But suppose we do want that workstation-on-the-go, or at least be able to get some work done during our traveling, do we cash out for the fastest notebook out there? Yes and no, the high-end models are those that’ll usually come down in price the most and generally don’t really offer a good price-performance ratio anyway. One thing that is for sure is that you’ll be seeing faster notebooks with more bells-and-whistles attached only days/weeks/months after you’ve bought it and that within a year your high-end model will be either middle-class or even low-end. And if you want to upgrade it after a while you’ll quickly realize that most manufacturers don’t offer any upgrades other than the basic memory upgrade, they’d frankly rather sell you a new notebook
Because a notebook is so limited in its upgrade options, unlike desktop systems or workstations, it will be obsoleted much faster and cannot be simply upgraded to higher standards. But to be perfectly honest, that’s not entirely accurate, but is what most manufacturers have you believe. Don’t most recent notebooks use the same basic components? They actually do, almost all of them have 2.5” harddisks, use 144-pin SO-DIMM memory and generally feature an Intel processor, either a Celeron or Pentium III. And in most notebooks these parts can be replaced with faster or higher capacity parts quite easily, it is just that the notebook manufacturers aren’t too happy about it if you want to do it yourself, as they’ll be losing some revenue. How’s that? Well, do you really think they’re going to be happy if you swap out that 10Gb harddisk for a 30Gb one you picked up at a local retailer for a mere $150 whereas they’re charging over $300 for the same drive as an ‘upgrade’. And let’s not start with the pricing of various notebooks with faster processors, an 800MHz Mobile Pentium III isn’t really $400 more expensive than a 700MHz, they’re just charging you extra, the real price difference is measured in 10s of dollars not 100s.
Fig 1. The insides of a run-of-the-mill notebook, the CPU cooler has been removed for a good view of the parts.
Most notebook manufacturers have virtually limited the customer from swapping out any components other than the memory and those that are ‘serviceable’ and could go defective over time. But those are actually just the components we’re interested in. We’re not going to be able to swap out the whole motherboard anyway as they’re custom made to fit the casing. But other parts such as the processor, harddisk and memory can be easily replaced or upgraded. And that’s where the gains are to be had, provided your particular notebook has enough ‘headroom’ to accept faster processors, higher capacity harddisk and more memory.
So how then do we go about upgrading a notebook, is it easy to do, or hard? Do we need special tools or just the usual screwdrivers and antistatic wristband? In the next few pages we’ll be looking at a run-of-the-mill notebook that we’ll be upgrading, at minimum cost, to a top-of-the-line notebook. For all of the performance hungry, yet budget conscious, readers out there that would like to prolong the life of their investment we’ll be looking at a number of options that can be used to spec-up their notebooks.