How to upgrade a laptop

Upgrading your hardware can be an affordable way to give your laptop a power boost.

Give your computer a new lease on life

Upgrading a laptop is a simple way to improve its performance without breaking the bank. A few hundred dollars in hardware will be enough to give your Mac or PC a boost in power, buying you enough time until you can afford a brand new model – or it can eliminate the need for a new one altogether.

What laptop parts can you upgrade?

The three areas that you can generally upgrade (without getting out the soldering gun) are:

Does my laptop have replaceable parts?

As a general rule, the older your laptop the more likely it is to have user-replaceable parts.

Newer laptops tend to have parts that are glued or soldered together and require special tools and expertise to repair or upgrade them. Sometimes the laptop casing is all one piece of metal, so you can't even get inside. This makes it thinner and lighter, but also means those parts can't be upgraded without a trip to the repair shop.

Can I upgrade the laptop myself? 

A quick look at the underside will usually tell the story. Check for removable panels that could give you access to battery, RAM or storage.

Next, search the internet for information on your specific laptop brand and model to find out what parts can be easily changed. 

Often you can find a user manual online (if you've lost your original) and comments or even repair/upgrade videos by people like you who have already done something similar. These will help you find out if you need any special screwdrivers or tools (Philips, Torx or Pentalobe screwdrivers may be required).

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Back up first

Of course, before pulling anything apart, make sure you have a full backup of the computer. A "clone" of your old hard drive will give you a quicker recovery of your operating system and programs if anything goes wrong.

If you're replacing your laptop's internal hard drive with a smaller SSD (solid-state drive), you may need to archive some stuff first (such as music, movies and photos) to a different drive. Once you've cloned your operating system and programs to the new drive and it's working in the laptop, you can choose what data files and folders to restore.

Upgrading your laptop RAM

  • Usually, a laptop will only have one or two RAM slots available. Sometimes it has a spare RAM slot that isn't already occupied by anything. If this is the case, you can probably just buy new RAM and not remove the old.
  • Make sure you check online and buy exactly the right RAM for your model. You may be limited in the capacity of the RAM module you can install.

How much RAM do I need?

If your laptop has 4GB or less RAM, upgrading to 8GB is a good idea. If you only have 2GB or less, you might get by with an upgrade to 4GB if your laptop is just for light use such as emails and word processing.

You probably won't need beyond 8GB, as any programs which require that much RAM may also need a faster CPU (central processing unit) and GPU (graphics processing unit) than your old laptop has, and you can't upgrade these parts.

What is RAM?

Random access memory (RAM) is fast solid-state memory used for running programs. RAM only stores information temporarily, while the computer is powered on. If your computer struggles when running several programs at one time, you can probably do with more RAM.

Upgrading your laptop storage 

Usually, the quickest way to improve your laptop's overall performance is to replace the hard drive with an SSD (solid state drive), which is much faster.

What's the difference between a hard drive and an SSD?

Hard drives provide long-term high-capacity data storage, usually ranging from around 500MB (megabytes) to 2TB (terabyes), and hold everything from the computer's operating system to music, photos and video files. They use a magnetic rotating disc mechanism and offer relatively cheap high-capacity storage.

SSDs are many times faster than hard drives, but they cost quite a bit more per MB. Usually, an SSD will have less capacity than the hard drive it replaces, but it's often worth downsizing your storage to boost your performance. 

As wall as being much faster, SSDs are lighter, use less power (giving longer battery life) and stay cooler than hard drives. They're physically around the same size as the 2.5-inch hard drive used in laptops, so they can slot in as a direct replacement. They're also a little more durable, so any jolts or bumps to your laptop are less likely to damage them than a hard drive.

What size SSD do I need?

Just go for the largest SSD you can afford.

A 256GB (gigabytes) SSD sits in the sweet spot for a price-capacity trade-off, though SSDs of up to 512GB could be affordable, depending on your needs. SSDs of up to 1TB are available, but the rapidly escalating cost of the higher capacity drives tends to be prohibitive for general use.

Upgrading your laptop battery

Though not an upgrade, strictly speaking, replacing your battery can give you much longer between charges, making your laptop mobile for longer. But it won't boost performance.

Is your battery removable?

With older laptops that have a removable battery, changing it is as easy as undoing the battery lock button/clip, removing the old one and slotting in a replacement. Unfortunately, many modern laptops aren't designed for this. You need to open the casing and some batteries are not user-replaceable at all. They may be hidden behind other parts or even glued in place. In that case it's time for a professional.

Before you buy a new battery

Make sure the battery you're thinking of buying matches your computer product model exactly. Batteries are often designed to fit into a specific laptop – avoid getting one that doesn't fit.

Check out whether your laptop's RAM and storage can be upgraded (and if it's worthwhile) before forking out for a new battery.

Why upgrade?

Extra-long boot-ups, endless timeouts, slow saves and lengthy program launches mean your laptop has lost its vim and vigour. And the older it is, the slower it gets. 

But just because your faithful old computer is constantly driving in the slow lane, doesn't necessarily mean it's time for the off ramp to the e-waste bin. You could revitalise it with a few easy upgrades without breaking the bank.

With the right information, tools and a little preparation, you could have your old laptop performing even better than new.