fixing a ten-year-old notebook computer for $5

I have, since late 2013, written on this blog about turning a Samsung R580 notebook into a personal Linux machine running Ubuntu. I won’t link, just search for Samsung and/or R580 to pick up the majority of the posts. The machine was originally purchased for my oldest daughter from Office Depot, and it came installed with Windows 7 Home Premium, or so the sticker on the bottom says. One day the Windows installation just seemed to eat itself up (probably due to a virus; my oldest wasn’t too careful in those days). I bought her a new one and put the R580 on the shelf for about six months. Then in late 2013 I pulled it down and for the hell of it installed Ubuntu 13.10 over Windows 7. And I haven’t looked back.

Not only have I kept it running Ubuntu since 2013, but I’ve also upgraded the hardware over the years, replacing the HDD with a 1TB Samsung Evo SDD when they got cheap enough and doubling the DRAM from 4GiB to 8GiB. It has done yeoman duty these past seven years. It was the first, and primary, Linux development platform, especially in support of my initial Raspberry Pi setup and support efforts.

All that changed over the past year as the R580 began to erratically fail. At first I thought the R580 was finally reaching end-of-life. But I discovered that the problem was with the power connector. It would fail to electrically connect with the power brick, and thus, the battery would run down and it would shut down. It got so bad that it went into the bag almost permanently around Halloween of last year. I wondered at the time if I would buy a replacement from System76.

Well, retirement and a fixed income can put the kibosh on grandiose plans that call for lots of cash. So I went looking around on YouTube to find any tutorials on fixing that R580 problem, found one I understood, ordered the replacement part from Amazon, and then spent two hours one evening disassembling this beast, replacing the power connector, and putting it all back together again. I had no leftover parts and it looks like I plugged every cable back in properly, because it came back on the first time I checked it out.

I have every intention of trying to update the R580 to Ubuntu 20.04 LTS, and leave it there, just like I’ve left it on 18.04 LTS. It does all I need, it’s speedy enough, and $5 is a damn sight cheaper than $100s for a new machine. Yes, retirement on a fixed income turns you into a cheap old bastard real fast.

even more notes on ubuntu 18.04.1 and the samsung r580

htop running. Note the boost in memory.

Today I updated the R580’s memory from 4GB to 8GB with a Crucial 8GB (4GBx2) DDR3/DDR3L 1600 MT/S (PC3-12800) Unbuffered SODIMM 204-Pin Memory Kit – CT2KIT51264BF160B. Not only is there now twice as much memory as before, but the performance with the much faster memory over the original memory (Elpida (2GBx2) PC3-8500S) makes the entire system just that much more pleasant to work with.

In addition I installed Microsoft’s Visual Studio Code and Google Chrome (as apposed to just Chromium). And by the way, I went into chrome://flags and disabled “Omnibox UI Hide Steady-State URL Scheme and Trivial Subdomains”.

Visual Studio Code with a number of its plugins.
Plain Old Google Chrome

This just goes to prove to me that computers with low-performance peripherals (memory and disk being two) when they’re first released can have them updated with far better components if those computers can be easily opened and serviced (I’m looking at you, Apple). Ever since I upgraded this system with a Samsung 1TB Evo 860 SSD, I’ve been able to at least keep up with contemporary systems using later releases of the i5 processor. Tonight, after spending another $80 for the memory kit, and getting a sizable and noticeable performance kick, I have no desire to replace it any time soon. The R580 is running with the current version of Ubuntu, 18.04.01, and everything works just fine. The only other item I’ve had to replace on the R580 is the keyboard, and that was four years ago after upgrading the system from Windows to Ubuntu.

I just might get one more new computer before I hit official retirement. If I do it will be a computer powered in part by Linux. Not Windows and not macOS. Linux. And I’m going to make sure that the components are the best I can possibly afford that will be as performant as possible. Probably a system from System 76. Samsung especially doesn’t make computers as good as this old R580 any more.