Saturday, November 20, 2010

Analysis Laptop

About a week ago, my ancient laptop decided to go west and left me frustrated and really angry. Here's the spec of my Acer Aspire 1501LMi:
  • CPU: AMD Athon 64 3000+, 64-bit CPU at 1.7GHz
  • Memory: 512mb DDR SDRAM, upgraded to 1gb a few years ago
  • Graphics: ATI Mobiltity Radeon 9600
  • Hard Drive: 60GB
I think the most surprising aspect of all of this is that the Aspire is nearly seven years ago. To be exact, as of today, it has been in operation for six years, seven months, and six days, give or take a few days. So the fact that it decided to kick the bucket is not an amazingly huge shock, but nevertheless, it's never nice to have a laptop crap out like that.

So I decided to try an extend the lifespan of the laptop a little bit since I can't spare the cash to do so at the moment. I went through a series of debugging tests to see what was causing it to randomly conk out without any warning.

I've always known about the heat issue with this laptop. To give you an example, I was sitting in my college course with my laptop on and typing away a few years ago when the laptop was still new. My neighbour had his lunch sandwich next my ventilator holes on the laptop. About 15 minutes into the class, he suddenly exclaims that my laptop's vents have baked his sandwich. The crust turned from crispy to warm and crunchy, like it just came out of an oven.

Anyways... I played around a bit and swore a lot and came to one conclusion: it was the hard drive. Now, I've backed up most of my stuff some time ago and kept the backup up-to-date, so I'm not too concerned about a dead hard disk. What was a problem though, was that I did not have an extra one lying around to try with. So I went off on the internet to search for a decent cheap hard disk replacement. I eventually found a Samsung 160gb 2.5" drive for no more than 50€ which is amazingly good. I also bought a HDD enclosure to make it into a USB drive in case it doesn't work internally anymore. That only cost about 10€.

So the HDD arrived the other day and I started to install Windows on it. Everything worked fine, and it went through the procedure faster than usual. I had to install with Windows setup on a USB stick since the stupid DVD drive packed up a long time ago and has been very unreliable since. Windows started with a nice welcome message which made me a lot happier. Then I started downloading the official drivers and files to support the laptop.

No less had I installed the graphics card driver did the laptop go into its usual "conk out without warning" mode again. Now I'm on my third fresh install, and I have discovered that the graphics card drivers are problematic. Thankfully there's something called Omega Drivers on the net. Some private individuals decides to support and extend the operational life of graphics cards. The drivers worked perfectly.

However, I've come up to a snag. The graphics is working, but I think that's the thing killing my laptop. Windows dragging is now jittery, and video playback is blocky and glitchy. If I go heavily on the display on my HDTV, then it really goes mad and kills itself.

Further more, I think I've also discovered a secondary issue which has been around for ages. I think the heat aspect is causing a lot more long-term damage than I expected. I've just been running a CPU core temperature monitor and it seems to operate constantly at 70°C. When the CPU load goes anything above 1%, the temperature shoots up to 80°C+. This cannot be healthy. On this machine, not mine, I'm running the same monitor and it's showing that both cores are around 50°C, lowest 33°C and highest just under 60°C.

Anyways I think I have no choice anymore. The Aspire is really out of its depth now. The only thing I can do is to find some cash to buy something relatively decent very soon. I think I'll also find a way to blow the Aspire up after all the years of frustration it has caused me since I bought it, under ill advise by a stupid family member, in 2004.


EDIT: And I've just discovered something worrying... A website says the Athlon 64 chipset can operate only up to a maximum temperature of 70°C. So this thing has been running above and beyond that for years... Goodness me.

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