I restored an old laptop; please help me keep it alive.
January 13, 2012 4:10 PM   Subscribe

How can I prolong the life of this older Gateway computer with Windows Vista?

My daughter abandoned her Gateway computer a couple of years back because it "didn't work." Well, I got it to work a few months ago, but the power cord suddenly made a high, screeching noise and stopped working. Okay. I now have a new power cord and all's well again. Kind of.

The laptop has been used and abused. The daughter-person dropped it at one point and the internet card disappeared. I have a USP connection now. It overheats fairly easily if I'm not careful.

I basically want to use the computer for a few things - surfing the internet at home (my tablet will not connect with my landlady's ancient router), watching movies (I don't have a TV yet in my new place), and occasionally word processing (I write).

I don't want to have to replace the power cord again. The last one got hot to the touch whenever I used the computer. This one doesn't seem to be doing that. I'm not sure if the last power cord was original to the computer or not. I'm pretty sure my daughter replaced it. She doesn't remember either. She goes through computers like Kleenex.

I read the previous posts about Gateway laptops, but those referred to Windows XP and not Vista. I'm kind of Windows-centric so I'm a little wary of other programs like Ubuntu. I use Chrome to surf the net because I like it better than the other programs. I have Microsoft Security Essentials as an anti-virus installed.

What I'm asking advice about is how to keep this laptop working as long as possible. How to keep it from overheating (other than cleaning it out, which I've already done via advice from previous posts about overheating). And is there anything I need to do to keep Vista running with as little memory usage as possible?

I hope I got the terminology right - I'm very definitely an end user so I know very little about how computers actually work...
posted by patheral to Computers & Internet (11 answers total)
Preventing low memory problems on vista

However, I think Windows 7 might be better for low-end devices than Vista. Here's an article in support of that theory. Perhaps get a copy of that and do a clean install?
posted by jacalata at 4:29 PM on January 13, 2012 [2 favorites]

Overheating as in shutting down or does it just feel really warm? Some laptops are just roasters, and it might not indicate a problem. Movies will make it especially warm.

But in the case of any squirrelly computer, backup, backup, backup, especially if you're a writer. Embrace the cloud.
posted by sageleaf at 4:33 PM on January 13, 2012

Response by poster: I meant to mention that my recent move has left me short of funds. I would install Windows 7 except it's out of my price range at the moment (read: not free).

Overheating as in gets really warm and occasionally shuts down. I haven't written anything on this computer yet as I just got it working again yesterday.
posted by patheral at 4:37 PM on January 13, 2012

Overheating: if it is still overheating, consider a cooling pad (highest rated on Newegg at $42). The only activity that should cause the computer to actually get hot would be watching movies, as it's the most intensive thing you list.

Power cord: These tend to go out; be prepared with a spare. I have a Dell laptop from 2005 that I just use to surf the web, and I think I'm on my fifth or sixth power cord. They break, they go dead, and there isn't much to be done about it.

Memory and Vista: You could upgrade it to Windows 7. Most computers running Vista are capable of running 7, and 7 runs better. Also, make sure you've max'ed out the RAM. RAM is super cheap for 4GB or 8GB, and there's no reason not to run at least 4GB currently in any laptop (provided it's compatible). 4GB DDR2 laptop memory is $45 on Newegg. 4GB DDR3 laptop memory is $20 on Newegg. If the computer supports 8GB DDR3, it is around $40 on Newegg.
posted by Mister Fabulous at 4:37 PM on January 13, 2012

Best answer: This is hokey advice, but even putting a couple of pencils beneath it or anything that will keep it from being on a flat surface will help it cool a little better.

If Vista is working fairly well, I wouldn't bother spending the cash on another OS for that machine. I would, while it's still working, google up how to restore back to factory settings. It's not difficult but something you'll probably have to do eventually when devices begin to fail etc. Like if you're saving your work to a thumb drive and all of a sudden it's not recognized anymore.

Overall, though, it sounds like you're in good shape.
posted by snsranch at 5:06 PM on January 13, 2012

You could install Granola . In general, for machines that originally came with and were designed for Vista or 7, this program automatically cuts CPU use when things are idle, saving around 20-30% of power, so saving some heat generation and fan cooling. The program is free. On the site it asks you to register, and the program will ask you to register, but you do not have to register. It has full function even if you do not register.
posted by caclwmr4 at 8:02 PM on January 13, 2012

You may benefit by getting a can of compressed air and blowing out the dust- often laptops slurp up a bunch of crud from the couch, etc. I use a lapdesk with built in fans to keep my laptop cool and my legs from getting scorched.
posted by jenkinsEar at 3:41 AM on January 14, 2012

Best answer: I don't want to have to replace the power cord again. The last one got hot to the touch whenever I used the computer. This one doesn't seem to be doing that. I'm not sure if the last power cord was original to the computer or not. I'm pretty sure my daughter replaced it.

By "power cord" I'm assuming you mean the laptop's power supply, the "brick" with a cord that goes to the wall and a cord that goes to the laptop. It's quite common for the "brick" part to get a little warm during use; if it gets unusually hot, it's usually a sign that it's an incorrect replacement. Using a power supply with too low of a wattage rating will make it run hot, often to the point of failure.

Seconding trying to get the laptop up off the table a little. I used to lay a book flat, and stick it under the rear edge of my old laptop. Gave it some air to breathe, and angled the keyboard just a little, too. If it's already running hot, try to avoid using it on a soft surface like on your bed, or on a blanket. Keep it on a smooth, flat surface where at least a little air can get around it. Electronic components can be ruined by excessive heat.

Windows boxes love to fragment the hell out of their hard disks. The two biggest and cheapest things you can do to a Windows PC to boost performance are to add more memory (incredibly cheap online, like at Newegg), and to regularly run a disk defragmenter. Windows has a halfway decent one built in.
posted by xedrik at 9:36 AM on January 14, 2012

Response by poster: Xedrik, that's exactly what I meant by power cord, and yes, it's the "brick" in the middle of the last on that got extremely hot and let of the screeching sound before it died. This new one is not running hot at all, so I assume it's a good replacement cord.

I defragged the hard drive when I first restored the computer, and it's on my schedule of regular maintenance, I've used Windows long enough to know that. ^_^ It's Vista I'm not familiar with as this is the first computer I've used that runs with Vista.
posted by patheral at 10:48 AM on January 14, 2012

Some anectdata for you:

i bought a Gateway laptop on a steep discount about 4 or 5 years ago, had Vista, and since i just did basic setup and didn't use it very often (it was for my oldest kid, she didn't use it that much other than Firefox flash games) it seemed to appear fine.

After changing employers in 2009 was issued a new HP laptop with Vista and my eyes were opened. From very slow startup, to issues with getting it to play nice with other display projectors, to spontaneous crashes, even a few bluescreens, on a system that was critical to my productivity. Thankfully at a new employer in 2010 they issued me a laptop with XP, and that is not a sarcastic comment!

A few months ago i bit the bullet with upgrading the old Gateway laptop with Windows 7, it was a great investment into an aging laptop. Runs so much better and is SO stable and fast.
posted by scooterdog at 3:56 PM on January 14, 2012

Best answer: Vista got such bad reviews I've never used it at work or at home. You might consider going back to Windows XP. It shouldn't be too hard to get an install disk & key. More RAM is the best upgrade. For the heat, get some rubber 'feet' or cut out some plastic disks (milk jug?) and glue them on the bottom, as well as on to the power brick, for air circ. Use a power strip w/an on/off switch or unplug the power cable when not in use, to keep it cooler.

Get rid of all software cruft. Microsoft/SysInternals Autoruns can help you see what's running. Disable from autostart - MSoft Fax, the cd burning software, the DVD playing software, Adobe Reader, and anything you don't use regularly. You don't want to disable these tools, just keep then from running at boot. It's a small memory/processor saving, but it adds up on older machines. Use ccleaner occasionally.

Make sure the screws are snug, but not too tight, esp. the ones for the hinges. This helps keep the cables that run to the display a litter more secure.

If you are confident, open it up and use compressed air to make sure the heat sink is not full of dust, pet hair, etc. Use it someplace where it's less likely to get dropped, stepped on, etc. Don't eat over the keyboard.
posted by theora55 at 2:20 PM on January 15, 2012

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