How-To: Upgrade Your Netbook, Easily

Small Isn’t Just Beautiful, It’s Also Easy to Access

Netbooks aren’t just small, they’re often constrained when they leave their makers. Microsoft mandates that netbooks with Windows XP installed should ship with no more than 1 GB of RAM. Likewise, desires to keep component costs at rock-bottom to hold netbook retail prices down means that they typically include small, slow drives, and usually lack many of the bells and whistles found in more expensive notebook PCs. But not to worry. With a set of jeweler’s screwdrivers, a little manual dexterity, and a modest amount of cash, you can boost your netbook’s capacity and performance appreciably.

Although it’s been available since April 2009, the Asus Eee PC 1000HE still represents a great combination of size, power, and battery life.

For this story, we’ve chosen two of the most popular—and affordable—netbooks: the Asus Eee PC 1000HE and the Dell Mini 9. You can now pick up the Asus model online from numerous well-known etailers, including B&H Photo-Video-Audio, for under $365. The Mini 9 is no longer available on the Dell Mini Web page and company sources told us the unit is being discontinued, but you can still buy them from the Dell Outlet for prices as low as $209. We’ll dig into the configurations for our test units on the next page. For now, let’s just say we’re going to upgrade RAM from 1 GB to 2 GB on both units and increase disk storage as well, although that has different meanings for each machine as the configuration data indicates. For the Dell Mini 9, we will also work with a 32 GB secure digital high-capacity memory card (SDHC) to examine an interesting alternative to an SSD upgrade.

While opening up a notebook PC to access and exchange parts might seem scary or even daunting, it’s really not that difficult. These days, notebook PC engineers design these products to make certain parts easily accessible for upgrade or repair. Traditionally, this includes memory modules (usually called small outline dual in-line memory module (SO-DIMMs) in notebook PCs, which reflects their compact size and double-sided layout) and hard disks (which usually screw into a disk caddy that in turn slides into a modular plug-in connector). With the advent of more and different types of wireless communications, you can also find plug-in modules for Bluetooth, WiFi (802.11 a/b/g/n), and even wireless wide-area networking technologies (such as HSDPA, EvDO, UMTS, and so forth). Here again, the alphabet soup may seem forbidding, but all this stuff is packaged in small, simple modules that can fit into their proper receptacles in only one way. If you can get inside the case, and find the right receptacles, you can add or replace their contents. In this story, that’s exactly what we’re going to show you how to do for memory and disk drives on the Dell Mini 9 and the Asus Eee PC 1000HE.

The Dell Mini 9 is getting a bit long in the tooth for a netbook, with a small 9" screen and scant storage, but it has some compelling features.