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
    • 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
  • Overview different kinds of mobile technologies
    • iPod
    • Palm Pilot
    • Macbook Air
    • Laptop teardown as segway into hardware ID

Hardware ID

  • 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.