Salvaging an old laptop
August 22, 2021 7:56 AM   Subscribe

I have a Toshiba Portege R935-P330 that I'm trying to revive for my kids to use, and have some specific questions.

1. It has Ubuntu on it now - I don't know the password, and am hoping to just reinstall Windows over it, if possible. So far my attempts to do this have failed, so pointers are needed.

2. I have Windows 7 installation discs, but would like to put 10 on so that I can use the current versions of Chrome and Firefox. It appears to have 6GB standard memory - is this realistically enough to run 10?

Any heads up on things I might also need to be thinking about will be greatly appreciated.
posted by ryanshepard to Computers & Internet (9 answers total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
2. No it will need 8 minimum.
posted by DarlingBri at 8:15 AM on August 22, 2021

Best answer: Should be able to remove the existing Ubuntu installation from the Windows 10 installer - once you've made and booted off of the installer USB stick, you'll get to a screen to select the hard drive you want to install it to. Just go through each item listed there and delete everything. Then, select the one big block of unallocated space and hit Next and the installer will take care of it. Alternatively, there's this guide to using diskpart to force wipe the drive before you even start installing - if you've had issues just removing the partitions, do the diskpart method.

6GB is above the minimum for Windows 10 (which is 2GB, though 4GB is about as low as you want to go, really). You may be able to boost it to 8GB - it uses DDR3 1600 memory - but replacing the 2GB module in there with a 4GB one would probably be not real cost effective. (Unofficially, it'll support 16GB, which would be a better option if you want to put out the cash for it. Toshiba's spec sheets may not list 16GB as the max but the specs for that machine were also written when single 8GB modules weren't a thing you could buy yet.)

If it doesn't have one already, a cheap 240GB or so SSD would be a pretty inexpensive and high bang-for-the-buck upgrade. Even the cheapest DRAM-less SSD ought to be faster than the drive controller in the machine, and the latency improvements alone would make a night and day difference. This is assuming the drive is relatively easy to get to in that machine. (Also: this'd fix the issue of getting Ubuntu off of it too.)
posted by mrg at 8:18 AM on August 22, 2021 [1 favorite]

I have old Toshiba laptop. I think the model is Satellite A665D and that it came with Windows 7 Home. I upgraded to the regular version of Win 7 because I needed that for my work situation. It was fine.

I have upgraded to Win 10. Now it is so slow booting up and doing other operating systems stuff that it's a pain to use. Children would find it too frustrating for sure. OTOH, it will still stream movies without too much trouble once you get them started.

Also, the battery doesn't hold a charge for very long. The battery will be flat in a week or so of disuse. I understood this to be a wide-spread Toshiba problem at the time. I almost always kept it plugged in.

I'd be cautious about upgrading to more demanding software.
posted by SemiSalt at 8:31 AM on August 22, 2021

If it still has the original (750GB, 5400 RPM) hard disc in it, performance under Windows 10 is going to be absolutely miserable.

Firefox and Chrome still run under Windows 7 for now. Obviously that's not going to hold for long, but could be an acceptable holding position. Otherwise, stick with Linux and/or put an SSD in it.
posted by BobInce at 9:01 AM on August 22, 2021 [1 favorite]

Windows 7 no longer gets security updates and probably shouldn't be used on a computer that you're going to connect the internet.
posted by paper chromatographologist at 9:11 AM on August 22, 2021 [4 favorites]

2. No it will need 8 minimum.

I run W10 on a machine with 4GB, and it's definitely usable even with just a spinning rust disk. Just don't expect things to start up immediately, and if you leave things running and suspend/sleep instead of shutting down that helps too.
posted by Stoneshop at 10:42 AM on August 22, 2021 [2 favorites]

Best answer: If your Win7 installation still has a valid license key (and you can find it) and it's not currently active on another machine, you're very likely still able to upgrade from 7 to 10 for free.

A 9 year old nothing-special laptop is going to be painful to use.

However, if you leave it plugged in, battery life becomes a non-issue. Instead of shutting it down, you can [winkey] + l (lower case L) you can lock the computer and lower the lid. You can play around with the power settings so it doesn't go into hibernate. Maybe sleep is ok. But I'd just set it to power down the monitor. That way, you can avoid the sloooow startup yet not draw too much power while not in use.

Firefox is still a memory hog. It'll help if you limit how many tabs you have open. It won't help a ton.

Depending on your use-case and budget, getting a new machine might make more sense, unfortunately.
posted by porpoise at 11:35 AM on August 22, 2021 [1 favorite]

This is very dependent on what the kids want to use the laptop for, but I would install a new version of Ubuntu (latest LTS) with a minimalist desktop environment (how minimalist you can go depends on how much your kids would be interested in tinkering, which I realise may be not very). I suspect that a more heavyweight modern OS will simply not be usable on this hardware even if it will technically install and run. As it is, I agree that Firefox is going to eat all the memory.

If you want a general-purpose modern Windows laptop, this machine probably isn't going to cut it. If it's lying around and collecting dust, and you want to try to resurrect it so that something can be done with it, something can probably be done with it. Just maybe not as much as you'd like.
posted by confluency at 12:09 PM on August 22, 2021 [1 favorite]

Seconding advice to put a new version of Linux on it instead. My last laptop was of a similar age/processor speed and even with an SSD, Windows was painful to use. Ubuntu was much better.
posted by needs more cowbell at 12:20 PM on August 22, 2021 [2 favorites]

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