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Modifying a really old Dell laptop

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#1
bristols

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I have a Dell Inspiron 3700 (circa 1999), with an HFSlipped installation of Windows 2000 (using FDV's fileset 9). I would like any suggestions from a hardware point of view about how I can make the system faster and more responsive. I am up for modifying and tweaking the laptop internally and purchasing upgraded hardware.

(Feel free to continue reading or skip to the Reply button now. Thanks!)

Current specs:

CPU: Pentium III 500 Mhz
RAM: 256 MB of PC100 SDRAM
Motherboard: Intel 440BX chipset
Hard Drive: 40 GB, 5400 RPM
Media bay: CDRW

(Other) limitations:

The motherboard has only two RAM slots, and can use a combined total of only 512 MB.
A CPU upgrade to, say, 750 Mhz is possible if I flash the BIOS with that of a newer model (e.g. the 3800).
It has one visible rear USB 1.1 port, but Device Manager reports a second (internal?) port.
It has a serial, a parallel and a video port.

However:

I'm unwilling to buy RAM and/or a CPU upgrade over the internet. After a fruitless couple of years looking for components locally, I'd like to concentrate on any other hardware modifications and updates I could make.

I've been thinking about adding a second hard drive onto which I'd move the swap file. I could do this internally (replacing the CDRW in the media bay) or externally via one of the rear ports (or even the possible internal USB one). I realise that an IDE HDD attached to a USB 1.1 port will not pay dividends. The idea may be outmoded, but would it be worth attaching a HDD via the serial port?

I'd like to hear about any other modifications that extend functionality. For example, the mysterious internal USB port could perhaps be connected to a small Bluetooth dongle fitted internally.

If after careful consideration you think it would all be a waste of time, please say so (again, after careful consideration).

Any constructive ideas are appreciated, however wacky. But my first priority is to speed the old girl up.

Edited by bristols, 09 February 2010 - 06:40 PM.



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#2
puntoMX

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If after careful consideration you think it would all be a waste of time, please say so (again, after careful consideration).

Well, sadly it will cost you more than buying a used notebook or even a netbook (mini-notebook). For example the Bluetooth idea: You will need a USB Bluetooth device that is 100% compatible with USB 1.1, and most are only USB 2.0 compatible. The number of RAM sloths is also in new models just 2, or even one with netbooks and mini-notebooks. A new harddrive could speed up the machine but most likely the BIOS will "see" only 32MB of let's say 40GB due to a not LBA48 ready BIOS.

I would just keep it "as it is" and sell it (not much worth these days for someone else), and get something that isn't older than 5 years, at least supports DDR1 and has USB2.0 ;).

If you want to run 98 on it, you need to check out the drivers first before buying a "new" notebook, but I guess you would like to have XP or Windows7 installed these days...

#3
bristols

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Regarding the LBA48 issue, I have the last BIOS installed (version A17), dated 05/28/02. I'm not sure whether the issue has been addressed in it, but optimistically I hope so. Anyway, I have divided my current 40GB drive into several partitions, the largest being 12 GB. The C drive is just 4 GB.

Thanks for the Bluetooth information - I wasn't aware of that.

I want to persist with this old laptop for now, partly for the learning experience it provides, and partly because (being perhaps a fool unto myself) I don't like to be wasteful. But also I want to stick with it for now for the sheer pleasure of getting tolerable and sometimes surprising speed out of it.

Does anyone have any more suggestions? How about the serial port - could I use it for anything useful in this day and age? Anything that would increase the laptop's speed or functionality?

#4
puntoMX

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I missed the info about you having already a 40GB, so up to some 127GB will work I would say.

You could find some bluetooth USB device that should work but I doubt it will run under 98, even under XP it's a pain to get it working as it should be (I know it can be done under XP, but it will give you more a headache than any thing else).

A normal user has no use for a serial port these days, however, there are some devices that can be connected to it like PLCs, modems (56kbps and so) and some other simple I/O controllers; nothing that will speed up your computer.

Do you really need the speed? Do you want to change your OS?

#5
GrofLuigi

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Forget it. I speak from experience, I have a friend who still uses his old BX based desktop and it's barely bearable to work on (it has PCI slots and IDE connectors, but it's overall very slow - although very robust too.) :ph34r:

About the only useful upgrade would be RAM (if you can find it, which is very hard; the speed is not so important as is the quantity). Then you could try something with Ram disc maybe...

And maybe a faster RPM HDD if you can find it/if it's compatible. This could be the most painless upgrade if there are no problems like weird connectors or something else nonstandard - pop old one out, pop new one in. The speedup from higher RPM is noticeable, but may be diminished by (I think) ATA 33 speed of that thing (but still slightly better).

But you probably knew this already.

Now about USB: forget anything storage connected to it. I've got my fair share of gray hairs waiting to copy modestly big files on USB 1.X... speeds of 900 kb/s (pardon my ignorance of the exact units, but it was slooooow). That was with USB sticks and HDDs. Anything you connect to it won't get much faster than that.

About the second port: often those devices shown in Device Manager are connected to nothing... I've got seven of them in my computer right now - and the only two USB ports are connected to one controller. Makes me wanna cry or smash something. :angrym: What I want to say is, it might be possible to find/solder a header/connector, but either very advanced knowledge of electronics is needed or if you can find someone who did it already... :whistle:

Also forget about serial. It's many times slower than that too (I remember doing an overnight transfer of several megabytes through a null modem cable, and I think you can't get much faster than that). <- My memory might be failing on this, but I think there's not much hope with serial in any case.

CPU upgrade: I think it's not worth it. Maybe, if you're absolutely sure that the crossflash BIOS will work (which rarely does).

Even a DVD drive would be tough for this computer to handle.

GL

#6
Zenskas

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Just whatever you do with it, make sure its an easy task. Web browsing with nothing else open in the background, typing in Word (with preferably nothing else open) and basic stuff like that. You could use it for a kids PC, or do something funny to it like try a hardware mod. Before I whipped out the Dremel on my little baby Shuttle, I tried it on an old Pentium 1 computers fan grille. That computer also has a spray painted black silhouette of a desert eagle on it so yeah :thumbup

Edited by Zenskas, 10 February 2010 - 01:55 AM.

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#7
Ponch

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Apart from the obvious RAM that you don't want to hear about and faster HDD (if properly recognised of course), I would try one of those PCMCIA cards unless someone is shure you can't get USB2 speed from your PCMCIA bus.

#8
puntoMX

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I would try one of those PCMCIA cards unless someone is shure you can't get USB2 speed from your PCMCIA bus.

No Ponch, you cant put a 32-bit CardBus Type II in that machine, physically it fits but electronically it won't work.


@ All: Note that the 40GB HDD is already an upgrade on that machine ;).

#9
jaclaz

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PCMCIA bus.

No Ponch, you cant put a 32-bit CardBus Type II in that machine, physically it fits but electronically it won't work.

Are you sure?
Anything after 1997 or 1998 should be CardBUS.
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/PC_Card

And actually CardBUS is NOT physically compatible with PCMCIA slots:
http://www.pcmcia.org/faq.htm#slot
http://en.wikipedia....PC_Card#CardBus

jaclaz

#10
puntoMX

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PCMCIA bus.

No Ponch, you cant put a 32-bit CardBus Type II in that machine, physically it fits but electronically it won't work.

Are you sure?
Anything after 1997 or 1998 should be CardBUS.
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/PC_Card

Yes, but it has more to do with 16 and 32bit I recall. Let me check out your links...

EDIT: Okay, so it's Type II, but almost sure it will not support 32bit, those USB 2.0 cards are for 99% 32bit, and what I was pointing at was that 16 and 32bit "PCMCIA" look the same. To add (edit): The people here have problems firring the device up, some say it's a shortage of power.


PC Cards
CardBus controller Texas Instruments PCI 1225 CardBus controller
PC Card connectors two (supports Type I and Type II cards in any combination; Type III cards can be used only in the lower connector; the lower connector supports zoomed video cards on systems using the Microsoft� Windows� 98 operating system)
Cards supported 3.3-V and 5-V cards
PC Card connector size 68 pins
Data width (maximum):

PCMCIA 16 bits

CardBus 32 bits

So, they say it should work, but I tried it many times and with negative results. You have no idea how many people love to update and spend a lot of cash on older PCs here ;).

EDIT 3: By the way, how does USB 2.0 work on 98? I kind of missed that part and never really tried it I believe. On XP Gold (without SP1/2/3) it was hard enough to get it working well as I remember.

#11
jaclaz

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and what I was pointing at was that 16 and 32bit "PCMCIA" look the same.

Yes, they "look" similar, but a CardBUS Card WON'T FIT in PCMCIA Slot, there is a notch (actually two of them, one for the 3.3V and one for the 32 bit)
AND the 32-bit CardBUS ones have (or should have) the additional grounding strip:
http://www.pcmcia.or...htm#cardbuscard

There is a lot of confusion about these stoopid PCMCIA thingy.

  • Old PCMCIA PC Card were 16-bit and 5V. <-please read as ISA BUS
  • Later PCMCIA PC Card were 16-bit and 3.3v <-please read as ISA BUS (I guess they were used for a short period only)
  • Latest PCMCIA CardBUS are 32-bit and 3.3V <-please read as PCI BUS

Card 1) above will fit in PCMCIA 5V Slot 1).
Card 2) above will fit in PCMCIA 3.3v Slot 2) BUT NOT in PCMCIA 5V Slot 1)
Card 3) above will fit in CardBUS 3.3v Slot 3) AND in PCMCIA 3.3v Slot 2) - where it WON'T work - AND NOT in PCMCIA 5V Slot 1)

This link:
http://www.pcmcia.or...htm#cardbusslot
should be useful to help OP identify the slot that laptop has.

PCMCIA connector:
http://www.interface...tor_PCMCIA.html
CardBUS connector:
http://www.interface...or_Cardbus.html

Slot 1) above will accept ONLY Card 1) above.
Slot 2) above will accept ONLY Card 2) above AND Card 1) above, but these latter ones WON'T WORK.
Slot 3) above will accept BOTH Card 2) and 3) above AND also Card 1) above, but these latter ones WON'T WORK.

Notch and grounding strip:
Posted Image
Posted Image

PCMCIA PC card (the 3.3v ones) are (or should) be working as 16 bit devices in a Card BUS slot:
http://www.expressca.../site/qa.jsp#12

I hope the above to be, if not clear, at least correct,
Corrrections fixes are welcome. :)

jaclaz

#12
puntoMX

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Nice info, but as far as I thought it was the 3.3 and 5v that would make the difference physically, but o well, now it's "old" I'm starting to get the right info :P.

By the way, any ideas about USB 2.0 and Win98(se)?

#13
Ken-mkII

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After checked the spec of Dell Inspiron 3700, I confirmed that its' PCMCIA slot is 32bit car compatible, so use an USB 2.0 cardbus card is not a problem.

BTW, your notebook is similar as my old Samsung NV5000 in spec, so I can give you some upgrade info to it.

1) RAM
Since both my NV5000 & Inspiron 3700 are 440BX base, the RAM upgrade has limitation on it. You can ONLY use 16 chips PC-100 DIMM 256M for 440bx, 8 chips PC-133 just WON't WORK! Coz 440bx can only handle 2M x 4bit RAM refresh & 256M Max for single slot.
Just remember that PC-100 16 chips 256M DIMM is MORE expinsive than thse 8 chips one. So as you are not have 256M on it, I suggest that you still lay on Win2K/ME/98SE, otherwise you should add memory to 384/512M for better performance to run XP (Just like me, My NV5000 has 64M RAM on board, and ONLY 1 DIMM slot for memory upgrade, I fired it up to 320M total for WinFLP)

2) USB 2.0
Just as what I said at first, you can install cardbus USB 2.0 card for your Dell as just what I did.

3) HDD
As I think 40G HDD is enough for your machine (Mine only got 20G), for extra storage, you can attach an external USB HDD / PenDrive to get ride of it.

4) BlueTooth
As you got USB 2.0, you can easily use it under Win2K/XP.

5) CPU
Since most notebook use BGA CPU, I don't think upgrade is easible, so just leave it alone is Okej.
(Mine is PIII 700Mhz instead of yours 500Mhz)

6) DVD-Drive
Mine has changed the internal CD-ROM to DVD, which I can use it to voiew DVD sometimes.

Below are the screenshots took from my machine.

Posted Image

Posted Image

Hope the Infos could help.

Best Regards,
Ken-mkII
"Attack me if you dare, I will crush you!"
-- Golden Quote of Ken in SF-II

"I love the touch of you, the feel of you, and I Love You!"
-- For my beloved Eliza

#14
bristols

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Hi guys, sorry about the delay in my reply to your comments.

Thanks for sharing your hard-won knowledge and experience!

The speedup from higher RPM is noticeable, but may be diminished by (I think) ATA 33 speed of that thing (but still slightly better).


Would there be any performance gain, then, if I upgraded to a 7200 RPM hard drive (because yes, the board is ATA 33 speed)?

About the second [USB] port: often those devices shown in Device Manager are connected to nothing... I've got seven of them in my computer right now - and the only two USB ports are connected to one controller. Makes me wanna cry or smash something. :angrym: What I want to say is, it might be possible to find/solder a header/connector, but either very advanced knowledge of electronics is needed or if you can find someone who did it already... :whistle:


Ah. :( I had higher hopes for this than you have left me with. Thanks though, I really appreciate comment on this matter. I'll take her apart when I have a spare afternoon and check it out. If possible, I still would really like to utilise the mysterious second USB port.

CPU upgrade: I think it's not worth it. Maybe, if you're absolutely sure that the crossflash BIOS will work (which rarely does).


I haven't tried it yet, but here are instructions for crossflashing several Dell laptop models with the bios of a newer model (in my case, from Dell Inspiron 3700 to Latitude CPxH):

http://web.archive.o...tonent/itol.htm

(Right now I'm unable to find the link which suggests crossflashing to the 3800 BIOS.)


and what I was pointing at was that 16 and 32bit "PCMCIA" look the same.

Yes, they "look" similar, but a CardBUS Card WON'T FIT in PCMCIA Slot, there is a notch (actually two of them, one for the 3.3V and one for the 32 bit)
AND the 32-bit CardBUS ones have (or should have) the additional grounding strip:
http://www.pcmcia.or...htm#cardbuscard

There is a lot of confusion about these stoopid PCMCIA thingy.

  • Old PCMCIA PC Card were 16-bit and 5V. <-please read as ISA BUS
  • Later PCMCIA PC Card were 16-bit and 3.3v <-please read as ISA BUS (I guess they were used for a short period only)
  • Latest PCMCIA CardBUS are 32-bit and 3.3V <-please read as PCI BUS

Card 1) above will fit in PCMCIA 5V Slot 1).
Card 2) above will fit in PCMCIA 3.3v Slot 2) BUT NOT in PCMCIA 5V Slot 1)
Card 3) above will fit in CardBUS 3.3v Slot 3) AND in PCMCIA 3.3v Slot 2) - where it WON'T work - AND NOT in PCMCIA 5V Slot 1)


Thanks for your usual exhaustive and thorough explanation and exposition, jaclaz! :thumbup


After checked the spec of Dell Inspiron 3700, I confirmed that its' PCMCIA slot is 32bit car compatible, so use an USB 2.0 cardbus card is not a problem.


Indeed. The two slots this laptop has are both reported in Device Manager as:

Texas Instruments PCI-1225 Cardbus Controller


I have a hard copy of the laptop's manual, which reads:

(The laptop has) a PC Card slot with connectors for two 3.3- or 5-volt cards. Both PC card connectors support CardBus technology. In additio, the lower PC Card connector (slot 0) supports the use of a zoomed video (ZV) port card.

Notes: The PC CArd controller supports the CardBus standard for 32-bit data transfer on the PC Card.


I have two such cards, both with the notches and the grounding strip jaclaz mentions. For example, I have this TP-Link Wi-Fi card:

http://www.amazon.co...s/dp/B000FO6QXQ



BTW, your notebook is similar as my old Samsung NV5000 in spec, so I can give you some upgrade info to it.


Thanks for the info, Ken-mkII.

@ All: Note that the 40GB HDD is already an upgrade on that machine .


Indeed. The laptop came with a 12 GB drive, 4200 RPM. Slow and noisy - would keep people awake at night. :ph34r: The speed difference between that and the newer 5400 RPM drive is noticeable, but it was a worthwhile upgrade simply for the reduction in noise.

#15
GrofLuigi

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Would there be any performance gain, then, if I upgraded to a 7200 RPM hard drive (because yes, the board is ATA 33 speed)?

I don't know for sure, I was generalizing :blushing: from my experience with 4500>5400 (similar to yours). But I still think there would be improvement.

On the other hand, nothing can stop you to try with (or dream of) SSD... :w00t:

GL

#16
jaclaz

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Naah, I don't think that you will get a noticeable difference in everyday work putting on an ATA33 bus a 7200 RPM instead of a 5400 RPM one, BUT if the drive onboard cache is bigger, then you will notice it.

http://www.wdc.com/e...2579-001043.pdf
http://www.storagere...ataroundup.html
http://www.storagere...oundup1999.html
http://www.storagere...notebook_1.html

Please note that 7200 vs 5400 is a bit pointless, a "good" 5400 can have so similar performance to a "bad" 7200 that you won't be able to tell the difference.

jaclaz

#17
Ken-mkII

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Yep, I agree with jaclaz.

Just keep your 5400rpm 40G HDD for your DELL, there is really no great improvment beside if you got a 16M cache 7200rpm HDD for it.

But I think that you better save the money to buy an external USB HDD for your DELL is more better (don't forget to buy an USB 2.0 Cardbus card to use with it).

Best Regards,
Ken-mkII
"Attack me if you dare, I will crush you!"
-- Golden Quote of Ken in SF-II

"I love the touch of you, the feel of you, and I Love You!"
-- For my beloved Eliza

#18
bristols

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But I think that you better save the money to buy an external USB HDD for your DELL is more better (don't forget to buy an USB 2.0 Cardbus card to use with it).


Which USB 2.0 Cardbus card would you recommend? I've heard reports about some that overheat.

Does anyone know whether a USB 2.0 Cardbus would significantly increase the CPU load, or whether the card's onboard chip would take much of the load?

Related to this, I've read that in a straight comparison, Cardbus DVB-T cards (for example) utilise the CPU less than USB DVB-T sticks (in systems that are USB 2.0 capable). This Dell laptop of course would require the card to enable USB 2.0. I wonder whether, using such a card to supply me with USB 2.0, I would suffer from the same high(er) load on the CPU, as I would with an already USB 2.0-capable system? The laptop's Pentium III is just 500 Mhz and struggles, for example, with Flash playback. I'm concerned that the benefits of USB 2.0 would be outweighed by the strain on my CPU.

#19
Ken-mkII

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Hi Bristols:

Sorry for late reply.

Well, I am using an unnamed China made USB 2.0 4 port card base on VIA chips. Which is only US$8. (Similar as below pics)

Posted Image

For better performance and lower CPU usage, you can buy one base on NEC chips.

As Cardbus is based on PCI bus, the CPU usage is lower than 16bit PCMCIA card coz of its Bus Mastering function.

As mine, which will use around 10% CPU when full loading file transferring. Even the CPU is unweight to make full usage of the USB 2.0, it still faster than the built-in USB 1.1 alots. (For mine, around 20M/s, I bet NEC chips will faster).

Best Regards,
Ken Yaksa
"Attack me if you dare, I will crush you!"
-- Golden Quote of Ken in SF-II

"I love the touch of you, the feel of you, and I Love You!"
-- For my beloved Eliza

#20
bristols

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Well, I am using an unnamed China made USB 2.0 4 port card base on VIA chips...

For better performance and lower CPU usage, you can buy one base on NEC chips.


Hi Ken,

Thanks for this, and sorry for my late reply.

Did you have any problems installing the USB 2.0 stack? Did you only require the drivers provided with the card, or was it necessary for you to use a Windows CD? Did you have to apply further windows updates (for example, by visiting Windows Update) before you had the most recent USBPORT.SYS, etc. etc.? Or perhaps, even though your laptop was USB 1.1, you didn't have to get any updates from elsewhere to update to the USB 2.0 because the necessary files already in your system?

#21
Asp

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I have a Dell Inspiron 3700 (circa 1999), with an HFSlipped installation of Windows 2000
However:
I'm unwilling to buy RAM and/or a CPU upgrade over the internet. After a fruitless couple of years looking for components locally, I'd like to concentrate on any other hardware modifications and updates I could make.



I've got an Inspiron 5000, I thought that was old.
It also is on 256 MB RAM, and runs XP.
Haven't used it for a few months now...

Anyway, I gotta say: RAM. It makes all the difference. I upgraded a Thinkpad from 128 MB to 640 MB and it was a huge improvement.

I got bitten by some fake RAM in an auction, but it's worth shaking the dice if there aren't any local dealers.
Or a local PC/laptop repair shop that you can visit and ingratiate yourself, and get a deal on some RAM they pull from a dead laptop. That's where I get my "old" RAM now, they guarantee it's legit and working for at least a month; which is enough to test it out.

#22
Ken-mkII

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Hi Ken,

Thanks for this, and sorry for my late reply.

Did you have any problems installing the USB 2.0 stack? Did you only require the drivers provided with the card, or was it necessary for you to use a Windows CD? Did you have to apply further windows updates (for example, by visiting Windows Update) before you had the most recent USBPORT.SYS, etc. etc.? Or perhaps, even though your laptop was USB 1.1, you didn't have to get any updates from elsewhere to update to the USB 2.0 because the necessary files already in your system?


Sorry for my late reply once again.

I don't have any problem to install my USB 2.0 Cardbus card. All you need to do is updated your WinXP to SP2 or later (SP1 doesn't support USB 2.0) before you plug the card in. After so, all necessary files (included driver files!) are lay in C:\Windows\I386 directory, & don't need to Windows CD. You even don't need the driver CD which come with the card since XP SP2 or later native support USB 2.0 (Otherwise, you may need the driver CD if you want to use the card under 2K or 9x).

Best regard,
Ken Yaksa
"Attack me if you dare, I will crush you!"
-- Golden Quote of Ken in SF-II

"I love the touch of you, the feel of you, and I Love You!"
-- For my beloved Eliza




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