How to buy and upgrade a used gaming laptop.

Posted: June 28, 2011 by ryanlecocq in Features

Blue LEDs that match the CPU cycles?  Wild Thing, I think I love you.

Although I’m totally fed up with my computer business (I just plain hate old people, man), I thought I’d go out with a bang by demonstrating that it isn’t because I’ve lost ‘the knack.’  I bought a used Asus gaming laptop with all the goodies for $400.  It’s always been my dream to have one, but I never thought I would make such a good deal on a PC in my life.  That is totally taking into account all of the other ridiculous things I’ve pulled off in the past, like the $100 PC that could do competitive WoW and the laptop that ran RIFT for $150.  This makes those steals look like blunders.  Granted this thing is 2 years old at this point, but when you see what I’m going to do with it for another $300, you will salivate.  First things first, the base package I got for $400:

Asus G50VT (p8400 Core2 Duo @2.26Ghz, 4GB DDR2 800Mhz, Geforce 9800m)

Razer Naga MMOG mouse

Logitech Bluetooth mouse for non-gaming.

Targus bag and chillpad.

Rocketfish professional gamer series steel mouse surface.

Creative 7.1 3D headset.

Philips 150watt power inverter.

OCZ 8GB thumbdrive pre-made into an instant Windows 7 restore drive (drivers and ASUS software embedded).

Cisco N+ business router.

How the hell did I get it when it could all go for a grand on eBay?  Exactly as you would guess.  Some guy spent the last 2 years of his life building his perfect gaming rig and his wife forced him to sell it immediately for any cash offer.  Yes, I walked away with the pieces of his broken heart while he cried.  I got over the guilt as soon as I turned it on and installed my games on it.  Yes it’s a smashing bit of luck, but luck is something you buy into with humanity and good deeds.  For some, a 2 year old laptop (laptop, say it with me, still can’t believe it) that runs the hell out of any game would be enough.  The first thing I started thinking about was: Hmm, what do I do with all this extra money I thought I would spend on it?  Well here’s the next mindblower: it’s unbelievably easy to upgrade (laptop?).  But before I start pushing from scary to terrifying, I bet you want to know what it can do right now.  As always, that comes in stages (I’ve been accused of being verbose on occasion).  The first is stock, the second is overclocked and then we start buying things.

Base specs:

World of Warcraft (Ultra Settings) – Capped at 60fps, bottoms at 45 in the busiest areas.

RIFT (All effects on, things like AA and shadow detail turned down) – With vsync on (a must in RIFT), hovers around 30fps, 25ish in rifts.

Fallout: New Vegas (Ultra settings) – Maxed frames capped at 60fps.  Whoa, didn’t realize how old the consoles were getting ’til I saw this.

Crysis 2 (mid-high settings) – Very smooth 35-50fps.  Makes the Xbox version look like chopped liver.

Now we get into an area I’ve come to specialize in recently: laptop overclocking.  Always remember to throw some Arctic Silver 5 on those chips to be safe BTW before going nuts.  Fortunately I finally have a system that lots of gamers play on with mountains of existing, tested internet OC guides.  Turns out the laptop is designed to overlcock the frontside-bus (CPU and RAM) with the touch of a button.  Well that puts me at 2.8Ghz in the highest setting with the RAM at a little over 900Mhz.  Next of course is the graphics card.  Now before you even think about questioning the sense in this, remember I’ve already decided to replace the GPU with a newer one (can’t even believe you can do that OMG).  Fortunately the 9800m GS is just an underclocked, undervolted 9800GTS.  With a simple(ish) BIOS flash, it becomes the GTS it was always meant to be at around 15% higher clocks.  The final thing and this one will surprise you, was making a really fast ReadyBoost drive.  ReadyBoost?  WTF!  You may be saying.  True, when Microsoft put the feature in Vista to use a USB drive to speed up loading, many scoffed as it was barely noticeable unless you started with minimal RAM.  Like many old opinions, Windows 7 invalidates the old stigma completely.

Clone that Blizzard.

The game-changers are two: The new exFAT format and the ability of Windows 7 to use as many drives as you want with unlimited total size (Vista could only handle 1 up to 4Gbs).  exFAT will let it cache much larger files, making it actually useful for game loading.  With a fast 8Gb USB drive, I noticed considerable decrease in boot and loading of all applications.  Now we talk turkey.

OC’d Benchmarks (RIFT and Crysis 2 only as the others were already capped):

RIFT (same settings) – 30-45fps in all areas, rifts of any size and even cities.

Crysis 2 (all higher settings now) – 45-60fps except for a few points where it momentarily dropped to a very playable 30-40.

Coming soon will be a Core2 Quad or Core2 Duo extreme processor, 1066 DDR2 RAM (rarish but out there) and last and certainly not least a GeForce 260m GPU.  Should come in at a little over $300 total, still making the laptop a great deal at $700.  As soon as I get everything I’ll post the results.  Also Laguna’s parts will come in tomorrow and I ordered them with matching our specs as exactly as possible, so I’ll probably hold off and enjoy that for a bit.  Look for an update to this post with upgrade tips though when I do order them.

UPDATE 7/3:

So I’ve done my research and this is what I’ve come up with.  I’m going to upgrade pretty much everything and resell my old parts to make it all fit within my $7oo budget goal.  Here’s the new stuff, about $550 worth, but I’ll get $250-300 back from reselling my old CPU, GPU and RAM.

CPU: Intel t9600 2.8GHz (will be clocked to 3.4GHz) 6MB L2 cache (vs. 3MB on the p8400) 35w TDP (9 better than the x9100, 10 more than the p8400)

GPU: 260m GTX 1GB DDR3 (112 shader cores, double the 9800m and also double the RAM)

8GB Corsair DDR2 800MHz dual-channel kit (double my current 4GB)

Crucial 64GB SATA III SSD (Ought to hold my games, at least the ones I’m playing at the time.  My 320GB internal and my 500GB external should handle the rest just fine)

Asus 9-Cell battery (The current 6 will only last about an hour after these upgrades)

Targus universal 180w laptop power supply.

With those upgrades, my new lappy will be about $700 and outperform anything you can buy even now at $1500 or more.  Desktop replacement?  Try desktop destroyer.  It may take me a week or two to buy and sell everything, but look for a detailed upgrade and installation guide and some new benchmarks when I do.

UPDATE 7/26

So I lied, it took 3 weeks, but I did even better than expected.  The number one tip you should take from this entire article is this:  Whether on eBay or Craigslist, always be as patient as possible and as thorough as possible.  I nabbed an Intel Core2 Extreme x9100 for $50 shipped by being extremely patient and bidding at the right time on the right auction.  These normally go for $125-200, so the cost of staying up all night several times to watch auctions is paid off pretty well by the result.  My second huge score was the GeForce 260m GTX for $99 plus $8 shipping.  My laptop will only take the very rarest version of this card, the reverse MXM version that only shipped in the Asus G60 laptops.  No 260m from any other laptop, even an Asus one, will fit.  So this makes them extremely pricey on eBay since it’s the maximum upgrade for many Asus G series laptops.  The only other one I’ve seen in a month was priced at $499.  The reason this one was so cheap was because the seller had it listed by serial number rather than model.  So by thorough I mean search in every way you can possibly think of.  Just by being more thorough than the many others who would have bought this card at this price, I took home the prize.

I also ordered the 7800mah 9-cell battery and the 180watt PSU.  I’m figuring my new parts are going to want more power, especially once overclocked.  I’m expecting to resell my current GPU and CPU for around $250, so my profits will be enough to cover my SSD drive and about half the cost of the RAM upgrade.  I’m still shopping for the best deal on those, DDR2 SODIMMS are really high right now, so worth waiting.  Just another week or so until it all arrives and then it’s benchmark time.  Guess I should buy some new games.

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Comments
  1. dan says:

    so how did all this work out? I got the same laptop and I want to sale it soon as i have no use for it anymore and all the new games run like crap on it (bf3 to be specific)

    • ryanlecocq says:

      It all went well and I sold it a while back. At the right settings BF3 should run just fine on that laptop. You would have to use midrange settings, but that hardware should have no trouble with that game.

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