Upgrading an old laptop.
November 26, 2012 6:35 PM   Subscribe

I have an old laptop. Would it be worth my while to upgrade its RAM?

Specifically, I have this laptop. It has 256MB of RAM, which is woefully inadequate for anything. If I spent ~40 bucks upgrading to 1 or 2GB of RAM, would I notice enough of an improvement to make this laptop useable? Using XP right now is an exercise in clicking and waiting.
posted by graventy to Technology (15 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
I've got a Dell of about the same Vintage that is still perfectly usable with Linux on it. I think I have 1 GB of RAM in mine.
posted by COD at 6:56 PM on November 26, 2012

Yes, you will notice a definite improvement if you add RAM. Check to see what the computer will take (most likely it will max out at 2 GB) and install it.

To second COD's suggestion: start experimenting with various Linux flavors. Most current Linux installations run quite a bit faster than XP installations on the same hardware, and can easily be installed alongside XP. Look into Xubuntu or Lubuntu, which are fairly full-featured, yet work well on modest hardware.
posted by 1367 at 7:08 PM on November 26, 2012

Max it out with the 2 gigabytes, my friend. It will be like a new computer. FYI, I tried several flavors of Ubuntu on a Dell laptop of similar age and couldn't get anything to play full-screen web videos smoothly. With 2GB memory the hardware is plenty fast enough to run XP.
posted by scose at 7:27 PM on November 26, 2012

You should be able to find a pair of 1 or 2GB memory sticks for dirt cheap. Check craigslist or ebay.
posted by neversummer at 7:29 PM on November 26, 2012

Looks like you could take it to 2GB for $50 or so, maybe less if you can source some recycled RAM.

With 2GB and XP, it will feel a little slow, but shouldn't be plagued by long frustrating waits. Linux might help a little, but in either case, I'd guess a modern web browser, like Chrome, would tax the machine irregardless of what OS you have on it.
posted by Good Brain at 7:33 PM on November 26, 2012

It's DDR2700 notebook memory btw. You can use 3100 too, maybe higher. Nothing DDR2.

I would expect you could find two 512's for 5 bucks a piece or less, probably 1GB's too. Ask around.
posted by neversummer at 8:02 PM on November 26, 2012

On preview seconding, it takes PC2700, also known as DDR 333. You have 2 slots that will take a 1 GB module each. Here's a Newegg listing of 1GB modules.
posted by laconic skeuomorph at 8:04 PM on November 26, 2012

As the 'computer guy' for a lot of my family and friends, I love being presented with slow-running old computers and asked if there's anything I can do. 90% of the time new RAM (along with judicious pruning of background processes, such as replacing crappy antivir with MSE) has a dramatic effect, turning a near-unusable box into a perfectly acceptable computer. Do it!
posted by Busy Old Fool at 11:58 PM on November 26, 2012

Yup. I have tweaked several Toshibas and they are good hardware, generally. Second to Apple, they have the best trackpads, IMO.

RAM really helps. An SSD would help a lot. Failing that, Puppy Linux is fun when booted from PCMCIA. BusyOldFool is right about background processes and antivirus. Cycle eaters. I prune the hell out of nonessential stuff to some effect.

For surfing, word processing, email, (and in my case, microcontroller work), old boxes like these are decent. USB 1.1 is the biggest drawback but sometimes compensated by a serial port, again, specific to my needs. I use old Thinkpads for these reasons. Great hardware. Maintainable.
posted by FauxScot at 1:39 AM on November 27, 2012

Came here to echo one of FauxScot's points - if you can find an appropriate SSD for the machine that are really dropping in price now, I'd heartily recommend this. I have a venerable Dell Latitude D620 that I filled with RAM, which helped a lot, but what really got it sizzling was the SSD I installed shortly afterward. The machine ran Windows 7 and now Windows 8 brilliantly, and often out-performs my late-2011 MacBook daily driver with conventional spinning platters.

Switching to Linux if you're mainly looking to browse the web, e-mail and do a little Office-suite work is also a great way to squeeze out performance on an older machine and as very popular browsers and mail clients for Windows are available, you won't notice much difference (other than speed) in this scenario. Previously I'd have recommended Ubuntu here, but what with all the default desktop turmoil, am now suggesting Mint instead.
posted by NordyneDefenceDynamics at 5:41 AM on November 27, 2012 [1 favorite]

Installing a cheap SSD is going to cost you about £100 minimum. Even then, you'll only have a 128GB hard drive.

If you do feel it is worth it, this will make a big difference in speed. Especially if you upgrade the RAM as well.

My opinion? Doing a clean up of the computer, i.e. formating the hard drive and installing Windows XP from scratch, is the biggest change versus cost you can make to your machine.

Once you've done this, spend £40 on some RAM and dedicate the laptop to a single task. I have my old Asus 901 eee pc setup as a music device. It only has iTunes, Spotify and Chrome installed (for playing internet radio). Works like a charm on my hi-fi, and it means I can stream music through the house.

Call it quits, get a new laptop, and only visit your old one on weekends.
posted by 0bvious at 7:03 AM on November 27, 2012

Wow, really, an SSD? Won't it still be held back by the processor speed?

RAM and a deep clean sounds like a good first step. Thanks a lot guys!
posted by graventy at 7:26 AM on November 27, 2012

No its not worth it. keep in mind you can get tablets for $200
posted by majortom1981 at 8:50 AM on November 27, 2012

According to this (detailed specs tab), the laptop has an EIDE drive. All the SSD drives are SATA, I think. I don't think they're compatible.
posted by DarkForest at 9:25 AM on November 27, 2012

Much as I like tablets, they suck for anything that requires typing.
posted by graventy at 7:53 PM on November 27, 2012

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