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The Honolulu Advertiser
Posted on: Tuesday, July 25, 2006

Upgrades can extend laptop life

By Kim Komando

Years ago, it was virtually impossible to upgrade a laptop's hardware. But now you can easily swap out hard drives, memory and more. And you don't necessarily have to spend much.

A memory upgrade, which could add real zing, might cost just $50. And a laptop might be easier to upgrade than a desktop. You don't need special tools; an assortment of screwdrivers will do.

I have upgrades listed below that you can do. All are relatively easy. And all will extend the life of your laptop.

But watch your spending. If you reach $500 or more, stop. A new budget machine can be had for that and you'll find more-than-capable laptops for $1,000.

More caveats: Read your user's guide before buying parts.

Pick up a grounding strap. It will prevent damage to your computer from static electricity. Straps cost as little as $5.

With all that in mind, here are three upgrades:

1. Memory. Windows XP requires 256 megabytes of memory to run well. But 512MB is better. If you do photo or video editing or play games, go with 1 gigabyte.

Most memory is under a panel in the bottom of the laptop. Sometimes it's found beneath the keyboard. Check your manual.

Crucial (www.crucial.com), Kingston (www.kingston.com) and PNY (www.pny.com) offer online memory guides. Enter your laptop's make and model in the configurator. It will show which memory to buy and your laptop's capacity. A memory upgrade can start at $50, but could exceed $150.

2. Hard drive. When you bought your computer, the hard drive may have seemed vast. But pictures, music files and video clips gobble space. So replace your current drive with a more capacious one.

Laptop hard drives come in 1.8- and 2.5-inch widths. Heights vary. Again, consult your user's guide. A 100GB hard drive will cost around $150.

Swapping hard drives is simple. But moving your data can be a hassle. Apricorn (www.apricorn.com) and Hitachi (www.hitachi.us) offer upgrade kits. These kits include a drive, an external enclosure and data-exchange software.

An external hard drive is an alternative. It plugs into USB or FireWire ports. Expect to pay about a dollar per gigabyte.

3. Mouse and keyboard. Don't fret if a key no longer works. You can replace your keyboard. Sometimes you snap out the old and slip in the new. But don't expect to find a wide variety of choices. You'll probably have to go through your computer's manufacturer.

If you don't care for your touchpad, use a mouse. Any USB or wireless mouse will work. But mice designed specifically for laptops are smaller. They'll take less space in your laptop's carrying case and cost as little as $15.

Do you use your laptop as a desktop replacement? Then get a docking station. These devices plug into your laptop's USB port. You then plug a keyboard, mouse, printer and other accessories into the docking station. When you take the laptop out, everything stays connected, awaiting your return.

Most computer manufacturers sell docking stations at a premium. But third-party makers, such as Belkin (www.belkin.com), Kensington (www.kensington.com) and Targus (www.targus.com), offer them starting at $50.

Contact Kim Komando at gnstech@gns.gannett.com.