Does it make sense to upgrade an old netbook like the Asus 1215N in 2017?

You might be wondering whether it makes sense to upgrade your old laptop. I had the same dilemma. Let me help you.

I have recently upgraded my Asus 1215N which had the following configuration:

  • a dual core Intel D525 clocked at 1.8 GHz with 1 MB of cache
  • 2 GB of RAM
  • a spinning 320 GB, 5400 rpm hard drive
  • 12 inch LED display with HD resolution
  • nVidia ION supporting DirectX 10
  • island-style keyboard
  • 6-cell battery

After the upgrade it has:

  • 4 GB of RAM
  • 240 GB SSD

… and everything else remains unchanged.

Surprisingly I needn’t have to change the battery to a new one. It still lasts 4 hours. (Asus’s web site claims 6 hours)


The scenario I use it for is reading a 10 MB PDF file, while having Chrome and Eclipse open. I listen to music, visit blogs or forums and write code simultaneously to reading.

Before the upgrade I quickly ran out of memory and the computer was unresponsive.


What motivated me the most is that I have recently lost my powerful ultra-book — the Dell 7440 which had a Core i7, 256 GB SSD drive and 8 or 16 GB RAM.

Rather than buying a new laptop right away I decided to see what I have lying around my house. The Asus 1215N hasn’t been used much throughout the years. I bought it 5 years ago hoping to have a on-the-go device but then I didn’t use it as often as I thought I would, so it was mostly kept in a drawer.

With 2 GB of RAM it wasn’t up to par with current needs of running Chrome, reading a PDF and writing some code in Eclipse all done at the same time.

Back in the days it was quite powerful. It also was quite an expensive piece of equipment. It did cost more than twice the price of a regular net book.

In order to make it a little bit faster I bought 2 x 2 GB RAM. There are two banks easily accessible on the bottom by simply unscrewing one screw and detaching a panel. The maximum a D525 processor can address is 4 GB, however, some people claim they have installed 8 GB. It’s possible to update the BIOS so that each bank can support 4 GB and so having 8 GB inside but still the processor won’t be able to address it. It’s best to stick with 4 GB total. Some comments on forums made me worried RAM wouldn’t work if it was replaced so just to be sure I used the same manufacturer — Hynix.

RAM is of DDR3 type by the way. Nice for something bought in 2011.

Changing the hard drive is a whole other experience. You have to unscrew a plethora of screws and then detach several panels, possibly breaking some plastic in the process. I broke a hinge and the panel under the keyboard on the right is a little bit raised now, but that doesn’t bother me to be honest.

Here is a video on YouTube showing you how it’s done. I am thankful to whoever recorded it. It made life a lot easier.

Going through the pain was absolutely worth it. The laptop became lighter, faster, and could handle Chrome, Acrobat Reader and Eclipse running the very same time.


Installation Notes and Challenges

We are upgrading to 4 GB of RAM so we need a 64 bit system. For example, Windows 7 32 bit only sees 2.75 GB of RAM.

Install the system on the new SSD before you insert it into your machine. Use the following link as guidance: http://www.instructables.com/id/Install-Windows-7-without-USB-or-DVD-without-upgra/

That way installation will be faster. You won’t need to create a USB or DVD. For example, my netbook doesn’t have an optical drive. Some older machines won’t boot from USB.

Most importantly you will have a special partition and boot option to reinstall the system if ever needed.

Windows Update might have an error. It will say it cannot check for updates or something like that. The not so obvious solution is to uninstall the Intel Mass Storage driver or similar.

Some drivers, e.g. USB 3.0, are unsigned and Windows 7 by default requires signed drivers. You will have to run a command to force it to use an unsigned driver.


Conclusion

After the upgrade I can run Chrome, Acrobat and Eclipse simultaneously. It’s not super fast and 4 GB is being nearly approached but it’s working.

Boot up time increased significantly from 1 minute and 10 seconds to 30-40 seconds.

The laptop is a little bit lighter by around 100 grams which doesn’t really matter. Although, when you hold the HDD in your hand you can feel the weight of it, whereas, it’s as holding a feather with the SSD.

The downside is that with a 64 bit system CPU usage reaches almost 100% at times. Especially with all the mentioned programs running.

Battery life remains 4 hours. Maybe buying a new battery would increase it to 6 hours but I don’t see the point.

If all you do is web browsing and some standard office work on the go, then I would definitely recommend upgrading an old net book rather than buying a new machine. It will save you some money. In my case I spend 100 USD for parts and needn’t buy a new laptop for 600–800 USD.