Tuesday, 11 September 2012

Netbook Upgrade

I'm not usually into buying things before anyone else, but 4 years ago I took a punt and bought my wife one of the very first Acer netbooks as a birthday present.  This was the first serious netbook with a 9-inch screen after the 7-inch Asus which had arrived about a year before.  The Asus screen was just too small for a computer although it paved the way for all sorts of things including OEM distribution of Linux.  The Acer A110 had 512Mb of RAM and an 8Gb solid-state drive, which some people predicted wouldn't last (they have been proved very wrong).  After 2 years constant use the wee Acer was replaced with a new one with more memory and a hard disk drive, but I always fancied upgrading it.

The computer was pretty hard to upgrade as it had to be completely taken apart and one internal tiny Phillips screw was very tight.  In the end it needed to be removed by cutting a slot across it with a MiniCraft drill fitted with a circular cutting blade and then using a thin screwdriver to take it out.

This is the little solid-state drive removed from the computer.  It is a real oddity, a parallel (not SATA) drive similar to the type of hard disk drive used in early versions of the iPod, which was a popular upgrade for the Acer a couple of years ago.  Working versions of these iPod drives are hard to come by now, but luckily Acer later had versions of the A110 with SATA hard drives installed so the main printed circuit board has the solder pads for a SATA connector.

I should have taken a 'before' photo, but here is the 'after' one.  The SATA connector was not fitted and had to be soldered in.  I got the connector from China via eBay for about 40p!  Soldering it was a pig of a job (sorry pigs), because my eyesight isn't what it used to be and this was surface mount type stuff.  In the end a lot of trial-and-error and testing and the SATA socket was in place.  One other pair of pads needed soldered to supply 5-volt power to the connector and away we went.  The SATA drive is 80Gb and cost nothing because it was salvaged from a laptop that fell off the roof of a car and was totally trashed.  It was only about 3 months old at the time so the drive is almost new.

I also added an extra 1Gb of RAM to the slot on the right to bring the total to a respectable 1.5Gb.

Then a bit of cutting was done inside the case to accommodate the larger drive and it was all re-assembled.  I used my home-made USB DVD drive to load Ubuntu 12.04 on and this is now a really tasty little computer.

And here's Fin (7) doing some Scratch programming on a wet afternoon a couple of weeks ago at my ma-in-law's caravan!

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