New Project: Retro Gaming Laptop

So I was looking at gaming laptops the other dayyy…

One of my favorite projects of the last few years has been the Windows 98 gaming desktops I built last year. I’ll post about them in more detail some other time, but the long and short of it is they’re the desktops I wish I could have built when I was a young whippersnapper playing the newest games on medium settings on my dad’s computer. These machines are totally custom, excruciatingly researched, and they’re every bit as glorious as I could have imagined back in the day.

But… they’re desktops. Like my modern gaming rig since the baby was born, they sit in my office and wish for someone, anyone, to love and cherish them, to play Roller Coaster Tycoon and the original Sims on them. With much of my life being spent in either the living room or the nursery now, I need an evolution toward mobility in my retro gaming hardware.

Enter the Dell Inspiron 8100, circa 2001.

Dell Inspiron 8100

To the casual observer and discerning technophile alike, this doesn’t look like much more than a dime-a-dozen Dell laptop from a thousand years ago. I’ll admit, even until a week ago, I didn’t know there was anything special going on under the hood here. Boy was I wrong.

Most modern laptops are not what I would call “field serviceable”. That’s to say, there’s little if anything which can be replaced or upgraded outside of a service center by a professional with a soldering iron. But it wasn’t always like this! Where my current daily driver (2015 MacBook Pro 15″) has exactly zero field serviceable components, the Dell pictured above is capable of receiving replacement parts for the following components:

  • RAM
  • Hard Drive
  • Batteries
  • Optical Drives
  • CPU
  • GPU
  • Display

And that’s not all! Every single component of that laptop, right down to the palm rest, can be swapped out by nothing more than a reasonably skilled individual with a set of screwdrivers. So while it might look like a boring, run-of-the-mill notebook from a bygone era, it’s really an under-appreciated potential powerhouse of Win9x gaming glory.

So far, all I’ve done is order the parts. I don’t have any of it yet (and it’s killing me!), but I can at least lay out what I’m planning to do. I’m going to replace most of what I listed above, here’s how that will break down:

ComponentOriginal Upgrade
RAM128MB @ 100MHz512MB @ 133MHz
HDD40GB @ 4200RPM100GB @ 7200RPM
CPU1GHz Pentium III-M1.2GHz Pentium III-M
GPU16MB GeForce 2 Go32MB GeForce 2 Go
OpticalDVD-ROMDVD-RW
Modular Bay 1Blank1.44MB Floppy
Modular Bay 23000 mAh Battery4400 mAh Battery

So that’s where we are for now. I intend to do some real-world benchmarking before and after the operation, take plenty of pictures, and document the process as much as possible. The laptop I actually bought is going to need some cleanup before I even get to the component swapping, so it may be a bit before I’m able to follow up. Either way, the next post on this topic will hopefully be a triumphant one where I’m able to show off the great success of an early 2000’s custom laptop build and dig deep into some of the finer technical details. If these kinds of shenanigans interest you, feel free to follow along. Maybe if shipping takes too long, I’ll do some write-ups on old projects while we wait.

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