Laptops

How to upgrade your sluggish laptop

Faster performance without spending too much

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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.

An Acer laptop I upgraded running an old Intel chipset

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

Difference between 2.5″ SATA HDD vs 2.5″ SATA SSD (HDD already faulty)

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.

A meme that sums it up: Fast SSD cheemtah or a chonky HDD catto

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

Image by GadgetMatch

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.

No one can really tell the difference between a DDR3 and a DDR3L RAM just by looking at them from afar. Labels really matter 🥺👉🏼👈🏼

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).

Real-world usage

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.

Accessories

New MacBook Pros, AirPods 3 now for pre-order in Singapore

Time to splurge!

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MacBook Pros

Following Apple’s October event that saw the reveal of new AirPods and the much anticipated new MacBook Pros, the aforementioned devices are now up for pre-order in Singapore!

AirPods 3

The latest addition to Apple’s AirPods family features Spatial Audio and Adaptive EQ. Both features contribute to a more immersive and more surround sound experience as you enjoy your favorite tunes from Apple Music or your favorite podcasts.

It retails for SG$ 269. Delivery begins on October 26. That’s also when it’ll be available in Apple Stores.

MacBook 14″ and 16″

These 2021 MacBooks are the biggest update to Apple’s notebooks in years. Other than sporting the brand spanking new and super powered M1 Pro and M1 Max chips, the 14″ and 16″ MacBook Pros also got significant upgrades elsewhere.

Firstly, Apple has brought back the ports. Instead of just two Thunderbolt 3 ports, there are now three (3) Thunderbolt 4 ports, an HDMI port, and a must for pros — an SD Card slot. The 3.5mm jack also gets an upgrade allowing support for high grade headphones.

The display also gets an upgrade promising 1,000 nits of sustained brightness, as well as Promotion for that oh so smooth 120Hz refresh rate.

Pricing are as follows:

MacBook Pro 14″, M1 Pro, 512GB SSD — SG$ 2,999

  • 8-Core CPU
  • 14-Core GPU
  • 16GB Unified Memory
  • 67W USB-C Power Adapter
  • Comes in Space Grey or Silver

MacBook Pro 14″, M1 Pro, 1TB SSD — SG$ 3,749

  • 10-Core CPU
  • 16-Core GPU
  • 16GB Unified Memory
  • 96W USB-C Power Adapter
  • Comes in Space Grey or Silver

MacBook Pro 16″, M1 Pro, 512GB SSD — SG$ 3,749

  • 10-Core CPU
  • 16-Core GPU
  • 16GB Unified Memory
  • 140W USB-C Power Adapter
  • Comes in Space Grey or Silver

MacBook Pro 16″, M1 Pro, 1TB SSB — SG$ 4,049

  • 10-Core CPU
  • 16-Core GPU
  • 16GB Unified Memory
  • 140W USB-C Power Adapter
  • Comes in Space Grey or Silver

MacBook Pro 16″, M1 Max, 1TB SSB — SG$ 5,249

  • 10-Core CPU
  • 32-Core GPU
  • 32GB Unified Memory
  • 140W USB-C Power Adapter
  • Comes in Space Grey or Silver

Delivery begins on October 26. That’s also when it’ll be available in Apple Stores.

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Laptops

Apple announces new MacBook Pros powered by M1 Pro, M1 Max

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MacBook Pro

The MacBook Pro just got somewhat of a facelift as Apple introduces the new 14″ and 16″ MacBook Pros. Just with the sizes alone, longtime MacBook users will already see a difference as previous MacBook Pros used to come in 13″ and 15″ variants.

Let’s rundown everything that’s new in what Apple promises to be hyper-powered notebooks.

M1 Pro and M1 Max

The new MacBook Pros are powered by Apple’s latest and greatest processors. Want the numbers that fly over most people’s heads? Here you go:

M1 Pro — Up-to-10-core CPU with eight high-performance cores and two high-efficiency cores, along with an up-to-16-core GPU. That’s up to 70 percent faster CPU performance than M1, and up to 2x faster GPU performance. Delivers up to 200GB/s of memory bandwidth–nearly 3x the bandwidth of M1 and supports up to 32GB of fast unified memory.

M1 Max — Has a 10-core CPU and doubles the GPU with up to a massive 32 cores for up to 4x faster GPU performance than M1. It also has up to 400GB/s of memory bandwidth — 2x that of M1 Pro and nearly 6x that of M1 — and up to 64GB of fast unified memory.

This allows for real time rendering on hyper demanding tasks like video editing, 3D modelling, game designing, and many others.

It has a notch

Now that we know what matters on the inside, let’s address what will likely be the most noticeable aspect on the outside. Like the iPhone, the new MacBook Pros now have a notch. It sits in the middle of the menu bar to be less of a distraction.

Housed in the notch is the much improved 1080P FaceTime HD camera with an f/2.2 aperture to let more light in — crucial in our daily working lives that is now dominated by video calling. Other features include machine learning based noise reduction and face detection, local tone mapping, auto white balance, auto exposure, and Smart HDR. Noticeably missing — there’s no Face ID.

A display for discerning eyes

The display on the new MacBook Pros get significant upgrades. Officially called the Liquid Retina XDR Display, it features the same mini-LED technology found on the iPad Pro. It’s promising 1,000 nits of sustained, full-screen brightness, 1,600 nits of peak brightness, and a 1,000,000:1 contrast ratio. The display also has ProMotion which means a 120Hz refresh rate for an even more eye-pleasing experience.

As the sizes suggest, they are also indeed larger than their predecessors. The 16″ model offers a 16.2-inch display with 7.7 million pixels–the most ever on a Mac notebook. Meanwhile, the 14″ model has a 14.2-inch screen with 5.9 million pixels.

Bringing back the ports

Making a comeback in this iteration of the MacBook Pros are more ports. Both models will get the following:

  • Three (3) Thunderbolt 4 ports
  • SDXC card slot
  • HDMI port
  • 3.5mm headphone jack

Also making its way back to MacBook is MagSafe. MagSafe 3 makes connecting a charge cable quick and easy while protecting MacBook Pro. It also introduces fast charging to the Apple’s notebooks getting you to 50 percent in just 30 minutes.

M1 Pro users can connect up to two Pro Display XDRs. M1 Max, users can connect up to three Pro Display XDRs and a 4K TV, all at the same time. They also have Wi-Fi 6 and Bluetooth 5.0 for wireless connectivity.

macOS Monterey

Apple’s latest hardware will naturally come with their latest software. These new MacBook Pros have macOS Monterey right out of the box. That means users will get to enjoy the best of what Mac has to offer.

The long list of features include, but are not limited to: Live Text and Visual Lookup, Continuity, Shortcuts, SharePlay, Universal Control, and many more.

Of course there are the popular Mac apps which will run even smoother now and will allow you to create more like Final Cut Pro and Garage Band.

Pricing and availability

In the US, the new MacBook Pro models with M1 Pro and M1 Max are available to order today on apple.com/store and in the Apple Store app. They will arrive to customers and will be in select Apple Store locations and Apple Authorized Resellers starting Tuesday, October 26. Pricing are as follows:

  • 14″ MacBook Pro starts at US$ 1,999 (US$ 1,849 for education)
  • 16″ MacBook Pro starts at US$ 2,499 (US$ 2,299 for education)

It will be available in Singapore soon with the following pricing:

  • 14″ MacBook Pro starts at SG$ 2,999 (SG$ 2,769 for education)
  • 16″ MacBook Pro starts at SG$ 3,749 (SG$ 3,449 for education)
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Laptops

Meet Apple’s new M1 Pro and M1 Max chips!

Going even further

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M1 Pro

The next generation of MacBook processors is here. Despite recently launching the lineup’s M1 chip, Apple isn’t slowing down. During Apple’s October event called Unleashed, the company unveiled two powerhouse processors to power the latest lineup of MacBook Pros. Let’s meet the new workhorses now.

Meet the M1 Pro

Featuring ten cores (configured with eight high-performance cores and two energy-efficient ones), the M1 Pro boasts masterful performance with 33.7 billion transistors. It can reportedly perform 70 percent better than the M1 chip. With double the width, it can fit up to 32GB of unified RAM. Additionally, the chipset’s GPU packs in 16 cores inside.

Meet the M1 Max

Pushing further than the M1 Pro, the M1 Max features 57 billion transistors inside its lithe frame. Though touting the same 10-core setup as the M1 Pro, the Max can pack up to 64GB of unified RAM. Likewise, the chipset’s GPU comes with 32 cores.

With the new chipsets, Apple is pushing its notebook lineups in the performance department. Both can supposedly perform several times better than a PC laptop’s integrated and high-end graphics cards. And despite the boost in performance, they can still deliver by using considerably less power. For example, the M1 Max can reportedly perform with 70 percent less power than PC laptops.

Both the M1 Pro and M1 Max are available in the new 14- and 16-inch MacBook Pros.

SEE ALSO: 2021 iMac M1 Review: Your Best Work From Home Setup

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