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Upgrading Dell laptops

Laptops aren't upgradable, so we're told. Maybe you can replace the memory and the hard disk, but that's about it. Wrong.
Dell laptops are upgradable, and others may be too.
I'm going to use my Dell Inspiron 8200 as an example.

Component Originally fitted Currently fitted
Hard disk 20GB 4800RPM Hitachi 60GB 7200RPM Hitachi
Video card 64MB Nvidia GeForce 440Go 64MB ATi Radeon Mobility 9000
Processor Pentium 4-M 1.6GHz Pentium 4-M 2.4GHz

Your first reaction was probably the same as mine - "He's completely nuts!".
It's a lot easier than you might think. Nothing is soldered to the motherboard, and I have the official Dell instructions for removing and replacing every component.
It won't even affect your warranty, although you may have to downgrade again before Dell will honour any claims.
Dell actually have a very useful support forum for those who want to upgrade their Inspiron. For other Dells, you'll have to find the right forum for yourself.

Inspiron 8200 upgrades

Hard disk

You can install pretty much anything that will fit in the caddy.
The best I've heard of is an 100GB 7200RPM Hitachi TravelStar E7K100.


Officially the maximum supported memory is 1024MB of CL2.5 DDR266. I recommend Crucial.
Actually you can get 2048MB of CL2 DDR266 to work.
Theoretically DDR333 will work (at 266 speeds), but I don't know if anyone has tried it.

Optical drive

You can install pretty much anything that will fit in the slot.
An optional DVD-RW was available for this model.


From best to worst:
1600×1200 Ultrasharp UXGA
1600×1200 UXGA
1400×1050 SXGA+

Video card

From best to worst:
64MB NVidia GeForce 4 Quadro 700 (Never installed by Dell)
64MB ATi Radeon Mobility 9000
64MB NVidia GeForce 440Go
64MB ATi Radeon Mobility 7500
32MB NVidia GeForce 440Go
32MB NVidia GeForce 2Go


Pentium 4-M up to 2.5GHz. 2.6GHz is a possibility, but I don't know if anyone has tried it.
Those in the know say that anything over 2.4GHz is a waste of money since memory access becomes a bottleneck. There are benchmarks which support this claim.
Seek expert advice when buying a new processor, there are several confusingly similar model names, and the getting the wrong one would be an expensive mistake.
The correct model number for a 2.4GHz P4-M is BXM80532GC2400D, but this may change.
Make sure you have the latest BIOS revison before you replace the processor, and don't be alarmed if it takes a long time to POST after the upgrade - this is normal.

You can see my CPU upgrade if you like.

Where do I find the parts?

In the UK, try Portables Direct.
In Canada and the USA, contact Dell's parts department.