Can You Upgrade Your Laptops?

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Can laptops be upgraded, and to what extent? You can probably upgrade the RAM and storage in your laptop, but how about other components?

It is well known that desktops beat laptops when it comes to upgradability. However, laptops still have some upgrade paths available, the extent of which depends upon the manufacturer of your laptop. 

Some manufacturers, such as Apple, hold a very tight control over their devices and you can upgrade almost no components. Others, such as Framework in recent times, have strived to market modular laptops where almost every component is replaceable and upgradable.

You need to keep these things in mind if you are looking to upgrade your laptop. Having said these, we are going to be dealing with all such questions in detail, in this article.

Why Upgrade Your Laptop Components?

Here are some common reasons why you might need to upgrade your laptop:

  • The memory that came with the laptop is no longer adequate.
  • You are running out of storage space.
  • Built-in wifi device is underperforming.
  • CPU is a few generations old.
  • You GPU can no longer handle current 3-D workload demands.

What Are the Components That Can Be Upgraded?

Components such as RAM, hard drive, and WiFi cards are usually easily upgradable. CPU and GPU are almost never upgradable, and IO components such as keyboard, trackpad, and screen are replaceable but not upgradable. The model and the form-factor of laptops also play a role in upgradability. Bulkier and heavier laptops are more likely to be upgradeable than ultrabooks.

How to Determine if My Laptop Components Can be Upgraded

The easiest method to determine which components in your laptop can be upgraded is to look into the User Manual that came with it.

If you’re unable to find that information in the manual, then you might also try contacting the Manufacturer and see if they can provide you with an answer.

Another avenue you can explore is a forum for laptop users where you can look up the model of your laptop. You can also try third-party apps such as HWInfo, CPUz, GPUz, etc to collect information on your installed hardware such as CPU, GPU, memory, and storage.

One thing you have to keep in mind while trying to determine if your laptop is upgradeable is whether the component you are trying to upgrade is soldered onto the motherboard. If you are unable to find if your component is soldered, then you will need to open up the laptop’s back panel and visually inspect the situation yourself.

We have prepared this article also to determine such manually. Please follow the procedures below if you have been unable to figureout if your component is soldered onto the motherboard or not.

Note: Since you will be exposing and interacting with the laptop motherboard to upgrade your component, it is strongly advised that you use an antistatic wrist band.

System Memory

DDR# DDR4 DDR5 SODIMM RAM
Left to right: DDR3, DDR4, and DDR5 SO-DIMM RAM modules. Notice the location of the notch in each.

RAM modules in laptops are installed in SO-DIMM slots, so you will be able to upgrade RAM if either you have a free SO-DIMM slot, or you can free one.

To find if a SO-DIMM slot is available you will need to open the back panel of your laptop first. To open the back panel:

  1. Shut down your laptop and disconnect the adapter.
  2. Find out if your laptop has a removable battery. If it has, then remove the battery first. There is usually a slider that you need to pull before the battery can be detached.
  3. Some laptops have compartments in the back panel that let you access RAM and hard drive without removing the entire back panel. In such cases, you will need to remove the compartment panels first.
  4. Look for a screw around the back panel of your laptop. Carefully unfasten all the screws and place them on the side, preferably in a magnetic tray so that you don’t lose them.
  5. Use either a flat panel screwdriver or a sturdy guitar pick to wedge the gap between the laptop body and the back panel. Work your way around until you have sufficiently loosened the back panel from the body, then pull gently to separate it out.

Once you have opened the back panel (or a separate compartment in the back panel, if your laptop has one), then you can access the SO-DIMM slots. Take note of how many SO-DIMM slots are available and free.

SO DIMM slot
Laptop SO-DIMM slot with RAM module installed in it.

If you have all SO-DIMM slots populated already, and the RAM modules are soldered on, then unfortunately you will not be able to upgrade your RAM.

  • If a SO-DIMM slot is populated but the RAM module is not soldered to it, then you can remove and replace that module.
  • You can, obviously, populate a free SO-DIMM slot with another RAM stick.

Once you’ve inspected the SO-DIMM slots, you can then close the back panel again. Align the back panel with the laptop body and press firmly on the top. You will hear a snapping sound from the edges. Thereafter, fasten the screws that hold the back panel in place.

System Storage

Laptop hard drives are either SATA III interfaced 2.5” form factor, or NVMe interfaced M.2 form factor. To be able to upgrade your system storage, you will need at least one SATA III or M.2 slot free and available.

SATA and M.2 HDD

Follow the steps below to see if you can upgrade the hard drive in your laptop:

  1. Shut down the laptop.
  2. Open the back panel (or a dedicated compartment panel on the back, if your laptop has one).
  3. Note the interface of the currently installed HDD, whether it is a SATA or an M.2 NVMe drive. Make sure that the drive has not been soldered in.
  4. Determine if there is another 2.5” HDD bay or M.2 slots available. Additionally, you can refer to the device’s user manual to find the number of HDD expansion slots and their type.

If there are secondary expansion slots available, then you can install an additional hard drive in that slot. Otherwise, you can also remove the primary storage and install an update if the hard drive has not been soldered to the slot.

WiFi Module

M.2_A-E Full height PCIe Half height PCIe WiFi cards
Left to right: M.2 A/E keyed, full height mini PCIe and half height mini PCIe WiFi cards. Not to scale.

Most modern laptops come with an M.2 slot A/E keyed WiFi card already installed. They come in 1630, 2230, and 3030 sizes.

If your laptop is a few generations older, you might have either a full-height mini-PCIe WiFi card or a half-height mini-PCIe card installed. 

The full-height mini PCIe card is 30 mm x 50.95 mm in dimensions and has 52 pins in its edge connector. A half-height mini PCIe card, as the name suggests, is approximately half in size of a full-height card (30 mm x 26.8 mm).

These WiFi modules are mostly slotted into their compatible interface slot and to remove them, all you need is to disconnect the antenna and pull the card out. However, some models of laptops might also have a soldered WiFi card, in which case you will not be able to upgrade it.

To see if this is the case, simply open the back panel and look for the WiFi card to see if it’s soldered or not.

CPU

Even if everything else in your laptop is well maintained and updated, it is undeniable that your system will get slower as your CPU gets older each generation. This is because newer CPUs bring newer technology, higher core counts, efficiency, etc to the table that newer software are tailored to take advantage of. 

However, unlike desktop computers, it is very hard to upgrade your laptop’s CPU – unless your laptop CPU is socketed. Laptop processors are integrated into the motherboard in three typical fashions:

  1. Land Grid Array (LGA)
  2. Pin Grid Array (PGA)
  3. Ball Grid Array (BGA)
CPUs with BGA PGA LGA packaging
Left to right: CPUs with BGA, PGA, and LGA packaging.

If your laptop processor uses either the LGA or PGA socket type, then it can probably be replaced or upgraded with a compatible CPU. BGA sockets typically integrate processors onto the motherboard by soldering them, so unfortunately if that is your type of socket then you are out of luck.

However, in recent years, laptop manufacturers solder the CPU onto the motherboard no matter the socket type. Thus, there is a good chance that you will not be able to upgrade your laptop CPU. You will need to find the information regarding the upgradability of your laptop CPU from your manufacturer.

Some of the recent laptops with an upgradable CPU are Alienware Area 51M, Dell Inspiron 15 N5050 series, and Framework laptops. Laptops which are desktop replacements also probably have replaceable CPUs.

To find out if your laptop’s CPU can be upgraded. you can follow one of the approaches below:

  1. Contact the manufacturer.
  2. Refer to the User Manual that came with your device
  3. Open up the laptop and see if you have a socketed CPU.

Open the Laptop to See if CPU Can Be Upgraded

If you tried referring to the User Manual as well as contacting the manufacturer, but you were unable to get information on whether your CPU is upgraded, then you are left with no choice but to open the laptop and check for yourself.

  1. Open the back panel.
  2. If your laptop has an internal battery, unscrew the battery and remove it.
  3. Take a picture of the exposed motherboard so that you can have a reference point for installation later.
  4. Unscrew and remove CPU fans. Also, pull the fan header from the motherboard.
  5. Unfasten the screws from the heat sink in a diagonal fashion, then remove the heat sink. You might have to nudge and wiggle it gently from side to side until it becomes detached, then pull it out.
  6. Inspect the CPU socket to see if it’s soldered, screwed, or has a lever on the side. If you do not see screws or a lever, it is probably soldered. You will not be able to upgrade the CPU if it is soldered.

Once you have inspected the CPU socket, you will need to put back the assembly together.

  1. Clean the CPU IHS and the base of the heatsink with isopropyl alcohol and a clean microfiber cloth.
  2. Apply thermal paste the size of a pea grain to the CPU IHS.
  3. Alight the heatsink and press it down firmly. This will spread the thermal paste evenly over the IHS surface.
  4. Fasten the heatsink assembly screws in a diagonal fashion.
  5. Align the CPU fan and place it atop the CPU in a proper configuration. Thereafter, screw it in.
  6. If you had an internal battery, place and screw it in its proper configuration.
  7. Close the back panel. If the laptop had an external removable battery, replace it back.

GPU

When it comes to upgrading the GPU, again, we have a component that is very hard to replace or upgrade in recent times. Most of the time, the GPU is soldered onto the motherboard, which virtually eliminates your upgrade path.

However, not all GPUs are soldered, as it turns out. GPUs designed with Mobile PCI Express Module (MXM) interconnect standards are replaceable and upgradable.

Most recent mobile GPUs to implement MXM interconnect standard are: NVidia Geforce GTX 965M, 970M, 980M, 980, 1050 mobile, 1050ti mobile, 1060 mobile (Clevo), 1060 mobile (MSI), 1070 mobile (Clevo), 1070 mobile (MSI), 1080 mobile (Clevo), 1080 mobile (MSI GT73VR and GT83), Geforce RTX 2060 mobile (Clevo), 2070 mobile (Clevo), 2080 mobile (Clevo).

MXM_NVIDIA_GPU Quadro P2000
An NVidia Quadro P2000 GPU

If your laptop has one of the above GPUs, then you can probably procure a compatible upgrade from the manufacturer. They can also provide you with the instruction for installation to their specific model of the device.

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