Our previous Tech Focus posts talked about getting an OLED laptop and using an SSD laptop. What’s common about these two portable computers (apart from being awesome) is that they’re pre-built systems. This means that all the features you want in a laptop are typically not available on a single device. If they were, you may need to fork up some serious cash.
Does this mean that you have to settle with the machines that are available on the market? If you’re a student, do you need to keep Googling the best laptops for college students under $500 in the hope of finding the Holy Grail? The answer is not necessarily. You have another option: build a laptop on your own.
If you see yourself as a DIY type of guy, have the tech skills to boot and are willing to make a custom laptop from scratch, this guide is for you.
Why Build Your Own Laptop Anyway
Building a custom laptop isn’t as difficult as it sounds. You don’t need a special laptop builder degree or certification to pursue this tech DIY project.
You’re likely qualified enough to make a PC tailored to your preferences if you:
- Are familiar with the everyday computer tech components, such as the keyboard and CPU
- Know how to use a screwdriver for computer assembly
- Can follow basic and technical instructions
When you build a laptop for yourself, you enjoy these benefits:
A Cost-Efficient Portable Computer
If you make your custom laptop, the device will cost you less compared to a pre-built system that you’ll find at a computer store.
When you want a basic, no-frills laptop for normal web usage, you can expect to shell out approximately $300 for this build. These internet-only systems are ideal for people (especially on-the-go travelers) looking to send emails, stream videos and browse the web. You don’t have to spend extra money on unnecessary features.
If you’re a gamer on a budget, you could build a decent gaming laptop for $550 to $650. This type of laptop build will play simpler games at medium-to-high settings. You could also play hardware-intensive titles at lower settings.
No Bloatware on Your Build
Bloatware is an application or software that comes pre-installed on a computer. It can cripple performance, cut down battery life and reduce the space on your hard drive. What’s more, it primarily serves as a revenue stream for distributors and manufacturers.
If you bought a computer from a retail store, then the device has bloatware even if you don’t realize it. One bloatware common in pre-built laptops is the free trial anti-virus and security software that comes with the machine. If the trial period ends, the software either stops running or operates on reduced functionality until you pay for a subscription.
You won’t have to worry about bloatware when you build a laptop. Since you’re going to install the computer applications yourself, you have complete control over the programs on your machine.
No More Waiting for Technical Support
When you purchase a laptop from a store, the tech support you receive is limited to the kind of system that your retailer provides. Sometimes, you may encounter support agents who aren’t knowledgeable enough to assist you with your concern. As a result, you end up wasting your time on the phone.
This won’t be the case when you build a custom laptop. When something breaks or a component is not running properly, you can fix the issue yourself. After all, you’re the one who built the PC. You don’t need to call tech support. You ARE the tech support.
An Opportunity to Turn a DIY Project into a Profitable Venture
Don’t just look at making a laptop from scratch as a hobby. Use this skill to put more money into your bank account. People today live in an era where computers are everywhere — in offices, schools, airports, restaurants and other establishments. If you come across people who want a personalized portable computer but don’t have the skill necessary to get the job done, you can use your tech skills and offer to build a custom laptop for the right price.
What Do You Need to Build a Laptop?
Assembling a custom laptop is a bit different from making a desktop PC from the ground up. Nearly everything is customizable on a desktop machine.
On the other hand, laptops require a barebones component known as a “notebook shell” to function properly. This part refers to a pre-built laptop that includes an optical drive and motherboard. It may also contain other typical laptop parts, which you can easily replace.
Once you’ve acquired a notebook shell, you’ll need to get the following to build a functioning laptop:
Central Processing Unit (CPU)
This serves as the “brain” of your custom laptop. You can get a laptop CPU from either Intel or AMD, two well-known x86 CPU manufacturers in their industry. Before you get this component, see if your motherboard supports the CPU you prefer.
802.11g cards are the current standard for wireless connectivity range. Most Wi-Fi hotspots have an 802.11g connection. If you’re going to look at speed, however, 802.11n wireless cards are faster. You, however, have to connect your laptop to an 802.11-equipped router.
This internal device stores all your data, including pictures, music and documents. The amount of storage you’ll need will depend on how you’ll use your custom laptop. Many non-professional users are ok with 250 to 350GBs of storage.
You’ll need a Random Access Memory (RAM) chip for your custom laptop to work properly. You’ll be able to run more tasks at once when your machine has a higher RAM. If you’re building your first laptop, you could start with 8GB RAM.
Pro-tip: RAM chips typically come in three different types: Rambus Dynamic Random Access Memory (RDRAM), Synchronous Dynamic Random Access Memory (SDRAM) and Double-Data Rate Synchronous Dynamic Random Access Memory (DDR SDRAM). Check if your motherboard supports the RAM type you want.
This computer component processes the graphics shown on the monitor. You’ll enjoy a smoother graphics flow when you have a high-quality video card. Just like the RAM chips, make sure the video card you buy is compatible with the motherboard.
How to Build a Custom Laptop
The process of making a laptop from scratch won’t be easy, but it will be incredibly rewarding once you finish. Once you’ve gathered all the components you need, take note of these steps:
Prepare Your Tools for Disassembly
You’ll need a set of precision screwdrivers, as the screws of a laptop are much smaller compared to a desktop PC. You’ll also need a plastic bag to store the small screws of your notebook.
Besides screwdrivers, you should purchase an anti-static wrist strap. You need to be grounded when you’re assembling a custom laptop, as electrostatic discharges can damage sensitive computer components.
Remove the Battery
Gently take out the laptop battery and store it in a safe area.
Begin Unscrewing the Notebook Shell
Start the disassembly process by unscrewing the removable plates located at the back of the laptop unit. Make sure you label each plate, so you know exactly where they should go when you being your reassembly.
Install the Core Laptop Components
Mount the wireless card, hard drive, memory chip and other important parts into their designated places. Here’s the process for some of the computer parts:
- Hard Drive – Mount this laptop component into the bracket. Use four screws to secure the internal storage device in place. Then, slide the bracketed hard drive into the correct bay area and secure the component with screws.
- Memory Chip – Open up the motherboard panel. Then, insert the chips into the right slots at an angle. Push these chips down gently until you hear a click in place.
- CPU – Open up the CPU panel and insert the chip into the socket. Be careful when mounting this component. If the CPU isn’t mounting correctly, avoid forcing the chip to the socket, as you could damage the pins and ruin the processor.
Close the Panels
Once you have all the necessary components mounted into your notebook shell, place the panels back over the appropriate openings. Then, secure them firmly using the right screws.
Reinsert the Battery
Insert the battery back to the notebook shell. Don’t forget to charge this component before turning on your custom laptop.
Check Your Memory
Power up your new custom laptop. Then, run Memtest86+ (or a similar advanced memory diagnostic tool) to make sure that the RAM is functioning properly.
Install Your Preferred Operating System (OS)
You have the option to install a Linux distribution or Microsoft Windows. Linux is free and secure, but you may have difficulty finding applications that support your needs. On the other hand, Windows can run a wider range of computer programs, but costs a lot of money.
Pro-tip: Although most up-to-date operating systems will install your drivers automatically, you may need to install one or two components manually. You can use a disc to install the drivers or download the installer you need online.
Congratulations! You now know the basics of building a custom laptop. If you’re stuck on a certain build process or need help choosing a laptop component, don’t hesitate to go online and check the forums, subreddits and social media pages for technical support and guidance.