2006/02/02

Building a decent laptop from free and cheap parts - Part II

Here's Part II. It should be noted that this is intended more for the semi-competent computer person. Most people could muddle their way through it, but may make (expensive) mistakes. It would certainly be a learning experience, though!

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Part II: Start gathering parts

By now, you should have determined, generally at least, what kind of machine you are going to build. Is it a Thinkpad that's about two years old? Is it a three year old Dell? A year old Toshiba? Start the process by taking a quick inventory of the parts that you do have. Work from a high level here; we can worry about the little stuff later.

Memory
Processor
Hard Drive
Motherboard
LCD
Bottom Case
Top Case
Battery
Interface cards (NIC, Modem, etc)
Keyboard
Optical Drive (if you want/need one)
Floppy Drive (if you want/need one)

Inspect each of the parts for obvious physical issues. Check those thin ribbon cables for tears and breaks. If your LCD panel is not in a case, shine a bright light into it from behind and inspect it for cracks. Check the processor and hard drive for bent and broken pins. Check the motherboard for damaged ports and PCMCIA slots (look at the solder points and make sure none of them are broken. Put any that are damaged to the point of needing replacement to the side, but do not throw them out. Figure out how to fix anything that you believe you can (JB weld on the plastic parts, soldering on the easier ports, etc). You can work on the repairs as you're waiting on other parts.

Failing to check the ribbon cables caused me some grief on my most recent build; I had tested a keyboard a few months before I was ready to put my machine together, then put it on a shelf with my inventory of parts for the project. The day had finally arrived where I had all of my parts together. The machine was going together, but the keyboard wouldn't work! I pulled it out and looked; the cable on the keyboard had torn a quarter of the way through. I'm still not quite sure how that happened. It would have cost me $25 extra had there not been a spare on the scrap pile at work.

Now, go to the manufacturer's website and find the hardware maintenance manual for the device you're building. IBM's manuals are very good. Other companies vary from non-existent to OK. You'll want to look for an exploded diagram and/or parts list. Compare what you have to the diagram or list and look to see what you need to get this thing going. Print out the parts list and check off the working items. Cross off any items that you don't need to get the system to what you consider an acceptable state (internal speakers, for example). You now have a shopping list.

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Tomorrow we'll do parts III, IV, V, and the links section in one shot. They're all pretty short.

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