By Martin Jansen, Owner of Jansen-PCINFO
I’ve been meaning to review a different version of Linux Mint based upon Debian (not Ubuntu) for a while now and the perfect opportunity came my way. My wife’s sister contacted me about getting rid of her old laptop. It wasn’t working very well at all.
Sure the computer booted up to Windows 10, but it took a long time before the desktop was available to do anything. I would take custody of the laptop and make sure the drive was completely wiped of any personal data. When the HP laptop was turned over to me, I found out why it was so slow. It only had 4 GB of RAM which is inadequate to run Windows 10 without any lag. The laptop had a decent Seagate 500 GB hard drive, but not a solid state drive. Physically, the laptop is in Grade A condition – very well cared for by my wife’s sister and her family.
Despite the middling AMD A6 processor, I saw that I could upgrade this computer into a solid performer. So I researched the computer to find that a memory slot was likely empty. I went to Amazon to order a 8 GB DDR4 SODIMM and a low cost Timetec 256 GB SSD, both for under $40.
While I waited for the parts to arrive, I disabled secure boot through the BIOS and booted up my trusty Partition Magic via a USB drive. The drive wipe utility took about an hour and half to wipe the 500 GB hard drive. I did further research on how to disassemble the HP 15 laptop. Not bad: 9 screws, 4 of which were under the rubber pads. The rubber pads did not need to be completely removed, just pried up at the far ends to expose the screws.
Opening the Case
The parts arrived two days later and it was time to open the case. I removed the battery and DVD drive. After the screws were removed, I slowly pried open the case using a couple of plastic spudgers. There are plastic tabs that hold the case in place that must not be damaged.
Once the case is removed all the replaceable parts are exposed on the motherboard. The hard drive is held in place by three screws – easy to replace with the SSD. Sure enough, there is an open slot for the SODIMM.
The parts replacement was pretty routine, but I did swap the SODIMM slots putting the 8 GB in the 4 GB slot and the 4 GB in the empty slot. The SSD drive went in easily as well.
I was thankful the CPU fan and the rest of the motherboard were very clean and free of dust.
With parts in place, I reversed the instructions to put the laptop back together again:
- Put the case back on pressing in strategic spots for the plastic tabs to engage.
- Screw in all screws except the DVD drive.
- Slide in the DVD drive and screw in the remaining screw.
- Replace the external battery.
Moment of Truth
Plugging in the power supply, there’s always a little tension to see if the computer will work as expected after reassembly. I pressed the power button and then the Esc key to enter the BIOS.
Not to worry, under System Information I see the 12 GB of memory and new SSD drive are recognized.
Time for an OS
Computers need an operating system to work. This time, instead of Linux Mint Cinnamon, I downloaded the ISO for LMDE 6 which is about 2.7 GB in size. I use the built in USB Image Writer on my primary computer to write the ISO to a 4 GB USB Drive. Then I boot up the laptop pressing the Esc key once again, but this time selecting Boot Device Options:
Within the menu I select the USB drive to boot to a Live LMDE 6 Session. I follow the prompts to install the operating system including an ID and Password.
When the install is complete, I am prompted to restart the computer and remove the installation media – the USB Drive. The installation process is very similar to Linux Mint Cinnamon, but varies a little, making me aware that this is a different operating system.
Upon reboot LMDE 6 boots up perfectly and requires my password to enter the desktop. All operating systems require updating after a fresh installation. The updates are mostly for security and application improvements accomplished through the update manager.
Like Linux Mint I also configure regular system backup sessions using the TimeShift utility.
The laptop is working great with the new drive and memory, booting up in less than a minute including entering the password. The experience is very similar to using Linux Mint Cinnamon since it uses the same desktop environment, but underneath it’s a bit different. It’s like changing the engine in an automobile: the car looks the same, but the handling is different.
For one thing, I seem to see less updates in LMDE. I’m not sure if that’s good or bad. The other thing I noticed is that the wireless card in the laptop did not work well with the OS. Some research told me that the Realtek 8723DE wifi card was using 2.4 Ghz network antenna, not the 5 Ghz. I could type in a command to switch antennas, but even then network wifi speeds were lower than expected. I have 500 Mbps download and 20 Mbps upload speeds from Spectrum. I expect to get at least 200 Mbps download speeds and a full 20 Mbps from a wifi card. I was getting less than 10 Mbps on the 2.4 Ghz and 30 on the 5 Ghz. Time to replace the card. Experience tells me that Intel wifi cards work very well with Linux. I ordered an Intel AX200 card from Amazon for about $20.
On the Road
I volunteer at the library on Tuesdays and Thursdays as a Technology Helper. Instead of my trusty Lenovo Chromebook, I decided I would bring the laptop to see how it worked on the road. The laptop booted up and I connected to the library’s internet. Now, the library has excellent internet speeds, but the Realtek card was simply awful. Still I was able to work at least starting this article. The battery gave me several different readings, but lasted the two hour shift.
Intel WIFI Card
The Intel AX200 wifi card arrived a few days later, so I disassembled the case once again to install the card. I was struck how wifi cards for laptops are incredibly small these days:
The card is less than an inch in length. The card installs much like a memory installation with a single screw holding it in place. The antenna connection is also incredibly small requiring some finesse to reattach.
Disassembly and reassembly took a lot less time as I knew what I was doing with this particular laptop. Once again I booted up the laptop to see the effects of the new wifi card. Yeah!
Thanks to the WIFI 6 card the download speeds are over 300 Mbps and upload speeds are the 20 Mbps maximum.
For less than $60 in parts I have a great working laptop for every day work. If you are interested in this laptop I am willing to sell it for $150 or best offer. I will customize it for your use. Just let me know via messaging in social media and we will arrange for a viewing of the laptop. Thanks for reading.