Help me pimp my laptop?
March 26, 2009 8:17 PM   Subscribe

Dell has started to suck. I've owned several, both notebook and desktop, over the past 10 or so years. Now, after buying two power cords for my lemony Inspiron 1720 in less than 2 years, I'm going local. So what are some suggestions for beefing my machine up?

Asking anon because I'd prefer to not parade my ignorance here.

The PC is less than two years old, but in addition to buying a (third) power cord, what are good ways to turbo my computer? I'm not a gamer, but I teach and travel pretty widely, and I'm thinking of upgrading from 2 gigs to 4, and 250 RAM to maybe 700? I have Vista, so I have less speed and ease of use than I did with the Windows 95. I want lots of ample storage, and blink-of-an-eye speed. I'll be in Asia, so the Internet connection I'll tap into will be blazing. I am, obviously, clueless. Do I need an external hard drive? Am I barking up the wrong tree here?
And finally, in the Baltimore area, about what can I expect to shell out monetarily for this? Is $350 to optimistic? Or overkill?

Dell Inspiron 1720 w/ Vista. I'm sure I'm leaving some vital info out, so ask away (, and be amused at my inability to articulate a coherent reply.
posted by anonymous to Computers & Internet (11 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
One warning I'd have with Dell's semi-old laptops (ie, 2 years) is that the upgrade parts can become prohibitively expensive. I had an old... can't remember the model now... that I was looking to upgrade, and I could have (and did) buy a new machine for upgrade costs. YMMV, but i wouldn't lock that route out. I think 1GB of memory for that machine (mine, not yours) was $250+ You can actually get a workable (Depending on what you're doing with it) laptop for $400 or so.
posted by frwagon at 8:27 PM on March 26, 2009

250 RAM to maybe 700 makes not much sense. The RAM is the 2gb->4gb upgrade you're considering. Perhaps you mean upgrade the hard drive from 250 GB to 700 GB. A hard drive won't make your computer faster (unless you have an internal drive that's 4200 RPM or 5400 RPM and replace it with a faster internal drive (like 7200 RPM), but this is somewhat complicated to do.) Easier is to buy an external drive and plug it in.

Upgrading the RAM from 2 to 4 gb, if your computer supports it, couldn't hurt, but it isn't crucial. Depends on how much you use, how many programs you run and which ones. On the other hand, it's not too expensive., I think, has a tool for finding the right part.

Really, you want to clean up your computer, get rid of cruft and useless programs you may have accumulated. Hard to give specific advice. One somewhat drastic way to do it is to back everything up (not necessary but STRONGLY recommended) and reinstall windows for a blank slate. Otherwise, uninstall programs you don't use. Look in the task manager to see if anything's taking up a lot of resources, and find out what it is.
posted by alexei at 8:32 PM on March 26, 2009

Here is a link to the memory you'd use. If you have 2 1gb sticks, you'll have to replace both with two of these (or go for 3GB by replacing one stick, which I believe is the most you can use on 32-bit OSs anyway, which is what you are likely using). If you have one 2GB stick, just add one of these.
posted by alexei at 8:36 PM on March 26, 2009

I would recommend a RAM upgrade (4GB) and a faster RPM hard drive.

As others have said, has a great tool for finding proper RAM for your machine. It is by far the best place to buy RAM.

Good luck!
posted by karizma at 8:39 PM on March 26, 2009

From Wikipedia:
Dell Inspiron 1720.Large (7.62 lb), mid-range models based on the Intel Santa Rosa platform (Model: GM 965 or PM 965). The 1720 features an Intel Core 2 Duo Processor (up to 2.5 GHz) with an integrated Intel X3100 or NVIDIA GeForce 8400M GS/8600M GT. The 1721 features an AMD Turion 64 X2 (up to 2.2 GHz) with an ATI Radeon Xpress 1270. Both models have a 17" display (up to 1920x1200), support for dual SATA hard drives (up to 640GB - 2 x 320GB drives), and 667 MHz DDR2 SDRAM (up to 4 GB). The 1721 also features RAID 0 or 1 hard drive configurations, an option which is strangely missing from the 1720. They also lack DVI or HDMI connections, which should be expected for a mid-range desktop replacement, given their HDCP compliant graphics cards and Blu-ray Disc option. Both models are available in 8 laptop colors.

Yes, upgrading the RAM to 4GB will help quite a bit. Upgrading the hard drive will give you more storage, and potentially more performance. You do need an external drive, preferably two that you'll use to back up your computer regularly, that includes backing up any external drives you buy for simple storage. However it looks like you could possibly add another internal drive, which would be cool but should still be backed up. If you have the X3100 graphics chipset you'll want to turn down or off a whole lot of Vista's visual features and eye candy. If you have the more robust graphics card you can easily google what features should be turned on or off.

You should double check this but I think you can get RAM for pretty cheap. Again, double check but hard drives are reasonable as well.
posted by Science! at 8:41 PM on March 26, 2009

Replacing a laptop hard drive is now super easy-cheesy, so don't worry about that being a problem.

The issue with that is reinstalling Vista (or the super fantastic Windows 7 when it comes out. It runs so much better on my new Lenovo X61 Tablet than the stock Vista install). When you have the OS disc from Dell, it isn't that difficult, but be sure to back up all of your data on an external hard drive.

For speed: Faster hard drive. If you have a 5400 (or even slower, possibly), the step up to 7200 will be noticeable, but beware that it will drain your battery faster. I'm not sure what you mean by 250 to 700 RAM, so I'll leave that to some extra explanation. Extra RAM will help, but not as much as the faster hard drive for speed.

If you've had the laptop for two years, I would highly recommend trying a clean, reformat the hard drive reinstall after backing everything up as your first step. You may be pleasantly surprised at how that may speed up your system.
posted by shinynewnick at 8:50 PM on March 26, 2009

I would do the upgrade to 4 gigs of RAM off and grab an external hard drive. I just got one of the Western Digital Passport externals, it has a nice form factor, and 500gig for $120 off Amazon. Hold off on the reinstall until Windows 7 comes out. Especially on Windows machines, your speed is often hampered most by the OS itself, do some digging and tweaking with the interface. I doubt you have a dedicated video card, and disabling some of the Vista Aero interface stuff such as animations might give you a sizable boost. Another frequent culprit is startup items, make sure you have the absolute minimum running.
posted by sophist at 11:20 PM on March 26, 2009

When upgrading your ram, consider the cas latency. Ram with 5-5-5 timing will be 3-8 percent slower than these 4-4-4-12 modules on most benchmarks.

Intel makes the fastest solid state disks on the market, but they are ridiculously expensive and there are reports performance degrades over time.

A pair of these seagate momentus's in a RAID0 setup should be blazing fast. Check out this jan 09 review at tomshardware.

For $200 that should give your laptop a nice little speed boost. Running xp would probably make it feel a lot faster as well, or at least reducing the graphical effects.
posted by zentrification at 2:56 AM on March 27, 2009

If you have one of the nvidia cards for that machine then dont worry about turning vistas effects off.

I have an inspiron 1520 with 4 gigs ram , windows 7 beta x64, and nvidia geforce 8600gt. My machine is fast with everything i throw at it.

Put in 4 gigs ram and switch to the 64bit version of your os and it will make a noticeable difference
posted by majortom1981 at 4:17 AM on March 27, 2009

1- How is it lemony?
2- How are the power cords breaking? No power cord from any manufacturer suffers abuse well.
3- If it's really a lemon, upgrading it will just make it a more powerful lemon.
posted by gjc at 6:16 AM on March 27, 2009

I say wipe it and either put XP or Windows 7 beta on it. You have plenty of ram for normal usage (although 2gb ram upgrades are cheap). I wouldn't even bother upgrading to a faster hard drive, possibly to a larger one for storage reasons though.

Also, power cords should be under warranty, have you tried calling Dell for a replacement?
posted by wongcorgi at 12:38 PM on March 27, 2009

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