Install and configure laptop hardware and components: CompTIA A+ 220-901 sub-objective 3.1 – Part 1 of 2

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Detailed (and official) description of CompTIA A+ sub-objective 3.1:

3.1 Install and configure laptop hardware and components.

The items in blue font are covered in Part I of this post and the ones in red font are covered in Part II.
Expansion options
Express card /34
Express card /54
USB to RJ-45 dongle
USB to WiFi dongle
USB to Bluetooth
USB Optical Drive

Below items are covered in Part 2 of this post.

Hardware/device replacement
Hard Drive
SSD vs. Hybrid vs. Magnetic disk
1.8in vs. 2.5in
Smart card reader
Optical drive
Wireless card
DC jack
System board

Welcome to the CertBlaster ExamNotes! Here we will look at Laptop Hardware and components. These days many laptops have been replaced by ultrabooks and tablet devices. At the time these objectives were written laptops were moving into the category of desktop replacements and replacing the PC in its traditional role. Some people and companies are opting to repair the laptop when a part fails or they wish to upgrade.  With that being said here are the Objectives for 220-901 sub-objective 3.1.

Expansion options

The most cost effective way to expand the capabilities of a laptop was to insert what was known as an expansion card. They were originally developed by the PCMCIA (Personal Computer Memory Card International Association) as a method to increase memory in handheld devices. Then became useful as expansion for peripherals and even hard drives a small pair of slots on the side of the laptop. The PCMCIA ver. 5.0 evolved into the CardBus technology and then on to ExpressCard. An important note here is that CardBus and ExpressCard technologies are not compatible electrically and an ExpressCard will not fit in a CardBus Slot. Although the technologies described are technically obsolete and have been replaced in most cases by USB, you still may run into one in the field. Here is how to distinguish them.

Three graphics of express cards
Express card /34 – Express card /54 and CardBus


SO-DIMMs are considered Volatile memory because they require an electronic charge to retain the contents. Due to the need for maximum memory in the smallest space possible the SO-DIMM was created. In a repair/upgrade situation, always consult the laptop documentation to determine what memory to get!  Shown here is a typical 4GB DDR3 So-DIMM. Note here that we are showing a 204 pin module. All SO-DIMMS were not created equal. The pin count and notch placement will be a good way to tell them apart as the SO-DIMM can have between 100 pins and 204. To save sanity use the notch placement as a general indicator as this can vary by manufacturer. Always use the memory recommended by the laptop manufacturer.

Photo of a SO-DIMM module

Here is a quick video demonstration of a laptop memory installation (click image):


Flash memory was originally designed from the EEPROM (Electrically Erasable Programmable Read-only Memory) used to hold non-volatile memory in PCs. It wasn’t long before manufacturers were using it to store data in digital devices like cameras and music players. Initially the cost per Megabyte of flash memory was prohibitive to mass adoption. Cost has since dropped considerable and storage capacity greatly increased. This has given rise to the familiar Thumb drive USB stick that is quite useful if you need data portability but don’t want to lug a lot of hardware around.

Photo of a USB Thumb Drive
USB Thumb Drive

Thumb Drive

Be sure to write protect these devices when using them portably as the risk of data loss or virus infection is very real. As the technology progressed so did the packaging and capacity. Slots for these solid state memory packages were built into laptops because they are small don’t take too much space on the laptop and offered safe and efficient portability of your data. Yes, this was before The Cloud. There is really no substitute for having a “hard copy” of your data and these smaller more efficient storage mediums and these continue to proliferate.

Photo of three different sizes of Compact Flash and SD
Compact Flash and SD

The laptop manufacturers’ could support one or two package types, but not all. The most convenient solution to this problem of design compatibility was to create a portable USB memory card reader that would support all types of memory cards, like the one shown below.

photo of a memory card reader


As we have seen above even the best laptops are subject to some limitations based on the finite amount of useable surface area and what is considered to be the best combination of features. For example the first interface to be lost by most laptops was the mouse and keyboard PS/2 connectors. And of course the floppy disk. These deletions gave manufacturers the room they needed for optical drives and as many USB ports as possible. At this time there are USB replacements for all of the devices mentioned and more. Even the optical drive has been sacrificed on many models in the interest of reducing the laptops thickness, the replacement was an optical drive dongle that has a USB connector. A dongle is a connector that allows a peripheral device to connect with other devices. The same is true for RJ-45 dongles with PC compatible connectors. Here is an RJ-45 to Thunderbolt dongle that we’ll discuss later. It’s a little hard to make out but the smaller connector to the PC has a small Thunderbolt logo the top.

Photo of a Thunderbolt Ethernet Adapter by Apple
Thunderbolt Ethernet Adapter by Apple

When Wi-Fi was still a novelty for the average consumer, manufacturers Wi-Fi dongles provided the solution, as they did when 802.11b devices needed to upgrade to 802.11g or 802.11n. Bluetooth adaptation is another area where one may have to buy a new laptop to have the capability. Or they could simply add a Bluetooth dongle. For Mac users there is a USB alternative in DisplayPort. Here is a look at a full size DisplayPort on a laptop.

photo of a display port
Display port

Technically the Mini-DisplayPort is still a dongle in the general sense of the term. The DisplayPort interface allows ultra-high resolution, 3D and data connectivity, but not sound in the version as of the date of your test objectives. Got that? During the lifespan of DisplayPort another high resolution technology was released, Thunderbolt. To avoid confusion Thunderbolt connectors were designed to support all the features of DisplayPort when connected to that interface. When connected it has the advantage of chaining Thunderbolt devices together through a single interface. Its data transfer rate exceeds USB 3.0 and FireWire 800 using Thunderbolt (PCI-Express) signaling that uses two dedicated channels to provide isolation from the send and receive signals. While being physically identical to the earlier DisplayPort the Thunderbolt connector and port can be identified by the Thunderbolt logo on both the connector and the port.

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To be continued in Part 2/2…

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