This is based on a Mac, but the principals in discussion through the entire episode are equally suitable for all systems.  Benjamin Rockwell and Keith M. Sedor have over 60 years of experience with computing, making the systems last a little longer, and keeping things working on a shoestring budget.

Just because they are computer nerds, doesn’t mean they are wealthy.  While a computer nerd may have good income, he also has to invest (yep, invest) in more computing power than most people think about, to keep pace with technology.  With an annual budget for technology that comes close to a car payment, it’s important to save every bit of money possible, so these guys keep track of the best ways that will help everyone save on tech.

Now, let’s dive in.  This is best suited for listening to the audio, as we reference many things along the way.  Start the audio, and then sit back and listen as we scroll down though the different aspects of a few major upgrades to keep your computer humming pretty!

Determining the need

Each computer works a little differently.  In this case, we need to find out what we have, and decide what needs to be upgraded.

On this Apple Macbook Pro laptop, we need to find the amount of memory, hard drive, and other basic information to make sure that we ordered the right stuff.

To do this, we click on the Apple menu, then go to About This Mac.

 

Tools of the trade?

These tools are NOT what I needed to have on hand.  I was prepared, just in case something was needed.

Breaker bar?  I have two, and I don’t know why.

Hammers can be handy when the computer isn’t operating, but usually create more problems.

And the glasses?  Well, I use them for distance, so they were also of no help.

I was prepared with a full size screwdriver, and the putty knife has actually worked in a few teardowns, but not in this case.

The actual tools used

Go figure, there’s a special little kit from OWC that has all of the tools needed, and a few extras.  You’ll find by the end of this discussion, I didn’t neeed 2 of the five for this laptop, but different laptops have other needs, so this all-in-one option is great.

Contents here include the following:

  • Phillips #00
  • Torx T6
  • Torx T8
  • Straight Blade 1.8mm
  • Nylon Pry Tool (aka “Spudger”)

$5 is a small price to pay to ensure you have everything you need.

Memories of memory

The original computer configuration was 4GB of RAM.  OWC provided a memory kit which will have me discard the two 2GB modules, and insert two 4GB modules, effectively doubling the amount of RAM.

This is the stuff that provides the space for programs to run, both allowing for more at the same time, and allowing for larger programs to run faster.

Driving me to compute

The hard drive contains all of the information we might need.  So often, these are the big bottleneck of speed, and the numbers we’ll discuss later will show that the speed has been increased phenomenally.

There’s also an external hard drive case, where I can take the old hard drive, and put it into good usage as an external hard drive.

This comes in handy for installing old downloaded programs, but also restoring key files.  And over the long haul, it’ll serve as a nice place to keep backups.

Starting the disassembly

The OWC toolkit really comes into place quickly.  I have a nice set of high-end screwdrivers in a wide variety of sizes, but most people don’t have the same reverence for having the right tools on hand that I do.  Again, just spend the $5 for the toolkit.

In this case, you can see that the screw is about the size of the head of a ballpoint pen (or is that a gel pen?), and the hole is about the size of the ball on that pen.  Great care needs to be taken here, choosing the right screwdriver, and not forcing just any old screwdriver to work here.

Using the wrong screwdriver here will wind up stripping the head of the screw or worse.  At that point, there’s little solution left, other than to demolish the screw, and then replace it later.

Teardown begins!

A total of ten screws that are impossibly small hold this laptop together.  For all of the problems we have with the iPhone and other smartphone repair issues, tearing them down, or ripping them apart, this seems to be a good start.

For whatever inexplicable reason, there were three longer ones, and usually this is symetrical, but here, one of them is off to the side.  You can see it up and to the right in this picture.

Dirtier than I'd like, cleaner than I expected...

Laptops, like any other computer, tend to gather dust.  This is where I took a moment to marvel at how little was actually here, considering this is a 8-9 year old laptop.

I expected gobs of dust bunnies, and major issues with gunk in places that I’d rather not see it.

Instead of the usual canned air, I used a small wipe to clean up the major bits and pieces.  You’ll see a few pieces of fluff that I forgot in later pictures, but it’s better than it was.

Note to self:  Buy 3 bottles of canned air the next time you are at the store.

First memory chip

This memory chip was readily accessible, and popped out with a couple of tabs on either side.  Use caution with these, as if you break a tab (which is hard to do anyway), the repair value is usually not worth the price of the laptop.  This laptop comes with screws to replace the tabs, but fortunately, I didn’t need to worry about that.

Pushing the tabs aside was easy enough, however, and the chip popped right out.

Second memory chip

The Apple design here is to place the two chips, one above the other, which is something rarely seen in the Windows world, but was done quite ingeniously.

Another tab hidden on each side of the chip was easily moved, and then moving the upper tabs a second time apiece was good.

New memory chips from OWC

Other World Computing’s memory chips were ready to go, and I simpy put them in the same way that the originals were placed.

There’s a slot and pin arrangement referred to sometimes as the key, which makes sure that you are placing the chips in properly.  Never force these chips in.  If you have to force anything on any computer, something’s usually very wrong!

The hard drive

It should not come as a surprise to anyone that there are a limited amount of hard drive manufacturers, but it’s always quite interesting to find hard drives of a competitors brand inside of a computer.

In this case, a standard run of the mill Toshiba is inside of an Apple computer.  This drive won’t be hanging around for long, however, as we have the Other World Computing SSD drive ready to go.

 

The Mercury Electra 3G SSD

This drive is the cream of the crop of Solid State Drives.  OWC has taken the time to ensure that their name is well represented.

I took the time to remove the plastic pull tab from the other drive in the system, and place it into the same spot on the side of this new drive.  That will make it easier, should I ever need to pull this drive out.

Drive shock protection at it's finest

Everyone’s system for protecting a hard drive is unique, to say the least.  Apple’s system of these orange half-grommets (see the red arrow) mate up nicely with the screws on the side of the drive (see the green arrow).

Some laptops handle this as just a simple slot, or a sliding cage, while others have fancy bumpers.  This places a nice elegant solution into place.

Should have thought to ask...

We made this laptop better inside, but why did I not think to ask them about replacement bumper feet on the bottom?  These little guys give a nice little lift to allow for ventilation underneath the laptop, cooling it, and saving a little bit of lifetime for the laptop.

We’ll be watching for a good solution, but one idea that was floated was furniture glides, which are cheap and hold up to far more pressure than the laptop was designed to withstand.

 

No drive goes unused

This external hard drive enclosure was the perfect destination for the old hard drive.  Now, the drive can be used as an external storage location, a backup drive, or, in a pinch, could be used to boot the entire system.

Had we thought it through more, we might have even booted the computer onto the SSD as an external drive, just to see what kind of performance boost we could get out of an external system. The USB 2.0 system, however, would probably have held back the SSD advances significantly.

Prying away

The pictures here show how to use the Spudger tool to get into the case.  This is a great little tool, and in the industry we get familiar with them quickly.  You’ve had cases like this in the past, but couldn’t figure out how to get them open.  Well, here’s the answer.

Using the nylon pry tool, go at a small little space which you’ve created with friction from your fingers.  Insert the tool gently, then move along until you can see one of the tabs that’s holding the case together.  You can then push in, and prod, and otherwise manipulate the case tab gently, instead of tearing and ripping the entire thing to shreds.

This case is also held with 4 screws, but with the Spudger tool, your case will still look good afterwards.

Hard drive into the enclosure

It’s a simple process, and it will only work one way.  You mate up the circuit board to the drive, and place them all back into the case, and then place them all together again.

Note:  This was where Benjamin struggled for just a moment as he couldn’t remember if the case top should go “left or right”, but had he payed attention…

Tools for the road

All complete, here’s what I need when I head out on the road again with a Macbook.  It’s a little more than before, but it’s well worth it.

That external hard drive will work on a PC or a Mac, and of course, every nerd needs his glasses.

Closing out the pictures

Yep, that’s it.  Two screwdrivers, and the spudger.  The other two tools would come in handy on other systems, but it’s good to have them on hand.  I do keep all of my tools, once purchased, so I can use them again in the future, should the need arise.

And how… just how… did I wind up with two breaker bars?

Final results

Noting that this was a computer that was formatted 3 years ago, but only had a little bit of stuff on it.  We can expect that your’s will get a lot more improvement in short order.  Here’s what we got out of this MacBook Pro, speedwise:

 

Task Seconds Seconds
Power on to login prompt 55 17
Password to finder and dock, and beachball stop 15 10
Skype load (new version too) 15 10
Maps loading (and to location) 18 2
Firefox 13 8
iTunes 11 3
Safari 8 5
Shutdown 9 4

 

 

 

 

 

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