How To: Revitalize an Aging Notebook on the Cheap

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My ThinkPad R50 just hit its fifth birthday, and the years haven't been kind to it. When it was new, the notebook was reliable and fast, and it traveled with me to many places throughout the world.

Today, it's slow and prone to annoying shutdowns. Plus, it has a broken key, its fan sounds like a 747 taking off, and the case looks like it went five rounds with Lenox Lewis. It can all be fixed, but is it a good investment to revamp a notebook that's worth about $350?

It sure is, because I'm going to give this old notebook a new lease on life for about $125 -- a bargain, considering what it would cost to replace.

I'll show you how I cleaned it up, replaced its slow and overloaded hard drive, installed extra memory, replaced the keyboard, and gave it a software tuneup. Not one of these tasks took me more than 15 minutes to do; altogether they took around an hour.

While it's all about reviving my ThinkPad R50, these techniques will work on just about any laptop. You'll need to investigate where the RAM is stashed, what kind of hard drive it uses and how the keyboard is attached. If you haven't backed up your data or defragged your hard drive lately, it could take you two or three hours longer than it took me, but it's absolutely worth the time you'll put into it.

When I finished my notebook rejuvenation, I benchmarked the system using FutureMark Corp.'s PCMark 05 tests to see how much extra performance I squeezed out of the old notebook. Turns out my little project yielded a very stable ThinkPad that performs 30% better than when I started. Here's how I did it.

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