I’ve been putting this off for a long time, but my trusty laptop is really on its last legs this time.  It was bought in October of 2008 for $780 (after my trusty Inspiron 8500 died – RIP *tear) – making it almost exactly 5 years old to the day.

In all reality it’s lasted a lot longer than I would’ve expected.  I think it actually turned out to be a much better base than one would expect.  A few key features helped it avoid obsolescence (but also lead to its demise):

  • Intel Core2Duo T8300 (Penryn) 2.4GHz – low(er) power and fastest offered for this model
  • Nvidia GeForce 8400M GS graphics
  • Dell 1440×900 lcd screen (120ppi)

To get me through the years, I did a few key upgrades:

  • Increased RAM to 4gb – it’s always cheaper to buy RAM aftermarket than purchasing Dell’s upgrade!  It is currently running Windows 7 Ultimate x64 very smoothly (also thx to Nvidia).
  • Bought a 9-cell battery when the old one quit (almost 4hrs battery life now)
  • Replaced the dvd drive with a second hard drive (it has been much easier living without one than you’d expect) using a caddy like this
  • Replaced the original hard drive with a Crucial M4 128GB SSD (by far the most significant performance improvement I’ve ever seen on a laptop)

It still runs everything I throw at it juuust fine until the graphics chip starts acting up.  Apparently it’s a known issue with these Nvidia chips that’s stirred up a class action lawsuit against Nvidia and, more personally, cost me a number of hours googling, researching, troubleshooting…etc.

Turns out there isn’t really a solution other than replacing your motherboard for (likely) a cost much greater than what the laptop is worth.  The used boards on eBay already have this problem, or will eventually, so it’s just a gamble as to whether or not you’ll get the life you need out of it.

At one point there were claims of an improved part number – but no one has actually been able to find one.  The most likely temporary fix would probably be reflowing the solder on the chip – there’s a few companies that do it or you can DIY.  Another company (notebooktek) also claims to have a service specifically for this problem that includes a reflow, new chip and some copper/heatsink mod for $79.  Either way, it’s not a simple fix, and it is very unlikely to be permanent.

Anyways, it’s served me well, don’t know what will happen to it’s carcass – still has a few good parts, but won’t be very useful to anyone as a whole in this shape.

I’ve already ordered it’s successor – since budget is a concern, I had to (like my last one) keep it relatively tame.  I got a nice deal ($680) on a Dell XPS 14 “Ultrabook” (hardly Intel’s idea of an ultrabook) at the Dell Outlet and am looking forward to it’s arrival – as well as some speedy, uninterrupted computing!