Step-by-Step: 5 Laptop Upgrades You Can Do Yourself

Bluetooth

Time: 10 minutes

Many laptops come with the wiring and circuitry to support a Bluetooth card already built in, even if they don't have the card itself installed. To avoid possible compatibility problems, however, you should obtain the Bluetooth module directly from your laptop vendor.

Bluetooth module.
Photograph: Robert Cardin
On our Dell Inspiron 1525 laptop, we found the Bluetooth connector behind an odd little door in the battery bay. We merely popped open the door, pulled out the wires, and attached the Bluetooth module to it (photo 1, upper left). On some machines, the module is located near the wireless card slot; on others, it's situated under the keyboard.

Reboot, and then download and install the appropriate driver from your laptop vendor's Web site.

Wireless Card

Time: 15 minutes

Upgrading a wireless card is usually about as easy as upgrading RAM. In fact, on some machines, both the Wi-Fi card and the RAM are located under the same panel.

The trick is to make sure that you install a compatible part. Most laptops that were made a few years ago use Mini PCI cards, while newer ones use the Mini PCI Express standard. The latter type of cards have two separated sets of connectors along the narrower side; Mini PCI cards have only one set.

Even if the card you get has the right connector, it may not automatically work in your laptop: It's unlikely that you can upgrade your old 802.11b card to an 802.11n one (since few 802.11n Mini PCI cards have been made), but it's very likely that you'll be able to find an 802.11a/b/g card that works. Also, many systems that shipped with 802.11g cards can be upgraded to meet the latest 802.11n standard. To avoid firmware incompatibilities, we advise you to get this part directly from the manufacturer of your laptop; in any case, it should be sold specifically for your computer.

Wireless card, photo 1: location.
Photograph: Robert Cardin
Once you have the right part, the upgrade is a snap. If your wireless card is under the keyboard, as ours is, remove the keyboard (see the next paragraph), locate the card (photo 1 at left), and disconnect the two antenna wires (one white, one black) by pulling straight up on the connectors; don't pull on the wires themselves (see photo 2, below).

If you need to remove the keyboard, follow these steps:

  • Remove the laptop's hinge cover by prying up the plastic.
  • Detach the keyboard by taking out the two screws beneath the hinge cover that secure it, lifting it off, and then unplugging the connector.

(Reverse these steps to replace the keyboard when the new card is in place.)

Wireless card, photo 2: pulling up on the connectors.
Photograph: Robert Cardin

Remove the old card by pulling apart the two holding clamps on the card's sides and then pulling the card straight out (photo 3, below). Insert the new card, and reattach the antennas by pushing the connectors straight down on the plugs.

Wireless card, photo 3: removal.
Photograph: Robert Cardin

If your wireless card is located on the underside of the machine, flip the notebook over, remove the appropriate panel, and follow the instructions above.

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