Computer Upgrades


A lot of things going on this week, so I’m probably going to have to make more than one post.

This one will be about some general computer upgrades I’ve been making.

Dell XPS 13 Battery Replacement

So, I bought a Dell XPS 13 back in 2016. It’s a sweet little computer. Really thin, lightweight, almost no bezel. But in 2018 I was really yearning for another Thinkpad and got myself a T-480, which I really love. I haven’t been using the XPS much but felt bad about that since it really is a great machine. So I pulled it out and discovered the battery was totally dead. It would run fine if it was plugged in, but the battery would not charge at all.

My wife had a Dell laptop some years ago and exactly the same thing happened to it. And I’ve heard similar stories from others. Seems to be a thing with Dell.

Well, I went on Amazon and found a replacement battery. Checked out some videos on line that made the replacement look easy. Turns out, it was really easy. Nice job on that Dell. Half a dozen screws to take the bottom panel off. Then 4-5 screws to remove the battery. I took some photos so I’d know that I was putting it back together right.

Yeah, it’s dusty in there.

It all worked just fine and now it’s fully operational. If I ever get back to going into the office, this will be the perfect device for creative commuting.

Like new.

Desktop Upgrade

OK, that was the one that went well. Next project was my desktop. I built it from scratch in 2011. It had an i3 540, 4 GB RAM and a 2TB spinning rust disk.

The original build. 2011.

Here’s the post on my old blog from when I first put this machine together:

Over the years, it’s seen a lot of upgrades. I boosted the memory to 8 GB. I think the power supply died at one point. I know there’s a newer one in there now. And recently I added an Nvidia GeForce 1050 graphics card. All kinds of storage in there now. At this point it boots Manjaro Linux XFCE from a 256 GB SSD, with a 1TB drive mounted as the home directory, and another 2TB drive as a backup. Then another drive that dual boots into Windows 10. Despite its aging specs, it’s been totally functional and I don’t really have any complaints about it for what it is. Mostly a home server, file storage and backup (also have offsite backup), sometimes media server, general browsing and email, etc.

But things can always be better and I’ve been thinking for a while about upgrading it completely. New motherboard, CPU, RAM. That was going to run $300-400 for what I wanted. But I realized I could go from the i3 540 to an i7 870 and upgrade the memory to its max of 16 GB, for just around $120 total. So I bought those items and they arrived this week.

The memory arrived first and that was easy to pop in. The computer booted right up and I’m pretty sure it was notably faster than before. Until it rebooted itself about a minute in. Repeatedly. Ran a memory test and that crashed it consistently. Tried swapping out different sticks to see if maybe it was just one bad one, but no luck. From what I can tell, it’s either bad RAM or just incompatible. I’ve read something about low density vs. high density RAM and apparently my old motherboard likes the low density stuff. So out with the new and back in with the old, at least for the time being, because my CPU was now here.

I popped off the fan, took out the old CPU, cleaned things up, put in the new CPU, got some thermal paste on there, and struggled to get the fan back in. It’s the fan I bought 9 years ago. It’s cheap and has those expanding plastic tabs that go through holes in the board and snap in. Well, in my case, they snap OFF. Two of them broke. I was hoping I still had good enough contact with the heat sink.

It booted up OK, but it got real hot real quick and shut itself right down. So, I spent a day without a desktop, while I waited for a new fan to arrive. I was just hoping I hadn’t fried the CPU.

The new fan came the next day (thanks Amazon!) and has a back plate that goes behind the motherboard and the heat sink/fan screws into that. This meant I had to take the whole computer apart and get the motherboard out. More than I was hoping to have to do, but OK.

Luckily, I’ve held on to this for 9 years. It seriously came in handy.

I gave it a good cleaning and did some better cable management while I was at it. Put it all back together and booted it up. I mixed up the SATA cables a bit, so had to go into BIOS and let it know which drive I wanted to boot from. Once that was done, it booted right up. I also mixed up one of the audio connections, but it was easy to fix. All running good now, and nice and cool! Can’t say definitively that it feels a lot faster. But I feel good knowing that it’s theoretically faster. 🙂

New CPU, new fan. Same old RAM.

Now that I knew I hadn’t totally melted the CPU, I did a bit of research on RAM and ordered another 16GB which is specifically compatible with my system. That will arrive next week.

But later the same day I was rummaging through a box of old cables and gadgets and found two 4 GB sticks of RAM. I vaguely recall getting them some years ago and remember that they were causing the computer to crash, which is why they wound up in a box. But I figured I’d try them out again. So far, so good. I’ve been running with 12 GB (4, 4, 2, 2) for a few days now and it’s been rock solid. Did some stress testing seeing how much RAM I could use at once, and it was all just fine. I’m not sure what was wrong before. Maybe I had put them in the wrong slots or something.

Next Tuesday, I have another 16 GB coming in. I’ll own 48 GB of RAM for this computer – 3 times as much it can hold. And it’s all old DDR3, which is kind of useless in any new system I might build. Oh well.

So, a rough start, but pretty happy with where things wound up so far – even though with the second batch of RAM and the new fan, I’m closer to $200 in on this round of upgrades.

Of course now after taking out the motherboard and putting it all back together again, I’m going back to the idea of getting a modern board and CPU. And more RAM (weep). And possibly a new case. Maybe a project for later in the year.

I’m looking at the B550 boards that have come out recently. I used to build my own computers and always went for AMD. But I’ve been all Intel for the last decade.

One thought on “Computer Upgrades

  1. My main dev machine is still my MacBook Air (11-inch, Mid 2012) – 2 GHz Dual-Core Intel Core i7 – 8 GB 1600 MHz DDR3.

    Why Mac? It has XCode for OSX/iOS Apps I usually build with Nativescript and Electron.

    Battery life? From 100% Less than 1 hour, sometimes 20 minutes when I develop something with WebGL.

    I replaced only the cooling main board air fan, after 8 years when went to silent mode this year after being super noisy.

    But I am looking forward to install Linux on my other Windows 10 Asus laptop.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *