Productivity

Top 10 Computer Hardware Fixes And Upgrades

If desktop or laptop parts have died or seen better days, you’ve got a friend. All of your Lifehacker editors—and many helpful net denizens—have upgraded or repaired faulty systems, and we’ve rounded some of their helpful tutorials.

Photo by Garrette.

10. De-bulk your MacBook’s power cord

For all their design emphasis on elegance and minimalism, MacBooks come with rather bulky power cords that aren’t easy to coil up and tuck away. Gizmodo editor Brian Lam travels quite a bit with his MacBook Pro and doesn’t dig the bulk of the cord leading up to the two-prong “brick,” so he details the not-so-tough technique of swapping it out for a lighter, more flexible PlayStation cord, which shares the same adaptor at the end. Modern MacBooks with magnetic yank-proof power ports might be less prone to this kind of re-jiggering (unless you’re an aspiring amateur electrician), but “classic” MacBook owners can benefit from one roving editor’s creative frustration. (Original post)

9. Install your own RAM

It almost always costs less to buy your own RAM from a reliable source and install it yourself than to let the Lenovos, Dells, HPs and Apples do it for you, either when you first purchase your system or as an upgrade. On most systems, laptops included, it’s a beginner-level hardware project to swap out or add on a memory chip. Adam details the desktop PC installation method above, and took us on a video tour of MacBook RAM upgrading. From what this editor has seen, that process is nearly identical on non-Apple laptops: find where the RAM is kept, unscrew a plate, pop the memory sticks in and out at an angle, then re-seat it to be back on one’s way. Not sure which chips you need to buy? Try the How-To Geek’s guide to determining what kind of memory your computer has installed.

8. Quiet a noisy hard drive

You don’t notice the sound of your hard drives when you first boot up a new system, but over time, the hum, whir, and clicking of all those disks and moving parts can become maddeningly low-level irritants. A lot of the noise is usually caused by the hard drive vibrating against a metal desktop case, and it can be eliminated with a small rubber insert, as linked above, or, for a nearly complete vibration elimination, suspending the drive from elastic straps. If you’re rocking a laptop, or looking for other ways of quieting any kind of system, try searching and digging around at Silent PC Review, End PC Noise, and check out PC Magazine’s multi-step guide to a quiet PC.

7. Get good at soldering

Most DIY gadget projects, and a lot of computer or electronics repairs, require the use of a hot soldering iron, some solder, and occasionally flux. If all that sounds pretty foreign and new to you, Instructables’ guide to basic parts fusing and circuit mending will be worth every minute you spend absorbing. It’s packed with good tips and answered beginner questions. Planning to jump into a more advanced, detail-oriented project like the MintyBoost? Aaron’s Homepage has a guide on how to solder on circuit boards. (Original post)

6. Turn a PC into a Hackintosh

Getting Apple’s OS X running on hardware you didn’t buy from Apple doesn’t require magic powers, a 128-character secret code, or much more than just the patience to follow a few work-around steps, really. Adam showed us how to take some gear nabbed from NewEgg and assemble it into a “Hackintosh,” with greater ease of use than his first go-round. If you’ve got a desktop system looking for a few new parts, or you’d like to try out the Mac world without paying Mac premiums, it makes for a rewarding weekend project.

5. Replace a power supply

Power supplies are not something you want to cheap out on, or hang onto if they’re on their way out. They’re often the noisiest component of a desktop system, they’re fickle, and they can bring down other components if they fritz out. Lifehacker alumnus Rick Broida ran down the basics of unplugging and removing your power supply and re-seating a new one in its place. That answers one half of the equation, but how do you know what PSU to replace it with? Online parts megastore NewEgg offers a convenient Power Supply Calculator that figures out power supply needs from the components already installed. Just as with a house, you can sometimes get by with less than you should, but you don’t want to find out what happens when you’re wrong.

4. Install a new hard drive

Every hard drive seems like it will be way, way too big for your uses when you first get it. A few months of willy-nilly downloading later, and you’re looking for bigger digs for your data. Adam broke down the desktop installation process at the link above, but for the increasing number of folks jamming all their stuff onto laptops, we offer up guides on MacBook upgrades from the Houston Chronicle’s TechBlog and Popular Mechanics’ general laptop hard drive guide. All the techniques, of course, also apply if your drive goes dead and you need to yank it out for a replacement.

3. Replace a busted laptop LCD

LCD screens are often the second-most expensive component of a laptop, so when they go bad, most folks just swing for a full replacement. If you can find an LCD replacement for your model, though, there’s a good chance you can save yourself some pretty serious cash, especially if your laptop’s screen went dark early in its life. The This Is My Defective Kit site runs down a step-by-step process for replacing a faulty display, which is mainly a matter of being careful and not losing very tiny screws. If that sounds a little beyond your powers or patience, you can turn that working-but-not-visible laptop into a headless system that hides away easily.

2. Upgrade to a new motherboard and CPU

Replacing the other parts of your computer is akin to attaching arms and legs to a Frankenstein’s system. When you add an entirely new CPU and motherboard to your case, that’s when you’ve truly become a mad scientist. Actually, it’s not all that hard, as Adam found out, and on a system where everything runs well, but the brain just needs to move a bit quicker, it’s a relatively cheap and efficient upgrade, and one that instills a lot of confidence in your computer skills.

1. Build a whole computer from scratch

As Gina notes in her comprehensive run-down of building her own PC, from choosing the parts to (finally) getting to a log-in screen, you don’t build your own PC because you want to save a whole lot of money. You build it yourself because you get complete control over the quality and features of every single piece of it, and you learn a heck of a lot about they operate together. Do yourself a favour, though, and learn from Gina’s “several WTF moments” before giving it a go yourself.

Where do you turn when you’re looking to fix or replace some hardware? Which hardware projects are worth the time and effort, and which have you left to the pros? Relate your repair tales in the comments, and feel free to offer up other worthwhile hardware links.