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CompTIA A+ TechNote: Portables


Portables have earned their popularity over the years. At one time, not many people had portables, then some had portables and desktop PC’s, and now these days there are lots of people who only own portable computers. CompTIA wants you to know about some of the components of the portable computer.


The types of RAM used by portable computers are called SO-DIMs. SO-DIM’s are available in two sizes: 72-pin or 144-pin. The 72-pin SO DIMMs are 32-bits wide, and the 144-pin SO DIMMs are 64-bits wide.

In order to replace RAM on a portable, follow the manufacturer’s instructions as per opening the case, and then insert the RAM modules into the slots firmly.

Hard Drives

Portable computers used to have 3.25” hard drives, but these days the popular size is 2.5” for a hard drive. Hard drives in portable computers have the same features and configurations as ATA drives.

In order to replace a hard drive inside a portable, follow the manufacturer’s instructions as per opening the case, and then attached the ribbon and power cables firmly.


CPU’s in portables are of course specially made by the manufacturer. Of course, you can upgrade and replace the CPU on your portable, just like you can on a PC.

In order to replace the CPU on a portable, follow the manufacturer’s instructions as per opening the case, and then hold the CPU over the socket and gently set it down into place, then press firmly.

Replacing Other Components

In order to replace other components such as floppy drives, CD-ROM drives and CD-RW drives, please follow the instructions from your manufacturer. Although CompTIA includes these in their objectives, you will never be tested on it, as different manufacturers have different methods for replacing components on a portable, including hard drives, CPU’s and RAM. I was reluctant to put any info as to replacing these units on a portable in here because there is so much room for error with so many different manufacturers that make laptops that open up different ways – and as I said CompTIA will not test you on replacing units on a portable either because they know it’s too proprietary.

PC Cards

Now that we’ve talked a little bit about the basic components of a portable computer, let’s look at PC Cards. PC cards are credit-card sized cards that are hot-swappable. Almost any component or device can be in the form of a PC card including hard drives, modems, network cards, and the list goes on.

PC cards were created by the PCMCIA (Personal Computer Memory Card International Association). The PCMCIA has set standards for PC cards, and while these standards are not set in stone, most manufacturers follow them:

Type I cards are 3.3mm thick and are generally for memory.
Type II cards are 5 mm thick and are generally for modems or NIC’s
Type III cards are 10.5mm thick and are generally for hard drives

Please note that all PC cards have 68-pins and run at 5.5V.

Two levels of software drives are required to support PC Cards: Socket Services and Card Services. Socket Services drivers detect the component. Card Services drivers recognize the function of the card, and provide specialized drivers to allow the card to perform that function.

Card Bus

There is a new type of PC card on the market – Card Bus cards. Card bus slots use synchronous burst transfer just like PCI slots. Card Bus cards can provide up to 8 functions; whereas, PCMCIA cards can only provide two functions.

All Card bus cards run at 3.3V. and have 68-pins.

PC cards can plug into Card Bus slots for backwards compatibility, but Card Bus cards won’t fit into PC card slots.

Power Management

All components of a portable obviously require power. Therefore CompTIA feels that it is necessary for you to know about Power Management for the A+ exams.

System Management Mode

System Management Mode allows the CPU to slow down its cycle, and in some cases top its cycle without having to register information.


Intel introduced APM (Advanced Power Management) in 1992 and APCI (Advanced Configuration and Power Interface) in 1996.

Both APM and ACPI require four features in order for them to function:

1. A System Management Mode CPU (almost all CPU’s made today are)
2. An APM Compliant BIOS
3. All devices will accept being shut off (most energy star compliant devices will)
4. The operating system has to know how to shut the devices off

There are 5 Power levels defined by APM/ACPI. Those power levels are: Full On, APM Enabled, APM Standby, APM Suspend, and Off.

For Full On, there is no power management and all components run at full power. APM Enabled causes the CPU and RAM to run at full power, power management to be enabled, and unused devices to be possibly shut off (they may or may not be shut down). APM Suspend causes everything in the PC to be shut down or at its lowest power consumption setting. APM Standby causes the CPU and all peripherals to be shut down. The Off setting causes your computer and all of its devices to be powered down.

You can configure APM/ACPI in the CMOS or through Windows. If you configure it in Windows, it will override any CMOS settings.


One of the disadvantages of portables is their dependency on batteries. In order to be a good technician, and for the A+ exams, it is essential that you know about batteries.

Nickel Cadium (Ni-Cd)

Nickel Cadium batteries were the first batteries for portable computers. They must have a steady voltage and tend to lose their capability to recharge if recharged repeatedly without being totally discharged.

Nickel Metal Hydride (Ni-MH)

Nickel Metal Hydride batteries have been around for a while, and are still quite common. These batteries can tolerate overcharging, and last longer between chargings.

Lithium Ion (Li-Ion)

Lithium Ion batteries are the most commonly used batteries for portables today. They are extremely powerful, and have a long lasting charge. Be careful with Lithium Ion batteries though – they’ll explode if they are overcharged.

Smart Batteries

There are batteries out there called Smart Batteries that tell the computer when they need to be charged or replaced.

Fuel Cell Batteries

Fuel Cell batteries are the newest kind of portable batteries, and they provide clean-burning energy. Fuel cells produce energy by removing electrons from hydrogen fuel and transporting them to oxygen, via electrodes and an electrical circuit.

Docking Stations

Docking Stations give portables access to the same things that normal PC’s use: full sized monitors, mice, network connections and many others. Docking stations make it very convenient for a company to have portable computers only for their workers.

Hardware Profiles

A talk about portables would not be complete if hardware profiles were not mentioned. A hardware profile is a list of devices that Windows automatically enables or disables in the Device Manager. You can create a hardware profile for any system – but hardware profiles were originally created for portables.

Portables related exam objectives for the 2003 A+ Core exam.
1.3 Identify basic procedures for adding and removing field- replaceable modules for portable systems. Given a replacement scenario, choose the appropriate sequences.
Portable components:
- Storage devices
- Removable storage
- Power sources
- AC adapter
- DC adapter
- Battery
- Memory
- Input devices
- Keyboard
- Mouse/pointer devices
- Touch screen
- PCMCIA/Mini PCI Adapters
- Network Interface Card (NIC)
- Modem
- IEEE 1394/Firewire
- Storage (memory and hard drive)
- Docking station/port replicators
- LCD panel
- Wireless
- Adapter/controller
- Antennae

1.8 Identify proper procedures for installing and configuring common peripheral devices. Choose the appropriate installation or configuration sequences in given scenarios. Content may include the following:
- PDAs

1.10 Determine the issues that must be considered when upgrading a PC. In a given scenario, determine when and how to upgrade system components.
- Laptop power sources
-- Lithium ion
-- NiMH
-- Fuel cell
- PCMCIA Type I, II, III cards

DOMAIN 2 Diagnosing and Troubleshooting

2.1 Recognize common problems associated with each module and their symptoms, and identify steps to isolate and troubleshoot the problems. Given a problem situation, interpret the symptoms and infer the most likely cause.

- Portable Systems
-- Batteries
-- Docking Stations/Port Replicators
-- Portable unique storage

Click here for the complete list of exam objectives.

Discuss this TechNote here Author: Tracey Rosenblath


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