QuickFIXit: Using rubber for wedging a hard drive in place in laptops

The blue pieces of rubber shown in this picture kept the hard drive wedged in place inside this Dell Latitude E7440 laptop, which had its caddy missing

Ever found yourself in a situation where you bought a laptop and found out that it came without its caddy for the hard drive or solid state drive? Or where you inadvertently misplaced the caddy while performing a solid state drive upgrade, and can’t remember where you had last placed it?

Well, if you don’t have a spare hard drive caddy at hand for your laptop, then there is one quick fix that you can try to prevent the hard drive or solid state drive from becoming dislodged from the SATA ports inside the laptop – wedge it in place using rubber!

Find a large piece of solid rubber (something like an eraser for removing pencil marks should do the trick!), and then place it against the edge of the hard drive bay inside your laptop. Then, make a small incision into the rubber using a knife, a scalpel or other suitable sharp blade; the incision should ideally be roughly 1-2mm more than the gap between the edge of the hard drive bay and the edge of the hard drive itself. Then carefully cut through the rest of the rubber, until the piece comes off from the rest of the rubber. Finally, push the cut piece of rubber into the gap, as shown in the above picture.

The idea with this QuickFIXit is that the extra millimetre or two of rubber ensures a tight fit into the gap between the edge of the hard drive bay and the hard drive or solid state drive, which is what keeps the hard drive or solid state drive firmly connected to the SATA ports and thus, prevent them from moving about in the hard drive bay and potentially disconnect, leading to the drives becoming unrecognised in the BIOS and operating systems.

Upgrades on a Shoestring: SSDs

These SSDs from Gigabyte and Sandisk are ideal for making desktop PCs and laptops more performant while keeping costs down.

Please note: the items shown in the above photo were purchased by us, on behalf of our customers at our weekly pop-up IT workshops. We are not in any way affiliated with, or sponsored by the manufacturers of the products.

Solid state drives have become ubiquitous in today’s world of technology, as prices of these parts have fallen to a point that they become more and more accessible even to people on tight budgets. Whereas earlier SSDs had very low capacities and were very expensive in comparison with mechanical hard drives, today’s high-end SSDs can store as much data as current hard drives and make use of PCI and NVMe ports for considerable performance benefits.

For the purpose of this article though, we will focus on the entry-level SSDs found at many High Street and online retailers, since on most older computers and laptops, even the cheapest SSDs with modest capacities and performance are a step up from the mechanical hard drives that they will have come installed from the factories.

We recently bought two solid state drives that we found being sold on eBay, a Gigabyte SSD and a Sandisk SSD PLUS. Both SSDs were 120GB models that were being priced at as little as £20 (at the time of writing), which makes them suitable for users who do not intend to keep large amounts of data stored on their desktop PCs and laptops, and who want the performance benefits of an SSD without breaking the bank.

The Sandisk SSD PLUS solid state drive was used as an upgrade for an entry-level Asus laptop that we found to be rather sluggish, even after carrying out various optimisation tasks to try to make the system more responsive. The mechanical hard drive that came installed in the laptop was replaced with the SSD by;

  • Removing the ten screws underneath the laptop
  • Gradually prising the keyboard bezel off with a spudger
  • Removing a single screw from the metal bracket keeping the hard drive held in place inside the laptop, and then lifting the hard drive out of the unit
  • Removing the metal bracket from the hard drive, and then attaching it to the SSD with the four screws
  • Installing the new SSD and the bracket into the laptop, and putting the single screw into its original position
  • Reattaching the keyboard bezel to the laptop, then inserting the ten screws back into the original spots and securing them in place

Many older laptops can have SSD upgrades performed more easily by removing only a section of the base plastic to access the old hard drive or SSD, or removing a cover attached to the side of the laptop and simply pulling the old hard drive or SSD out with the plastic flap attached to the caddy or bracket. On desktop PCs, the SSD can simply be inserted into a free 2.5″ drive bay and secured with screws, affixed to a mounting bracket that is then installed into a 3.5″ drive bay, or even attached to a flexible bracket and inserted into a 2.5″ drive bay without the need for screws (in the case of some computer cases aimed at enthusiasts).

With decent SSDs from mainstream manufacturers becoming cheaper than ever before, we would say that SSDs are a great way to breathe new life into older computers and help make newer computers with rather modest CPUs more responsive, and can be done at a shoestring budget. If your old hard drive is still in good working order though, don’t throw it away just yet! You can still insert that old hard drive into an external drive enclosure, and use it to backup all of your important files, as a rescue drive in case you encounter software issues, or even use it as a portable media box for playing music, videos and movies on your TV!

Why we install Linux on older computers

There is a broad diversity of computers that are continually released to enterprise and the public, ranging from huge workstations that incorporate powerful hardware aimed at intensive, productive tasks, to tiny ultra small form factor PCs with more modest specifications that can be mounted to the back of monitors or TVs for an all-in-one solution, even to laptops that can be carried around in bags for productivity wherever people go.

Unfortunately, computers are typically supported by OEMs only for a few years at most before they are deemed to be “end of life”, where OEMs basically eschew support for those older machines in favour of their most recent range of products. This can lead to situations where drivers for hardware that worked on older operating systems no longer work all of a sudden when users decide to try upgrading to the newest releases of their favoured operating system. These factors in particular can seem to conspire to encourage users to throw away otherwise perfectly useful working computers, simply because OEMs, hardware and software vendors deem it no longer profitable to continue supporting their older hardware and software products.

So here at BitFIXit, where computers that came with versions of Windows that are no longer supported, but can still be serviceable and useful for their users’ needs, we can extend those computers’ useful service life by replacing the obsolete versions of Windows installed on them with Linux distributions. Our Linux distribution of choice is Linux Mint, which is a distribution that is aimed at accommodating novice users by making it easy to install and update software. We chose Linux Mint, because by virtue of being an easy to use operating system, it is ideal for our regular visitors to our community workshops. Recent releases of Linux Mint are based on long-term term releases of Ubuntu, which means that they receive extended support and in turn, means extended useful life of computers.

Where we come across computers that come with CPUs that do not support 64-bit operating systems, we install the most recent 32-bit version of Linux Mint we have available. This way, even computers with legacy CPUs can benefit from receiving software updates and support. Maintainers have started to cease offering 32-bit versions of mainstream Linux distributions so, while we can eventually go only so far in extending the usefulness of these computers, the extra service time offered by opting for a Linux distribution over continuing on with an obsolete and increasingly insecure release of Windows means less electronic wastage in the long term.

BitREPURPOSEit: Using CPU Heatsinks As Stands & Holders

A pair of CPU heatsinks from old desktop PCs used as stands for pens and leaflets respectively

Here is a neat way of repurposing old CPU heatsinks from various broken, tired, or otherwise obsolete desktop PCs; using them as stands and holders for documents, leaflets, business cards, notes, stationery and other small items!

CPU heatsinks are typically designed in a way that maximises the surface area so that as much heat can be drawn away from the heatsink as possible. Due to that design, they come in quite handy for more than just drawing heat away from processors and therefore keeping them nice and cool.

I salvaged a total of three CPU heatsinks from some old desktop PCs that were kept in the store room, and cleaned them up by removing the old thermal compound from underneath the heatsinks and removing as much dust from in between the fins as possible. Two of the heatsinks are seen in the above photo taken during the Sheffield Community Toolbank relaunch event.

As you can see from the photo, the rectangular heatsink makes for quite a nice holder for forms, leaflets, notes, and other small documents, while the circular heatsink has a recess in the centre that makes it useful for holding pencils, pens and other small items of stationery. Chipset heatsinks can also be used for this purpose as well; their diminutive size makes them useful for smaller items like business cards, shopping lists, tags and labels.

So rather than simply discard the old heatsinks along with the rest of the parts inside the computers, why not take them out of the computers, clean them up, and use them as stands and holders? A computer part that gets reused and repurposed for something useful, means one less item meeting its end in landfill!

Sheffield Community Toolbank Relaunch Event

BitFIXit is proud to announce that we will participate in the Sheffield Community Toolbank relaunch event, which will be held by Green City Action. The event will take place at Abbeyfield Park on Saturday 23rd March 2019, from 10am to 4pm.

The Toolbank will offer tool swaps and tool sharpening services on a pay-as-you-feel basis during the course of the event, making the relaunch a grand opportunity to bring in any worn and tired tools and gardening equipment and keep them in good working order.

Repair Sheffield will be participating at the relaunch event, and will offer its repair cafe services to the community, where volunteers from Repair Sheffield can fix a wide, diverse range of household items, clothes and fabrics, which means that members of the public can bring with them various kinds of stuff that need fixing, and learn how to repair the items themselves. One item fixed is one less item going into landfill!

People’s Kitchen Pitsmoor will also be at the relaunch event from 2pm to 4pm, where it will showcase a recipe to enable members of the community to try out food and snacks from different cuisines. The community group has ambitious plans to transform Abbeyfield Park into a hub for people all over Sheffield, and convert the currently disused stables into a cafe and kitchen for people to meet up and try out new recipes.

And of course, we at BitFIXit will offer our own IT repair workshops at the relaunch, as well as share creative ideas about reusing and repurposing computer parts and IT equipment with the community.

Music & Media with TVs & External Hard Drives

Here is a reuse-it for the music lovers, film and video buffs, and anyone else who likes to view photos on TV. Most recent TV’s can play files from a USB memory stick or USB hard drive. All that they need is an external hard drive and a spare USB port.

So why an external hard drive, rather than a USB flash drive? Well, an external hard drive generally comes in larger capacities and are cheaper than a USB flash drive with the same storage. And if you already have an old, but still functional external hard drive lying around somewhere, why not use that as a media box and load it up with all kinds of music, videos and movies, instead of going out and buying a brand new external hard drive for the same purpose?

Televisions that support media playback from USB storage devices typically support many common media file formats including mp3, WAV and OGG for music, JPEG GIF and PNG for photos, and mp4, AVI and WebM for videos and movies. This means that you can play most video, music and image files on your television straight from your old external hard drive and save money in the process!

The Successful Laptop Power Socket Transplant

At this weekend’s community IT workshop, we had a successful case of a laptop repair that involved a spare laptop power socket from an old Toshiba laptop in the store room.

We had a client who came into the workshops with a Toshiba laptop that was unable to receive any power from the socket at all, so we decided to open up the laptop, and on opening it up we noticed that the socket was held in place by some form of epoxy glue. So I went into the store room, picked up a similar Toshiba laptop among a pile of old laptops, brought it into the community room, and extracted its power socket so that it can be transplanted into the client’s Toshiba laptop.

We tried plugging a laptop charger into the replacement socket and, hey presto, the laptop began receiving power again! After a short while removing dust accumulated on the heatsink fan after we realised that the laptop began overheating (which meant opening the laptop back up again!), we finally closed up the client’s laptop for good, ready to hand back over too him.

And thus, we have a successful case of a laptop repair carried out using spare parts from other laptops!

Less clutter, more inspiration!

It’s been a while since we last talked out how we are going to resolve the ongoing “junk” problem we have, and we have some good news on that front! We recently managed to free up valuable space in our store room by giving away several old desktop computers and a monitor to a couple of clients who wanted to use them as part of an art project of theirs for a local community group. The room looks a bit less cluttered now, though we still have some ways to go before it is fully decluttered!

During this weekend’s community IT workshops, we had a client for whom we set up and subsequently gave away a Toshiba laptop, and he gave us a pair of artful plates in return.

I have to say that they do look pretty snazzy and can particularly come in useful as coasters for when we get the kettle on more frequently as winter draws near!

Speaking of decluttering the store room, Gareth and I have been thinking of various practical (and wacky) ways of making use of the old computers, spare parts and other bits and bobs lying around in there, as well as our cupboard lately. We tried our hand at turning a very old hard drive into a clock, complete with dedicated clock arms and mechanisms, and one of the original hard drive platters as the face of the clock! That would be something that is worth pursuing, and we do have other ideas in the pipeline for turning old computer parts and IT equipment into more useful things, so please feel free to check back on our website to see what interesting things we have come up with.

What to do with a stash of old RAM…

Over time, we keep hold of various kinds of RAM modules that we harvest from old and broken computers, in the hope that they will come in useful for replacing failed modules or upgrading computers with extra RAM. However, RAM modules inevitability become obsolete as faster and bigger modules  become available to purchase and thus, become mainstream.

So how would we give legacy RAM modules a new lease of life and use them for other purposes besides as temporary data storage? Well, we first explore what can be done with the old RAM modules that we have at hand, and then find ways to turn them into items that serve a useful purpose, or at least as a memento that can be carried around with you.

We will showcase different alternate uses for RAM and other computer hardware components as and when we discover or invent new ideas for re-purposing the computer parts we keep at hand.