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Extending Your Notebook!

 

OK.. so you've made your decision.. you've decided to buy a top of the line, high performance yet still luggable with minimal shoulder strain notebook. We've come a long way with notebooks, a few years back no real gamer would even *think* about buying a notebook. But now with Geforce FX's and ATI Radeon 9700 equipped notebooks, you can finally own a notebook, do your college homework on it AND also get in a good frag or two at respectable framerates. :) But... you'll always want more RAM, more storage space, better sound... I decided to write this little article to show that no longer are you at the mercy of your notebook manufacturer when you need to upgrade your notebook as opposed to days now passed! And also how USB2.0 is definitely YOUR FRIEND!

So first of all.. please make sure that when you choose a notebook, ALWAYS get one with USB2.0 ports, DO NOT COMPROMISE! Cause you'll WANT that speed!

First of all please let me introduce my Tablet PC, The Acer C110. Stock configuration 512MB RAM, P3 900Mhz, 30GB Hard Disk. The display chipset is an Intel Extreme based one (Definetly no gaming for me!)

First Of All

Before you do anything else.. you might think of investing in a USB2.0 hub cause usually notebooks only come with one or two USB ports, and you WILL need more! I recommend buying a powered USB hub, which basically means the Hub comes with a AC/DC adapter to supply additional power to the hub if the devices attached to them need the power. (ie, Cameras, hard disks, Massagers, Cup Warmers, etc. etc.)

Upgrading Memory

RAM... one of the two things you can never have too much of. Previously SODIM prices were high, and also notebook suppliers would scare you by saying that the RAM must be tested to be compatible with their systems or else you'll suffer stabiltiy problems. Or worse.. void your warranty by using imcompatible RAM. But now SODIM prices are lower and more affordable, and as for quality issues.. would you really worry if the memory module was made by..

Cosair? Now regular readers would know that I'm not a benchmark person but everyone is telling me this Cosair RAM is the best so I'm gonna go with that. Of course it's gonna cost you more, RM430 for 512 Cosair instead of RM330 for 512 Kingston. So upgrading your notebook's memory isn't too much of a problem now... unless of course your RAM is soldered on board which might be the case with certain ultra portables. Also some manufacturer's might choose not to disclose all the locations of the RAM slots in your notebook's manual, usually a search of the web will tell you where it is.Of course... changing RAM in a location marked as NOT FOR USER ACCESS would definetly void your warranty in most cases. =P One of my C110's RAM slot was marked as not for user access... the other one was supposed to be user replacable, but Acer Malaysia decided to put a warranty void if seal broken sticker on it. (Click here to see how I feel about it, picture rated PG!)

More Space For Your Files

The other thing that you can never have too much of is Hard Disk space. And now a days... who doesn't want more hard disk space? Now a days it's relatively easy to just swap out your existing hard disk and replace it with a new, bigger one you bought from Low Yatt (Which once again.. depending on manufacturer such actions might void your warranty, SCREW you Acer!). But sometimes you might just want to have more hard disk space to store your files outside of your on board hard disk, there's where External USB Hard Disk cases come in the picture. If you haven't already heard or seen one an External USB Hard Disk case is essentially what it's name implies, it's just a case which you put a hard disk in and then you can plug it into USB port and your OS will just see it as another hard disk in the PC.

But one VERY important question arises when you purchase a case.. do you want Portability or Economic? If you want portability you'd definetly want to get the smaller USB cases which use 2.5" Notebook Hard Disks in them like the one below.

The GREAT thing about these little cases are if your notebook's USB port supplies enough juice, you can just plug it into your notebook and it just works, instant 40GB at your disposal wherever you go. Even if your USB port doesn't supply enough juice a case usually comes with a USB power cable which allows you to use another USB port to power the case. (If you have one that is...) The main problem is that notebook hard disk's price per GB are VERY expensive. A mere 30GB (I'm refering 40GB as mere. Wow...) will set you back about RM380. Which brings us to the economical option. A USB case that takes in normal 3.5" hard disk.

Comparatively, 3.5" hard disks are cheaper, bigger and FASTER than their 2.5" cousins. For the RM390 you'd pay for a 30GB 2.5" hard disk you can get a 120GB, 7200RPM 3.5" hard disk. But all that space comes at a price, you sacrifice portability. A 3.5" hard disk needs more juice than a 2.5" one.. way more than your USB port can provide, so you'll have to plug it into a wall jack if you want to use it. Of course.. it's only juice.. enterprising minds could wire up a portable battery solution for a case, but that's a topic for another time. ;)

Burning CDs!

Your notebook might have came with a built in CDRW drive, or maybe just a plain old DVD ROM drive, or maybe you'd have no built in drive at all! (Like my Tablet!) Notebook manufacturers would probably tell you about how you can upgrade your optical drive to something better by giving them some more money and also warn you about being unable to boot or upgrade your notebook if you don't buy one directly from them due to incompatibility problems.

Well... that's a half truth, cause recent notebooks like recent motherboards are able to boot from any USB Mass Storage Device complaint devices. That includes any complaint optical drives, in fact some manufacturers just give you another third party drive when you choose to buy their tailor made external USB Combo Drive, such was the case with my cousin's Fujitsu T3010 Tablet PC. He choose to buy their optical drive and we were just shocked when instead of getting a Fujitsu branded drive we got a BTC branded one. Which we could probably buy off the shelf for a much cheaper price than what they sold him for.

Also, sometimes just because it comes with your Notebook, doesn't automatically means it's of good quality. For instance the Combo drive that comes with my Tablet works erratically at best. That's why I choose to use this instead.

An external Burn Everything drive from Sony, everything from CDRs to DVDRWs (Both flavours ;)) And of course I'm able to boot from this drive even though it's not sold or made by Acer. So thanks to USB I'm free from being tied to Acer (Thank goodness!)

Audio

Even though notebooks now have 3D accelerators that are nothing to laugh at, the sound card is still... just a sound card. It plays your music, you can hear your gun battles... but that's it.. You couldn't exactly enjoy a DVD in all it's surround sound glory since your notebook's sound card didn't have the hardware to process the data. Until now that is, now you are able to buy USB2.0 external audio devices that are able to decode Dolby Digital signals and send them to your surround speakers so that they're used properly, devices such as the Creative Audigy 2NX shown below.

With devices like this, no longer will your DVDs be limited to just Stereo or emulated surround. But two things to be aware of, you shouldn't use audio devices like this while you're playing a game since you'll be putting more load on your system channeling the audio data through USB and all. 2nd, these things need power! that means you'll need to plug it into an AC Adapter to use it!

Conclusion

I hope this article has shown that you no longer need to solely depend on your notebook manufacturer to provide you with the upgrades to your system, and that thanks to USB you can now pretty much add all the storage space, burners and other things to your notebook, even IF that means tying down your system to a desk when you need it. =P