Laptop Upgrade 2011, part 2

[note: this is a backlog post while I’m dealing with a broken wrist; a little one-handed editing and then posted.]

I want to get this down while it’s still fresh in my memory.  Bear in mind that I’m typing with a stubborn cat insisting on being in my lap as well…

I checked for a faster compatible CPU within what I considered a reasonable price range, which turned out to be a T9300.  It looked like a T9500 wouldn’t necessarily give me a significantly faster speed, and the X9000 was a good bit more expensive ($100 or more at least).

I checked for prices using the Google shopping function, and found a decent price and a not too restrictive return policy at Pacific Geek (this is NOT an endorsement, just a statement; your shopping results may vary).  Some of the return policies elsewhere, due to vendors worrying about CPUs being burned out by overclocking, are really strict (and the cost to ship a first-born child to hold hostage until they examine the returned chip would be stiff).

Also, I didn’t want a used CPU since I didn’t know what problems might have caused it to be returned (perhaps overclocked and overheated, or at least strained enough to shorten the life).  I wanted a brand new one.

So, I got the T9300, took a deep breath, and proceeded.  Came in a a clear plastic “box” with the CPU in a patch of foam, held with a rubber band.  (This was “OEM” packaging?  Maybe so…)

Instructions I used are at http://forum.notebookreview.com/gateway-emachines/256839-gateway-p-6860-6831-cpu-upgrade.html from a poster named alpinex (thanks!) and pretty complete, with some minor variations for my laptop.

The bottom of my Gateway P6860 laptop has a separate panel that covers the RAM chips and the CPU.  The screws stay in the panel when you loosen them and remove them.  I oriented the laptop so the panel was closest to me, fan on the right side.

There’s a long, winding tubular copper heat sink which passes over the CPU socket with a little clamp on top of that, and ends in one corner on the lower right below the fan with a little stacked grill-looking piece.  The opposite end from the grill has a Phillips screw, which just loosens but stays in the heat sink, so I loosened that.

The instructions mention removing the pads on top of the heat sink, but I left them in place since they have to be present or replaced later anyway.

A smaller 5/32 Phillips from my mini-screwdriver set got the 4 screws out from the heat sink section covering the CPU.  I didn’t have the springs mentioned in the linked article.  I used one of those little pickup-grabbers to pull up each screw after I loosened it, and posted them in a piece of foam to keep them in a mirror positioning of the location they came from.

The heat sink then came up easily, with just a bit of maneuvering for the grill-looking end.  I pulled a bit of dust off the grill end.

I’d checked carefully for advice on how much thermal compound to use: about the size of a grain of rice (nobody said regular or long-grain rice, for some reason…).  Apparently the assembler of this unit hadn’t heard that rule.  There was quite a lot of compound, oozed out over the sizes of the little rectangle on top of the CPU and out over the chip almost a 1/4″ all around it, and coagulated thickly.

I scraped it off with a plastic card (the AARP and other people keep sending me membership cards, and I keep using them to spread glue and such).  Then I used a disposable alcohol wipe (I had some for lens cleaning) to clean the rest of the compound off the heat sink.

Some people reported trying to hone the heat sink to flatten it for better contact, but it seems like a quick way to accidentally slant the surface and make it a worse fit, so I didn’t do more than clean it thoroughly.

And there’s the CPU mount.  Along the right edge, there’s a bar mechanism with a single screw in the center that needs to be turned with a small flat screwdriver; it took a full 90 degree (1/2) turn counterclockwise (not 1/4 as the article stated) and the screw has a tiny extension tab to serve as an indicator, so it is turned from the closed/locked (far side) to the open/unlocked (near side, nearest me).

The CPU (T5550) came up easily.  No long pins to pull out; they look like little nubs all over the bottom.

Set that aside carefully, keeping the orientation exactly the same as it was in the socket.

Now I took out the T9300 and oriented it so the labels faced the same way, and the little triangle on the corner was in the same position, as the original CPU.  Placed that exactly in the socket, and pressed gently down to be sure it was seated, and then turned the locking screw clockwise back to the far locked position.  The CPU locked properly.

I’d also ordered some Arctic Silver (brand) thermal compound with the CPU, and got the second-highest priced version offered.  I put a rice-grain (regular, not long-grain) size dollop on the little rectangle on top of the CPU, which is the only part that would come in contact with the heat sink.

The credit card was used to smear the compound around, and I worked it just enough that none of the rectangle was uncovered and the layer was pretty even.  I didn’t try to put any on the rest of the CPU since it wouldn’t make contact with the heat sink anyway.

The heat sink went back in place, and I screwed it down again (without the bit of dust).  I replaced the laptop bottom panel.

Moment of truth: will it work, and did I used enough thermal compound to keep it reasonably cool?

I use the CPU Usage and the Core Temp gadgets on my Windows 7 desktop.  The CPU is properly reported as a T9300, running up to 2.5 MHz (the old T5550 was 1.83MHz).  The temperatures seems to be running a few degrees cooler on average (around 107 to 109 degrees F, as opposed to 112 to 114 degrees before).

And some operations are running faster (boot, for example) already.

Windows 7 has a “Rate and improve your computer performance” function under the Performance Information and Tools in the Action section of the Control Panel.

Before (using the T5550 CPU)

  • Processor 4.9
  • Memory 4.9
  • Graphics 6.6
  • Gaming graphics 6.6
  • Primary hard disk 5.9

for a base score of 4.9 (the lowest score is the base)

After (using the T9300 CPU)

  • Processor 6.1
  • Memory 6.1

and the others stayed the same, so the new base score becomes 5.9.

This is based on a maximum score of 7.9 (and why, I have no idea).

So, at this point (several hours later), I’ve improved my laptop by a significant amount.

Laptop upgrade 2011

The laptop from my Venturing into Vista series is ready for some upgrades, starting in January 2011.

I’m going to cover what, and what happened, etc., for my own reference — if it is useful to anyone else, good for them.

1. Hard Drive Upgrade

For starters, there are two hard drive bays, and only one is occupied (by a 320GB, 5400 rpm drive, hereafter referred to as “old drive”).  So, I can get a larger, faster drive and easily transfer everything over.

I decided to go with the same brand and model line I already had, just get a larger (500GB), faster (7200 rpm) drive, hereafter referred to as “new drive”.  Yes, I did consider a solid-state drive, for faster response, but I also wanted more room and solid-state drives are a lot of $ for relatively small drives — their main asset is speed.  I’ve heard of a hybrid drive, but haven’t been impressed by the user reviews.

First, I did a long backup of my data files to my Western Digital MyBook external hard drive — just in case.

Then I installed the new drive into the secondary bay.  I had to borrow two screws from the drive bracket on the old drive (weird tiny jobbers — I ended up cutting down some flatheaded #4 machine screws later to fill out the quota).

Formatted the new drive as NTFS so I don’t have the file size limitations that older FAT formatting would have.

Control Panel > Administration Tools > Create and format hard drive partitions

Action tab and initialize disk, selecting MBR Master Boot Record partition style

Cold boot, and now when I use Control Panel > Administration Tools > Create and format hard drive partitions Vista can see and format it.

500GB translates to 465.76 GB in NTFS.

I got the SeaTools from Seagate to run a thorough check on the new drive before committing too much further to it.  I also ran chkdsk.

Then, I used Clonezilla to image my old, smaller drive over to the new one.  Then I used the Drive Manager to expand the partition for the new C: drive on the new, faster drive to cover the larger space available.

Now I could put the new drive in the primary position and the old one in the secondary position, and the new drive became my main drive.  The faster speed was immediately evident.

Windows 7 upgrade

Preparation

Next, I decided to move to Windows 7.  While Vista has worked up to a decent operating system, 7 has the option for the XP mode, which I wanted to experiment with since some of my old software was choking or just dragging on Vista.  7 is also what more and more students are coming in with on their new computers, and the library has gotten it on many of the computers here (even some for staff).  I selected Windows 7 Professional as the most cost-effective version with the XP Mode function for me.

Fortunately, Microsoft has a discount site for students and anyone with an .edu email address, so I was able to:

  • download an executable file to upgrade to Win 7 Pro (64 bit)
  • download an .iso file to burn to a DVD-R to upgrade
  • include a disc to be mailed to me (just in case)

I didn’t take chances — I downloaded everything I could and got the disc mailed as well so if the downloads were bad, I could still manage.

An email with the new product key number for the upgraded version came as part of the ordering process.

When you upgrade (rather than buy a complete new version), you are substituting your new version legally for the old one, and legally lose your right to run the old version, as Microsoft sees it.  That means that I couldn’t go online or get upgrades with the old Vista after this.

The downloads took quite a while — for each — but I really wanted the .iso file so I could do a “clean” install.  That’s the most recommended way to do it, even though I have to reinstall all my other software all over again.

I also used Windows Easy Transfer (which comes with Vista) to create a copy of my settings, etc. and copied that to my external hard drive…. which turned out to not be quite as good an idea as I thought at the time, for reasons not to do with Easy Transfer, but the external drive and Win7.

I pulled the old drive out, so it couldn’t possibly be affected if anything went wrong, and then burned the Win 7 Pro upgrade .iso file to a DVD-R using InfraRecorder freeware.  This converted the .iso file into a form on the disc that would be bootable.

I also burned the executable file to a DVD-R just in case.  I also got the laptop battery fully charged and installed (I don’t always use it, otherwise) in case of any power glitches.

Then I booted up my laptop, selecting the DVD-R as the boot medium, and did the deed.  Pretty simple, step by step instructions, and not really much to do aside from start it up and walk off to do something else while it worked.

I did the CUSTOM install to the drive.  There’s a reboot in there.  It gave me an option to choose an operating system, but I left it alone and it defaulted to Win7Pro.  Reboot, then does some more stuff.

Then I had to set up myself as a user, enter the product key sent to me by email, and install the important updates.

And, I got Windows 7 Professional.

I set up a homegroup and got a new network password, and I was back on my home network with Internet access.

Oops.

What I didn’t get were my Microsoft Bluetooth Notebook Mouse 5000, and my external hard drive.

The external hard drive (a Western Digital MyBook) was a problem.  Win 7 couldn’t see that at all.

I installed the old drive with Vista and booted from that.  Uh oh.  Vista wanted to be repaired.  I did that and it ran, and Vista had no trouble seeing the external drive.  So, I copied the Easy Transfer file from the external drive to the old drive with Vista.

Rebooted from the new drive using Win7Pro.

Then I used Easy Transfer to copy in my old settings, etc. to the new drive using the version on Windows 7.  Didn’t really do much that I could tell — didn’t copy my Firefox or Thunderbird settings over, or anything like that.  Had to copy in all that manually.

Windows 7 Pro

I’ve seen some really positive reviews on Microsoft’s Security Essentials, so I went with that for anti-virus, and I’ll start with the Windows Firewall.

My Belkin USB hub had to be allowed through the firewall, and then I had my network printers back through that.

I used the freeware version of Device Doctor to be sure I had the updated device drivers.

Still no external drive.

I hunted around about the external drive, and finally found a Microsoft fix (which didn’t mention the external drive but did mention my NVIDIA chip set).  That fixed the problem and now I had my external drive back in action.  This is on an eSATA port directly into the laptop, by the way.

I’m skipping a lot of attempts to get the bluetooth mouse working.  Some people got it to work with Win7, and some didn’t.  I’m in the latter group.

Win 7 could tell the mouse was trying to communicate, but that was as far as it ever got.  I tried every remedy suggested by all the other users who had also found their 5000 mouse didn’t work.  Some of them got theirs to work, but Win 7 just didn’t like the bluetooth installed in my brand laptop, even with driver updates, so I gave up.

Others did have better luck with mice using USB-mounted transceivers, and since I had upgraded my home’s cordless phone system to DECT 6.0 so it wouldn’t interfere with the network or anything like that just before the holidays, I bought a new Logitech laptop mouse which used a tiny USB-plug transceiver.  It worked right out of the box.

I copied my Firefox and Thunderbird profiles from Vista on the old drive to Users\Dennis\AppData\Roaming\software\Profiles\longrandomname.default (respective software subdirectories) and got all my adds and email files back.  (The software is the name (Firefox, etc.) and the longrandomname is the odd code given by Win7 to a profile.)

I did a Restore Point.

XP Mode for Windows 7

I went to Microsoft and downloaded the XP Mode and Virtual PC software.  It insisted on Windows validation, and I needed repeated tries over 2 days before I got it to complete the process.  It just sat there after a successful validation and didn’t continue.  I used Internet Explorer, of course, but it still took several tries.

I installed the Virtual PC and then the XP mode (which is not the order of download shown), and then ran the update file.

Seems to be working okay.  I’ll try it out later with some XP stuff.  I want to up the memory allotted from half a gig to a full 1GB.

Other Software

I wanted my Readerware back.  One of my few pay programs, I use that for keeping track of books/audio/video that I own or want.  Fortunately, I had an email with a link to the new updated version, so I just bought and downloaded that, then installed the existing data in it from my old drive.

Time for other software:

  • From thewindowsclub.com, I got Ultimate Windows Tweaker, Windows Access Panel, and Quick Restore Point Maker.  Fix that Restore Point Maker to the Start Menu!  Restore points have saved me a number of times.
  • Soluto to control my boot loading process.  I don’t need it often, but it helps to cut down on having too much competing for time at boot.
  • Firefox, Thunderbird, and the Pale Moon version of Firefox.
  • Fences from Stardock to organize my desktop.
  • Secunia and FileHippo to keep me updated.
  • Evernote for cross-computer notetaking.
  • Everything for indexing.  I put this into Task Scheduler to load at boot with administrator privileges, so Win7 won’t keep asking for permission.
  • Jarte for a faster, simpler writing program, and OxygenOffice (the enhanced version of OpenOffice).
  • My music software for my Xitel Inport digitizer, which comes with the package, and some added freeware: MP3Gain (to level out the volume of files) and MP3Tag (to do complete tagging and convert file names into names using the new tags).
  • Google SketchUp 8.

Hub

I have a Belkin USB hub which handles my printers and ports them into the router for wireless use.  I tried this with the Western Digital external drive, and lo and behold, it works just fine.  The USB connection is slower, but it still works.

New external drive

With a 500GB drive, I decided to get a larger external drive for backup.  Pricing being what it was, I went up to a 2TB (which is effectively 4 times the size of my larger drive).  This works fine through the USB hub on the network, although it takes a while to get connected as Win7 searches it for information before making it available — and with 2TB of space, that takes a bit.

I tried to do the Win7 image function to it, but it choked on a missing file (my NVIDIA apparently didn’t have something in the upgrade go well).  So, did a backup (which included an image of the base setup, anyway) and that worked…. and worked… and — well, call it between 17 and 18 hours, folks.  Not just the speed of the connection, I think, it was just a big task to do about 260GB worth of system and data.  Still, not something I want to do again very often.  I’ll stick to a backup of only what changed in the future.

And that’s it for the moment.