You have an HP, Compaq, Dell, or a less known brand like ZT and your starting to envy your co-worker with that brand new laptop, the neighbor that just got the newest Dell deal for half of what you paid for your PC, yet it takes less power to run multiple apps then your PC does to run solitaire.
Some computers are just as simple as logging on to the website and finding out what can be upgraded and how much. DavidOrlo.com isn’t another how to for dummies so let’s get into the more difficult upgrades.
First and foremost we need to know what motherboard we are working with in that meager monster waiting to be unleashed. Sometimes this can be as simple as opening the case, other times we need to resort to a piece of software designed to give us such info. I myself almost always rely on the software, I can not count how many times I have opened a Compaq, E-machine, Nobilis and several others to find an Asus motherboard tucked away inside. After years in the field I can spot an Asus a mile away because of its generic color and look. I think these big brands go with Asus because they have proven to be reliable and don’t appear to be going away anytime soon. Even if we do get so lucky to see that Asus logo chances are the model won’t exist on the Asus support site. I know this doesn’t make much senseÂ so let me explain.Â Asus and other motherboard manufacturers produce these boards and give them model numbersÂ that aren’t sold retail to seperate them from the retail boards.
My ZT laptop is a prime example of this. ZT is a little known brand but I knew it had an MSI motherboard, what I found out was that is was actually a rebranded MSI. Now the questionsÂ are how do we find out what motherboard is inside of our PC or laptop and how much memory can it hold, what is the fastest CPU I can install. I will answer the question by first stating that there is not one sure method of determining just how much a laptop or desktop can be upgraded and when all else fails it doesn’t hurt to install the CPU or RAM and see what happens.
1: Visit the manufacturers website
I know this seems simple but it should always be your first step in determining what your upgrade possibilities are.
2: Run CPU-Z
Found here http://www.cpuid.com/cpuz.phpÂ CPU-Z will tell you the motherboard in your system. This is how I find the real model of those Asus boards in name brand desktops and this is the tool that told me my ZT laptop was actually an MSI EX600. When you run CPU-Z there is a tab that will tell you important information about the system. The motherboard tab is our prime target here and you should make notes of the make, model, northbridge and southbridge.
3: Investigate / Search
Searching google, chipset manufacturers websites and even Ebay (I will explain below) can be the absolute answer to your upgrade question.
Well there you have the methods I use now let me show you how to use them and maximize your upgrade possibilities. If you have a system with an Asus motherboard you may be lucky enough to find what you are looking for on their website. If that was the case then you likely wouldn’d be reading this so lets move along.
Run CPU-Z and gather the information mentioned above, the Nortbridge and Southbridge (if your system has one) are the most important things to make a note of here. If you find you have anÂ Intel chipset then visit the Intel website and search for the chipset to find its capabilities such as maximum FSB (Front Side Bus).Â The maximum FSB is the most important thing in upgrading the CPU in system if we don’t count the obvious things like socket type and CPU manufacturer.
IÂ owned a Gateway laptop that I wanted to upgrade the CPU and neither Gateway’s website or CPU-Z were helpful in determining just how much I could upgrade the laptop. The best solution here was to make a note of the Northbridge and Southbridge. These were made by Intel so I searched their website for information on the capabilities of these chips. What I found out was that the machine could handle a Dual Core processor but only the first series of dual cores by Intel. The series in order are Pentium Dual Core, Core Duo then Core 2 Duo. Although the socket is not different between some of the series the FSB is different. My maximum FSB was 400mhz so I searched Intel’s website again to find the CPU’s that would fit my socket with the FSB my motherboard could support.
I found several CPU’s that would fit the bill, Now I needed some confirmation that it would work before I spent my money on one.
Note: Before I go in depth with how this was determined I want you to make a note that upgrading your cpu may require a memory upgrade as well. I also want you to make a note that you could end up upgrading from a 1.6Ghz to a 1.6Ghz CPU. No that wasn’t a typo. How is that possible? Well lets say your current cpu has a 1MB L2 Cache and you found a chip with 2MB L2 Cache. The chip with the 2MB Cache will be faster. Another possibility may be that your board supports a higher FSB then what the current CPU is using, in this case you should make sure your memory is rated to handle the FSB of the upgraded CPU as well. One last possibility may be that there is a newer CPU with a smaller die size then your current CPU. This CPU will generally run cooler which may seem faster in a laptop because laptops will underclock themselves and deliberately run slower when they are hot. If you see a number like “32NM” this is the die size.
Back to confirmation, I headed off to Ebay, Yes Ebay. I searched in the descriptions for my northbridge chipset and looked at other laptops to see what processors they came with from the manufacturer. I found several laptops with faster CPU’s so now I knew I could upgrade to any one of these. I choose a CPU with 200 more mhz and and extra 1MB of L2 cache. This made a noticeable difference.Â Now I want you to make another note.
Note: When upgrading your CPU please consider your Heatsink and fan in the upgrade. You should always upgrade your heatsink and fan in your desktop but this generally isn’t possible in a laptop. If you have a laptop I would go for more L2 cache, a higher FSB or newer CPU core over more Ghz/Mhz.
Now that we got the easy stuff out of the way lets get into the hardcore upgrades.
BIOS BIOS BIOS. BIOS upgrades are essential to upgrading your CPU and Memory. With a BIOS upgrade your system can generally handle faster and newer CPU’s and sometimes even more memory. I can’t count how many times I have seen a board that states it will handle a certain CPU but will constantly crash with that newer CPU until the BIOS is upgraded. If you used CPU-Z or another tool and found out that your board is actually an ASUS or another known brand and have confirmed this then you can flash with that BIOS instead, BUT and this is a big BUT, You may have Windows activation issues. Without going too far into detail I will say that most OEM’s use a general licensing scheme that is tied to the BIOS of the motherboard. This means all that the CD Key on the side of your case checks is that your system is a Dell, Gateway, HP or whatever. Once you flash that BIOS your system will see it’s now an MSI, ASUS, Gigabyte or whatever. This may or may not cause issues depending on the system and key used.
There are benefits to this of course that often outÂ weigh the disadvantage of having to call Microsoft or possibly purchasing a new OEM key. You may be able to unlock extra capabilities in the motherboard such as overclocking. One good example I have is when I found out my ZT laptop was nothing more then an MSI rebranding I immediately looked over the MSI docs to see what this thing was capable of. What I found out was that it could go a lot faster then I thought and that 2GB memory limit I thought I had was fixed with the latest BIOS update and bumped up to 4GB.
I found out my ZT was an MSI by running CPU-Z. I first noticed the board was an MSI-1636, I searched google and seen that this board was used in the MSI EX600 which coincidentally enough looked just like my ZT. After some digging it was confirmed this was my ZT and I got one hell of a deal at the time of purchase when compared to the MSI branded price. After my BIOS upgrade I had to reactivate Windows over the phone but went without a hitch. Now I can cram 4GB of memory into this beast and upgrade the CPU quite a bit. I will likely only do a small CPU upgrade because once you get near the TOTL (Top Of The Line) for that model it starts to get pricey. For example if you have a board that supports 400FSB and want the fastest Intel with that bus speed and will fit your socket you may end up spending over $300 on that CPU. If I wanted to spend that I would put it towards a new laptop that would spank my oldÂ laptop without breaking a sweat, so I go a few steps down from TOTL.