Last Updated on August 3, 2017 by Dave Farquhar
I spent some time exploring HP Compaq 6910p upgrades because used HP Compaq 6910p laptops are dirt cheap these days. I picked one up for $75 as an alternative to a Black Friday cheapie.
If you look for one yourself, either look for one with a valid Windows 7 or Windows 10 license on it, or get one at a deep enough discount to make it worth your while.
Here’s what I did to turn an outmoded laptop from 2008 into something better than what I could have bought on Black Friday.
I worked with these laptops several years ago and know them to be well-built, and they’re still new enough to be reasonable upgrade candidates.
What you’ll need
Projects always go faster when you have what you need gathered in advance. Here’s what you need and where to get it.
- Extra memory
- An SSD (see my SSD Roundup)
- #0 or #1 Phillips screwdriver
- Macrium Reflect
- Windows 7 key
- Wireless card
- Replacement battery
Unofficially, the 6910p can handle 4GB DDR2 SODIMMs. Unfortunately those modules are crazy expensive. I have a hard time justifying $120 worth of memory for a $75 laptop. Given that 4 GB of DDR2 costs around $20 if you’re careful–stick with name-brand memory like Crucial, Hynix, Kingston, or Samsung–I think that’s the far more cost-effective upgrade. You could also consider going to 6 GB, with a 2 GB and a 4 GB module, an upgrade that would cost closer to $70. I have tips on buying computer memory if you need them.
One of the memory modules is readily accessible from the bottom of the machine. The other is underneath the keyboard. The lower memory slot has a cover with a single screw in it, near the center of the machine. Remove that screw to gain access to that module. To remove the keyboard to gain access to the upper memory slot, loosen three screws, one in the center of the machine, one on the side near the two USB ports, and one on the side near the Ethernet jack. Flip the machine over, open the lid, then there are four clips that hold the keyboard in place, between the ESC and F1 keys, F4 and F5, F8 and F9, and F12 and scroll lock. Slide each clip toward the space bar, then the keyboard lifts out. Be very careful not to twist, pull out, or otherwise damage the very small ribbon cables. The laptop won’t function with the memory slot under the keyboard empty, so if you’re only going to put a single module in, put it in the slot under the keyboard. But for the fastest possible memory access, use two matched memory modules of identical size.
You definitely want to put an inexpensive SSD in. Look at what’s available in my current SSD roundup and buy the least expensive one at the capacity you want. For around $45 you ought to be able to get 120 GB of fast storage. If you’re on a tight budget, take a look at what’s on Ebay. Sometimes it’s possible to snag a bargain on a good used name-brand drive, perhaps from an enthusiast replacing an Intel drive from a couple of years back.
Companies are dumping 6910ps because they’re at the end of their refresh cycle, but the only reason they feel outmoded is the terrible hard drives that are in them, and when you run full-disk encryption on a conventional hard drive, it really slows things down. Replace the worn-out drives with an SSD, even an SSD that’s a couple of years old, and they’ll feel peppy again.
What’s the point of putting an SSD in a machine that doesn’t have SATA 3, you ask? Seek time, for one. Plus no hard drive can keep even a SATA 1 bus saturated 100% of the time. A good SSD will saturate it at times, but it’s better to have a saturated SATA bus than for the SATA bus to be waiting on the hard drive. There’s no point in putting a high-end SSD in one of these machines, but it most certainly will benefit from a low-end SSD.
The wireless card in these machines was fine for its day, supporting 802.11a in addition to 802.11b and 802.11g, but 54-megabit wireless is a bit slow these days. The BIOS whitelists cards, so you’re limited to upgrading to 802.11n, and have to use an HP card at that. The three cards known to be compatible with the 6910p are part numbers 434622-001, 441082-001, 441086-001, and you should be able to pick up a used one for under $10. Getting onto 5 GHz 802.11n will improve your network speed and also improve your battery life. Be sure to upgrade the BIOS to revision F.19 to enable support for the newer cards.
Keep in mind that a Windows license costs around $100, so given the choice between a bare machine for $40 and a $75 refurbished machine with a valid Windows 7 license on it, it’s worth the extra money unless you intend to run Linux on it.
Getting Windows 7 up and running on one of these machines takes some time. I recommend getting WSUS Offline and using it rather than waiting for Windows Update to kick in, which can take days. Installing 140-plus patches plus IE11 still takes a while but it’s better than waiting days. Yes, I know how to slipstream it but my slipstream media died and with Windows 10 here, I don’t anticipate building enough Windows 7 PCs for it to be worth redoing it.
As soon as the machine is up and running again, run Prime95 on it to stress-test it for 24 hours. If the machine is questionable, Prime95 will find the problem while it’s still under warranty.
Since the 6910p came with a nasty old hard drive with Windows 7 on it, I went ahead and activated it, then transferred the old 80MB drive to a new, spacious 120GB SSD using Macrium Reflect Free. Macrium Reflect Free is a good option when your SSD doesn’t come with disk cloning software.
The battery in the machine I picked up was made in 2008, so it was just about shot. I couldn’t get much more than 15 minutes of use out of it. I picked up a new battery for about $12. With some luck, sometimes you can find an original OEM one.
Second SSD or HDD
If the DVD drive is useful to you, you have one–and many new machines don’t come with one. If the DVD drive isn’t useful to you, you can get a multibay HDD adapter and put a hard drive or second SSD in it.
Between getting a $45 SSD, $20 worth of memory, a $15 wireless card, and a $15 battery, that $75 laptop is now a $170 laptop, assuming you got free shipping on everything. But unlike a new $149-$199 laptop, you can come back and put in a bigger SSD later if you need to, you can replace the battery in 30 seconds, and it comes with a really good keyboard.
I’m also more confident of getting five years of use out of an upgraded 6910p than I am out of this year’s cheapest laptop. And if I do end up having a problem at some point, I know parts will be readily available.
David Farquhar is a computer security professional, entrepreneur, and author. He started his career as a part-time computer technician in 1994, worked his way up to system administrator by 1997, and has specialized in vulnerability management since 2013. He invests in real estate on the side and his hobbies include O gauge trains, baseball cards, and retro computers and video games. A University of Missouri graduate, he holds CISSP and Security+ certifications. He lives in St. Louis with his family.