This is part four of a four part post (part one, part two, and part three) on upgrading my old Dell Inspiron 1150. So far, I’ve replaced the 384MB of RAM with 1GB and replaced the slow 4,200rpm hard drive with a Hitachi Travelstar 7,200 unit.
Today I will talk about installing MS Vista Home Basic and the external USB 2.0 enclosure for the old hard drive. As posted earlier, I chose Vista Home Basic for several reasons. First, I have software the runs best/only in Windows. Secondly, Vista includes many bug and security fixes that may not be included in Windows XP. Although it probably adds some new ones, overall it should be more secure than XP. I chose Home Basic, rather than Premium/Business/Ultimate, because my laptop, with only 64MB of shared video memory, does not meet the minimum requirement of 128MB for Home Premium and above. I also hoped that it would be faster in booting and exiting than XP (which, as I’ve noted, took several minutes to boot and almost as long to exit).
So after installing the new drive I powered up, inserted the DVD, and let Windows install. It took about an hour and a half from start to finish (including installing several updates). The trickiest part was partitioning the new drive. Although the install process has a point at which you can do this, it is not well explained. How I used to do this was to boot off of a bootable floppy (i.e., it was formated and included command.com) that had DOS utility fdisk on it. I would use fdisk to create an active primary partition and then an extended partition, whereupon I would then set the logical drives C: and D:. The Vista install includes a button that allows you to create, extend, or remove partitions. But here, “extend” does not equate with “extended”. As far as I can see, extend changes an existing partition’s size. So what I ended up doing was creating two primary partitions, and installed Vista to the first primary partition. I then formated both (I’m not sure I needed to do that because, I assume, the install would have done that anyway).
I’m not going to spend any time on how it looks (a lot of eye candy, even without Aero) because I’m focused on speed improvements. But I will comment on one problem that has arisen.
I’m having problems with the DVD/CD-RW drive (a Samsung unit). The problem is intermittent reading of CDs. It doesn’t matter if the CDs are ones I burned or original disks (I had problems with a CD from Microsoft that had the SR-1 for Office 2000 on it). Sometimes ejecting the disk and then putting it back in works. Sometimes multiple retries works. Sometimes opening a command prompt and using xcopy works. Sometimes nothing works. I’m not sure if its a problem with the driver (for now, I’m using the one that came with Vista rather than the one Dell has for XP) or what. All I know is it is very annoying.
But as to booting and exiting. For this configuration, booting and exiting, but especially exiting, seem much faster. Shutting down used to be a chore while the drive spun on and on. Now, it shuts down in a few seconds. This is much better. Now on to the external USB drive housing.
I bought the cheapest external housing I could find, a CompUSA unit. The purpose of the housing is so that I could make use of the old hard drive as sort of a high capacity floppy disk. That is, I could copy stuff to it to store or to carry to another PC. If I just wanted to place the drive in another PC, fellow Daynoter Sjon suggested getting a 2.5inch to 3.5inch adapter tray, which costs a lot less (about $10). But since I wanted to be make this drive mobile, I chose the external housing.
The housing is made out of aluminum and plastic. The upper and lower halves are aluminum while the center section, where the drive rests, is plastic. I say rests because I couldn’t see any provision for screwing the drive down. Four screws are included for, I guess, this purpose but where you are supposed to use them I can’t say. [UPDATE: The screws go into the drive from the bottom.] So, you lay the drive down onto the plastic tray while inserting the end with the interface pins into the corresponding connector. Then you replace the upper and lower halves and use some of the tiniest screws this side of a mechanical watch that you will ever see. Once closed up, there are two USB cables. One is for data and the other is for drives that require more power than is supplied by one USB connection. I seem to be okay with one cable but it all depends on the drive and, I guess, how much power the source USB connector can supply (I hear that some laptops and most external hubs don’t provide enough power). In any case (pun intended), it all works and I now have the equivalent of a very high capacity floppy disk (with attached cables). [UPDATE: Well, it sort of works. Both Windows XP and Xandros GNU/Linux recognize that a USB device is attached. Both recognize the Hitachi drive within the case. But neither will read or write to the drive. I even tried setting a jumper on the drive. I did this to see if the USB housing needed the drive to be in either “cable select” or “slave” mode. Neither seemed to make a difference. At this point, I’m not sure what to do to get it to work.]
Overall, would I do anything different? Yes, as I noted in part three, I would keep the data on the old drive until the new drive was up and running. Otherwise, adding the memory and new drive have given new life to my old laptop. So much so that I will keep using it for at least a year or two (or until Apple upgrades its MacBooks to include a card slot).