People I know would describe me as an ultimate “techie” for knowing bits and pieces of both software and hardware. Ever since the pandemic started, almost all of them ask me the same question: “what’s the best budget laptop I can buy?” — either for their Zoom-powered online classes or basic WFH (Work From Home) setup. I always respond with “how much is your budget?” and that already gives me an idea what’s the closest laptop model I can recommend for them.
But here’s what I’ve observed. Most of them can only afford laptops that are priced below US$ 500 (around PhP 25,000 or INR 38,000). The problem is clear. Despite the need for it, not everyone has the resources to spend on a shiny new laptop.
In certain Facebook groups, Twitter threads, and comments sections, I’ve been seeing a lot of people posting “minimum laptop specifications” as a handy buyer’s guide for those who need it. But the thing is, buying a lower-end 10th Generation Intel Core i3 or the latest AMD Ryzen chipset would still cost an arm and a leg for most consumers.
Others even refer to high-spec professional and/or gaming laptops — which most people don’t even need since they’re only going to do basic tasks. The thought of helping is there but those who are not particularly into tech still wouldn’t understand the differences between these chipset models, as well as how RAM and storage devices are different from one another.
Fortunately, laptops (and PCs) are not like smartphones that need to be replaced once the performance degrades. If you have a laptop that still works even if it’s already sluggish, this article might help you in saving money instead of buying a completely new one. In my case, I decided to upgrade our 2011 Samsung RF511 that’s become as slow as a snail over the years.
SSD is the key
Upgrading to SSD (Solid State Drive) is a big factor in making your ultra-slow laptop run faster. Most laptops are still equipped with old Hard Disk Drives (HDDs). Here’s our SSD vs HDD explainer if you really want to dive into the specifics of it.
Basically, SSD is a better option since the Operating System (OS) directly runs in that drive. A high-capacity 512GB SSD might cost more than a 1TB HDD — which sums up the logic that essential OS files and apps should be stored in lower-capacity SSDs while most of your files should still be in a larger HDD capacity since they don’t need to be run as frequent as the OS and apps.
Also, SSD is a lot slimmer and lighter, runs cooler, and is quieter than the thick and heavy HDDs that always rely on spinning disks instead of a non-volatile set of chips.
With the ongoing demand for SSDs, a 120GB SSD can now be bought for as low as US$ 20 / PhP 1,300 / INR 2290 — particularly a SanDisk SSD. It’s the pure nature of commerce that the bigger capacity you get, the more you need to pay for it.
There are other cheaper brand options out there like Kingston, Silicon Power, PNY, ADATA, while the likes of WD/Western Digital (SanDisk’s mother brand) and Samsung lean more into the pricier side. Buying a more expensive drive might mean you’ll get better disk speeds (especially if you’re a gamer or a power user) but for an everyday consumer, the cheapest options will just be alright for the basic tasks you do.
Not all SSDs are made equal
I’m not talking about unequal storage size options. In our explainer, it wasn’t mentioned that there are several types of SSD connectors — but most of the common ones are either SATA and m.2 SSDs. So what’s the difference?
In layman’s term, 2.5″ SATA SSDs are those that are shaped like regular hard disk drives — that’s why it can still be used on older laptops and PCs. There’s even a smaller version called mSATA that runs on the same SATA interface.
For newer laptops, motherboards, and gaming rigs, they use a smaller, thinner, and more space-efficient m.2 SSD (almost the same size as a chewing gum stick) that runs even faster than a regular SATA SSD. But here’s the catch! There are two subtypes of m.2 SSDs that are different in the shape of connectors:
- m.2 SATA SSD has both B and M connectors; while
- m.2 NVMe SSD only has an M connector at the end
Since this is an article meant for people who have slow laptops, I wouldn’t dive deeper into the nitty-gritty of these types of SSDs. But for visual comparison, here’s how you can differentiate them in different sizes and connector shapes.
RAM upgrade is an essential but not a requirement
During the quarantine period, I received several laptop repairs by replacing their old disk drives and upgrading their laptops’ memory sticks. In one instance, I ordered both SSD and RAM upgrades. The SSD was delivered ahead of time and just by replacing the hard disk drive alone did a lot in speeding up the laptop — even with just 2GB of RAM.
That being said, RAM is still essential, especially when opening multiple apps at once without totally closing other apps that are minimized/in idle. If you’re the type of power user who always multitasks, you will gain more with a RAM upgrade. The higher the capacity, the more apps you can open at once — of course with the help of your laptop’s processor.
Just like SSDs, not all RAM modules are the same
In the case of SSDs, it’s easy to tell which is which just by looking at the size and connector type. For RAM modules, it’s different. These RAM sticks all have similar connectors, but it doesn’t mean all of them will work on older machines. In my case, the old Samsung laptop I have indicates that it runs “DDR3 ONLY”. There are even different types of RAM bandwidth ranging from the slow 1600MHz all the way to a maximum of 3200MHz. Here’s a quick summary:
- DDR2 configuration runs on older laptops manufactured 2007 (or earlier)
- DDR3 configuration runs on older laptops manufactured 2013 (or earlier)
- DDR3L configuration is a re-configured DDR3 module that’s found on newer low-end laptops but can still run on older laptops with DDR3 slots (but not vice versa);
- and DDR4 configuration runs on most latest laptops manufactured 2014 onwards.
You can further check the configuration based on the labels on the module.
Know your laptop’s specific requirements before buying
I have to mention this for the nth time: NOT all laptops are created equal. Just because there’s an 8GB or 16GB memory available around, it doesn’t mean you can immediately buy it for your aging laptop.
There aren’t many restrictions when upgrading storage capacities aside from the type of hard drive connector your laptop (or PC build) has. I even cautioned about not all RAM modules being alike — and that also means not all laptops support higher RAM capacities.
I recently upgraded an acquaintance’s laptop. It may look new but the thing is, it only supports a maximum RAM capacity of 8GB. Most newer laptops support higher than that, which means it’s not totally based on the year of release. This is also why it’s crucial to know your laptop’s specifications.
Speaking of, the quickest workaround I can think of is by visiting Crucial’s website where you can search your laptop’s exact model and it will give you the closest and most compatible types of RAM and storage options which can be your source of reference.
From there, you can quickly go ahead and find a cheaper alternative to an online shopping app that’s closest to your heart — whether that may be Lazada, Shopee, Amazon, or AliExpress, as long as they sell legit PC parts. And oh! Don’t forget to see product reviews before adding it to your cart and checking out.
I bought the right parts, so what now?
Option 1: DIY upgrade
With the ongoing COVID-19 crisis, it’s hard to go out of your home just to go to the nearest repair shop in your area. If you’ve read my DIY iPhone repair before, upgrading laptop parts isn’t as complex as that one which requires a lot of tools just to open one.
When opening laptops, I just use a single, regular-sized Phillips screwdriver (the ones you can see in your dad’s toolbox) — not the smaller ones and not the bigger screw head for furniture. If you can’t find one, you can just buy a toolset in online shops and hardware stores.
What I’ve encountered when fixing laptops is that there are differences in the way they are opened. Most laptop screws are found at the bottom part of the laptop — and it’s the easiest way to replace hard drives and RAM modules.
But in another example, we also have an old Dell Inspiron N4050 laptop. I was able to add more RAM sticks by completely pulling and opening it up through a tedious keyboard removal. To make it harder, I removed the laptop’s outer shell and several flex cables just to get access to the hard drive itself found beneath the metal enclosure.
Anyhow, when you’ve decided to do the upgrade by yourself, just make sure you know how to completely unscrew and disassemble your laptop. Tutorials online (particularly in YouTube) are always helpful.
Option 2: Hire a repairman / family member / friend / acquaintance who knows how to fix laptops
If DIY isn’t workable, you can still look for people who’ll do it for you. Just remember to pay appropriately. Most upgrades shouldn’t be as expensive as buying a new 128GB SSD.
Why is it not turning on? Is it defective?
Just like any other fresh storage device, it needs a fresh OS installation. If you know how to install a fresh copy of Windows 10 (which can be directly downloaded from Microsoft’s website), rest assured it will work — and even install faster. Don’t worry, older laptops with low specifications are still supported.
To start the installation process, you just need an 8GB flash drive (or higher) where you can store the needed OS files. To not over-extend this article, watch this step-by-step YouTube tutorial.
For those who are still not capable of doing so, ask someone who can do it for you for a fee (or maybe free for those who are eager to help).
There are a lot of speed tests and benchmarks out there but most wouldn’t care about specific read and write speeds as they value real-life experiences more. With my usage, the time it takes me to turn it on from clicking the power button going to the Login screen was massively cut from a minute and a half to just around fifteen (15) seconds.
Other than that, there’s little to no lag and freezing when opening apps. In my case, I was able to open apps in a breeze. As this old Samsung laptop runs with an aging second-generation Intel Core i7 chipset, it’s surprising to see that Adobe Photoshop, Lightroom, Illustrator, and Premiere Pro are all running well.
Another testimony to how SSD improves a slow laptop’s performance is when one acquaintance told me how the SSD replacement totally helped him get over with his laggy online class and work setup due to a slower HDD paired with a low-tier Intel Pentium processor.
But where are the Office apps when I need them the most?
Online classes and work tasks require Microsoft Office services. If you can’t find an original copy (since piracy shouldn’t be tolerated), you can sign up for a one (1)-month trial of Office 365 instead. Other options are the freeware OpenOffice or real-time, online-based Google alternatives like Docs (Word), Slides (Powerpoint), and Sheets (Excel).
Older MacBooks can also be upgraded
Although newer MacBooks (Air, Pro, and Retina) cannot be upgraded anymore, older MacBook Pros (2012 or earlier) with non-Retina Display and CD drives can still be upgraded. You have options to replace your clunky HDD with a SATA SSD or even upgrade RAM sticks up to 16GB.
Just like any Windows laptop, be sure to check your Mac’s specific model/manufacturing year before purchasing essential parts. For more help, you can check out this old MacBook Pro list and their max upgradeable options.
Also, macOS / OS X installation is a little different than that of Windows. Here’s a workaround.
Samsung, Intel are making a slidable PC
Prototype right now
When Samsung heralded the coming of the foldable phone, all eyes were unfortunately fixed on the ghastly crease stretching from end to end. Years since that moment, the crease never really disappeared. Smartphone brands did their best to reduce their impact, but it still remains a problem. Samsung, perhaps doubling back to fix the long-standing problem, has introduced a new form factor for the future: the slidable PC.
During Intel’s Innovation event, Samsung Display and Intel unveiled a prototype device showcasing a unique (but not altogether new) concept. Instead of a foldable hinge, the 13-inch display “slides” into a 17-inch display. Both companies effectively created a tablet that can turn into a laptop.
Since the prototype already works as a display, it’s easy to see how an eventual device might work. Starting off as a large tablet, the device expands and connects to an external keyboard (or another accessory).
The prototype should look familiar, too. Although Intel uses “slidable” as a term, other brands — like LG — have created similar form factors but labeled as “rollable.” Unfortunately, LG exited the smartphone business before creating a workable product for everyone.
Without other brands, it looks like Samsung and Intel are both on the hunt to bring the device to reality. At the moment, it is still a prototype. There is no timeline for a product yet. However, Intel seems resolute that foldable isn’t the future of PCs.
Lenovo ThinkPad P16s, ThinkStation P360 now in the Philippines
Two new Think products
Lenovo continues to be in a league of its own. After making new IdeaPad and Yoga laptops available earlier this month, Lenovo has introduced two new products in their Think lineup: the ThinkPad P16s Gen 1 and ThinkStation P360 Ultra.
ThinkPad P16s Gen 1
Price — starts at PhP 95,999
The powerful and high-performance ThinkPad P16s Gen 1 is powered by up to the latest 12th Gen Intel Core i7 processors and NVIDIA T550 or Intel Iris Xe graphics.
It can support up to 48GB DDR4 memory and up to 2TB PCIe SSD Gen 4 storage, making it ideal not only for work but also gaming.
The display is 16-inch, 400 nits (2560 x 1600) screen. It has Intel WiFi 6E and Intel Thunderbolt 4, with a suite of ports and slots for seamless and high-speed connectivity.
While reliable and durable, the laptop also comes in a lightweight and slim design, weighing just 1.7 kilograms and with a thickness of 20.5mm for portable use.
ThinkStation P360 Ultra
Price — starts at PhP 114,799
On the other hand, the small but powerful ThinkStation P360 Ultra is boosted by up to a 12th Gen Intel Core i9 12900 vPro processor for a maximum power of up to 5GHz, and advanced graphics options such as the NVIDIA RTX A5000.
Half the size of traditional small form factor desktop workstations, the machine supports a wide range of tasks for professionals and even creatives, making it one of its kind for its size.
It has up to 64GB of DDR5 memory and up to 1TB of SSD PCIe Gen4 storage. The ThinkStation P360 Ultra also has seven (7) USB ports, including 2 Thunderbolt 4 ports.
Dual onboard ethernet and WiFi 6E options ensure access to superfast networking connectivity. Pair it with wireless keyboards, mice, and monitors, and you’ll be able to take productivity to a whole new level.
The release of these Think devices follows Lenovo’s release of three new Yoga laptops — the Yoga 9i, Slim 7i Pro X, and Slim 7i Carbon — and three new IdeaPads — Slim 3 and 3i, Slim 5i, and 5 Pro earlier this month.
New HP Spectre, Envy laptops unveiled: Pricing, specs
A creative’s sidekick
The newest lineup of HP Spectre and Envy laptops have finally been released in the Philippines, offering a great sidekick for professional creators.
They are the 13.5-inch Spectre x360 Laptop 14 and 13.3-inch Envy x360 Laptop 13, which come with up to the latest 12th Gen Intel Core i7 processors and Intel Evo. The laptops are also equipped with up to 16GB of DDR4 memory and up to 2TB of PCIe 4 storage.
When it comes to display, the devices have up to 4K OLED displays which have a 120Hz refresh rate, supported by Intel Iris Xe graphics.
Speaking of which, the 2-in-1 touch display laptops support multi-gestures, such as pinch-to-zoom, double tap, and press and hold, and have a variety of screen sizes, from the 3:2 to the 16:10 aspect ratio to fit the content nicely.
Your next meeting also gets a level up, as the the laptops come with these premium features:
- 5MP camera
- HP AutoFrame and Dynamic Voice Leveling
- Backlight Adjustment and Appearance Filter
- Bi-directional microphones with AI noise cancellation
- Quad speakers
Check the list below for a quick glance of the corresponding prices of both the new HP Spectre and Envy laptops.
- ef0038TU (Core i5, 8GB+512GB): PhP 87,990
- ef0039TU (Core i7, 16GB+512GB): PhP 96,990
- ef0042TU (Core i7, 16GB+1TB): PhP 102,990
- ef0043TU (Core i7, 16GB+2TB): PhP 115,990
- bf0045TU (Core i5, 15GB+512GB): PhP 69,990
- bf0046TU (Core i7, 16GB+512GB): PhP 77,990
- bf0047TU (Core i7, 16GB+1TB): PhP 82,990
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