Computer support question of the week: How to refurbish an old laptop

Compared to desktop computers, you cannot do a whole lot to a laptop. You can usually replace the hard drive, add memory and change the Wi-Fi card but most often that is all you can do. The computer support guys here at Dave’s Computers often refurbish old computers and give them a new lease of life. It is something I think you can do too.

Whether you have upgraded to some new kit and want to donate the laptop to the kids or a friend, or something else, there are many ways to breathe new life into that old machine. Some will cost a few dollars, more will cost nothing but a couple hours of your time. In return, you will get an old laptop that looks and works like new.

We will:

  1. Clean and remove grime.
  2. Replace or upgrade battery and memory.
  3. Reinstall an operating system.

I shall walk you through each one just like the computer support guys do it here at Dave’s Computers. Alternatively, we can do all the work for you if you prefer.

Clean and remove grime

If you used your laptop a lot over its lifetime, chances are that it could do with a clean. You will need either a homemade solution of 1 part rubbing alcohol and 9 parts water and a microfiber cloth and/or a Magic Eraser. Either one will do and both will work even on the most stubborn stains. If you can get a can of compressed air too, that would help.

These two methods are for the body of the laptop only, not the screen. For that we use white vinegar.

  1. Make sure the laptop is switched off and not in sleep mode.
  2. Wet and wring the Magic Eraser or wet the cloth with the alcohol and water solution and wring.
  3. Wipe over every surface of the laptop excluding the screen.
  4. Pay particular attention to the keys and touchpad as grime and grease can particularly accumulate there.
  5. If you have that can of compressed air, use the plastic nozzle to get between each key and remove any debris.
  6. Otherwise, use the Magic Eraser or cloth and get as into each key as possible.
  7. Use white vinegar and a soft cloth to clean the screen. Allow to dry fully before using the laptop.

Then we get into the internals to clean the insides.

  1. Turn the laptop upside down and remove the covers.
  2. Use your can of compressed air to clean dust from any of the components. Use a Q-tip if you don’t have air.
  3. If you have access to any fans, clean the dust carefully off those and clean the internals as much as possible.
  4. Replace the cover.

Do not use chemicals or any liquid on the internals!

That should do in terms of cleaning. Now we move on to the mechanicals.

Replace or upgrade battery and memory

Depending on how old your laptop is, you may have noticed that it doesn’t get as long out of the battery as it used to. Depending on how much battery life has degraded, you can either leave it or replace it. Replacing it is simple but does cost money but is definitely something our computer support team would suggest doing.

Just be aware of who you’re buying it from and stick to reputable brands if you can.

Just how much depends on the type of laptop you have.

  1. Type or laptop model into Google and add ‘battery’ at the end.
  2. Look through the results to find a replacement battery. It may be reasonably priced, it may not. If you cannot find one for your laptop, bring it to our computer support team. We may be able to locate one for you.
  3. Most laptop batteries will simply unclip from the chassis underneath. Replacing it is merely unclipping the old one and replacing it with the new. Then charge as normal.

Upgrading RAM in a laptop is just as simple. You will have seen the memory when you had the bottom cover off. Again, a simple web search for your laptop model and adding ‘RAM’ at the end should bring up compatible memory. Alternatively, look at the RAM you have installed and look at the speed. There is a neat tool from Crucial that lets you select parts by make and model.

It pays to add as much RAM as the laptop will take or you can afford. As it is the only real core upgrade you can do aside from a hard drive, it makes sense to max it out.

You can of course replace the hard drive on a laptop. Either with another of the same type or an SSD. This can be expensive so is entirely optional.

Reinstall an operating system

Depending on what you’re going to do with your refurbished laptop, you might want to consider loading a new hard drive. Not only will it make sure that none of your personal data is left, it will also ensure the laptop runs as fast as it can for the new user.

You have two choices. You can reinstall the original operating system as the laptop will have come with a license for it. This is very straightforward and can usually be performed directly from the recovery partition within the laptop. Or you could install Linux onto it. Both have pros and cons and will be suitable for different uses.

If the laptop ran Windows 7 or older, it might not be economically viable to upgrade it to Windows 10 now the free upgrade period is over. In this situation, it might be worth trying Ubuntu or Zorin Linux. They are free, install in about 20 minutes and provide a Windows-like desktop environment from which to work. They are fairly easy to get to grips with too which is a bonus.

Whichever way you go, reinstalling the operating system will make sure the laptop can work to its full potential.

It is entirely possible to refurbish a laptop for as little as $10 or less if you have the cleaning products to hand. However, if you’re handing it over to a family member or friend, spending a little extra on memory or a new hard drive is definitely something I would suggest.

As always, if you don’t want to do any of this yourself, the computer support team here at Dave’s Computers would be happy to do it all for you. Call us or drop into our Hillsborough computer store.

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