What You Need to Know About Upgrading Your Laptop’s Hardware

Laptops aren’t as easy to upgrade as desktop PCs. In fact, newer laptops are becoming harder to upgrade — but you still may be able to upgrade your laptop with more RAM or a solid-state drive.

It’s generally a bad idea to buy a laptop with plans to upgrade it later. Buy the hardware you need to avoid headaches later. Some laptops can be upgraded fairly easily, but do your research here.

When you build a desktop PC yourself, a typical case will come with plenty of room inside. You can open it by twisting a few screws and get easy access to all the hardware in the case. Components you install aren’t permanent, but can be removed and replaced later. Even if you buy a prebuilt desktop PC, its motherboard may come with empty RAM slots and empty PCI Express slots so you can install more RAM and expansion cards. Some manufacturers may try to make upgrading their prebuilt desktop PCs more difficult, but even those PCs aren’t as difficult to upgrade as the average laptop.

Laptops are different. You don’t build your own laptop — instead, you buy a prebuilt laptop from a manufacturer. They build a custom chassis (case) for the laptop and choose components that will fit that case. Modern Intel Ultrabooks and Apple MacBooks are becoming increasingly thin and light, and they aren’t designed to be user-upgradable.

Here’s what often stops you from upgrading a laptop:

Many laptops can be upgraded in a few common ways. These upgrades will be easiest on older laptops, which are bulkier and often more upgrade-friendly.

CPU and GPU upgrades may be possible on some laptops, but these will be harder. You’ll need to make extra sure to buy compatible components that will fit your laptop and be supported by its BIOS. Different CPUs and GPUs generate different amounts of heat, so your new components may generate too much heat for the fans and cooling solutions that came with your laptop to handle. These are all problems you’ll need to think about.

So, can you upgrade your laptop’s RAM or install a fast solid-state drive? Do your research! Look around online to see if your model of laptop is easily upgradable and if other people have upgraded its components successfully. Check exactly what type of RAM, solid-state drive, or other components your laptop supports.

Some laptop manufacturers provide service manuals that will walk you through the process of opening up your laptop and removing various components. Do a search to see if your laptop has an official service manual you can use. If not, you may find an unofficial guide for opening up your laptop and installing components written by another user.

Be sure to check the process ahead of time and see whether you’d feel comfortable following the instructions. Some upgrades will be much more difficult than others.

You shouldn’t buy a laptop with plans on upgrading it. Ideas like, “Well, the RAM is a bit on the low side but I can always add more later,” or, “I’ll install a solid-state drive to speed it up,” can’t be taken for granted like they can with a desktop PC. Do your research ahead of time to see if this is even possible. Even if it is possible later, you may want to seek out  a laptop with your desired amount of RAM or a good solid-state drive and buy that instead, as it will save you a headache later.

Many laptops are still upgradable, but we’re moving toward a future where most computers won’t be user-serviceable.

Image Credit: Ray Weitzenberg on Flickr, Ambra Galassi on Flickr, Christoph Bauer on Flickr, Mark Skipper on Flickr, Joel Dueck on Flickr