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I have a Toshiba Tecra A4 laptop (Model: PTA40A-1D2004) that was top notch in it's day. Now it's slow and behind the times :(

I want to add a bit of RAM and a bigger HDD to give it a new life, possibly with a Windows 7 and/or Linux update to give it a second life. I know from previous experience there are limits to the amount of upgrading that can be done due to physical limitations of the form factor and BIOS.

How do I find out what would be the biggest HDD and RAM module that will be accepted without trial and error?

Current specs:-

  • Intel Centrino (Pentium-M) 1.86GHz Processor
  • 512MB RAM
  • nVidea GeForce 6600 graphics
  • 80GB HDD
  • Windows XP
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Not asked (and thus not in the answer). Consider a SSD. If you do not store movies on the laptop then a SSD will make it much faster and when you upgrade to your next laptop you can take the SSD with you. It made a lot of difference with my old Tecra S4. –  Hennes Nov 5 '12 at 14:05
    
I didn't ask about SSD's as I am not considdering SSD's since I do use the laptop as a portable movie player. –  Andrew Heath Nov 6 '12 at 4:58

3 Answers 3

The most important is the spec of your motherboard or the at least the type of chipset your motherboard use. this rules device support.

From the info your put, I guess it's reasonable to enlarge mem to 1G/1.5G by adding another 512mb/1gb ram(the laptop usually has only 2 mem slots). and the size of hdd may be enlarged to 160GB? it depends on if you can get a 2.5" IDE HDD in that size.

Best practice is to get a light linux distro(e.g. puppylinux), and you can use it as a router or movieplayer or typewriter ...

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How do I find out what would be the biggest HDD and RAM module that will be accepted without trial and error?

Is a bit to specific. I hope you do not mind if I answer this in general, so other readers also can apply that for their laptop models.

Lets start with the harddisk:

1) Your laptop uses a SATA harddisk. There are currently three SATA standards, but they are all backwards compatible. Therefore any SATA harddisk currently on the market can be used.

ERROR: That was the wrong model. The tecra A4 has IDE. Drives do get faster per generation, but I can't find any recent IDE drives. Which means you are probably stuck with the current drive or an expensive upgrade to a 320GB-ish drive from a few years ago. This is probably not worth it.

2) The harddisk partitioning scheme used on most older computers is MBR. This has a limit of 2.19TiB. You will need to partition the drive differently to use a larger drive.

For PC style hardware this is usually done by partitioning it with GPT. Not every BIOS understands GPT, which means that for an older computer you usually can not boot from a GPT partitioned disk.

Thus you need any SATA HDD up to 2.19TiB.


Next, the memory.

The maximum amount of memory you can use is limited by:

  • The CPU (which these days holds the memory controller)
  • The chipset (esp. older ones which contained the memory controller)
  • The number of copper traces on the motherboard. (Cheaper to lay less traces. The manufacturer will usually use enough to satisfy most of the market. More just isn't economical)
  • The available memory modules. Both their maximum size,and number of memory slots.

Your laptop has an Pentium-M 750 which can address up to 32bit (4GiB).
Your chipset is an Intel 915PM. This one has a max memory limit of 2 GB.

You can only use the lesser of these two. Your are limited 2 GB.

A sanity check on your motherboard shows that it indeed allows up to 2GB, using DDR SODIMM's at 333MHz ( PC2700 ). You will DDR(1) SoDIMMs. DDR2 and DD3 will neither fit, nor will they work it you fit them with help of a hammer.

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I took my HDD out - looks like an IDE drive to me! –  Andrew Heath Nov 6 '12 at 4:44
    
double checks. My mistake. I had the tecra S4 manual in front of me when looking at the drives. That rather limits drive upgrades. –  Hennes Nov 6 '12 at 13:13

I'm not going into as much detail as the thorough answer from Hennes.

Regarding only the hard disk, there's also another possibility. As it is said here you may remove your dvd bay and install a hard disk or SSD instead. There are different kits at sale, for different prices.

I could not find out whether your disk is SATA or not. If it is, you may buy a SSD disk for the OS and another disk to be put in the optical bay.

This means you will have to use an external dvd drive whenever you need it.

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