Laptop upgrade – Brian Berryman
SUMMARY: Upgrading a fairly recently made laptop
Back in June, Joe Citarella wrote a article called “Laptop Musings” in which he had a look inside a Sharp
The model Joe took apart in June was the Actius A-280. I’ve been using a similar, slightly older model, Sharp’s Actius A-150. Both models are physically about the same
size, and were initially delivered with Windows 95 or 98 installed on them.
Where the A-280 has a Pentium II 366 MHz CPU, the A-150 has a Pentium 266, making it a little bit slower. Both have 64 MB of system memory soldered to the motherboard.
The A-150 is a marvel in it’s size. It’s literally the size of a standard magazine, and about as thick as three issues of that magazine. If you’re patient, it will run
Windows 2000 Pro quite well.
magazine, and have a fully functioning Windows 2000 machine running.
But, because of it’s diminutive size, it also comes with a diminutive keyboard, and screen, which measures in at 11.3 inches, diagonally. While the A-150 would run the programs
I need to write articles well, the small screen size makes photo editing a bit tricky, and the half scale keyboard is a bit difficult to navigate when you’re equipped with
big mitts like me.
So, for a while now, I had been looking for a laptop. Being limited in funds limited me in options, but I had a couple requisites; it had to have a screen capable of 1024×768
resolution, and have at least a 3/4 size keyboard. I was hoping for at least a low end Pentium 3, for a CPU.
One option I considered, was to piece one together, using parts found on eBAY, and at online laptop parts suppliers. I still might do this sometime.
Eventually, one came along for sale, that I was able trade some hardware I had for. This is the machine in the first picture at the top of this page. It’s a Compaq Presario 1700 series.
Let’s take a look at what’s inside this machine, as delivered by Compaq;
- Model#: 17XL260
- CPU: Pentium 3 500 MHz
- System Memory: 64 MB PC100 (upgradable to 512MB)
- LCD: 13.3 TFT Active Matrix display
- Graphics: ATi Mobility M1 chipset, with 8MB dedicated memory
- Max internal resolution: 1024 x 768 (1280 x 1024 external)
- Hard drive: 6.0 GB
- Optical drive: 3x DVD-ROM (24x CD read), hotswappable
- Floppy drive: 1.44 MB 3.5″, hotswappable with optical drive
- Keyboard: 88 key, full size (101 key compatible)
- Audio: ESS Allegro audio, with JBL Pro speakers
- Network: N/A
- Modem: 56K ITU v90 modem
Now, before I made the deal for this laptop, I had a chance to do a bit of research on it. I knew that most of the newer laptops are upgradable, in that a faster CPU can be
swapped in, memory can be added, and in some of the newest ones, the video is built on a separate board, meaning that the graphics subsystem can even be upgraded.
I inquired about the exact model number of this machine, and started doing some research. I started out at Google, which led me to various laptop parts resellers, eBAY, and many other places.
As my research progressed, I was able to narrow down what was inside the machine, before I even got it. I found a key item at Compaq’s website, that being a Maintenance
and Service Manual. It detailed complete disassembly of this laptop.
In reading this manual, I was able to determine that the CPU was actually socketed, not soldered to the motherboard, effectively making this laptop upgradable. I found that there
were two ram slots built in, and could support two sticks of 256 MB, 512 MB total.
In the process of researching, I found replacement CPUs in good quantities on eBAY. I watched, waited, and bid on a CPU that was a good speed increase and came with a warranty.
I was also able to acquire two sticks of 128 MB PC100 to upgrade the memory from the original 64 MB.
Over the next few pages, we’ll take a look inside this laptop, and improve it’s performance along the way. After that, we’ll look at some benchmark scores, to see the results
of these improvements.
As you might expect, like any PC, ESD (electrostatic discharge) is always a concern. Take appropriate precautions when working on your PC or laptop.
And also, as you would naturally unplug your power supply from the wall when servicing your PC, remove the battery first from your laptop as you disassemble it.
This article isn’t designed to be a repair manual, and unless you have a Presario 1700, your laptop will be assembled differently. Check your manufacturer’s site for
a manual specific to your model. Research your model, and find out what upgrades, if any, can be done before you take it all apart.
And…keep careful track of the screws you remove, what they hold together, and what hole they came out of!! Putting the incorrect screw into a wrong location (too
long a screw where a short one should be, etc..) could have drastic consequences. Too short a screw in the wrong location might not hold parts together properly, too long a screw
might hit something further inside the laptop, causing a short if it hits circuitry.
Start with the easy stuff. Take out the battery, hard drive, optical drive (if removable).
This particular laptop has a trim piece over the power buttons and LEDs, that gets removed first. After that, the keyboard is free to come up, but not out. It lifts up from
the front edge, and gets flipped over and laid down on top of the touchpad for the next step.
Under the keyboard on this machine, is a large “heatspreader” (as called by Compaq, in the manual). It’s held in by four screws (in a square, just to the left of center). These
four screws also happen to hold the heatsink/fan assembly onto the CPU. Having the manual, and knowing this ahead of time, let me exercise a bit more caution here than I might have
After carefully removing the heatspreader, I can now remove the keyboard ribbon. These ribbons are very thin, and fairly delicate. They are plugged into a socket, of which the upper
half lifts up slightly, allowing it to be plugged in or removed easily. Pushing the top part of the socket down locks the ribbon into place.
Looking closely at this particular ribbon, you can see both parts of the socket are different colors, making it easy to see the two parts. Lifting up carefully on each end of the
black plastic part slightly allows the ribbon to come free.
The smaller, white ribbon beside it is for the touchpad and mouse buttons. It gets removed the same way as the keyboard ribbon.
On this particular laptop, the next item to be removed is the heatsink, as there is a screw holding the top cover on underneath the edge of it. I expected the thermal pad that
was used to give me a fight coming off – what happened next surprised me.
I’ve heard from a number of people who have tried to remove heatsinks on Pentium 4 CPUs, that they have had difficulties like this. They have heat spreader on the chip, covering
the core, and the large surface area doesn’t let go easily. This is a small cored P/// however. The thermal pad used formed such a strong bond that the CPU pulled right up out of
the socket with the HSF.
That, stuck to the HSF, is the CPU. This is a 495 pin microPGA2 chip.
The socket it fits in is known as the U8 format. This socket is a ZIF (Zero Insertion Force) type socket, meaning it can be locked, and unlocked. Instead of a ZIF “arm”
attached to a cam box however, it uses a simple cam screw to move the top half of the socket back and forth. Turning the screw in the lower left corner of the socket one half turn does the work.
If you look closely at it, you can see a bit of a nub on the left side, at about “ten o’clock”. This keeps the screw from rotating too far in either direction.
The mPGA2 CPU is basically Intel’s BGA format chips, attached to a second layer, which has the pins on it. This can be seen clearly in the shot above, where you can see the two layers,
with the solder balls visible between them.
In that picture above, you start to gauge how small these parts are, as those are my fingers holding the HSF. How small is the CPU? Here’s that P/// 500, next to a U.S. quarter dollar:
Like a lot of modern laptops, this heatsink uses a heatpipe in its design. Below the outside end of the pipe is a row of fins, which the fan blows across.
To swap out the CPU, this is as far as I would need to disassemble. But, where I’m in this far, we’ll take the entire top off and have a look inside (it’s long out of warranty anyway, so why not? =)
In order to remove the top cover, the LCD screen must come off. This is held onto the lower chassis with two cables and six screws. Remove the hinge covers, unplug the cables,
remove the four screws on the back, and then the two in the hinges. Then carefully set the entire unit aside, out of harm’s way.
With the LCD screen off, the top panel can be removed. There were four screws on top (under where the keyboard sits), as well as those on the bottom that you would think hold things
together. Having that manual helped locate all of the screws, so none got missed, and nothing broken.
The large open areas on the right are for the optical drive (top) and battery (bottom). Looking a bit closer at the left side:
Starting at the top is the CPU socket. The open area beside it is for the HSF, which blows out the small vent on the side of the chassis.
Below and to the left of that is the PCMCIA card slot (with the plastic “dummy” card in place). This laptop has one slot, which will allow use of a Type I or II card.
To the right of that is the modem. This is a micro PCI format part. It fits in similar to how the ram does…in on an angle, and then lays (and locks) down flat. While this laptop
has a RJ-45 port (ethernet) on the back, it’s not used with this modem installed. Higher end models had a combo modem/NIC card installed, which makes use of both ports. If I wanted to,
I could upgrade to one, or go further and install an m-PCI wireless card in its place.
Looking back at the labeled picture above, just below the modem is the CMOS battery. Interestingly, it’s the same one commonly found on most desktop motherboards, handy to know if I
ever need to replace it.
The hard drive bay is just below to the left, and the drive plugs directly into the large white header just to right of the metal cage. The drive itself sits in a caddy, which aligns
it properly with the header when installing.
At the very bottom is one of the two power LEDs (the other is just off the edge of the picture). Just above them, in a diamond shape, and above those, are the mouse buttons, and
the buttons for the four way scroll button (that Compaq doesn’t seem to make a driver for that works with Windows XP). I’d love to use it, but I’m not going to regress to Win9x to try it.
Attached to this mainboard is a small sub board, which has the ports for S-Video, USB, modem (RJ-11), and ethernet (RJ-45).
Alright…let’s start putting this back together, with the new hardware, and see how much of a gain in performance I can get. First, I’ve got to get that CPU unstuck.
Removing the CPU required a bit of force…more than I might like to exert on a processor, at least. But, it came free.
The thermal pad used was rather curious… A big, thick layer of goop, with a layer of aluminum against the core of the CPU. The aluminum was fairly thick (not quite Pepsi can
thick, but closer to that than aluminum foil), and the pad itself was quite thick. It had a consistency somewhere between candle wax, and rubbery plastic (think Tupperware) as I scraped
it off the HSF.
After cleaning up the HSF, I gave the new CPU a quick wipe with the rubbing alcohol and put a coat of fresh Arctic Silver 5 thermal compound on.
As you reassemble, don’t forget to lock the CPU down and reconnect all the wires you unplugged.
About two minutes or so after starting the laptop up, it clicked off. No formal shut down, just…off. I restarted it, and again, a few minutes later, it shut itself off with no warning.
After rebooting a third time, with the same results, it became obvious that there was a major problem, and overheating was suspect.
So, I went back in to see what was amiss. What I found was rather interesting:
When I got the HSF off again, I found that it had never made contact with the CPU! At all!
Apparently, things inside the laptop reached a certain temperature (as these mobile P/// chips don’t have temperature monitors built into them), at which time the machine simply
shut itself down. This was something I hadn’t seen mentioned in any of Compaq’s literature, but was very glad for.
This did leave me with a quandary – how to get contact between the two items. The heatsink is designed to sit firmly when screwed down onto the mount surrounding the CPU.
Bolted directly down, there is no clip to allow things to sit crooked, or misaligned.
It appears that in designing this, they accounted for the extra thick thermal pad used by Compaq.
A quick road trip to CompUSA for some thermal pads followed:
I’ve used these before to attach heatsinks to southbridge chipsets on desktop motherboards. They’re fairly thick and somewhat sticky. Something told me I needed very thick, so I folded
the first pad in half, doubling its thickness, and installed it onto the HSF.
I reassembled the machine and fired it up. It clicked itself off a few minutes later. UGH!
When I got the HSF off again, I found it was still not touching the core of the CPU.
I took a second pad and folded it into quarters (4x thick). This didn’t sit well with me, as too thick a thermal interface can act like a thermal barrier instead of a conductor.
But, it certainly can’t be worse than no contact at all, right?
After reassembling with a quadruple thickness pad in place, I turned the machine on again. It ran a bit longer than before, but again shut itself down.
Now I started thinking “What do I need to do to get this to make contact, and work?!?!
I took things apart again, and took a chunk of the pad, rolling it into a ball with my fingers, until it was no longer sticky. I took this ball (slightly larger than a BB), and put
it onto the CPU core, and just fully mounted the HSF. This squished the ball, and would hopefully show me how much of a gap there was between the CPU and HSF.
The gap was about 2mm wide. =O
A bit of brainstorming took place after that…thoughts included taking a common date 90% silver Roosevelt dime (pre-1964), and sanding it flat on both sides to the required thickness.
I looked at the CD bay covers on a couple aluminum PC cases, thinking I could cut a piece from one of those…
What I came up with was easier, and quite humorous.
Back in April, I reviewed a card reader made by SilverStone. I tested mounted it in one of their cases. My odd sense of
humour had, at one point, stuck a very old IBM case badge onto this case, which is visible in this picture:
I have a little case badge collection and this is one of them. It came off a very old system I found out in the trash one day. IBM’s 5170 PC was one of the first to use an Intel
i286 CPU, and was released in 1984.
The badge is the usual inch square, but more importantly (for me) about 2mm thick. Nice, flat, smooth, and 2mm thick….
I cleaned off the adhesive from the badge and the goo from the pads on the HSF and CPU. I applied a coat of Arctic Silver 5 to the CPU normally, and then another coat on the HSF,
where the badge would contact it. I stuck the badge to the HSF, centered over the contact spot, reassembled the machine again and hit the power button.
It has run flawlessly since. =) Thank you, IBM.
Once I got this running, I found another feature previously not available had been enabled. When I went into the BIOS, I found a SpeedStep option had appeared. The 500 MHz CPU
didn’t have this, but the 800 MHz version does.
When enabled (which I did), this throttles back the CPU speed when the machine is running on battery power, to 650 MHz. On AC power, it runs at full speed.
After enabling this, one night I was working on the laptop for well over an hour before I noticed I hadn’t turned on the power strip the AC adapter is plugged into. After feeling
like an idiot for unnecessarily draining the battery, I realized that working at 650 MHz vs 800 wasn’t a noticeable decrease in performance.
Originally, this machine was equipped with one stick of 64 MB PC100. With two slots available, it can be expanded to 512 MB, a significant increase. I acquired two sticks of 128 MB (256 MB total)
to test with here.
In researching, I found there to be a good number of instances where people had mentioned incompatibilities when installing new memory, mostly when trying to use PC133 sticks. Fortunately,
these two sticks here are PC100, and also are made by the same company as the original 64 MB stick (Infineon), using the same timings (CL2).
They swapped right in, problem free. But, do the research if you decide to upgrade yours. If you can find out something is incompatible before you buy it, it’ll save a lot of aggravation.
Installing ram is quite easy. Usually, there is a small removable panel on the bottom of the laptop, under which the memory lives. I did have an older system for a while that housed its lone
expansion slot under the keyboard, but most are underneath. Removing the cover accesses the system memory:
Removing the old ram is done by bending the retainers (white, on this machine) at each end of the stick outwards slightly, releasing the stick.
The stick will pop up to a 45 degree angle, and can then be removed.
Installing the new ram is simply the reverse. Ensure the right side is facing up (the indexed notch must line up). It goes in at an angle, and then gets laid down flat. You’ll feel it
click into place when the retainers clip onto it.
With the new memory in, simply put the cover back on and turn the machine on to ensure it’s working. If it’s not, try reseating the stick(s), and/or swapping their slots. When I
first put these in, it wouldn’t boot (or POST, even). Reseating the sticks got it working.
Along the way, I ran benchmarks after upgrading the CPU and the memory in this system. I ran them using the original configuration, and then with the new ram.
After putting the new CPU in, the original ram went back in, and another round of benchmarks took place. Then I finally put in the new ram again, and ran the numbers once more.
I ran these tests using four configurations:
- P/// 500 MHz CPU, 64 MB system memory (original config)
- P/// 500 MHz, w/ 256 MB memory
- P/// 800 MHz, w/ 64 MB memory
- P/// 800 MHz, w/ 256 MB memory
I was curious to see which would have the greater effect, a faster CPU or more RAM.
In addition to the benchmarks used, I also timed how long it took the machine to boot and shut down. Boot times are divided into two parts; I have my system set so that a
password is required to log in (a decent idea, on a laptop). So boot times are from; 1) hitting the power switch, up to the log in prompt, and 2) time after hitting enter to log in, to
getting to the desktop with everything loaded (so the system is usable).
As I’ve taken care as to what is running when the system boots, only four items appear in the taskbar: Windows battery monitor, volume control, and network status. The only application
other than these is an anti-virus program.
Keeping a close eye on what’s running in the background helps the machine load faster and keeps the system memory and page file use down to a very manageable
size. With only 64 MB, this was much more important. Running Windows XP was possible, but I would frequently get “out of memory” errors. With 256 MB, I have yet to. However, 512 MB
would truly be ideal with this OS.
The three benchmark programs I used were;
I used four different modules from the Sandra program, two of which tested the CPU, the other two benchmarked the memory.
500 MHz – 64 MB
500 MHz – 256 MB
800 MHz – 64 MB
800 MHz – 256 MB
|Power on to Login
|Login to Desktop
|CPU MathMark 3
|PC Mark 2002 CPU
|PC Mark 2002 Memory
|Sandra 2004 CPU Arithmetic Benchmark
1688 MIPS 654 MFLOPS
1690 MIPS 654 MFLOPS
2710 MIPS 1050 MFLOPS
2711 MIPS 1049 MFLOPS
|CPU Multimedia Benchmark
|^ Integer x4 iSSE
|^ Floating-Point x4 iSSE
|Memory Bandwidth Benchmark
|^ Int Buff’d iSSE
|^ Float Buff’d iSSE
|Cache & Memory Benchmark
|^ Combined Index
|^ Speed Factor
I got my first inkling of what would be more significant when I installed the memory and turned the machine on. Upgrading the ram from 64 to 256 MB cut down the time loading Windows
(logon prompt to desktop) down from two and a half minutes to 14 seconds.
This is actually faster than my desktop machine (dual AMD MP2000+ with 512 MB DDR266), although that machine has several programs launching with Windows. If I can continue to closely
watch what goes into the Start folder (and thus launches at boot), even with the 500 MHz CPU, this laptop is surprisingly quick.
The additional memory also reduced the time it takes to power down the system by over two thirds, as well.
While the additional horsepower the 800 MHz CPU makes certainly makes itself known in the benchmarks above, it’s not as noticable in real world situations (opening/closing
files, loading applications, etc…). As I mentioned previously, I ran at 650 MHz on battery power for a significant amount of time, without noticing the reduction in MHz.
Probably, the greatest benefit I might see from upgrading the CPU is the SpeedStep technology, which will use less power when running from the battery. I honestly don’t notice
much of a difference, performance-wise, between the two CPUs.
At this point, with 800 MHz and 256 MB of system memory, the only thing really lacking is graphics. These Presarios are equipped with an ATi Mobility M1 chipset and 8 MB dedicated memory.
This will barely play Unreal Tournament ’99, forget UT 2004. Doom 3? Not even close.
Gaming aside, however, this system has become very responsive with the upgrades. I’m thrilled with the full size keyboard, and larger screen. In a pinch, this could be called a desktop replacement.