Most of us have an old laptop sitting around somewhere. While it’s always a good idea to recycle your old electronics, before you do so, you may want to spend some time stripping it for parts. Whether you’re looking for a DIY project or want to earn a little extra cash, there could be some useful parts inside. Read on to learn which parts you can salvage from your unused laptop.
Issues with Newer Laptops
If you have a relatively modern laptop that has bit the dust, there may be some parts on the inside that you can salvage. Unfortunately, newer laptops tend to be much more difficult to open. In addition, many manufacturers opt to solder the parts directly onto the motherboard. Unfortunately, this makes retrieving components nearly impossible. Generally, most Macbooks and Ultrabooks are non-upgradeable due to this reason.
There are some newer laptops that don’t have all of their components soldered to the motherboard. Most commonly, storage drives and RAM are quite easy to remove, even in more modern laptops.
If you are unsure whether your laptop’s parts are soldered or not, we recommend consulting the manufacturer’s website before attempting to open your laptop. If you discover the parts aren’t soldered, discover below which parts you’ll want to salvage from your laptop.
M.2 Solid State Drive
Newer laptops opt for solid date drives (SSD) as opposed to mechanical hard drives. Many modern laptops utilize a solid state drive with an M.2 form factor. These drives are super small and roughly the size of a stick of gum. The advantages of M.2 drives are that they are faster than regular 2.5″ SSDs and significantly smaller. This makes them ideal for laptops, as they don’t take up as much space.
Fortunately, removing an M.2 drive is super easy. Once you locate the drive, simply remove the retaining screw and gently pull the drive away from the motherboard.
Now that you have the M.2 drive, there are a few things you can do with it. One option is to put it in an external enclosure and utilize it as portable storage. Another option is to install it in another computer, as some laptops have a spare M.2 expansion slot. You could also install the M.2 drive in a desktop PC that uses a motherboard with an M.2 slot.
Things to Consider When Removing an M.2 Drive
There are a few things to remember. Not all M.2 drives are identical. An M.2 SSD can be SATA-based, PCIe-based with NVMe support, or PCIe-based without NVMe support. We won’t get into detail about the differences here, but you want to take note of whether the drive is PCIe or SATA. This will determine how it connects to a motherboard or an enclosure.
Furthermore, M.2 drives can come in physically different sizes. You can tell what size an M.2 SSD is by reading the four- or five-digit number in its name. The first two numbers are its width, while the second two numbers are its length, measured in millimeters.
For example, M.2 2280 would mean the drive is 22 millimeters in width and 80 millimeters in length. You want to be aware of the physical size of your M.2 drive to be sure that your motherboard or enclosure is compatible with that size.
Many laptops, even newer models, have RAM modules that can be removed without much fuss. This is to ensure that the end user can upgrade their system by adding more RAM. To get to your laptop’s RAM, all you need to do is remove the back cover of your laptop by taking out a few screws. RAM is seated into the motherboard and held in place by latches on either side of the RAM stick. Pushing those latches away from the RAM stick will release the module so that you can pull it out.
There are some devices that solder their RAM modules to the motherboard. This is especially true with some newer laptops. If this is the case with your laptop, you will not be able to remove the RAM. Ensure you can remove the RAM in your machine by referring to the manufacturer’s website.
With the RAM removed, the most obvious use is to put it to use in another machine. Be aware, however, that there are different types of RAM that may not fit in every machine. If you tinker with Arduino projects, you can use old RAM to boost the storage space.
Additionally, you can build a RAM disk to boost your current machine’s performance. If you can’t use the RAM sticks in another device, you can get creative with them. You can easily create keychains, Christmas ornaments, and even earrings!
2.5″ Storage Drive
Virtually everyone can use a little more storage space. Simply remove the drive and pop it into a USB enclosure to use it as external storage. All you need to do is look up how to remove your laptop’s hard drive.
For the most part, manufacturers make this process fairly simple so that end users can upgrade their hard drive after purchase. There are some devices that may be more difficult to remove than others. If you’re unsure of how to go about removing the hard drive from your laptop, consult the manufacturer’s website.
Once you have the HDD or SSD removed and in an external enclosure, connect it to your new machine. If you are using a Windows-based PC, you can do a quick format by finding the drive in a File Explorer window and right-clicking the drive. In the pop-up menu, select “Format … ” and follow the instructions. Alternatively, use the Disk Management tool.
If you are using a Mac, you’ll want to use the Disk Utility application, which can be found by searching “disk utility” with Spotlight. After some reformatting, you’ll have an inexpensive external hard drive that can store any aspect of your digital life.
Many modern laptops do not ship with an optical drive that can read CDs, DVDs or BluRays. Nixing optical disc drives stems from two reasons: First, many consumers don’t use them anymore. Secondly, removing the optical drive allows manufacturers to make smaller, thinner machines. If you regularly use optical discs, this can be problematic. Even if you don’t use optical discs often, the rare occasion when you need one can cause panic to set in.
Fortunately, if you have an old laptop that has an optical disc drive, you can take it out and use it with your modern PC. Manufacturers often make the optical drive easy to remove. Usually it’s simply a matter of removing a few screws. Doing so allows the optical drive to slide right out.
All laptop manufacturers do things differently, so we recommend doing a bit of research before you start removing screws willy-nilly. You should be able to find instructions on how to remove the optical drive on your laptop with a quick online search. Once you have removed the drive, you can install it in an external enclosure. These enclosures can then connect to your modern PC via USB.
Laptop power supplies can be expensive to replace. Fortunately, many modern laptops charge via USB-C, so you don’t need a proprietary charger to juice up a specific laptop. Furthermore, if you have an older laptop with a proprietary charger, it’s still possible that charger could be used on a different laptop.
Many of the connector tips are specific to a manufacturer or model. However, if you have multiple machines by the same manufacturer, you may be able to use it on a newer device. For example, Apple MagSafe adapters can be used with any machine that uses the MagSafe charger. Be aware, however, that some chargers output power at different rates, so charging times could vary, even if the charger fits a different device.
Alternatively, you can try selling it. Chargers are often subject to a lot of abuse and can often be damaged. As such, there might be someone looking for your charger. If you personally can’t use your old charger on a newer device, you can always try earning a little cash by flipping it on a site like eBay or an app like Letgo.
If you’re feeling adventurous, you can remove the LCD screen (provided it isn’t damaged) and create a standalone monitor. This certainly isn’t for the faint of heart, but monitors can be expensive, and if you have a perfectly good LCD screen sitting in an old, useless laptop, why not take the chance?
To get started, you should have a look online and see if there are instructions on how to remove the LCD panel from your laptop. If not, remove the battery and try to locate the screws that hold the LCD in the laptop’s housing. Be aware that you may have to pry the plastic housing away from the screen in order to spot the screws that hold it in place.
Once you have removed the screen, look at the back of the panel and find a model number. Next, find something called a controller board. This will enable you to supply power to the panel and provide the necessary inputs to create an external monitor. Search eBay for a controller board that matches up with the model number on your LCD panel. Once you find a compatible controller board, connect your LCD screen to use as a spare monitor.
Recycle Whatever You Don’t Use
E-waste is a huge worldwide problem. Remember to properly recycle whatever you can’t use. Many retailers such as Staples and Best Buy have E-Waste recycling programs where you can drop off your unwanted gadgets. The best part is that these programs are free, and you can even drop off tech gadgets you didn’t buy there.
Frequently Asked Questions
1. Can I remove parts that are soldered to the motherboard of my laptop?
With the right tools and know-how, literally anything is possible. That being said, attempting to de-solder parts from a laptop is considered very difficult. Basically, any parts, such as RAM, that are soldered onto the motherboard are effectively part of the motherboard. In theory, it is possible to remove soldered parts; however, you would need access to special tools. Normally this involves a heat source. Unfortunately, overheating can fry the motherboard of the laptop or damage the part you are trying to remove. Ultimately, it’s a lot of hard work and the payoff may not be worth the effort.
2. My laptop still works and is just super slow. Should I strip it for parts?
It depends. If you want to try and keep your old laptop, you can install a new operating system that isn’t as resource hungry. This could translate into better performance and a second life for an old laptop. There are a number of Linux distros that are developed exclusively for older machines with limited power under the hood. Alternatively, if you have no use for it, you might as well strip it for parts that might actually be useful to you.
3. Why should I recycle my unwanted electronics?
Most discarded electronics (e-waste) end up in landfills. Unfortunately, most of these devices contain numerous chemicals harmful to people and the environment. When electronic devices aren’t properly disposed of, these chemicals ultimately end up in the soil, water and air.
Furthermore, electronics are made from a wide variety of natural resources. By recycling your e-waste, these raw natural resources can be reused in new products. This helps conserve these materials, which means that fewer of these resources need to be drawn from nature in order to make new devices.
Image credit: Unsplash
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