During my September trip my old laptop finally crapped out enough that it was getting too painfully erratic and slow to use. I had poked at various things trying to get it back on its feet but it wasn’t enough. I went out to get a new laptop last month, so that mostly solved the problem.
I’m not one to leave a problem like that to remain unresolved though. My old laptop is over four years old, so it’s not terribly modern. Still, it was pretty high-end at the time I bought it, so it’s not a bad system. P3-1ghz with 512mb memory, 60gb disk, combo drive and 1440×1050 15″ LCD. That’s still not that bad of a system. And there’s also the issue that there was an Unresolved Problem that made me feel Technically Inferior to leave it unfixed.
Previously I had focused on the video card, because one symptom was that drawing of icons or graphics became painfully slow when it was crapping out. However, replacing the video card didn’t help any. After finding some benchmarking programs, I found that everything was pretty stable except for CPU and memory transfer benchmarks which were the only tests that slowed significantly when the laptop performance degraded.
When I got back after that trip, I stripped down the whole laptop to its basic components to check everything out. The only problem I didn’t know about was that the heat conductive grease between the cpu and heat sink had dried out. I replaced that and put things back together but that hadn’t helped. The two other problems were ones I knew about. The first was that the bottom case had cracked in several places and was slowly becoming more unstable, and the cpu fans had been failing for a while.
The first problem was from some unknown rough handling during a previous trip. I’m not sure where exactly it happened but somewhere between when I left CA and next turned on the computer in Taiwan, it had gotten kicked and dropped or something. The wifi PC card got dented and the PC card slots connector to the motherboard had gotten bent, but both of those I was able to repair myself. The case cracking I’d left unfixed because at the time it didn’t seem to affect anything. As for the fans, they’d been making a death rattle for quite a while, but it was hard to tell whether their intermittent failures were related to the performance problems.
So as I test, I disassembled the laptop again and set it up caseless on my desk as best I could and ran it that way. It then ran fine. It was hard to tell which problem was responsible as the cpu would be less likely to overheat when running unconfined, and also the disintegrating case wasn’t there to short out or wedge against something important.
With that in mind, I went on ebay and found some reasonably cheap sources for both the replacement bottom case and cpu fans for my laptop. I picked them up on my recent trip and just got a chance to replace the old broken ones on my laptop. Et voila, it is fixed. I’m not sure whether I’ll use it as another OpenSolaris box to play with or put it downstairs for the family to occasionally use, but whatever, I have now Solved The Problem.
As for my new laptop, I’m still pretty happy with it after the first big trip with it. I still feel a bit cramped in the 1280×800 resolution, but it’s never been a terrible inconvenience. The other problem is that the 4200rpm hard disk is noticeably slow. I am still dithering about upgrading it to a faster one at some point. Performance and size is great, and it’s even a bit faster than my current desktop system except on disk activity. And having a built in DVD burner is pretty nice.