Over the past month and a half, we’ve performed some repairs and upgrades on three distinct laptops which may be considered “obsolete” or “slow” by those who crave performance or the latest technology. The systems that were refreshed and upgraded include the following makes and models:
- Compaq V5000: AMD Sempron 3300+, 512 MB DDR RAM, 60 GB IDE HDD
- HP G62: AMD Athlon II P340, 3 GB DDR3 RAM, 320GB Samsung SATA HDD
- HP G6: Intel Core i3-2350M, 4 GB DDR3 RAM, 320GB Hitachi SATA HDD
Specific findings and perceptions related to system usability for each of these efforts are provided below.
The antiquity of this system presented some unique challenges with respect to making it “functional”. The battery was completely dead. 512 MB RAM may meet the baseline requirements for the most spartan of Linux distributions, yet it definitely wouldn’t be sufficient once the lightest of graphical user interfaces would be paired with basic applications or web browsing. IDE interfaces are a thing of the past, which would warrant converting a modern standard to this legacy connectivity requirement for replacing the existing storage solution. The parts bin selected to restore this laptop included the following purchases from Amazon:
- GHU 58W Battery (https://a.co/d/3cwKLfE)
- GINTOOYUN M.2 NGFF SATA SSD to 2.5″ IDE 44-pin Enclosure Adapter (https://a.co/d/5pxMr2j)
- Silicon Power A55 512GB M.2 SATA III SSD (https://a.co/d/hZ1DPAk)
- URAM 2GB (2x1GB) DDR SODIMM Kit (https://a.co/d/7Rc8SRu)
- Fancy Buying AC Adapter (https://a.co/d/0sfMCvq)
Installation of the M.2 SATA SSD into the adapter presented no challenges. Component swaps were simplified by dedicated compartments for each item under the backside of the laptop chassis. Once the memory, converted SSD, and new battery were installed, the laptop refused to power on. The engineers at Compaq tied the ability to power on the laptop to having a charged or functional CMOS battery. Thankfully, said CR2032 battery was located underneath the WiFi Mini-PCI Card. Once a fresh battery was installed and the laptop was sealed up, the system did POST.
Next, recognition of performance and architectural limitations came into play. The CPU in question does not support 64-bit instructions. Memory for this platform peaks at 2 GB RAM. The slower IDE interface will provide a fraction of the overall performance offered by a SATA SSD. Initial testing using 32-bit Debian resulted in a system with functioning hardware yet an overall unusable experience. Based on minimum system requirements, Q4OS was selected specifically for the minimal resources related to the Trinity Desktop. The fact that it has a Windows-esque appearance felt more in spirit of the laptop’s original platform (Windows XP). The largest hinderance is the antique 802.11 b/g wireless adapter and its PCI interface. One does not recognize how spoiled we’ve become with the advent and iterations of modern interfaces (Serial ATA, NVMe, PCI Express) until they lay hands on a seventeen year old relic. Although basic productivity using the most lightweight applications could be achieved with minimal delay or lag, consuming content on the Internet was a non-starter. The only way to view YouTube videos involved using an application to download the entire video before viewing. All attempts to load YouTube in FireFox or Pale Moon would result in an unresponsive system and an application crash. Attempting to load the web page of a local sushi restaurant took thirty minutes to complete. Keeping this system out of a landfill would require deploying it for exceptionally lightweight, text-based, wired-to-Ethernet use cases. This isn’t a system that stands the test of time excluding its build quality; it’s a THICCCCCCCC Boi!
This second laptop, which came out around five years after the Compaq V5000, contained superior appointments yet regressive physical design choices. The presence of DDR3 memory and SATA connections for storage ensured that cost-effective upgrades would ultimately provide a serviceable web browsing and light productivity solution which would not become electronic waste in short order. The 64-bit support for the AMD Athlon II P340 processor meant that a modern operating system could be used. As this system came with Windows 7, we leveraged its existing key to perform a fresh OS reinstall on the new storage drive using Windows 10. The parts bin selected to restore this laptop included the following purchases from Amazon:
- TREE.NB Replacement Battery for HP (https://a.co/d/iZOSnUE)
- Crucial BX500 480GB SATA SSD (https://a.co/d/cNRnw4A)
- Motoeagle 8GB (4GB x2) DDR3 SODIMM Kit (https://a.co/d/gme1KHO)
- Targus Semi-Slim Universal Laptop Charger – 90W (https://a.co/d/adfw7ys)
The G62 contained dedicated compartments for the memory, storage, and WiFi components. Replacing the outgoing components with the selected options did not present any unexpected challenges. While the desire to replace the CR2032 CMOS battery did exist, accessing this component is a time consuming and delicate operation. I have a new appreciation for this video after attempting to remove the keyboard as part of the full disassembly process. Unlike circa-2015 HP laptops, there is not an additional plastic layer flanking the keyboard and the chassis. Reinstalling any keys which pop off while attempting to remove the keyboard will be a test of patience! With the replacement components in place and a fresh installation of Windows 10 loaded, the experience of navigating the UI and loading applications went better than expected. Excluding an error which required disabling an AMD-related service in Services, the system handled the necessary functions with minimal delay.
The final laptop was the most current unit which was brought back into service. The owner noted that the battery would not hold a charge in any capacity. This laptop was hosting data which contained sentimental value yet had not been backed up. Due to it being the least eldest of the three systems in question, it required the fewest upgrade components. A 512GB Intel 540 SATA SSD was used in conjunction with the following purchases from Amazon:
- TREE.NB Replacement Battery for HP (https://a.co/d/iZOSnUE)
- Silicon Power 16GB (8GB x2) DDR3 SODIMM Kit: (https://a.co/d/i31N1W8)
- Intel Dual Band Wireless-AC 7260 2×2 Network + Bluetooth Adapter (https://a.co/d/dOAh3aP)
The existing data was cloned from the 320 GB hard drive to the 512 GB SSD. The modifications resulted in a perfectly usable system. Sufficient memory for heavier multitasking and the increase in responsiveness due to the SSD resulted in a system that was perfect for home productivity use cases. It was noted that the end state experience of this G6 laptop didn’t feel much different than the ASUS VivoBook replacement laptop which was purchased when the battery on the HP G6 had died.
The HP-branded laptops were able to be given a second life for at least a few more years within the Windows ecosystem. Neither the G62 nor the G6 will be able to make the jump to Windows 11 in an officially supported capacity as they won’t pass the TPM or supported CPU checks. While there are workarounds, the absence of updates for graphic drivers, CPU errata, and firmware will ultimately shift the responsibility for security and reliability back to the owner or consumer. Transitioning these laptops to a Linux distribution at the end of the Windows 10 lifecycle will provide a secondary path toward continued usability with software updates. For less than $100 USD based on the low costs of the linked parts, we were able to avoid the further creation of electronic waste while extending the life of what is a perfectly usable system in the eyes of the customer.
The Compaq V5000 endeavor was an eye opener and experiment more than anything else. The owner did not expect it to work again. The architectural limits of the CPU greatly reduced the total number of viable Linux distributions which could be used to restore full usability. Jumping down to a command line-only interface and maintaining a wired Ethernet connection would allow this seventeen year old laptop to function as a specialized appliance. The power draw related to using this laptop as a battery backed-up PiHole appliance is possible as it is capable of running using 32-bit Debian. The removal of the GUI and system requirements of PiHole would be a good fit for locations where electricity is not costly. Alternatively, the existence of Legacy Update may result in the Compaq V5000 being used for legacy Windows games in an air-gapped manner with a reload of Windows XP.