Building Your Own Laptop

Discussion in 'OT Technology' started by viro, Mar 4, 2007.

  1. viro

    viro New Member

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    Okay, so I used to work for this site SteamedTurtle.com, where I wrote reviews and articles based on computers and other technology related stuff. The site is down now and this was the most popular article we had there, and a lot of people found it helpful even with other laptop related problems/questions. So I figured you guys could appreciate the article instead of it just sitting on my hard drive. I changed the format a bit, making all the thumbnail pictures simply links to save bandwidth and some other minor things. I really wanted to rewrite the whole thing because my writing style has changed dramatically since. WHATEVER enjoy!

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    Article Date: November 11, 2004
    Author: viro
    Editor: Steamed Turtle



    Introduction

    For years computer gurus everywhere have had the pleasure of building their own custom desktop computers by hand. It's rather simple; you find the parts you want, buy them, and put it all together, and the process has only gotten easier. This is all thanks to a set of standards that all modern computers use (ex: PCI, AGP, IDE, SATA, DDR, and ATX, along with a collection of many processor standards exist today). Laptops have been around for a while, so we wonder: why can't we build laptops? Well, due to the compact size required for a fully-functional portable computer, it is very difficult to set standards that everyone can use. However, companies such as Asus, MSI, and Super Talent are taking advantage of the current standards that do exist on laptops today. This means that you could purchase a laptop, from one of the companies mentioned above, that do not include the processor, memory, wi-fi card, hard drive (and of course OS), optical disc drive, and floppy drive, and purchase all of those components on your own. You get the pleasure of choosing your own parts and knowing exactly what is in your machine, and save a few bucks while you're at it.


    Let me tell you this, if you can build your own desktop, then there should be nothing you don't know about building your own laptop. What I present to you today is an article that shows you just how easy it is to build one on your own. If you have all the parts ready, you can really put the whole thing together within 30 minutes!


    What do I need?

    Before we talk about physical parts, first you have to decide what you're going to use the notebook for. The laptop chassis include a lot of parts, you can't customize, so you have to find the best one to suit your needs. I figured I would be using mine for word processing, DVD’s, music, videos, art, gaming, and some other stuff that I don't think I'm allowed to say for legal reasons. I also knew that I wanted long battery life. With all of that on my mind, I needed a pretty versatile processor. Also if I was to play any of the modern games, I would need a chassis with a pretty kick-ass video card, since that is not one of the components I can simply change. I also needed a more-than-decent amount of RAM, and a decent amount of hard disk space. I also needed wireless capabilities since I did not want to plug in an ethernet cable every time I wanted to go online in my house.


    Chassis:
    The chassis is probably what you should think about the most because, it is essentially what you're using. All the other parts are going inside the chassis. Look at the chassis as if you were buying a complete laptop. Do you need something light to carry around and have fun? Do you need a high performance portable gaming rig? Or perhaps your main concern is a power point presentation? Whatever it may be, a lot of it resides on what chassis you choose. You're also going to want to buy it from a very respectable company with great service (the reason why I went with Asus).

    The chassis I chose was an Asus M6Ne. It is for a Pentium M processor, has wireless capabilities, a built-in card reader, and even an infrared port. But that's not all. The main reason I went with this particular chassis is because of its video card. The Asus M6Ne houses a 64mb ATi Radeon Mobility 9700 video card! Unfortunately, this also jacked up the price of the chassis. Another great thing about this chassis, is that you can change the processor speed, screen brightness, and power saving modes, all with the touch of a button depending on what you're using the laptop for that moment! You can get more info about this chassis, and more, from the Asus website.

    I purchased my chassis from a great place called Gentech Computers. I looked around, and found the cheapest prices for laptop chassis there. They also provide great service; when I ordered my chassis, they were concerned why I hadn't ordered an optical drive, so they e-mailed me, informing me that everyone who purchased a chassis without an optical drive came back to them, requesting one. I told them that I had already ordered one from their site. But the problem with that is, there is only one compatible optical drive (even with my 5 months worth of research, I did not know that). So I shipped back the drive I originally got, and told them to throw in the extra $100 USD for the compatible optical drive. Have you ever had a company do that for you?

    How about some pictures of this beautiful chassis, huh?!


    08_lg.JPG
    Front


    09_lg.JPG
    Back


    10_lg.JPG
    Left: The left side is the home for the built-in card reader, infrared port, PCMCIA slot, and audio jacks and controls.


    11_lg.JPG
    Right


    12_lg.JPG
    Top


    13_lg.JPG
    Open


    06_lg.JPG
    Free Carrying Case! Featuring my brother Emil (Emil not included)


    07_lg.JPG
    Software, manuals, ac adapter, battery, and a spacer (used if you don't include an optical drive)


    Processor:
    The processor is a very important part in a laptop. You definitely can't use a Celeron in a gaming laptop, and you probably shouldn't use an AMD 64-bit if you're just going to use the laptop for word processing. My laptop will be used for a lot of things, and will be on the go a lot, so I need a powerful processor that will not drain the battery life down to 40 minutes. I needed a Pentium M. Before you go crazy trying to figure out when this processor came out, and why nobody informed you about it, let me tell you that it is the same processor that is used in Intel Centrino branded Notebooks. The Intel Pentium M processor (the "M" is for Mobile), is a very powerful mobile processor, packed with features. When you look at these processors, don't let the clock frequency fool you, they are very fast. Clock frequency has some relation to speed, but there is so much more you have to base it on now. I decided to go with the Intel® Pentium® M 735. With a clock frequency at 1.70GHz, 2MB of L2 Cache, 400MHz front-side bus, and SpeedStep® Technology, this was the perfect processor for the job. For more information about Pentium M Processors, check out the Intel website.

    01_lg.JPG
    Processor with retail box


    RAM:
    I always say to get as much RAM as possible when dealing with laptops, so I originally wanted to get 1GB, but my budget could only afford 512MB. Another thing with laptops; the amount of slots the chassis can have is very limited (the Asus M6Ne came with 2 slots, which I think is pretty standard for laptops now), so you're going to want to get as little sticks of RAM as possible. For example: if you wanted 512MB of RAM, don't get 2 sticks of 256MB, instead get a single stick of 512MB, so that you can upgrade later. Just make sure you chassis can support that. I purchased a stick of Corsair ValueSelect 512MB PC2700 memory.

    02_lg.JPG
    Corsair ValueSelect 512MB PC2700


    Wireless Card:
    Who buys a laptop and then wants to be bound down by a cable? Actually my dad does that, but aside from him, who wouldn't enjoy being able to access internet anywhere you park yourself in your home? Yep, that's why I wanted a wireless card, for that sole purpose, no war-driving here. Anyway, let’s take a look at the one I got. I purchased an Intel Pro/Wireless 2200 B+G. I like it because I can use it on virtually any wireless network, and the range on these cards is great, because the antenna is built into the laptop already! With the addition of this wireless card, I have everything in my computer that is required to be called a Centrino laptop. I have the Intel Pentium M processor, the Intel 855 chipset, and an Intel wireless card. However, I think there is paperwork involved if I wanted to use the name on my laptop. I hear that some wireless cards not made by Intel are better than Intel cards, but without an Intel card, laptop companies wouldn't be able to use the name Centrino. Now that's a business!

    03_lg.JPG
    Intel Pro/Wireless 2200 B+G


    Hard Disk Drive:
    The biggest hard drive the Asus M6Ne chassis can take is 80GB, which I feel is probably enough for a laptop. I went with a Hitachi Travelstar 5400RPM 60GB 2.5" Hard Drive. You probably wouldn't want to go any further than 5400RPM if you want to have good battery life. Some gamers or 3D artists would probably prefer the 7200RPM hard drive though.


    04_lg.JPG
    Hitachi Travelstar 5400RPM 60GB 2.5" Hard Drive


    Optical Drive:

    Some people may not need one (which is why the chassis comes with a spacer), but I feel it is essential to any PC. I recommend getting a DVD drive, so that your laptop doubles as a portable DVD player. There is a little problem with the Asus M6Ne chassis. The only compatible optical drives are the ones that Asus sells with the laptop as an option. So if you have a slim optical drive waiting to be built into your M6Ne, sorry buddy, you have to shell out the extra $100 USD. The optical drive I purchased was a CD-RW/DVD drive. Although I wouldn't use it to burn discs, you never know when that could come in handy.


    05_lg.JPG
    BEHOLD!
    The only optical drive compatible with the Asus M6Ne


    Installation

    Installation is very straightforward, however I will try not to leave out any details that would be required in building this notebook. This does not apply to all laptop chassis; this is a guide based on my experience with building my laptop. Other laptop chassis may have a different design, and thus a different installation method. Contact your chassis manufacturer for more detailed information.


    Before we get close to the silicon, let me take this time to tell you that laptops are very susceptible to static electric shock. Any time you handle an electronic component, you should ground yourself. You can't see it in my pictures, but every time I am handling anything that can be damaged by electricity, I am grounded.


    Alright, Let’s get started here! There are 3 components we have to install on the inside of the laptop. In order to get to the inside, we have to take the keyboard off. First step to taking the keyboard off is unscrewing it. There are 2 screws on the bottom of the laptop that need to be removed.


    14_lg.JPG
    Locating the 2 screws required to removal of the keyboard


    Store the screws in a safe place, and flip the laptop back. Open it up, so you can take the keyboard off. But first, there are 3 little clips located at the top of the keyboard, which you must push back before pulling the keyboard off.

    15_lg.JPG
    See the little clip above the "F1" key, keeping the keyboard down?
    There are 2 more clips; 1 above the "F8" key, and the other above the "Ins" key


    -15_lg.JPG
    After having a hell of a time with those clips, the keyboard should easily come out.


    You can just flip the keyboard over, so you don't have to disconnect it. I disconnected it for the sake of this article. Next, you're going to want to take off the black bar that has the power button and all those other buttons on it. This can get really annoying. Once again, there are screws on this too, take those off, and then you have to flex the plastic to pop it off, leaving me very scared of snapping it in half. Another thing you have to be careful of is the silicon under the buttons to the right of the power button. So keep the flexing to the left of the power button. After you spend enough time with that, remove the metal plate above the CPU socket, by sliding it to the left, and pulling it off.


    16_lg.JPG
    I took off the plate prior to this picture, but you can see it next to my left hand


    Phew! Glad that's over, does it get any harder than that? No, it is pretty much smooth sailing from here. We want to install the CPU next. Unscrew the heat-pipe, and remove it to expose the CPU socket. Next, you have to make sure that the socket is unlocked, to allow entry of the pins from the CPU. Insert CPU, and lock the socket. Put the heat-pipe back in its place (after removing the sticker that is protecting the thermal pad, of course), and screw in according to the numbers next to the screw-holes. This is pretty much a standard CPU installation.

    17_lg.JPG
    Installed CPU


    Now that the CPU is done with, we can move on to the memory. The memory slot is located closer to the center of the laptop. Install the stick of RAM at a 45° angle, then when you know it is all the way in, push it down until it snaps into place.

    18_lg.JPG
    45° angle


    19_lg.JPG
    Correctly installed RAM


    Here comes the last component we install under the keyboard. The wireless card is installed in pretty much the same fashion as the memory. Before we can get to the slot though, there is a bracket that has to be removed, much like the one over the CPU. Unscrew the black bracket and push it over to the left and remove. Then install the wireless LAN card, the same way as the memory. Push in at 45°, then push down to snap it into place. Next, you have to hook up the antenna wires, or there will be absolutely no point in even installing the card. The BLACK one goes to MAIN, and the WHITE one goes to AUX. Then put the brackets back on, put the top bar back on, and snap the keyboard back in. Don't forget to put screws back where you got them from.


    20_lg.JPG
    Bracket over mini-PCI slot


    21_lg.JPG
    Exposed mini-PCI slot, and antenna wires


    22_lg.JPG
    Wireless card at 45° angle


    23_lg.JPG
    Properly installed wireless LAN card, with antennas wired up


    Now that we have that done, we can close the laptop up. Yup, that's everything that goes under the keyboard. So cover everything back up, put the keyboard back in, and close the screen, because now we will work on the bottom of the laptop. First flip it over, and take a look at the second memory slot. The second one is put on the outside, because people usually upgrade later when they feel their laptop getting sluggish. The memory is installed the same way as the primary memory, and the wireless LAN card.


    24_lg.JPG
    The under-side of the laptop


    25_lg.JPG
    Revealed secondary memory slot


    Let's move on to installation of the 2.5" hard disk drive. There is a bracket that you screw the hard drive into, so that it has some shock protection. First make sure it is set as master. Then, just screw it in, and plop it into the hard drive, and slide it into the pins. The bracket also features a little tag on it, in case you want to upgrade to a bigger hard drive later. When you put the cover back on, you'll notice two long plastic pegs; these are to keep the hard drive from disconnecting while on the move.


    26_lg.JPG
    Hard disk drive area


    27_lg.JPG
    Bracket


    28_lg.JPG
    Hard Disk Drive with bracket


    29_lg.JPG
    "Plopping" the hard drive using the tab on bracket


    30_lg.JPG
    The two long pegs on the cover


    Okay, ready? The optical drive installation is an installation in its own world. Only the best of the best can comprehend the physical trauma it can cause if you were to even glance at any pictures following this text.

    31_lg.JPG
    32_lg.JPG
    Ahhh, lets see that again in super-slow motion:

    31_lg.JPG
    32_lg.JPG
    Yes, it is that crazy.


    Hehehehe so, obviously, it is the easiest thing you will ever install. And uninstallation is just as easy. It is amazing how the next picture came out, because it is exactly the motion I wanted to demonstrate. There are these little clips that the optical drive and battery use, that easily unlocks the device. You can even remove the optical drive while the computer is on, just make sure to remove it through the system tray first.

    33_lg.JPG
    Shift and slide.




    Performance

    Now that everything is put together, I can install Microsoft Windows XP Professional, drivers, DirectX, and some benchmarks.


    I don't want to go into the technicalities of each benchmark, so I provided a link to the best source I could find (usually the official site of the benchmark) for each program used. I did a few benchmarks to measure the capabilities of the laptop's video card, and then some other tests that some may find helpful. Feel free to compare your laptop scores in our forums!

    http://www.futuremark.com/download/?3dmark03.shtml
    3dmark'03 score: 2677

    http://www.futuremark.com/download/?pcmark04.shtml
    PCMark'04 score: 3403

    http://www.aquamark3.com/
    AquaMark3 score: 22196

    http://www.google.com/search?hl=en&q=aida32&btnG=Google+Search
    aida32:
    -Memory Read test: 2501 MB/s
    -Memory Write test: 541 MB/s

    http://www.sisoftware.co.uk/
    SiSoftware Sandra's CPU Arithmetic Benchmark:
    -Dhrystone ALU: 7344MIPS
    -Whetstone FPU: 2369MFLOPS
    -Whetstone iSSE2: 3031MFLOPS

    http://www.sisoftware.co.uk/
    SiSoftware Sandra's CPU Multi-Media Benchmark:
    -Integer x4 iSSE: 16206it/s
    -Floating-Point x4 iSSE2: 17893it/s

    http://www.sisoftware.co.uk/
    SiSoftware Sandra's Memory Bandwidth Benchmark:
    -RAM Bandwidth Int Buffered iSSE2: 2311 MB/s
    -RAM Bandwidth Float Buffered iSSE2: 2312 MB/s

    http://www.sisoftware.co.uk/
    SiSoftware Sandra's Cache & Memory Benchmark:
    -Combined Index: 5007MB/s
    -Speed Factor: 16.7

    http://www.visionengineer.com/ref/pi.shtml
    Super Pi:
    -512k: 17seconds
    -1M: 46seconds


    Asus M6Ne Features

    35_lg.JPG
    ATi Branded for superior graphic performance

    36_lg.JPG
    Power button

    38_lg.JPG
    Microphone and multimedia buttons.
    The Asus M6Ne can also be used as a standalone CD player, so you don't have to boot up to listen to a CD

    39_lg.JPG
    LEDs


    Conclusion

    Building your own laptop has many advantages over purchasing one from one of the leading companies. For one, I can't tell you how shocked people are when they ask me what kind of laptop it is, and I respond with "I put it together myself." It's also cheaper! Especially if you go with OEM parts. I did not list the prices because in about a week, everything will change. However, I will tell you that I customized a similar Dell for about $400 USD more than I spent. I like the idea of building my own laptop because it lets me know exactly what's going on inside my computer, much like the way I feel after building my own desktop. My suggestion is, if you are very comfortable building a desktop, and you're in the market for a new laptop, consider putting one together yourself.

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    also i later met my claim that you could build it in half an hour. my friend asked me if i could build his next laptop, so he bought all the parts, i came over, we set a clock and i finished just in the nick of time.. 29 minutes and something seconds :)

    also i didn't re-read the whole thing, so if you spot anything thats obviously wrong or out of place or whatever, lemme know and i'll edit. ENjoy! :bigthumb:
     
  2. P07r0457

    P07r0457 New Member

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    Or you could say:

    Buy Asus whitebook
    Add Intel Boxed CPU
    Install Memory
    Install HDD
    Install OS
    ...
    Profit?
     
  3. viro

    viro New Member

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    yes i could, but its an article..

    imagine a magazine where they wrote like that............ wait a minute, you may be on to something here ;)
     
  4. dorkultra

    dorkultra OT's resident crohns dude OT Supporter

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    i remember this dude in my computer classes about 4 years ago. he kept telling us how awesome his laptop was. he said it had a dual processor microatx board. he had built it from some kit and it cost over $2000
    one day he brought it in to show off in front of the class. it was about 3 inches thick with the lid down and was running win98, slowly

    that was awesome
     
  5. deusexaethera

    deusexaethera OT Supporter

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    Thanks for the contribution. Unfortunately, this forum is pretty topical, so unless this gets stickied it's going to drop off the face of the earth pretty fast.
     
  6. deusexaethera

    deusexaethera OT Supporter

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    Asus makes laptop barebones kits now? That's nice. I should look into getting one.
     
  7. MrBrotato

    MrBrotato New Member

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    Didn't know this was possible.
     
  8. P07r0457

    P07r0457 New Member

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    they've made them for years... Literally. I've been selling them since about 2001. The laptop sitting next to me is an Asus whitebook, even.
     
  9. deusexaethera

    deusexaethera OT Supporter

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    Link?
     
  10. P07r0457

    P07r0457 New Member

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  11. SilverWyrm

    SilverWyrm New Member

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    Wow, that sounds pretty classy.. I may have to try it next time I need a new notebook.
     
  12. P07r0457

    P07r0457 New Member

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    where has everyone been? Like *every* notebook recommendation thread I'm preaching Asus.
     
  13. Penguin Man

    Penguin Man Protect Your Digital Liberties

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    :werd:
     
  14. Bona Fide

    Bona Fide Guest

  15. P07r0457

    P07r0457 New Member

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    yea, but Asus makes the Apple notebooks... so +11ty for asus :mamoru:
     
  16. deusexaethera

    deusexaethera OT Supporter

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    Oh, I know, but I didn't know they sold barebones kits.
     
  17. P07r0457

    P07r0457 New Member

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    yea... anytime you buy an asus notebook in the USA it's a whitebook... unless you buy it from a retailer that installs the cpu/mem/hdd for you (and then it's still a whitebook, just the VAR did the work on your behalf).
     

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