Resurrect a Dead Laptop

Got a four- or five-year-old PC laptop you’ve dismissed as useless? Bring it back to life with these tips, then use it as a spare Web and e-mail station in the kitchen or kids’ room

by Satoshi

PC Revival
****Cost:
$0-$260
Easy | | | | | Hard

  • Start by checking the health of your hardware with a free diagnostic program such as #1-Tufftest (tufftest.com).
  • If the motherboard or screen is shot, forget it. Replacing either one is more expensive and more hassle than buying a new system.
  • Lost your user manual? Try the manufacturer´s Web site.
  • Check eBay or craigslist.org for used replacement parts.

1. Reinstall the OS

Free: The most likely reason that old machine is dragging: a bogged-down and bloated operating system. If you have the CDs, reinstall the Windows system it came with (a newer version of Windows will run
sluggishly on old hardware).
Otherwise, download a version of Linux-most are free and resemble Windows so closely that you´ll hardly know the
difference. Linux is also less susceptible to spyware and viruses. Start with a Knoppix Live CD (knoppix.org), which runs straight from the disc, so you can try it out and learn it without deleting Windows.

2. Boost Memory

Free: Make sure that Windows Virtual Memory is on and that your hard drive isn´t chock-full. Also try adjusting Windows´s cache RAM settings using a tool such as Cacheman ($10-$25; outertech.com).

Buy: Adding RAM is the most cost-effective way to speed up a machine, and it´s usually pretty easy. Just pop open a panel on the bottom and replace the existing module or add a second one if there´s an extra slot. Check your manual to find out the maximum RAM your laptop can take and what type you need, then buy it at crucial.com.

3. Get a New Drive

Free: Run Windows´s built-in hard-drive utilities such as (in Windows 98) Scandisk, Disk Defragmenter, System File Checker and Disk Clean Up, found under Start>Programs> Accessories>System>Tools. If you are reinstalling an OS, erase (reformat) the drive first.

Buy: Hard drives are typically simple to get at and replace, and a 40-gigabyte 2.5-inch
(laptop-size) drive can be had for less than $100. To reinstall an operating system, insert a Windows or Linux system CD and start up from it by following the onscreen instructions.

4. Save the Battery

Free: Remove the battery and clean all the electrical contacts with a dry swab. Then try
completely draining it and recharging it four or five times in a row. If that doesn´t help, place it in a freezer in a plastic bag for 12 hours. Remove it, wipe off any condensation, and let it sit for 12 to 24 hours before performing more charge/discharge cycles.

Buy: If you´ve lost the power adapter, replace it with a
universal one, such as Belkin´s
Universal 70W AC ($80; belkin.com), that works with
other gadgets.