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A Good HP Laptop

January 23rd, 2024

Somebody gave me an HP EliteBook 840 G1 for free recently. I only accepted it because it's a business model and I have to say I'm extremely impressed. The bottom cover is opened without a single screw or snap. It's a pretty durable sliding lock, similar to the battery on my ThinkPad T430, and then the cover slides off.

From there, you have access to both RAM slots, the wireless card, and the M.2 (SATA) SSD slot. After removing the battery, which is also secured without screws, you can remove the hard drive caddy after removing the four screws.

This really isn't anything special. My T430 also allows easy access to these components, but it's important to remember that it is possible to build a laptop like this. These manufacturers like to come up with excuses as to why they make unrepairable dumpster fires, but all you have to do is look at their old models to see it's just a farce.

New laptops, not just HPs, can take a dozen screws of 2 or 3 subtly different sizes, some of which are hidden underneath rubber feet that never go on the same way again. After that, you need to pry the plastic bottom cover off with a guitar pick and try not to break too many snaps on the way.

All of that is only to get the bottom cover off. Replacing even basic parts can involve even more screws of different sizes and lots of tiny wires that are easily broken if you handle the difficult-to-access connectors improperly. Sometimes you need to remove the entire heatsink and replace the thermal compound just to replace a fan. Replacing a keyboard usually involves removing the motherboard, disassembling almost the entire computer to replace that one component.

This isn't usually a problem for an experienced technician, but you shouldn't need an experienced technician to replace a fan on a laptop. Fans go bad all the time. Anyone with a manual and a Philips head screwdriver ought to be able to do the job. Of course, we know why they're doing it. They want to make them as expensive as possible to fix so you buy a new laptop. It's all moving in that direction. This garbage is creeping into modern business grade laptops, too.

This EliteBook is a great computer and it has plenty of life left in it. It has a 4th gen mobile i7[1] and 8 GB of memory. $45 will buy you a 500 GB SATA SSD with a DRAM cache these days, and that's all it would take for this to be a daily driver suitable for a lot of people. Of course, it wouldn't run a certain legacy operating system very well, but that doesn't mean it's e-waste. I booted into Spiral Linux off a live USB and it runs KDE Plasma beautifully.

Unfortunately, while the EliteBook is very repairable, not everything is completely effortless to replace. It has a "base enclosure" under the bottom cover that separates the "consumer self-repair" parts from the "authorized service provider" parts. It takes twenty-one (21) Torx screws and six (6) Philips head screws to remove. This is required for the fan and the heatsink as well as some other components that would need to be replaced less frequently like the card reader or the power button board.

Reading the service manual, it seems like nothing is too terribly hard to replace after the base enclosure is removed. There is no question this is significantly better than your average new laptop even though they hid parts behind a ludicrous number of screws designed to scare you into using an "Authorized Service Provider." That behavior isn't great, but at least it's just screws and there is a great manual telling you exactly how to replace every component on the machine if you wanted to do so.

I'm probably going to make it my new Tails machine because my current one has an awful pre-Ryzen AMD chip and no USB A port with USB 3 speeds. Only the single USB C port runs at USB 3 speed. It's a consumer grade Lenovo toaster, go figure. Although, they thought they were being forward-thinking with the mini DisplayPort on my T430, too. I've used this computer for at least 4 years and I'm still annoyed about it. End of rant.

  1. ^ The CPU is, unfortunately, soldered to the board. 4th generation mobile Intel chips were the last socketed laptop CPUs, but only some from that generation were socketed. I've acquired a ThinkPad T440p and I plan to fully upgrade it and use it as my daily driver for the foreseeable future. A big reason for choosing that model is that it's the last generation with a socketed CPU.