Give Your Old Laptop An Extreme Makeover

No matter how fast and shiny your laptop was when you first bought it, time takes its toll. Your laptop is now dirtier, hotter, slower and less effective than is was on day one. Here’s how to give your laptop an extreme makeover and bring it back to (or at least closer to) its former glory.

How to Use This Guide: Everyone’s laptop is different, especially when it comes to opening the machine up for cleaning, repairs or upgrades. This guide is a starting point, demonstrating solutions to common problems and explaining the ease or difficulty of those fixes. For demonstration purposes, I’m refurbishing a 2007 white MacBook, but most of these processes should work with any laptop — Mac, Windows or otherwise.

When you’re attempting a laptop fix, having the specific model for your machine is extremely helpful. If you have a Windows PC and have misplaced the original, check your manufacturer’s web site — many have full service manuals available (check the support section). Alternatively, do some quick Googling: usually something along the lines of Acer Aspire One ao32h repair guide will dig out copies of the manual. If you have a Mac, iFixit has just about everything you’ll need, with fantastic step-by-step instructions for getting to any component inside your machine.

The Easy Stuff: Cleaning the Outside

Remove Grime with a magic eraser: A little cleanliness goes a long way. While your laptop may have a host of other problems, removing that superficial layer of grime will make any machine feel a lot nicer. Our favourite tool for cleaning a laptop’s exterior is the magic eraser, which you can pick up cheaply at any supermarket. Wet it, wring out as much water as you can, and wipe down your computer — all that dirt, hand oil and other grime will come right off, and your laptop will be as shiny as it was when you first got it. See the image above for an example to see my eraser success; you’ll be surprised how much dirt you can remove. [clear]

Clean The Keyboard With Compressed Air: You’ll also want to grab a can of compressed air from a hardware store. Open it up, attach the plastic hose to the end, and point it toward any dust-filled crevice on your machine to blow it out. This is great for your keyboard, which has almost certainly accumulated a lot of crumbs and debris under the keys. You may even want to gently pop your keys off the keyboard and give it a more thorough cleaning. This can help fix keys that stick, don’t go down all the way, or have other problems. Check out our guide to cleaning your keyboard for more info.

Wipe Your Monitor Down With White Vinegar: For your monitor, you can use a soft cloth and some white vinegar. That should get the dirt, fingerprints and other gross smudges off the screen.

None of these tricks will make your computer run any faster or cooler, but it will definitely feel less ancient when you’re done.

Boost Your Laptop’s Speed With Hardware Upgrades

If you really want to give your laptop a performance boost, upgrade its hardware. It may cost you a bit of money, but it’s often cheaper than buying a new laptop. You can’t easily upgrade the processor or video card, but the RAM and hard drive are ripe for improvement.

Boost Your Multitasking Powers With More RAM: Adding more RAM to your laptop can improve multitasking, often allowing your laptop to better keep up with the latest software. RAM manufacturer Crucial has a great online tool that helps you find the right kind of RAM for your specific model of laptop (since every machine requires something a bit different). (It’s a useful guide even if you ultimately choose to buy a different brand). To install, grab your laptop’s service manual and check out our guide to performing a RAM upgrade. [clear]

Launch Apps And Boot Up Faster With A New Hard Drive: Replacing the hard drive on most laptops is very easy. Make sure you buy a 2.5-inch slim laptop hard drive(5.25-inch drives are meant for desktops, and won’t fit in your machine). Increasing drive space won’t usually make your computer noticeably faster, but it will give you more room for apps, music, movies and other files.
If you really want a speed boost, we highly recommend upgrading to a solid-state drive. Solid-state drives (SSds)are extremely fast drives that will make launching apps and booting up your computer very snappy. Migrating to SSD is one of the best upgrades you could possibly make to an old computer. Check out our complete guide to solid-state drives to learn more, and hit our step-by-step installation tips for instructions. [clear]

Cleaning The Inside

If you’ve owned your laptop for a while, chances are it runs a little bit hotter than it used to, causing the fan seems to blow loudly all the time. Over the years, your laptop can build up a lot of dust and dirt on the inside, which means more heat, worse performance and a shorter lifespan for the machine. The best way to fix this problem is to clean that dust out yourself.

To start, find the vents on your laptop. These are usually on the back, but sometimes on the bottom. Blow some compressed air into them to clear some of the dust out. This will help improve the airflow to your fan.

With older machines, this usually isn’t enough; you’ll need to get inside your computer for the best results. To do this, you’ll have to open up your laptop. That sounds scary, but for most laptops, all it requires is loosening a bunch of screws and lifting your keyboard off the top.

This is where you’ll want to consult that service manual we talked about earlier. It will let you know exactly what screws you need to take out, and in what order. I recommend using a magnetic screwdriver and grabbing a piece of paper to keep track of where each screw goes, as shown in the picture. This will help keep you from losing screws inside your laptop, and make it easier to remember where they go when it comes time to close the machine back up. You may have to also unplug one or two cords or ribbons in the process; just be very careful and you shouldn’t have any problems.

Once you’ve removed the top case from your laptop, take your can of compressed air, step outside, and blow as much dust out of your laptop as you can, paying particularly close attention to the fan and the vents on the back and bottom of your laptop. Cotton swabs can also be helpful for getting into hard-to-reach places. You cleaning doesn’t need to be absolutely perfect; concentrate on removing the biggest dust accumulations and you should be OK. Check the image above to see the kind of progress I made. This cleaning will not only keep your lap from overheating, but can also fix quirks caused by overheating such as random shutdowns and overly loud fans.

For Adventurous Users Only: Fixing Specific Parts

The preceding fixes are fairly simple, and can help solve a lot of your problems. But if your trackpad, your screen, your laptop’s hinge or something else is on the fritz, your repair may require a bit more work. Here are some common ailments and a brief outline of what fixing them will entail.

Buggy or Broken Trackpads: If your trackpad is giving you grief, an external mouse is an easy workaround, but it isn’t a true fix. Some computers, when you take off the top case, have easily replacable trackpads, while others (like MacBooks) make it very difficult to get at the trackpad itself — it’s just part of the top case. Either way, I’d first check the trackpad cable and make sure it’s tightly plugged in. If it isn’t loose, you’re looking at a part replacement. Luckily, single parts like that are easy to find on places like eBay. For best results, see if you can find the exact part number for your trackpad or top case and search for that online. [clear]

Broken Screens And Loose Hinges: One of the more harrowing fixes is your laptop’s monitor. Whether it’s a loose or broken hinge, or an altogether busted screen, you’ll need to remove the entire top half of your computer and open it up. That means disconnecting more cables and ribbons, not to mention even more tiny screws. Finding replacement screens and hinges is relatively easy, so if you’re up for the challenge, you can just replace them.

If your hinge is loose, you might be able to get by just by tightening its screws. Iif all else fails, you can grab an external monitor and turn it into a space-efficient desktop computer.[clear]

Dying Wi-Fi Cards And Other Parts: If a specific part in your laptop is broken — like a Wi-Fi card — it’s easy to order a replacement part (try eBay or electronics retailers). When you’ve got the top case open, it should be a straightforward swap — you’ll just need to be very careful, since the cables and ribbons inside your laptop can be fragile. As always, consult your manual of choice to find out exactly where the part is and what you’ll need to replace it.


Maintenance and Software Fixes to Speed Everything Up

Lastly, we’ve recommended a lot of software tweaks, maintenance tasks, and other tricks for speeding up an old computer over the years. Here are some of our best guides, which should help you make the most of your shiny, newly-made-over computer:

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