Replace Your Laptop's CPU

Upgrading your laptop to a faster, more powerful processor can extend its life span and boost your productivity--but it isn't a project for the fainthearted. We show you how to do it.

Estimated Time: 60 Minutes; Difficulty: Hard

Saddled with an old, slow processor in your laptop? Ripping it out and subbing in a new one can result in an exceptional boost in speed. For instance, upgrading from a 1.66-GHz Intel Core Duo to a 2-GHz Core 2 Duo T7200 raised our laptop's WorldBench 6 score from 57 to 68. But this upgrade isn't as simple as most of our other notebook upgrades.

Make sure that you buy a CPU that will work with your portable. In fact, some laptops have nonreplaceable, soldered-in CPUs.

If the processor is upgradable, you'll need to find a compatible replacement. As with a laptop graphics card upgrade, the best way to proceed is to look at what CPUs have been sold with your laptop over the course of its life span, by googling "[your notebook model] CPU." We purchased a 2-GHz Intel T7200 from a niche online reseller (we have yet to find a laptop vendor that will sell us a new processor).

Be sure to consult your laptop's service manual (which you should be able to download from the manufacturer's support page) before attempting to open up your machine. Also, make sure to guard your hardware against possible electrostatic discharge by wearing an antistatic wrist strap whenever you handle any internal components.

Click on to see how we replaced a notebook's processor.

Step 1: Update the BIOS

Before you remove your first screw, it is critical that you upgrade your BIOS to the latest version. Manufacturers often update BIOSs to allow support for newer CPUs. If you upgrade to a chip that's newer than your BIOS allows, your notebook won't boot at all. Check the support section of your manufacturer's Web site for any BIOS updates for your notebook.

The process for upgrading your CPU is usually almost identical to that for upgrading your graphics board. In the case of the Inspiron E1505, the CPU resides directly underneath the video card assembly, so disassembly instructions are exactly the same for this part as for that one.

Step 2: Remove Any Cover Plates

Laptop designs vary, but the upgrade process usually begins with removing hinge covers: Pry up any plastic hinge cover and pull it away from the chassis. Avoid excessive force, as pulling too hard can break the plastic parts.

Step 3: Detach the Keyboard

Detach the keyboard by taking out the screws beneath the hinge cover that secure it, lifting it off, and then unplugging the connector. On some notebooks, simple latches allow you to remove the keyboard without unscrewing anything.

(Note: In a job like this, keeping track of where each screw came from is important. A good way to keep things organized is to use paper cups to hold the screws--one cup for each step of disassembly--and label each cup clearly.)

Step 4: Remove the Display Assembly

Remove the display assembly--the entire apparatus of the screen--by taking out the screws on the bottom and back of the portable, and unplugging the video and Wi-Fi antenna cables (pictured).

Next, pull out the optical drive; this usually means depressing the latch on the bottom of the laptop and sliding the drive out sideways.

Step 5: Remove the Shell

Remove the upper shell by taking the screws holding it out of the bottom of the PC. As you lift the shell off of the chassis, make certain that no part of it is still attached to the bottom of the case or to the motherboard. If it feels like you have to force it, that probably means either a screw is still in place or a clip remains to be unsnapped. Before continuing, back off and double-check your service manual to discover any well-hidden screws that may have eluded you.

Step 6: Remove the Graphics Card

We've now reached the part of the upgrade that involves actually laying hands on critical system components, so be sure you're wearing an antistatic wrist strap and are well grounded before continuing. Obviously, you'll have to use care in handling any components that you touch.

On our laptop, the preceding steps gave us access to the graphics card assembly, which we removed by loosening two screws. The CPU sits beneath that card.

Step 7: Remove the Heat Sink

With the graphics card out of the way, we removed four more screws to get the heat sink off and to expose the CPU itself, held in its socket by a single locking screw.

Step 8: Replace the CPU

Turn the CPU socket's locking screw counterclockwise until it stops, and lift the CPU straight up and out of the laptop. Drop the new CPU in, but don't push it (if it looks as though it needs a push, it isn't aligned properly). Turn the screw clockwise to lock it. Note: Some systems use a locking bar in place of a screw.

Step 9: Apply Thermal Paste and Reassemble

Next you need to prepare the heat sink anew: Remove all of the old thermal compound (silver-gray gunk) by wiping the heat sink with 99 percent isopropyl alcohol and a lint-free rag. If you bought a used CPU, it may be covered with this goop, too, so clean it off as well. When it's dry, reapply a paper-thin layer of thermal paste to the top of the CPU, spreading it evenly with a business card or an old credit card.

Clean up any excess paste and replace the heat sink. Reassemble the laptop and boot it up. Jump into the machine's BIOS setup to make sure the laptop is seeing the CPU properly. Finally, launch Windows and enjoy the performance boost!

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