Laptop hardware requires a different perspective when compared to desktop computer systems. In this video, you’ll learn about laptop keyboards, storage, memory, wireless adapters, and more.
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Personal computer hardware is very similar between desktops and laptops. But there are some differences in the smaller laptop form factor. In this video, we’ll look at some of those unique differences in laptop hardware.
One thing that you’ll notice immediately when sitting down at a laptop is that the keyboard is very different. You don’t have the room that you have available on a desktop computer, so a lot of the laptop keyboard functions have been shrunk down into a smaller form factor. For example, you’ll notice the keyboard itself is much more compact, many of the keys are next to each other. For instance, the function keys at the top are much closer to the number keys at the top.
You’ll also notice that some of the larger grouping of keys to the right, such as page up and page down and delete, are not on a laptop computer. You simply don’t have the room available to put those extra keys off to the side. There are some people, though, that prefer these larger keyboards. They might buy a larger laptop with a 17 inch monitor or a very wide monitor. And in those cases, you might have the regular keyboard and then perhaps a numeric keypad off to the right.
But you’ll notice you still don’t have the very large keyboard that you might have with a desktop computer. To be able to put all of the keys you need into this smaller form factor, you’ll notice some keys like home, end, page up, and page down are smaller buttons at the top of the numeric keypad. Every laptop is a little bit different so you have to look at how the keyboard is laid out to be able to find all of the keys that you might need.
The components that we use to store information are also quite different on a laptop. On a desktop computer, you may have a 3 and 1/2 inch hard drive. This is a relatively large drive when you compare it to the smaller 2 and 1/2 inch drives that are available inside of laptop computers.
On many laptop computers, we’re using solid-state drives. These are smaller drives that have no spinning parts, no moving components. They are all solid-state memory, and that’s where all of our information is being stored. These drives are silent because they have no moving parts and they’re very fast response times because you’re writing directly to memory. You’ll find that the performance of an SSD usually much better than a traditional hard drive.
This 2 and 1/2 inch form factor is very common for hard drives in SSDs. You might even find a 1.8 inch form factor on older hard drives, although that form factor has slowly become less popular because SSDs are able to get smaller and smaller inside of the laptop case. There’s also a middle ground between the traditional spinning hard drive and a solid-state drive, and that would be a hybrid drive or an SSHD, solid-state hybrid drive.
This is a drive that has both spinning components, with the traditional hard drive, and solid-state components that you would find in an SSD. The SSD is often used to cache the information as it’s being read or written to the drive. That way, you’re able to write information very quickly and then continue performing functions on your laptop.
The hybrid drive then takes all of the information in the SSD and writes it to the hard drive separate from the operation of your laptop. And of course, you can still find the traditional spinning hard drive and a 2 and 1/2 inch form factor inside of laptop computers. Even though an SSD does provide better performance, we tend to find larger capacities with the spinning hard drives.
So for the same amount of money, you could store much more information on a spinning hard drive versus an SSD. The storage drives in a laptop are usually accessible by removing a cover that’s on the back or removing the entire back of the laptop to be able to gain access to those components. These are usually relatively modular and easy to swap out.
You can take the cover off, remove a couple of screws, and then remove the drive. Here’s the back of a typical laptop. This laptop requires you to remove a number of screws from the back and you remove the entire panel of the back. Some laptops have a single panel that you might remove to get access to individual pieces, such as the memory modules. Let’s open this up and we’ll look and see what’s inside.
There’s the laptop components. We can see this is a 17 inch laptop. It’s relatively large. It’s designed to have multiple hard drives, which is not really usual in a laptop. But this particular model does have two separate storage devices. You can see the primary processor is here, along with what appears to be the graphics card. And the copper is the cooling that goes to these heat sinks in the back that has a fan that helps cool everything.
The memory modules are stacked one right on top of each other. And we’ve got, on the bottom right, a number of cards. This is my wireless LAN card. There’s a slot here for a wireless cellular card, which I don’t have in this laptop. And then the Bluetooth card, the wireless PAN, personal area network card.
These storage devices in laptops are designed to be relatively easy to replace. This one requires you to remove a couple of screws and then it pops out. Let’s remove the first screw. We’ll remove the second screw. And in this particular model, you would simply lift up and remove the drive from the laptop.
To replace the drive, you simply reverse the process. Push it into place, add the screws, and now your laptop drive is back in place. Just as our storage devices are smaller inside of a laptop as compared to a desktop, we have the same situation with our memory modules.
Inside of a laptop, you might find a SO-DIMM and a Micro-DIMM. These are small outline dual in-line memory modules or the smaller micro-dual in-line memory modules. These are almost exclusively used in laptops and smaller devices, although some of the very, very small motherboards you might find on your desktop might use micro-DIMMs or SO-DIMMs as well.
I’ve zoomed in on the memory modules so we can see these a little bit better. You can see there are two hooks on each side of the memory module that holds these in. If we pull these hooks out, the memory module pops up. Then we can grab them by the edges and remove the memory module from the laptop.
This laptop has two sets of memory modules. So if we wanted to replace both of them, we would do exactly the same thing. Now let’s replace the memory modules. Notice that we’re going to put the memory modules in with these copper contacts going all the way into that memory slot.
Make sure they’re all the way down. You don’t want to have them sitting out just a little bit. You want to be sure that they are completely in that slot. And it shouldn’t take any pressure to put these in. They should slide right in without any pressure at all. And then you can simply push down until they snap in place.
Now let’s do this with the second memory module. In this case, I’m going to turn the module around. You’ll notice the key is on the side. If you do that, it will not fit into the memory module, so don’t force them in. Instead, make sure the key is exactly in the place you need it to be, it fits perfectly with that memory module. And then you should be able to snap those in place.
In many high security environments, you may be required to use a smart card as part of your authentication. And so many laptops may include a smart card reader built into the laptop itself. So when you authenticate to the network, you have to slide in your smart card to be able to use that laptop. If there is not a smart card reader integrated into the laptop, you may have one that works externally that connects to the laptop via USB.
Our laptops keep getting smaller and we find that optical media is being used less and less. And that’s why you’re not able to find as many optical drives available on laptops today as you have in the past. If you do find a laptop that has an optical drive, very often that optical drive can be removed and then replaced with a separate storage drive or some other component.
If you do have an optical drive on a laptop, it’s nice to have one that can both read and write to these optical drives to use as a backup medium. So this may be a CD-RM, or CD-ROM, or it might be the newer DVD-RW, or DVD-ROM. This is all available in a portable device so that no matter where you are, you’re able to access or write to this optical media.
With many of our laptop technologies, we’re not connecting a physical cable into our network, we’re using wireless technologies. And so you’ll find in a laptop, there may be a number of different wireless cards. This laptop has three separate adapter spots.
One for an 802.11 wireless connection. There’s one that has a W-WAN, which would be a cellular based wireless connection. And then a W-PAN, the personal area network. That would be the Bluetooth wireless network.
Here’s a closer look at these three adapter slots. You can see that there are wires connecting to each of these. These are for the antennas. Usually that antenna wire will wrap all the way through the laptop and around the top of the LCD display.
You might also find different form factors for these adapter cards that you would put into a laptop. For example, the mini PCI card is on the left and the smaller mini PCI Express card is on the right. This laptop has a number of slots for mini PCI Express cards, and I have one for the wireless personal area network or the Bluetooth card.
And you can see there’s a spot for W-PAN. This is the W-PAN card. And there’s also an antenna here for Bluetooth that is labeled blue. To install the card, we put it all the way into those slots so that we don’t have any of that copper showing. And then we would push it down. And then this particular card has a single screw that holds it in place on the right side.
Once that screw is down, the card is installed. The only thing we have to do with these cards is make sure that the antenna is also added. This is a simple pressure. These antennas install into the connector by pushing onto the antenna connection on the adapter. So you have to get it in just the right spot and give just a little bit of pressure. It doesn’t take much and it snaps into place.
On a desktop computer, the video adapter is usually built into the CPU. It’s a separate chip on the motherboard or it’s a separate interface card that’s installed in the system. It’s a very similar situation with laptops, although most of the time, the video is built into the processor or it’s a separate chip on the motherboard. There’s not enough room inside of a laptops to have a full sized video card as a separate interface card.
Because these video adapters are part of the CPU or are part of the system board, they’re not generally upgradable. All so the vast majority of laptops you find will have no ability to upgrade the video components. There are some laptops, though, that do allow you to upgrade the video components inside of that laptop. These are usually larger systems and they’re built for people that need high-end graphics capabilities in a mobile platform.
We commonly use LCD displays on our desktop computers. And we’re also using LCD displays on our laptops as well. These liquid crystal displays are very light and they provide a very high resolution screen. These are, of course, very fragile. Because these laptops tend to be moved from place to place, you want to be sure to get a laptop that is well protected whenever you’re moving it from one location to another.
One challenge with LCDs is that the resolutions are fixed on the screen. You can’t buy a larger screen and you can’t change the resolutions of the one that exists inside of the laptop. So if you make changes to the native resolution, you may find that the graphics and the information you are viewing on the screen are not as crisp, they’re a little bit fuzzy. So you need to make sure you’re using the native resolution to have the best possible viewing on this LCD screen.
Our computers need direct current to be able to operate. And on our desktop computers, there’s usually a power supply that’s built into the case. On laptop computers, we don’t have that same amount of room, so usually the power conversion is done on an external device that provides DC power directly into the laptop.
And usually, there will be a power interface. And this might be very different as you look at different laptop computers. This one happens to be a rounded yellow connector on the back of the laptop.
Here’s an example of an external power supply that’s used for a laptop. This may be an auto-switching laptop power supply, which means you could use it on many different types of power systems, or it may be fixed input. This converts our AC coming from the wall into DC that can be used by the laptop computer. And usually, you’ll see these available to run at 110 volts or 220 volts, depending on where you happen to be in the world.
These power supplies are very specific to the make and the model of the laptop you’re using. So if you need to replace a power supply, make sure you replace it with one that’s compatible with your system. It’s very useful if you can decipher some of this information that’s on the back of a laptop power adapter.
This is a power adapter from Dell. You can see the part number listed and the model number. The input voltages on this particular power supply will support either 100 or 240 volts of AC power. That’s the squiggly line. And it provides that at 50 or 60 Hertz and inputs 2.0 amps into this power supply.
This power supply will output 19.5 volts of DC power. This is the symbol for DC power, which is the solid line with the dashed line underneath. And it outputs 4.62 amps of DC power. The maximum amount of output power that this particular power adapter will provide is 90 watts of power for this laptop.
One of the most common battery technologies used on our laptops today is lithium ion. This is one that does not have a memory effect that many of us remember from older battery technologies. You don’t have to deplete the entire battery before charging it back up like you use to do with the older style batteries.
With lithium ion, you can charge it at any time and you’re not going to have a significant decrease of its charging capabilities. However, with lithium ion, every time you charge the battery, there is a little bit of a diminished capacity. So eventually, as you use that battery through the years, you’ll find that it doesn’t charge as much as it needs to and you’ll need to replace the battery.
One thing that you’ll notice between laptop versions is that they often use different form factors for the batteries. So this is another scenario where you’ll need to look at the make and the model of the laptop and make sure that you’re purchasing a battery that is specifically designed for that system. Here’s an example of two different form factors.
You can see the battery on the top has connectors on the end that would connect in that laptop. And then a completely different laptop has a different type of connectivity that it might use. So it’s important to make sure that you’re buying the right battery for the right laptop.
Laptops are very mobile computing devices and you are often using this device on your lap. That means there’s not a lot of room to be able to use a traditional mouse. For that reason, laptops include other types of mouse input. Very commonly, a touchpad is used.
This is usually just underneath the keyboard. You would use your finger to move around on the screen using this touchpad. And then there are left and right buttons that are the same as the left and right buttons that you might find on a traditional mouse.
Depending on the laptop, you might have other input choices available. This one also has a pointing stick that’s in the middle of the keyboard. You would put your finger on that pointing stick and simply push it in a direction, and it will move the mouse around the screen.
With a desktop system, we’re not moving it from place to place and we often aren’t concerned with how heavy that system happens to be. But with a laptop that we’re dragging from one place to another, we’re very concerned about how heavy this device is. But it also has to be very durable.
For that reason, the frame around the laptop might be plastic so that it’s very lightweight and very mobile but still very durable and difficult to break. These are usually very inexpensive to make as well, which keeps the cost of the laptop down. Some laptops may have an aluminum metal case, which is certainly more durable but more difficult to repair if you happen to get a dent or break inside of that case.
We watch a lot of media and listen to music on our laptop, so it’s important that we have speakers on these devices as well. These are usually self-contained into the laptop itself. We don’t have the luxury of external speakers that we might have on a desktop system.
But because these are smaller speakers that are inside the case, it may not have the same quality that you’re accustomed to seeing on a desktop computer. There’s sometimes a left and a right channel that you can hear on the laptop, so you might get stereo sound. And some larger laptops may have a speaker underneath that’s used as a subwoofer.
With desktop computers, the motherboards are all a very standard set of sizes. But with laptops, you’ll find that different models of laptops have very different sizes. These proprietary laptop motherboards are built this way because you only have so much room available in a laptop case.
This also means that if you have any problems with any component that is on that laptop motherboard, you’re going to have to replace the entire motherboard. And usually, this involves removing a lot of components from the laptop to finally get the motherboard out of the system and then replace it and put everything back into that system.
Another component that’s very different between a desktop computer and a laptop computer is the central processing unit, or CPU. These are designed for mobile systems, which means they’re going to use as little power as possible because you’re often using a battery. And they’re going to try to create as little heat as possible because it’s very difficult to cool that very small laptop form factor.
We also try to put as many integrated components on the CPU as possible so that you don’t need additional pieces on the motherboard. So your video controller and your memory controller are very often part of the CPU instead of being a separate component. On most laptops, you’re not able to upgrade the CPU that might be built inside of that laptop system.
You may be able to replace it in case there’s a problem, but generally these laptop motherboards are built for one specific kind of CPU. And these laptops CPUs generally don’t run as fast as a desktop system because you have to worry about the heat and the size of this system inside of this very small laptop package.