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Old Notebook, Upgrade or not?

My girlfriend has a Sony Vaio VGN-C2S/P notebook from 2007 and it is getting old and slow. So her question was, upgrade or buy a new one? Well, the Vaio was build with 4 years old tech, a Intel Core 2 Duo 1,6 GHz Dual core processor, 2GB of RAM, a 80 GB hard disk and only 2 USB ports. You can get a notebook like hers for €300 these days, but for a true performance enhancement, one would at least need an Core i3-2 or i5-2 processor with 4 GB RAM and 500GB hard disk, meaning at least €500. That’s not very cost-effective considering her old notebook still works perfectly, so I decided to upgrade it instead. Like with her Samsung Galaxy S, the only condition is that no changes should be visible.

First, I listed all changes needed:

  • faster than a current €500 notebook
  • More USB ports (she has a wireless mouse and a wireless keyboard, which eat up both of her USB ports and make it impossible for her to plug in anything else)
  • 3G HSPA Internet for browsing the web everywhere (tethering is for geeks eh?)
  • as cheap as possible

Let’s start with the first problem: A computer is always as slow as its slowest component, which in a notebook’s case is the hard disk. A spinning 2.5″ hard disk is slow, so that needs to be swapped for a SSD. As SSD are incredibly expensive, only the system partition should be on a SSD, as it shows the biggest improvement there. Pictures or videos which take up a lot of space should be stored on a normal magnetic hard disk, as those are cheap. So I need to make space for a second hard disk. Luckily, Sony uses a standardized IDE slim DVD drive, which can be swapped for a universal SATA to IDE hard disk cage. By exchanging her 80GB hard disk with the 320GB of her external drive and inserting a 96GB Kingston V+ 100 SSD, she will have ~400GB of space, which is more than enough. Next, I swapped her RAM with the RAM from my broken Toshiba notebook, increasing it to 4GB. With this combination, her notebook should outperform most current notebooks. As the Toshiba had a WiFi N card, I swapped it into her notebook, too.

The next two problems can be solved “relatively” easy with an internal USB hub. At least I thought so until I tried soldering it inside. Every single guide on the web showed how you removed a USB slot permanently to connect the hub, which is simply not possible in my case as that would make the mod visible. So I needed to find a different way. I found a user connecting his USB hub to a mini PCIe port, as it should contain USB data lines. Unluckily, the free mini PCIe slot on the Vaio didn’t have working USB signal lines, so I needed a completely new approach. Then I spotted the Expresscard slot, which is nothing else than an external mini PCIe slot. I checked the PINs and it did have working USB signal lines there, but… my girlfriend uses a SD-card reader in that slot which of course already uses those lines. The only solution now is to hijacking the signal line, connecting the card reader to the internal USB hub and the hub to the lines. Luckily, I found that both USB signal lines were connected in series with capacitors, giving me a clean pleace to intercept them. I installed a 4 port USB hub, connected her mouse and keyboard dongle in 1 of each port, a 3G HSPA stick in a third and connected the last port back to the Expresscard slot. Now the only thing left is to place everything so I can still close the notebook perfectly. Done.

So how fast is her notebook now? Well, it boots twice as fast as a brand new i5-2 notebook with a clean Windows installation. Every applications starts up way faster. Unless you decompress a file or do something really CPU intensive, the Vaio will feel faster than any €500 notebook. In fact, if you take 3G HSPA into consideration, a comparable notebook would cost €800. So how much did the upgrade cost?

  • Kingston 96GB V+ 100 SSD (€100)
  • 320GB hard disk (€35)
  • 3G HSPA stick (€20)
  • WiFi N mini PCIe card (€20)
  • Universal HDD cage for slim-drive (€15)
  • 2 GB RAM (€15)
  • 4 port USB hub (€5)

That’s €115 in my case or € 210 if you don’t have any parts, which is a lot cheaper than a €800 notebook isn’t it?

5 Responses to “Old Notebook, Upgrade or not?”

  1. Black:

    Einfach nur genial !

  2. Attila:

    It would mean a lot if you actually posted HOW to detect the usb lines on the pci card’s slots/pins, because some of us would LOVE to try moddings like these :)

    Thanks for the great articles and especially for the wp plugin :)

  3. Qian Qin:

    take a look at http://www.allpinouts.org/index.php/PCI_Express_Card_and_PCI_Express_Mini_Card

  4. Douglas:

    That sounds like a great mod. I bet your girlfriend is happy as hell now! :D
    I would love to see more pictures though, how the HDD’s fit in and whatnot — if you can get your girlfriend to lend you her laptop again, that is :P !

  5. cineS.:

    I advice you to upgrade by mounting an SSD, that is 5 times faster than the normal disc. The old disc you can keep as an external USB drive.