Sunday, November 19, 2017

Using a Laptop as a Desktop Computer

My 9 year old desktop PC has been having trouble keeping up with my CAD and 3D modeling work.  It was a pretty hot machine in its day, but that day has long passed.  Recently the graphics card has been crashing and only sort-of recovering, and I've been getting BSODs from Win 7.

I started looking for a replacement that would have a CPU with at least 4 cores (even though most software uses only one core, I use a couple programs that can take advantage of multiple cores), lots of RAM, and a graphics card with at least a couple GB of dedicated RAM.  USB 3 would be nice as would bluetooth, and dual band wireless networking.

I started pricing out components for a new build and quickly got up to about $800-1000 range.  Ouch!

Then, before I could start ordering parts, someone at the makerspace informed me that he had a couple 4 year old laptops he recently picked up at an auction, for sale at the very reasonable price of $100 each.  The machines are Lenovo W530 with a quad core 2.7 GHz i7 CPU, 8 GB of RAM supporting up to 32 GB in 4 slots, an Nvidia K1000m 2GB graphics card, bluetooth, dual band wifi, USB 3.0, lighted keyboard, full HD antireflective/antiglare display, SD card slot, fingerprint reader, 720p webcam, DVD burner, etc.

I was hesitant at first, but after looking up the machine and its specs, I started to change my mind about it.  The CPU would run rings around the CPU in my desktop machine, likewise the graphics card.  $100 got me the laptop with a battery in unknown condition, no power brick, no HDD and no OS.  A quick scan of ebay turned up plenty of cheap parts and accessories for these machines which were corporate work-horse type computers.  There's also plenty of documentation and software support on Lenovo's web site.

What I had:
Win 7 install disks
240 GB SSD
keyboard and mouse
3D mouse
32" BenQ display
USB hub

What I needed/wanted:
RAM- 32 GB DDR3 1600 SODIMM- $180 via ebay
HDD caddy to replace the DVD drive - $8 via ebay
170W power brick-  $30 via ebay
mini displayport to displayport cable - $8 via ebay

What are the advantages of using a laptop for a desktop?  Smaller, quieter, lower power use, and a built in UPS (the battery) that will prevent loss of work if AC power fails.  I can take it with me if I really need to.  What's wrong with it?  Some inconvenience powering up because it's a laptop.  Otherwise, it's all good.

When I got the laptop, the battery had just enough juice in it to power up the machine and run some diagnostics- all good.

The power brick was the first thing to arrive, so I installed the SSD and Windows 7 (will probably dual boot with Linux, later).  After charging the battery I found it was able to power the machine for 5-6 hours at a time, so the battery was in great shape.  After installing Win 7, someone else at the makerspace suggested that I try installing Win 10, so I gave it a shot and it turns out the machine had a corporate license associated with the CPU so Win 10 Pro installed itself and registered just fine!

I installed the 500 GB HDD in the optical drive slot, moved all the user files to that drive, and installed all my CAD and other programs to the SSD.  The machine boots fast and programs load very quickly.

The computer sits on a shelf above the display on my work table where it is within easy reach to disconnect things and move it if I need to take it with me somewhere.  I have a USB hub on the worktable to plug in things like my Yubikey, thumbdrives, phone, etc.

I adjusted the power settings to shut off the display after 10 minutes of disuse and never sleep.  When I am finished with the computer for the day I hit the sleep button on the keyboard.

It's cold in my basement, so I run an electric heater when I'm working down there.  A few days ago the heater blew the circuit breaker on the power strip that it and the computer were plugged into.  The display went dark and I was momentarily panicked, but then I realized that the computer has a battery and sure enough, when I flipped the circuit breaker, all my stuff was still there, ready to go.

Update: I bought a docking station for the W530 via ebay for $20. Now I just drop it onto the dock and all the connections are made automatically.


  1. Depending on how often you travel with the laptop/disconnect the cables you might want to look at a docking station. You can find some on eBay for $60 or less.

  2. Actually, I don't travel with it very often, but I am aware of docking stations for them The W530 is a corporate work-horse type machine for engineers, etc., so there are a ton of parts and accessories available for them cheaply via ebay.

    It turned out that the BIOS key was good for an upgrade to windows 10, so I'm using that now.


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