Can You Build a Laptop?
Designing your dream computer is always a tempting idea for avid gamers, programmers, music producers, and other guru PC users.
However, we all agree that building a laptop is a different story from customizing your desktop computer given its distinctive structure.
The fact begs the question, can you build a laptop just like you build a PC case?
The answer is a big YES, you can build a laptop.
However, doing so isn’t as beneficial as building a desktop.
Besides, if you don’t have the required skills, you may get an underperforming system rather than a better one.
Therefore, before we walk you through the steps of building a laptop, we want to answer a more relevant question: SHOULD you build a laptop?
Should You Build Your Own Laptop?
Building a laptop lets you choose your specs, parts, and programs to meet your particular PC requirements.
For example, an avid gamer needs better cooling systems and a higher-capacity processor to handle graphically intensive software.
A video editor cares more about RAM, storage, and screen resolution.
An architect should have a combination of both worlds.
With perfect personalization, all these users can get what they want.
Apart from that, they won’t have to pay for the unnecessary components that manufacturers stuff into a premade system.
However, getting all that flexibility comes at a price, especially for beginners.
Caveats of Building a Laptop
Before heading to the how-to section, it is important to make sure you need a fully personalized laptop even though there might be a few shortcomings:
- It’s expensive: Usually, the first incentive to building a desktop computer is that things end up coming in at a comparably more affordable price.
Building a laptop doesn’t save you money in any way since the components often come at higher prices.
- It’s demanding: Truly, assembling a computer case requires nothing more than a simple screwdriver.
However, for a laptop, you will need a handful of tools.
Different sizes of Torx, precision, and air power screwdrivers as well as multimeter probes, metal spudgers, nylon pry tools, and tweezers are a few examples.
Obviously, it will take you even more time to open and put the cover back on.
Besides, laptop parts don’t come in standard sizes.
Instead, each model and each brand has its unique components in terms of shape and dimensions.
This makes it a pain to use some components interchangeably or fit them physically inside the chassis.
It also means your search for compatible hardware may become a real headache.
- It’s hard to find the components: Laptop components are hard to obtain since they’re not available for sale to regular users.
It’s not like walking down a computer shop and getting whatever you want since not many physical retailers carry the items.
Even for online shopping, you need to be a licensed expert or have a professional account.
- There’s no chance for better cooling: When building a desktop computer, you have the chance to place more fans to improve its cooling system while the same doesn’t hold true for laptops.
Laptops have a constricted space, so you’re not free to put anything you want in them.
All in all, although it’s possible to build a laptop, it’s not recommended for beginners, thrifty users, and busy bees since it takes a lot of energy, time, and money.
However, if you’re still adamant about building a laptop after weighing all the good and bad aspects, go ahead with our guidelines.
How to Build a Laptop on Your Own
Get the Parts
Also known as the processor, the CPU acts like your computer’s brain which processes, translates, and acts upon your data.
All other components work relative to this small unit, so the
CPU determines what other hardware you can add.
Intel and AMD are the two top CPU manufacturers in the world.
Intel chips are more common, while AMD products tend to be more affordable.
When buying a processor, you should consider its speed, cooling capacity, and power efficiency.
The number of cores and clock rate determine a processor’s performance and speed.
The more cores in a CPU, the better it can handle multiple simultaneous processes.
The higher the clock frequency, the faster it performs.
If you’re a graphic designer or video editor, look for a CPU with at least four cores.
If you do intense gaming or 3D modeling, go for a CPU with a high clock rate.
The Intel Core i7 and Core i9 series are the best available processors for individual users when it comes to performance.
More economical chips include Intel Atom and the Core m series.
2. Bare-Bones Shell
As the name implies, bare-bones kits include the laptop’s skeleton which contains a few basic elements such as a keyboard, screen, battery, and motherboard.
The keyboard and display are not detachable.
Therefore, you must make sure they’re what you have in your mind before getting the shell.
You can then finish off this half-done unit by adding a CPU, GPU, storage, etc.
Eluktronics, Quanta, MSI, and ARIMA are a few companies that produce laptop chassis for Lenovo, HP, Dell, and Mac.
Depending on the brand you’re looking for, you can find your desired model on eBay, ODM, Alibaba, and R&J Tech.
Then, you can base the rest of your buying decisions on this structure.
RAM is a kind of short-term memory that temporarily stores your data.
All your running applications exist in this memory, and it determines how fast your computer performs.
Consider two elements when choosing between many available RAMs: size and speed.
RAM sticks come with 4, 8, or 16 GB of capacity.
If most of your computer work involves handling documents and browsing the internet, you’ll be fine with 4 GB.
However, if you run 3D rendering applications and their likes, 16 GB is ideal.
RAM speed is determined by its frequency.
It ranges from 800 MHz in DDR2 generations to 4200 MHz in DDR4.
Faster memory is always better, but remember that a high-performance RAM may shorten your power supply’s lifespan.
Besides, you’re not always free to pick the highest frequency because the CPU and RAM need to be compatible.
4. Local Storage
Laptop storage comes in two types: HDDs or Hard Disk Drives and SSDs or Solid-State Drives.
SSDs are faster, more consistent, and smaller.
Most SSDs on the market have a 2.5-inch SATA interface.
However, you should try your best to find an NVMe version that comes in PCI M.2 form factor.
Besides being faster, they take up much less space in your case.
In terms of capacity, you can choose within a range of 128 GB to 1 TB, but a 256–512 GB storage would usually suffice in most cases.
5. Graphics Card
Most CPUs come with an onboard graphic card, which means they have a GPU soldered on the chipset.
However, if you’re a pro gamer, 3D video editor, or engage in any kind of activity that requires high graphics processing power, you may need an additional one.
If this is the case, make sure your laptop shell includes an extra socket to fit the graphic card.
This guide helps you choose the best graphic card for your needs.
In case the bare-bones body doesn’t come with a battery, you will need to choose one on your own.
To do so, pay attention to its voltage, capacity, size, and longevity.
Your battery voltage should match that of your computer motherboard.
Your battery capacity determines how long it lasts before you have to recharge it.
The higher the watt-hour (Wh) or amp-hour (mAh) rating, the longer your laptop stays on.
Another determining factor is your battery compartment size.
Some laptop casings have a two-inch slot for batteries, while others come with bigger ones.
Make sure you’re not going overboard or under.
To get a good sense of the battery’s service life, check the customer reviews.
You can also refer to the number of charging cycles, usually specified between 300 and 1,500.
Make sure you won’t end up buying another battery in a few months.
7. Optical Disk Drive
The advent of USB disc drives means the inbuilt DVD drives are somehow unnecessary for most users.
Besides, memory cards and removable drives such as USBs manage the better part of file-transferring functions.
However, if you still need an optical CD/DVD drive, don’t forget to get one.
Put the Parts Together
1. Grab your Workbench Tools
First, you need to buy a Precision screwdriver set.
These items are usually sold in hardware stores and electronics component shops.
You also need a needle-nose plier to collect the screws if they roll into narrow slots and grooves.
Don’t underestimate the necessity of a ground bracelet, aka antistatic wristband, especially if you have static issues in your house—e.g., you get shocked when touching metallic objects such as door handles.
This instrument safeguards you against potential static electricity hazards.
2. Install the HDD
Put the laptop frame face-down, so you can access its bottom sheet.
Unscrew the drive bay covering (you may or may not need to unplug the battery to access this part), and set the screws aside where you won’t lose them.
Most laptop shells require you to place the hard drive into a caddie before you install it.
Use minimum pressure to slide your hard drive into the carriage, aligning the screw holes with the edges.
Then, insert the screws to secure the HDD into the bracket.
Now it’s time to clamp the whole set down in place and screw back the bay.
3. Install the Optical Drive
Installing your optical drive can be different depending on your notebook structure.
However, the most common way is to insert it from the forepart of the bay opening.
Make sure to attach your disc drive to the caddie and then fasten the screws so that it doesn’t come loose due to the spinning vibrations.
Then, slip it straight into the SATA conductors.
4. Insert the RAM
Hold along the sides of the module to avoid touching its gold pins since doing so may cause damage.
Line up the module notches with the existing ridges in the RAM chamber opening.
Push at a 45-degree angle and press it down until you hear a click sound.
This sound indicates the clips have snapped the module into place.
5. Install the CPU
The CPU section usually includes a baffle that locks it in place.
You have to use a flathead screwdriver to unlock it and flip up the lever.
Then, examine the location of the pins on the CPU, finding a way to fit it.
The missing pins on one corner work as a good hint.
Match up the notch pins with the holes on the socket.
After installing the CPU, push the lever back into the original locked position.
6. Install the Heatsink
You’ll usually get a heatsink/fan assembly along with your CPU.
It’s designed to cool your CPU, GPU, and a few other components, depending on the model.
If it comes with the thermal paste pre-applied, just place the fan on the CPU’s upper plate.
However, if it’s not, buy a quality thermal grease and apply it onto the CPU using the dot method.
In both scenarios, the cooler must align with the vent grills on the outer shell.
Once you have successfully installed the heatsink, connect its wires to the motherboard.
7. Close the Cover
Place all the covers in their place, fastening them using a screwdriver.
Your laptop is ready to be powered on.
Set Up the OS and Software
1. Test Your RAM
Before installing an operating system, make sure your RAM is functioning properly to confirm your device’s general performance.
2. Install the Operating System
Now it’s time to install a reliable OS on your custom laptop.
You can either use different versions of Microsoft Windows or a Linux distribution.
The latter is a free OS developed by a group of volunteers, while the former is a paid option.
Downloading the files is always the preferred way of installing your OS, but CDs and USBs are also an option.
3. Install the Hardware Drivers
No matter how much energy you’ve put into buying and positioning the components, your hardware won’t be able to interact with your OS unless you install the right drivers.
Therefore, your next step, immediately after installing the OS, is to install the drivers.
More often than not, operating systems automatically identify, download, and install the necessary drivers.
If it doesn’t happen, simply use the CDs associated with each mobile part.
Additional Ways to Get a Customized Laptop
If you want a customized laptop but you don’t have the skill, time, or energy, you can enlist help from customization services.
Some laptop manufacturers such as Dell and Lenovo provide you these services.
All you need to do is choose the components, and the company takes care of the rest.
Although helpful, this method can cost you much more.
Besides, although it’s quicker than building a laptop on your own, you won’t get your system in less than a week.
Therefore, it also requires patience.