Saturday, 2 August 2014

WARNING - Nerdy Computer Post

If you have been following the blog posts for the last three months you may remember we replaced old (and dying) Asus laptop with an Asus Ultrabook.  Our strategy is to avoid purchasing the “latest” pc as they tend to be very expensive.  We look for something that has the latest processor (cpu).  Then modify the pc when the replaceable (upgradable) components drop in price.  This usually means we buy a laptop with the latest processor (cpu) because it usually can’t be replaced.  The first upgrade on the Asus was to increase the random access memory (RAM) by adding an additional 8GB.  This increased it from 4GB to 12GB.  The laptop manual stated it would only accept a maximum of 8GB, but you can sometimes push the boundaries.  Whilst the back was off the wireless card was replaced with one that’s more powerful.  We use wifi in Waiouru, hence the need for a good connection.

The new Asus came with a 500GB hard drive and a 24GB mSata SSD.  mSata is the socket for a non-volatile, solid-state storage device and has no moving parts.  The machine came with a small 24GB SSD (solid state drive) card plugged into the mSata socket.  The 24GB SSD is used as a cache for the main hard drive.  It stores the data that is frequently accessed on the conventional hard drive.  Because SSD’s are much faster than hard drives they make the pc faster.

So a conventional hard drive is slower than an SSD and uses more electricity (because it is a mechanical device with moving parts). It also generates heat.  In contrast a solid state drive (SSD) is very fast, has no moving parts and is cool when operating, but is expensive.  The current “sweet spot” (best value for money) with SSD’s is 250GB. 

The plan was to replace the original Asus 500GB hard drive and 24GB msata SSD with a 250GB conventional SSD and a 250GB mSata SSD.  The operating system would be transferred to the mSata with the other SSD being used to store data.  This would make it easier to replace the conventional SSD with a larger one should we started to run out of storage capacity.

There was a potential problem with this plan.  The laptop was never designed to have a full size mSata SSD and therefore the modification might not be a success.

The first task was to remove the back off the pc.  The 10 cross head screws were removed and the plastic catches were “popped” using a plastic card. 

I used my seniors B&Q discount card.  It’s had to be useful for something!  You can see the card and the replacement full size mSata 250GB SSD in the following photo.

Small, isn’t it

With the back off the laptop it’s possible to access the components

The left arrow points to the additional 8GB of RAM that has been added.  The right arrow points to the 250GB SSD which has replaced the conventional 500GB hard drive.  The top arrow points to the existing small mSata 24GB SSD card which is partially obscured by the cable ribbon.  The first job was to remove one end of the ribbon and expose the mSata SSD.  The 24GB mSata SSD was secured with a screw which I removed before carefully pulling the SSD out of the socket.  You can see the difference between the old and new SSD’s in the following photo.

Old at the top and new at the bottom

The laptop needed to be modified to fit the larger SSD into the vacant spot.

There were two problems.  The small plastic mounting and brass nut for the original securing screw was in the way and there was also a bare piece of metal which might short circuit the larger replacement mSata SSD.  Using a pair of pliers, I slowly and carefully removed the plastic mounting and nut by griping it vertically twisting it backwards and forwards horizontally.  Then I covered over the exposed metal with plastic insulation tape.

The new mSata SSD now fits.

Having removed the securing mount for the screw I needed to think of a way of ensuring the SSD didn’t slip out of the socket.  This has been done by placing a small piece of boat foam window sealer tape to either side of the SSD.  The foam will be compressed when the back of the laptop is screwed on.

On examining the inside of the back if the laptop case I realised it would also have to be modified as one of the plastic securing ‘'”spikes” was going to push down on the new SSD.

It was removed by gently twisting it backwards and forwards with the pliers.  The back was then clipped and screwed into place.

The big question was whether the laptop would recognise the new mSata SSD.  It did (hurrah)! The next task was to use the Samsung software to “clone” the data from the old hard drive to the new mSata SSD.  Finally the BIOS was modified to make the mSata SSD the device to start the pc.

Everything is now working.  The mSata SSD contains the Windows 8.1 operating system and the conventional SSD is the data storage drive.  The machine now has the same storage capacity (500GB) as when it was first purchased.  But adding additional RAM and converting to SSD’s has had a major effect on the performance.  The pc is blisteringly fast and battery life has been more than doubled. The machine is also much cooler!

The end result is our cheap Asus ultrabook is now performing like a machine three times the price.


Catherine VK4GH said...

This work would void the warranty, if the warranty was worth the paper it is written on?

Davidss said...

Excellent post, thankyou.

Marilyn McDonald said...

Tom, admit it - it's not saving money that drives you to do this, it's the pleasure of completing the task! Looks like a job well done - I will continue on with my unmodified MacBook Air ... Cheers, M

Tom and Jan said...


Yes, void the Saudi Arabian warranty :-)

Marilyn, the SSD's have had an amazing impact on the length of time between battery recharging. Very useful for a boater. But then I'm not a fan of Apple (unlike both sons)!

Marilyn McDonald said...

Hi Tom, We are largely an Apple household - current tally is 4 plus a Windows machine. David is a former IT manager and set up the first network at the then Dept of Education back in the 80s - using Macs for their desktop publishing capabilities. He has stuck with them ever since. I have used Windows machines at work forever but do enjoy the simplicity of the Macs - suits my non-techy persona! At home, the Windows machine is used to test the film conversion work David does and I very occasionally use it to fire up MSProject.
Your sons obviously are men of sense! Cheers, M