Upgrading My Laptop: How I Avoided Technological Obsolescence

by AJ Pettersen · 25 comments

With the emergence of new freelance writing job opportunities, I have strongly considered purchasing a new laptop. After all, a freelance writer’s number one tool is his or her computer. The netbook I currently use was purchased on Black Friday in 2009 for less than $200. This was a steal at the time, but it has become out of date within a few years (as all technology does). It has a 10.1” screen, a small keyboard, a cramped scroll pad and only 1 GB of memory. This can make my new gig difficult at times, so it’s time for a change.

I began to look for new options, but soon found out that I would have to spend at least $300 for a new computer, plus at least $100 for the proper programs. I started to look for alternative options. Could I upgrade it without buying anything new?

How I Upgraded

I knew my computer wouldn’t be sufficient without a number of upgrades. I came up with the following solutions:

  • My future mother in law gave me a 20” TV she wasn’t using, I purchased a connecter cable from Best Buy for $17
  • I bought a used USB keyboard from the Goodwill store for $5
  • My brother gave me a USB wireless mouse he was no longer using
  • I bought a 2 GB stick of memory at Best Buy for $35

In the end, I spent $57 to upgrade my current laptop and avoid buying a new one. Before I upgraded, my laptop wasn’t good enough. Now it is more than enough. The new screen is massive and allows me to view the screen without straining my vision. The new keyboard relieved the pain in my wrists and increased my efficiency. The mouse made it easier to navigate through various programs. And the new memory stick made the system run smoothly and effectively without slowing down.

I think these upgrades were worth more than the $57 they cost. A couple of items were free, but sometimes all you have to do is look/ask around. Are you thinking about buying new technology? Could you upgrade your current setup?

Is Your Device Technologically Out of Date?

My search for a new computer stopped as soon as I found that my current one runs just fine. I could make the necessary upgrades for far cheaper than buying new. Technology moves at a breakneck speed. The electronic item you purchased a few weeks ago may not even be the newest model anymore, but this doesn’t mean you have to rush back to the store.

What I learned through this experience is that discarding “obsolete” products for the newest ones can be a vicious cycle. At times, items can get too old and be difficult to update, but you should always do some research before buying new. Your old item may be a few upgrades away from being like-new again. All you have to do is take a bit of time to breathe new life into it.

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{ read the comments below or add one }

  • Brian in Tucson says:

    I bought my HP Presario almost three years ago. My previous HP had fried some stuff on the motherboard & power supply board–not economically repairable. My current computer was a bit more than $300 with in store specials and a rebate and it’s been a fine, full sized (15″ screen) Windows 7 machine.

    Unfortunately, on Christmas Day, we had a little problem. I spilled a full 12 oz cup of 90 wt. coffee (I do like it strong!) and drenched the keyboard. Quickly unplugged it, and removed the battery–then tipped it over to let whatever coffee that would drain out do so. I have a compressor in my shop, so I blew it out with dry compressed air. The laptop would boot and light up the screen with the Win stuff–but alas, the keyboard was totally dead. Computer worked just fine with a USB external keyboard I have when I need to type faster.

    I found an OEM replacement on EBay for $25 shipped and 5 days later with fingers figuratively crossed, I booted up the computer with its brand new keyboard. Installation wasn’t difficult and only required only a phillips screwdriver. The screws to remove are even marked on the outer case with a little keyboard symbol.

    And, it works! Works well, even. Actually returned the computer to like new function.

    I coulda bought a new computer, I guess, but it woulda hurt. A lot! Hope this thing lasts at least another 3 years–most of us don’t need the latest and greatest hardware or software–I’m using an iPhone 4 and find it suits me just fine (got it used for about a quarter of what a iPhone 5 is costing with no extension of my committment w/ the hated provider.)

  • aa says:

    My old Pentium 3, 20G+80G harddisk, adsl modem, wifi card, with FreeBSD (not a kids toy such as vmlinuz kernel based distro) used for firewall and internet sharing, far outperformed my other line with Cisco 877w adsl router (much newer and pricier) by any means performance and convenience to manage. That stupid bloated Cisco IOS is really craps (if you ever considered using it) for firewall.

  • Tom Dewsbury says:

    My desktop computer is 12 years old purchased in the year 2000. So far I’ve changed the CPU, MotherBoad, RAM, HDD, PSU, Graphics card, Sound Card and it runs great 🙂 better than a new one. It is an i7, 12gb ram, 1tb hdd, 256gb SSD, and ATI 6870. I am so glad I stuck to my old pc and didnt waste money buying a new one.

    • Carlos says:

      Lol, you’re ridiculous. Nice. One of my babies is running a 400mhz celeron, 94mb ram, 7 gig hard drive with win98 + archlinux.. It’s probably just a bit older vintage than yours 🙂 enjoy.

  • Bengt says:

    Windows 8 also works wonders with an old machine. Just installed the pre-release version on a 5-year old hp laptop and it virtually flies. It takes an hour to learn, but will be a real improvement over anything we have known. At reported $40 for an upgrade, it will rejuvenate a lot of old hardware.

  • Gringo says:

    Most of the upgrades- keyboard and screen- incorporated desktop features to make the laptop more user friendly. I find laptop keyboards and internal mouses to be very uncomfortable to use.

    My desktop is 7 years old. I have upgraded various parts over the years. It is a lot easier to change out parts on a desktop than on a laptop. It runs fine.

  • random coolzip says:

    You’re running open source Ubuntu Linux on your upgraded box, aren’t you? I bet you can get another 18 months out of your laptop.

    There is a great big beautiful world out there that is NOT bloated-and-morbidly-obese-MikeGrowsSoft and I encourage you to spend some time exploring it.

    All the best,

    • cath says:

      I’ve run Linux which is fine but not when it comes to compatibility issues between this and the Uni systems and the fact that when you want to do anything to the Linux stuff from downloading software to trouble shooting a problem it’s like having to learn another language. I’ve never been so frustrated in my life as since I’ve had a linux puter.

      • Deichscheich says:

        What did you want to download? As I see it, there is no simpler way: fire up the Software center, click install, be done with it. And yes, it is like learning a new language at times, but why is that a bad thing? Are you blaming Linux for being different than Windows? That’s not fair!

        Troubleshooting is also easier than on either Windows or OSX, since if there is a problem, it actually tells you what the problem is so you can google it, not like “There was a problem. Please try again.”

        For everyday use – browsing, music, movies, writing – there is nothing simpler than Ubuntu or Linux Mint. I have never been so relaxed in my life as since I’ve installed Linux.

  • Andy M-S says:

    My netbook is faster and easier than most computers. 2GB of RAM helped, but the best thing I did was to replace the hard drive with a solid state drive. Speeds things up wonderfully!

  • mark says:

    I have had kaspersky internet for about 3 years. bought a new quad core hp home pc and put kaspersky on straight away to protect the system. It seemed quite slow but due to my lack of knowledge just accepted it. All scans were slow and over time got slower.
    I updated to 2011 and went from bad to worst. Slow wasnt the word. Full scan was taking 2-3 days in the end and only about 50gb used from the 1tb.
    Just removed the program and put on a free microsoft version and all pc’s are working realy quick and has cleared 4 problems.
    Why pay for this program. It effected my 3 pc’s very badly.
    I will never buy this again.

  • pBo says:

    Still in high school?

    netbook != laptop

    Could I upgrade it without buying anything new?
    No. The answer is and was no.

    You ask a lot of rhetorical questions.

    Congratulations on your smooth and effective running computer.

    Breakneck speed?? Did you mean warp speed?

  • Rebecca says:

    hi,good day!
    My sister gave me a laptop the latitude 400d..My problem is I cannot open it into any of the files because it willgoing to shut down without clicking anything….The power is still on but no more you can see on the screen….how could it repair??Is this very expensive to repair or do i need to buy one??

  • actionjksn says:

    My Thinkpad with a Core i5 was getting kind of old, so I upgraded the ram from 4 gigs to 8 and now it has a new lease on life. And just think I was about to scrap it. I think I might be able to get another year out of it now.

    • Steven Green says:

      You were seriously scrapping an i5 laptop with 4GB of RAM? If your requirements exceed that, I would have bought a SSD and 16GB ram and the laptop would easily last 2 more years…

  • Linda Merle says:

    Another way to get a new computer for nothing is load Ubuntu or another Linux distro. I run both it and Windows on my desktop. The same hardware runs much faster on Ubuntu than Windows. This is especially true for cheaper, low end, aging netbooks, such as I have.


  • longhorns says:

    1. Adding more memory will help. Caution: Your mother board will let you put in a ton of memory but may be able to use no more than a certain amount……such as 2 GB.
    2. Your mother board may be able to use a faster CPU. Caution: Only for plug-in CPUs, not for soldered ones.

  • Paula Sherwood says:

    Thanks for the tip, Ive been trying to tell my daughter all of this, and now I have back-up. The way young people fill the landfills with their old stuff is enough to make one scream.
    I too help people save money on their health costs by teaching selfcare tools that we can do on our own to make ourselves stronger, healthier.
    For example financial problems can manifest in lower back problems. The more we sit in chairs the tighter our hips flexors get and they are attached to our low back. Walking, sitting crossed legged, and simple stretches help relieve this condition. Prevention is the goal.
    For more tips go to selfcare@whidbey.com

  • Denis says:

    Woow AJ! It’s amazing how you become from $300 to only $57. I’m doing the same when upgrading my PC. I replace only one or two the worst components and PC running better after that 🙂


  • AJ Pettersen says:

    Great to hear all of you doing the same! Following the general public isn’t always the best path.

  • KM says:

    I used to use a netbook for pretty much everything at home (I didn’t need much) until it started to feel very sluggish. So I pulled out a gaming machine out of storage (it’s probably 6 years old, but was top of the line back then so it’s still pretty good today, even for gaming) and now use it as my main system, also giving me the opportunity to run some games on it and watch movies since it’s connected to an TV instead of a monitor. I might upgrade some components in the future, but right now it works fine. The one thing I do need is a real monitor because the resolution on the TV (despite being an HDTV) sucks. I was going to get a tablet to replace my netbook (and I still might, but later), but once I move my email to the main system, I shouldn’t have a need for it for a while longer, which will save quite a bit.

    • Erik says:

      As it’s a year since you described your situation, this comment might come rather too late, but it’s possible that you don’t need a ‘real monitor’ so much as a graphics card that is capable of driving your HDTV at its native resolution.

      At least, this is the problem I encountered when I upgraded the monitor of my rather elderly PC to a wide-screen model a couple of years ago. What I thought would be a $160 upgrade ended up costing me $220 in all, because the original graphics card was designed for monitors with a lesser resolution than the new monitor was capable of.

      I’m not sure how easy upgrading the graphics capabilities of a netbook would be. But it would certainly be a good idea to check the specifications of your card before you buy any other video- or graphics-related accessory.

      You can do this either by burrowing down into the system data yourself, if you know where to look, or you can use a utility like Piriform’s Speccy (which can be downloaded gratis). This will report all the important data about all the components of your system (and the accessories connected to it) with a single click.

      If the limiting factor does turn out to be the capabilities of your existing graphics card rather than the HDTV you are using as a monitor, any money you spend on switching from the HDTV to a purpose-designed monitor will be wasted.

  • Jean says:

    Very clever, AJ! My computer is five years old and even though I’ve been tempted to get a brand new machine a few times, I’ve stuck to upgrading one or two components a year that posed the biggest bottleneck to the performance of the system.


  • Marbella says:

    I have three computers that are between 5-8 years, the fungrar perfect as I update and give them service every year. I have no need to having the latest technology; I am saving my money for more important things.

  • Jeff Crews says:

    I have had a Apple Macbook for the last 5 years. It recently died, but I was able to replace the hardrive for $67. I also have a 24in HDTV hooked up to it. It is an amazing machine to say the least. I love seeing other people save on technology. Nice work.

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