Performance boost for an aging laptop

I have an aging Sony VAIO VGN-N110g laptop that cannot take more than 1GB of RAM but still has a ton of life left in it for multimedia, projects, and general use. The previous teenage owner ran it on blankets, on the bed, under clothes, etc. Eventually the CPU fan stopped working and something went wrong with SODMIM slot 2, probably heat related. Until recently it was dog slow.  Here is what I found and how I regained significant performance breathing new life into the machine.

Hardware improvements:

First I replaced the CPU fan ($15 on eBay) which allows the CPU to run at 1.2GHz again rather than be permanently thermally throttled to 800MHz or less. With 1GB of RAM the 32 bit Ubuntu 14.04 LTS was still running sluggishly. I have a friend who owns a similar VAIO inherited from a similar family member, he had been down this road before.  He recommended I get an SSD because it’s probably swapping memory to disk. I checked the performance monitor and he was right, it was swapping a lot. I caught a 250GB WD SSD on sale on Amazon for $69.99, which I thought isn’t too bad (bought through the Workshop 88 affiliate link here to benefit the club at no extra cost). I mounted the SSD into an external USB drive case, booted from a Clonezilla live CD, and copied the 80GB boot disk directly to the 250GB SSD (I could have used Clonezilla from UBCD or Parted Magic but I had the Clonezilla the disk handy). Then I swapped the hard disks (removed keyboard, battery, RAM cover, CD Drive, and 26 screws… <dramatic eye roll>). Before reassembling the laptop I plugged in and tested it to make sure it booted and ran properly from the new drive and was thrilled to see how fast it booted and that it worked perfectly so I buttoned it up.

Expand the boot/OS partition

Now there was only one thing left to do: Expand the 80GB boot partition to fill the unused 150GB+ on the new SSD drive.  Directly copying the drive is nice because it copies all bootloaders, file systems, and your data regardless of OS, but it does not resize the existing partitions.  Moving and resizing partitions is always risky.  All the partitions need to be unmounted, which for the boot partition usually means you need to be running the OS from RAM. The best way I know to do this is to boot from either a Linux distribution’s live disk (Ubuntu, Puppy, pick from any on DistroWatch.com…), or a purpose built tools CD/DVD like the Ultimate Boot CD (UBCD) which is what I did. From UBCD I selected Parted Magic and it launched the included image. Parted Magic is intended for just this type of thing and runs entirely in RAM. I used GParted to edit the partitions but immediately ran into an interesting problem (which is really why I’m writing here): The boot partition was at the start of the disk, followed by an extended partition that contained the linux-swap partition, and all the free space was at the end of the disk. I could neither increase the size of the boot partition because it was not adjacent to free space nor could I move the extended partition because it contained the linux-swap swap partition. I was stuck until I found this:

Expanding a Linux disk with gparted (and getting swap out of the way)
https://blog.mwpreston.net/2012/06/22/expanding-a-linux-disk-with-gparted-and-getting-swap-out-of-the-way/

To summarize I had to:

  1. Expand end of the extended partition to consume all the free space after it
  2. Move the linux-swap partition to the end of the extended partition
  3. Reduce the size of the extended partition by moving it’s start location to the beginning of the linux-swap partition
  4. Finally, expand the boot partition to consume the free space I had created.

I created these operations one at a time in GParted, executed them with one click (fast on an SSD!), rebooted, and voila!

Here is what Parted Magic looks like and my partitions in GParted after extending the modifications.

And here is what my VAIO laptop looks like running after the updates were complete.

It works and now I have a faster laptop with 3x the disk space for under a hundred bucks.  This may seem like mundane or even common knowledge to many of you but I thought it was interesting enough to share and maybe some of the information will be helpful to someone.

Here are links to the free tools mentioned above:

I strongly suggest you look at and get the Ultimate Boot CD
http://www.ultimatebootcd.com/ 
Check out all the powerful free tools you get on one FREE disk image.

Drive/partition image/clone/backup tool (also available on UBCD)
https://clonezilla.org/

Disk editing tools that run entirely in RAM so you can work on all disks
(also available on UBCD)
https://partedmagic.com/

Partition editor available in most Linux distributions
https://gparted.org/

D. Scott Williamson
Compulsively Creative

P.S. There is (was) an Ultimate Boot CD for Windows, it hasn’t been maintained in a while but it is still worth trying out.  You can find it on majorgeeks.com here:
https://www.majorgeeks.com/files/details/ubcd4win.html
Beware: The original site, [URL deliberately not mentioned], looks sketchy now; I do not advise anyone go there and if you do, be careful.

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