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!

BitEXPERIMENTALits: #1 – Android on Old Netbooks

Here at BitFIXit, we are proud to introduce a new series of articles that we would like to call “BitEXPERIMENTALits”, where we try out various different ways to get the most out of a variety of computers and ensure that they remain in good working order for as long as possible.

One such BitEXPERIMENTALit we recently decided to try our hand at, was running Android on a group of three Asus EeePC 901 netbooks, and see how much better they perform in Android than they did when they were originally running Windows. The laptops were donated to us by the local community, and were very basic machines by today’s standards, with a mere single core Intel Atom N270 CPU, just 1GB of RAM and a pair of what could be considered as essentially internal USB storage drives that are very slow, compared to the latest available SSD drives. We have included pictures throughout this article, of one of the Asus EeePC 901 netbooks that we used for installing Android at this weekend’s community clinics.

The Asus EeePC 901 was originally released here in the UK back in 2008, as a revision of the EeePC 900 that was released earlier that year. The netbooks that were donated to us originally came with Windows XP, which is a legacy operating system that many software developers have been moving away from, in favour of recent Windows releases. We attempted to run different GNU/Linux distros on the netbooks to see if they perform better than in Windows, but it turned out that they didn’t perform much better either, even in Lubuntu. Hence, we decided to try our hand at installing and running Android on the netbooks instead.

There are projects that aim to port Android, which is ordinarily commonplace on smartphones and tablets, onto the Asus EeePC 901 netbooks. The Android builds that are and were made available for the netbooks range from recent releases of CyanogenMod/Lineage OS to builds based on legacy releases of Android. Here, we will install a build that is based on Android 4.0 Ice Cream Sandwich, but is specifically designed for these netbooks.

In order to install Android on the Asus EeePC 901 netbook, we first downloaded the aforementioned build from the Android-x86.org website and created a bootable USB drive containing the build. After booting into the drive, we initiated the installation process by choosing the installation option in the boot menu. We then selected the 8GB internal drive (shown as ‘sdb’), which was the larger of the two internal drives, proceeded to have GRUB installed with the /system directory installed as read-only. After the Android build has been installed, we simply followed the instructions in Android for the initial setup.

After a number of issues with trying to install the Android build onto the Asus EeePC 901 netbook, we eventually managed to install and run the build successfully by using a live Xubuntu session to create ext3 partitions on both internal storage drives. Once we configured the settings and enabled the use of Google Play on the netbook, the laptop is ready to use!

We did a quick play test on the netbook once everything was set up; we were able to connect to the wireless network in the community room smoothly. The animations concerning switching between desktop and app windows were quite jerky, and apps took a long time to fully load; both of these issues seem to indicate performance limitations with the single core Intel Atom N270 CPU and the internal storage.

That concludes this BitEXPERIMENTALit, which turns out to be an interesting way to prolong the lifespan of old PCs and laptops, as long as one knows the limitations of the internal hardware, and we hope to bring you more BitEXPERIMENTALits soon.