  For two years, the machine ran pretty well with tolerable lag (and terrible battery life), but then it started to get unreasonable.  As a result, I took it upon myself to upgrade the machine in the most cost effective ways possible.  Click to read more…

Since two years have passed, the components that would have cost a pretty penny back then have dropped in price significantly.  Her computer has a 1.6GHz Core 2 Duo T5200 with 2MB of cache and a 533mHz front side bus.  Again, this was good stuff at the time, but upgrading the processor isn’t easily doable for a notebook.  The graphics chip is integrated so no opportunity for upgrading there either.  Instead I focused on the two easiest components to remove (other than the crappy battery): Memory and Hard Drive.

I had initially splurged for 1GB of DDR2 RAM split into 2 Dimms and, figuring that I had recently upgraded to a new 80GB hard drive myself at the time, opted to get her one of those running at 5400RPM.  My goal of giving her a 15″ laptop that would get the job done for her while keeping the cost below $1000 was met, but now I had to put a little extra in (and I wanted it to be as little as possible).

I did the research and found out that she has PC2-4200 memory, but her motherboard could support PC-5300 667MHz RAM as well (which would just underclock to 533MHz).  Unfortunately, the maximum capacity is 2GB, so I could only double her RAM, but I was able to do so for less than $20 (it’s amazing what two years will do to make RAM dirt cheap).

One of Heather’s biggest complaints recently (aside from speed) had been the lack of space she had on her hard drive.  She recently started a very popular makeup blog at Coloruza.com and has been taking lots of makeup shots for her posts.  These photos, plus her collection of music and other pictures from the last few years, has eaten up most of her 80GB (which is actually more like 50GB after Vista takes its cut).  I knew I was going to get her a 7200RPM drive like mine because it makes a very noticeable difference, but I wasn’t sure about the size or brand.

My goal with these upgrades was to keep everything as close to $100 as possible, but my wife likes to go big and, when asked, proposed a 320GB drive.  Initially, I was looking at 160GB or 250GB drives for around $70-$80, but that day a deal at Buy.com listed $10 off of a $90 320GB Seagate drive.  I was going to jump on it, but I read some of the reviews listed and saw that the same capacity Western Digital drive was only $10 more and had better reviews overall.  I know the Seagate would have been fine and actually had a slightly faster seek time, but I figured this drive would be something that she could carry over to her next machine because it was spacious, fast, and reliable.  The extra $10 was an investment into the longevity of the drive (hopefully an investment that will pay off).

When it comes to upgrading hardware, I typically hand over the tasks to my Dad.  He has tons of experience putting together computers so he knows what he is doing.  But, because I don’t see him often and it would be harder for him to do a notebook, I decided to give it a shot myself.  I looked up the Dell documents for replacing memory and a hard drive and got started.

I started with the RAM first since it would be a quick change.  The first time I put it in, the system didn’t boot up.  I opened it up and reset the modules then turned it on again and the machine booted and loaded.  Success!  Next step was the hard drive…

I took out the drive and set it aside and then loaded the new drive.  My plan was to use the information that I read here to copy her Vista installation to the new hard drive without having to start from scratch.  When I attempted to mount the old hard drive into an external enclosure that I already had I noticed that the enclosure took IDE connections but her drives were both SATA.  That sucked.  I ended up going and buying an enclosure from Frys a couple days later and then mounting it.

When I first started Robocopy as instructed on the website, I got nervous because Heather’s old drive had multiple partitions.  It had the main OS partition, a Recovery partition (that was there when the computer first arrived), and a hidden partition with no name.  I decided to just start with the OS partition and see what happened.

I noticed that some files weren’t transferring because of permission issues, but I let the process continue.  It went for a while and then froze part way through.  I reluctantly disconnected and it killed the transfer completely.  I read some other documentation about the errors I saw with permissions and added the /B flag to the command to run in backup mode and restarted.  This time the command froze a lot sooner and I was concerned.

I decided to remove the drive from its enclosure in case it was getting too warm and let it sit for a bit before trying again.  This time it went for two hours or so and finished properly.  I decided to just give it a chance to boot without getting the data from the other partitions and it worked!  I successfully updated the hard drive, RAM, and copied the installation.  The performance gain is noticeable and my wife is happy 🙂

This entry was posted on Wednesday, February 11th, 2009 at 2:58 pm and is filed under Advanced Computer Use, Organization, Tips & Tricks. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. Both comments and pings are currently closed.

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