Laptop/Prebuild Syllabus

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Session 1 Schedule

Wednesday, June 26th


  • Introductions
    • Name, why you're excited about the class, favorite board game
  • Present schedule for the day
  • Overview Laptop Build Program
    • Tour Laptop build room, SDA, recycling
    • 2013: Received 2800+, given away about 250, sold 350+, recycled 1850+
    • 2012: Received 5800+, gave away 500, sold 710, recycled 310 (as of July 2013)
  • Overview different kinds of mobile technologies

For the first session I had pre-torn down examples of different kinds of technologies. Would like to continue this, but need to dig up better examples, have the data cleared, and have them boxed up and ready to go. Hardware ID labeling, as on the torn-down laptops may be a good things as well.

    • iPod
    • Palm Pilot
    • Macbook Air
    • Netbook
    • Laptops as segway into hardware ID

Hardware ID

  • CPU/GPU/RAM/HDD/peripherals
    • CPU
      • Understanding specifications (will be covered in more detail in week 4 as related to FG build specs)
      • It's like keeping track of your favorite sports team- these components are made by giant companies in order to make money, branding doesn't always make much sense. If it sounds like science fiction, it's because it is on some level.
      • Number of cores/clockspeed/cache
    • GPU
      • Integrated/non-integrated
    • RAM
      • Speed/capacity/identifying DDR1, 2 and 3
    • HDD
      • 2.5", 1.8" and other form factors
      • mechanical vs SSD, how they work
  • Begin with questions:
    • What are the core components of a computer (laptop, desktop, whatever)
      • CPU, GPU, RAM, HDD, firmware/ROM chips
      • Peripherals: keyboard, mouse, screen, speakers, etc
    • How do these components work together?
    • What are the functions of each of the core components?
    • What makes working on laptops different from working on desktops?
      • Integrated peripherals (screen, keyboard, trackpad, speakers, etc)
      • Proprietary parts
      • Lots of variation between brand and model
      • Some require very specific RAM or HDDs
      • Less space, small parts, more likely to run into heating issues
      • Easy to loose or break small components
  • Understanding specifications:
    • CPU Specs: processors are made by companies, specs are non-standard
      • Open build binder to apppendix specifications section
      • Intel vs. AMD (Others like Motorolla, Samsung, IBM, NVIDIA, etc)
        • 2012: x86 CPUs Intel 80%, AMD 20%, all CPUs, Intel 60%, AMD 25%, NVIDIA ~16%
      • Number of Cores
      • Clockspeed
      • Cache space
      • Integrated graphics vs. non-integrated
      • Special/additional features that sound like science fiction (turbo boost, hyperthreading, virtualization, etc)
    • The important part: CPU specifications are confusing, non-standard, and not something to worry about too much at the moment. A lot of time in Laptop Build is spent working on identifying and understanding CPU specifications. It helps us decide which machines to refurbish, and which machines to recycle, how much a laptop will cost in the store, and how much RAM and HDD space to install.
    • RAM Specs (with physical examples)
      • Type: DIMM vs SODIMM
      • Type: SD RAM, DDR 1, DDR 2, DDR 3 (GDDR5 is already being used in graphics cards)
      • Speed: PC2-6400 vs 800MHz
      • Capacity: 64, 128, 256, 512, 1024 etc
        • SIDE NOTE ON BASE 8
    • HDD types and specs (with physical/visual examples)
      • SATA, IDE, other
      • Capacity: measured in MB, GB, and TB
      • Other storage devices
    • Take apart labeled tear down machines and discuss parts

Assembly/Disassembly Introduction

  • Introduce tool kits
    • Notes on good tool use (how to avoid stripping screws, magnetization)
  • How it all fits together, how to think strategically about disassembly
  • What to do if you break something, or need parts or resources (at Free Geek and in the "real world")
  • Recycling practice to end of class!


To improve

  • Too much hardware ID time, took about 2 hours. The comprehensive stuff is good but probably could be whittled down somewhat.
  • Three hours might even really be enough time, especially when there is lecture time, people were pretty ready to wrap up by around 5 (luckily there was cake)
  • didn't actually look at FG specs, just talked about how to evaluate specs. Might work better to start with the spec sheet and use that as an example.

What worked well

  • Application process seemed to generate the right kinds of expectations and preparedness for the class
  • Students stuck through the long lecture part and seemed to enjoy the hands on stuff
  • Comprehension from 2 perspectives (how the hardware works together, and what you'll want to know when buying a computer)

Additional resources to prepare

  • Feedback survey for the end of class
  • Ideally, finish the tools and teardown written guide
  • Give students the option of a printed handout for more technical specifications, a glossary would be great (printed or available on the wiki)
  • Prepare more labeled physical examples ahead of time to be on the desk to be passed around at the beginning.

Wednesday July 3rd

Review last week

  • Welcome, any questions from last week? How did last week go? One interesting thing you learned or applied this week, something you would like to learn this week?
  • Review Hardware ID
    • Introduce peripherals and chassis parts not covered
  • Introduce toolkits formally
    • Introduce tools, how kits are organized

Organization for Repair and Upgrades

  • What laptop parts can be upgraded?
    • RAM, HDD/SSD/(mini)PCIe?
  • What parts can be repaired? What can't?
    • Brainstorm
  • How to organize a repair at Free Geek or on your own
    • What tools are needed? How much space/time?
  • Resources for when/if you get stuck:
    • and other sites with full teardown guides
    • Manufacturer schematics and troubleshooting guides
    • Forums, Google, etc
Starting a repair
  • Strategies/examples for:
    • Access HDD
    • Access RAM
    • Remove keyboard
    • Remove optical drive
    • Remove screen
Assembly/Disassembly practice
POST Troubleshooting Guide
  • If time allows, introduce:
    • AC Adapter matching
    • RAM troubleshooting

Wednesday July 10th

Review last week

POST Troubleshooting

  • POST
  • CMOS
  • BIOS


  • POST practice with As-Is machines. Started with Dell fleet, and moved on from there.
  • Use Laptop POST Troubleshooting Guide as teaching resource
  • RAM introduction/Hardware ID review for POST troubleshooting

Wednesday July 17th

  • Questions? What have we covered?

Command Line Intro

  • Set each builder up with a laptop in the QC pile
Primary uses in the build room:
  • Gathering information about hardware and less commonly, software
  • Hardware testing
  • Wifi troubleshooting
General CLI tips and tricks
  • What do you remember from your CLI 1 class?
  • Tab complete, up and down arrows, history
Hardware information
  • lspci
  • lsusb
  • lshw
  • sudo dmidecode
  • cat /proc/cpuinfo
Wireless Troubleshooting
  1. Identify hardware lspci
  2. Run rfkill list all> to identify any hardware/software blocks
    • device disabled in BIOS
    • device disabled via hardware switch
    • device disabled via keyboard command
    • device disabled via software (operating system)
  3. If the device is listed in lspci, and not blocked by any of the above possibilities, you likely have a network problem, or in some cases, hardware failure.
  • Explain function, exact code not needed
Xubuntu introduction=
  • Answer questions as needed
  • QC or as-is guides with students