For many years it didn't seem to matter that laptops weren't as quick as desktop machines. No one expected much computing power on the road. But with Windows 95 and CD-ROM applications, the old 386SX can't cut it anymore.

Upgrading the 386 hasn't been an option because the chips in laptops are soldered to the motherboard. Removing them is well beyond what a CompUSA can handle. But whenever there's a demand, it's not long before someone comes up with the supply. Corporate Upgrades, in Fair Oaks, Calif., has begun desoldering 386 chips from laptops and replacing them with 486s. The company will take out an old chip and put in a new one for $400 to $600.

Better still, the company's founder, Canadian Andrew Gitt, has found a use for all the old 386 chips. Most 386 chips are made so that a 486 can snap in and piggyback the old chip. All you need is space, something desktops have. But it turns out that 386SX desktops made before 1991 can't be upgraded: the 486 chips don't fit on the 386s. So Gitt came up with a logical and affordable solution: replace old 386 chips free of charge with used chips from the laptops. Corporate Upgrades practically gives you a 386 chip that then can be upgraded easily. (The company charges $85 for labor.) If you would like your pre-1991 machine turned into a 486, it will cost you another $95 for a Texas Instruments chip or $200 for a similar IBM chip. At that price, it's hard not to let the chips fall where they may.

-- Joshua Macht

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