Step-by-Step: 5 laptop upgrades you can do yourself

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Hard Drive

Time: 60 minutes

Replacing a laptop's hard drive is almost always an uncomplicated affair, and the actual swap can be done in just a few minutes. Transferring the data from the old drive to the new one requires a little more planning, and typically takes an hour or so. This simple task is likely not only to give you more storage, but also to improve performance. We upgraded a 5400-rpm, 120GB drive to a 7200-rpm, 200GB model, raising the system's WorldBench 6 score from 57 to 61.

You can find a selection of laptop hard drives from a variety of vendors in PC World Shopping.

Hard drive photo 1: removing the old drive.

Hard drives are usually accessible via a side panel in your laptop and held in place by screws on the bottom. Remove those screws, and then slide the drive out of the machine (as in photo 1 here).

Hard drive photo 2: the sled.

The drive will most likely be attached to a sled (photo 2, at left). Remove the screws that are holding the drive in the sled, and remove the drive. Put the new drive where the old one was, and replace all of the screws in reverse order.

If you are reinstalling Windows from scratch, boot from your installation disc and go to town. On the other hand, if you want to reproduce your old data and programs exactly the way you had them before, consider using cloning software to make an exact copy of the old disk. We've had great success with Clonezilla (, a free tool that is command-line only but is reasonably intuitive and very fast. Finally, clone your old (now external) drive to your new (now internal) drive, and boot normally. You're done.

Optical Drive

Time: 5 to 20 minutes

Optical drive photo: ejection.
Photograph: Robert Cardin

Would you like to graduate from an older CD-ROM drive to a DVD burner, or possibly even to a high-def drive? If your laptop has a modular optical drive bay (one that is equipped with an ejector switch of some kind), replacing your optical drive is easy. Buy a replacement drive, or salvage one from a compatible machine. With the laptop turned off, eject the old drive and then install the new one (photo 1, above right).

If your laptop does not have a modular drive bay, replacement usually remains fairly simple, anyway: Often a single locking screw holds the drive in place; you just unscrew it, slide the old drive out, put in the new drive, and replace the screw. In addition, you may need to install any drivers that came with the new drive.

A replacement drive should be designed for use with your specific notebook, so buy one directly from the system's original manufacturer if possible. The advantages? For one thing, this ensures that you'll have the correct IDE channel settings (which often cannot be changed) for the drive; for another, attaching the faceplate to the drive can be difficult, and it's easy to break the faceplate when removing the original drive. Vendors put the eject button in different places, too, meaning that with the wrong drive you won't be able to use the faceplate at all.

In many instances a new optical drive will work without additional tweaking. If yours doesn't work, however, download the appropriate driver; you may have to search on the full model number of the part if you didn't obtain the drive from your notebook's vendor.

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