—Silvia (part four): All good things…

January 1, 2012

By what was probably my fifth teardown/revision, Silvia had a new lease on life. Maybe I was just used to slow, agonizing hours of talking to an hourglass, but by comparison the performance boost was like night and day. The only trick was getting her started. That darn power button. My earlier attempts at applying pressure to force the connector into place didn’t hold up over time. The connection was intermittent and got worse as it slipped in and out-of-place, getting more and more loose. I fiddled with it so much the connector actually ripped right off the motherboard (yikes!). But I maintained my calm, scraped off the excess solder with an Exacto blade (Mr. Sharpee) and carefully re-soldered it with my fresh new skills. For good measure, I also anchored it with some krazy glue. I really hope that doesn’t come back to bite me later. The power button now did what it was told, the media keys sort of came and went, and yet the Caps Lock LED still didn’t show. Can’t win ’em all.

With a recently acquired Dremel, I was eager to put Silvia under the knife. The original fan setup drew air from the left rear underside, up over the heatsinks for the CPU and GPU, and then out the rear left corner. But it pulled what was supposed to be cool air from the same area it dumped hot air. I guess this made sense to Dell at the time. It also didn’t do anything for the RAM, hard drive, or wireless card which got so hot the paint peeled off their aluminum covers. I also noticed that Dell’s hard drive caddy covered the tiny breather hole on the drive which coincidentally has a sticker next to it reading “Do Not Cover”. I’m sure that was just a small oversight and not crappy design. Hmm, I wonder what caused my first drive to overheat and fail.

After a few hours of disturbing the neighbors I had turned my precious little lab rat into swiss cheese. By sheer luck it appeared as though the holes I drilled created a small enough draft to keep things in check. Originally I wanted to add an additional fan to pull air through the vent holes I had so nervously drilled and into those neglected areas, but I had to scrap that idea. Temps were holding at around 55°C and powering it probably would have killed the battery which was already showing diminished returns. Besides, where would it fit? Duct taping it to the underside probably wouldn’t be very aesthetically pleasing.

Next on my list was adding an external graphics card for light gaming and better HD playback. Scrapped, because it required a mini PCIe slot which conveniently came to Dell laptops a year after my model. If video killed the radio star, HD video killed my star laptop. One might even say that when it came to HD video, she was a bit of a choke artist. Too much?

So this would seem to be the end of the road in Silvia’s upgrade path. She still runs, I even installed Windows 7 just for kicks, which runs surprisingly well without the fancy Aero effects. And most notably, alongside Windows XP and Ubuntu in a triple boot setup. Sigh, if only I could have gotten that external graphics card to work.

As a last-ditch effort I was able to add 2 more USB ports with *this*, and get all the parts I needed for the built-in webcam project. However, I just got bored with it. The work/reward ratio just wasn’t attractive enough and Silvia’s limitations were growing in a world that moved at the breakneck speed of technology. I’m not really retiring her, just… lightening her work load. She’ll be 9 this year which, in terms of tech, may as well be 90. She’s still useful for research, troubleshooting other computers, or the occasional pizza order. No, no, she’s not dead yet. She’ll never die because her sacrifice granted me such a wonderful learning experience.


2 Responses to “—Silvia (part four): All good things…”

  1. Good post! Found it interesting reading about your laptop DIY project – hope to see more from you in the future – also you may want to consider signing up for Twitter 🙂

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