Recently I rescued this Dell Inspiron 1525 laptop from the recycler. I’m not sure how much I paid for this machine exactly as it came in a large group. We can probably just say I paid about $5 for the laptop. Though this isn’t a fancy or high performance system it is a great piece of hardware for everyday computer use. I plan to use this system for web browsing, blogging and some light photo editing. Of course I may also use it to watch some videos or listen to some music (on headphones of course) from time to time, and maybe even play some simple games. System hardware as found:
CPU – Intel T3200 Dual Core 2.0GHz (Passmark 1047)
2GB DDR2 RAM
HDD – Faulty
I also happen to have another Dell Inspiron 1525 carcass from an unfortunate accident that has many spare parts.
When I found the machine it did not have a working hard drive. There was no power adapter, and I cannot recall if the battery I have in the machine now was with it when found, or with the old 1525 I had. Either way, I had one good battery and a charger. With the charger plugged in the laptop sprung to life. It appeared at first though that the battery did not charge. I was under the impression that when the old 1525 was up and running the battery did not charge either. This made me think the cheapo replacement charger was just junk.
I started using the 1525 with a 250GB 2.5″ HDD I had sitting around. I installed openSUSE 42.1 and started using the machine lightly. I had some system lockups and something made me think that it was hard drive related. I then reinstalled openSUSE to a 16GB SSD to try and rule out the hard drive as an issue. Unfortunately I continued to have sporadic system lockups.
As it turns out, once in a while the charger does work. I did not notice this at first, because I did not know the battery was even charging at all. When it does charge, sometimes the computer locks up. I have noticed complaints about the video systems in the log files. My guess is that the gpu or video card circuits are overheating when the battery is charging. The entire machine tends to generate a good amount of heat, even though the fan radiator is clean and the fan itself is working fine (I pulled it off and cleaned it early on even though it wasn’t very dirty to start). I am hopeful a CPU upgrade will alleviate some of the heat issue. The battery that is installed is a higher capacity model and I can use the machine easily for 1.5-2 hours per charge. This certainly may not sound too impressive, however, for an 8 year old laptop, I think that is pretty good. I have taken to using it only when on battery power to avoid the lock-ups. Since this is a secondary system I find the battery life quite suitable. Another thought I had was, is it possible that the lockup problem is because of the generic power adapter?
The system came to me with 2GB of RAM, but can have 4GB maximum installed. Some sources on the internet seem to imply that 8GB will work – but for my usage scenario I really don’t think I’ll need more than 4GB anyway. Fortunately I was lucky enough to find a matched pair of 2GB DDR2 memory modules lying about between my spare parts and another parts donor machine. With recycled computers, I take to testing the memory with memtest on every module. No sense in chasing down issues caused by a bad module. I also replaced the Wi-Fi card with an Intel one that supports wireless N networks. In addition, I added a second Intel Wi-Fi card into the wwan slot. I’m not sure why really, I have no need to connect to any second wireless network. In addition, a second card running is probably draining the battery quicker, yikes!
I have tried to spend very little money on this machine. Due to the age of the machine upgrades could cost as much as purchasing a newer “old” laptop. Other than the primary machine cost of $5, I purchased an Intel T9300 CPU for $24 and a HDD adapter caddy for the DVD slot for $11. All in all that’s just $40, which isn’t bad. The performance of the new CPU should be about 60% faster, coupled with the SSD will let this machine remain viable.
On the flip side I would note that we purchased a laptop for my wife for $95. Her machine is an Intel Core i5 M460, it came with 4GB RAM, and the battery and charger were in working order, as was the hard drive (a conventional 160GB I believe) and everything else. The passmark site rates the Core i5 M460 at 2353, and the T9300 that is en-route for my laptop has an average score of 1686. Additionally, without the parts I had lying about I would have had to spend nearly or as much as purchasing the i5 laptop to build a comparable machine.
One sad note is that there may actually be some large problems with this laptop. On occasion I have had an issue where the OS just goes to sleep as if the lid was shut. I am hopeful that it is just an OS issue as I stopped the issue once by rebooting the machine. The issue does not present often but is frustrating when it does happen because the system will go to sleep, and then I push the power and it comes out of hibernation fast, but will sometimes go right back to sleep. My concern is that it is an issue with the hinge switch/wiring. The right side hinge doesn’t open well and the case gets pried apart a little when the lid is opened and closed. I try to be very careful with it, but perhaps a little lubricant on the hinge will solve the issue. In addition the touchpad is in bad condition. It touch clicks very easily and sometimes is unresponsive to touch at all. Since it is integrated into the main body of the computer it can only be replaced by replacing the entire palmrest which is also the top half of the body piece. It requires a lot of work to tear down of the computer to replace. This is something I am very reluctant to do. I do have one on the old Inspiron 1525, but I am uncertain whether it is in any better condition and it is also has a small piece cracked off near one of the hinges (which could be fixed easily enough with some super glue I suppose). One final issue is the charging of the battery. It appears that the system BIOS does not recognize my charger as a Dell charger every time. However after unplugging and plugging the power cord back in several times (usually 3) the charge light will come on.
I don’t suppose I needed any of the upgrades that were purchased specifically for the machine. I would estimate the parts I had on hand and installed were worth about $41 ($15 SSD, $10 4GB DDR2 RAM, $11 Dell Charger, $5 Intel Wi-Fi card). We can add another $10 for the 250GB secondary HDD I installed too. If we add that $51 with the $40 that I actually spent we would come up with $91. When you compare the two machines they are similar in specification. Certainly the machine my wife owns is a newer generation but it is only about 25% faster than my upgraded Inspiron. And in actual use with the SSD as the primary drive the Inspiron may in fact have the edge. With the secondary disk drive installed the Inspiron also has 106GB more storage.
As I mentioned earlier I am using the openSUSE 42.1 Leap Linux distribution. I am a fan and I install suse on all of my machines. Since this machine only has 4GB of RAM I try to keep my number of tabs low in my web browser. I also make sure to close any unused programs to free the memory. Since this is one of the oldest and slowest machines on our network I was a little concerned that this latest version of suse would be too much for this machine. Apparently I did not need to worry. I was able to install and run suse normally with Gnome as my desktop. I always install a number of extensions I find useful including a bottom bar and a favorites launcher.
Ultimately I am happy with the computer. Once I figured out the quirks of the machine it was simple to use effectively for my needs. I like the fact that the laptop is still being useful and wasn’t needlessly destroyed. And of course, I liked building it too. Once in a while refer to it as my Frankenstein laptop since the parts came from so many sources – and was resurrected from the dead. I’m hoping for a long trouble free life for this laptop though only time will tell!