Technology Explained

5 Things to Know Before Upgrading Your Laptop Hardware

Mihir Patkar 02-08-2016

Once your laptop becomes a few years old, you face that familiar question: should you upgrade or just buy a new notebook? Obviously a new laptop will cost a lot while an upgrade will be cheaper, but cheaper isn’t always the best option.


Before you make the decision, there are a few things you should know. For example, there are only certain parts that you can upgrade yourself, and that too if your laptop lets you do that. Plus, upgrading parts will almost always void your warranty.

So, what can you upgrade in your laptop, and what are the risks involved? Are said risks worth the savings? Keep reading to find out.

1. Is Your Laptop Even Upgradeable?

Not everything in your laptop can be upgraded easily. Unlike a desktop PC, several parts of a laptop are soldered on, which means they can’t be removed. This is why it’s a good idea to future-proof the laptops you buy (whereas future-proofing is bad for desktop PCs 5 Reasons Why You Shouldn't Future-Proof Your PC Is future-proofing your PC ever a good idea? Here are several reasons why you might want to reconsider. Read More ).

But you first need to find out whether your laptop can be upgraded, or if it has soldered components. You can find the answer by reading the original manufacturer’s manual.

If you don’t have that, try the Crucial System Scanner tool. Run it on your Windows laptop or Macbook and it will scan your machine to find out which parts of your device can be upgraded.


You could also simply Google it. Search for “How to upgrade RAM in XYZ”, replacing XYZ with your laptop’s exact model number. If you see a proper guide, go for it. If you don’t, you’re better off skipping the upgrade.

You can also try iFixit, one of the best DIY sites to repair electronics. It has detailed repair manuals as well as step-by-step guides on how to open laptops and replace parts. Hopefully your laptop is listed there.

2. Which Parts Should You Upgrade?

The most common laptop parts that can be upgraded easily Four Hardware Upgrades That Will Boost Your Laptop's Battery Life Read More are RAM modules, hard drives, batteries, and wireless cards — assuming none of those parts are soldered on.

Of these, RAM modules and hard drives are the easiest and most common. Indeed, adding more RAM or installing a solid state drive (SSD) instead of a hard disk drive (HDD) are among the best upgrades to improve PC performance Which Upgrades Will Improve Your PC Performance the Most? Need a faster computer but aren't sure what you should upgrade on your PC? Follow our PC upgrade checklist to find out. Read More .



And if that’s what you decide to do, we have a full guide on how to upgrade a laptop’s RAM How To Upgrade A Laptop's RAM, Step By Step Is your laptop old, slow, and has the hardware never been upgraded? Working on a slow computer can be a real drag. Before you buy a completely new one, however, you should consider ways to... Read More . It’s also pretty straightforward to add an SSD into a laptop How To Upgrade Your Laptop In a Flash: Add a New Hard Drive & Increase RAM Laptops are not as easy to upgrade as desktops. Many components are simply soldered on to the motherboard and others, though technically replaceable, are restricted by technical skill and cost. There are, however, two upgrades... Read More .

As for the battery and the wireless card, those aren’t always upgradeable. You will need to first research and check if those can be changed on your laptop. If yes, then finding a compatible battery is possible only through the same manufacturer.

Wireless cards, however, are simple mini-PCIe cards, which you can purchase on Amazon. If your laptop is old and you want to make it compatible with Wireless AC standards Everything You Need To Know About AC Routers While wireless standards lack a logical progression in terms of letters, the technology under the hood is notable, and with each new release we get one step closer to painless connectivity. Read More , then replacing the mini-PCIe card is one way to do it. Otherwise, you could even get a Wi-Fi USB dongle.


3. Some Parts Aren’t Worth Upgrading

Among the components of a computer What's Inside Your Computer: The Story Of Every Component You Need To Know Whether you're buying a new computer or building your own, you're going to be subjected to a lot of acronyms and random numbers. Read More , the motherboard, processor, and the screen are the main parts that you can’t (and shouldn’t) upgrade.

Most laptops are constructed with a particular motherboard and processor series in mind, and these two parts largely determine how much heat the laptop will generate. The case is hence designed so that the estimated heat can be dissipated efficiently.

The screen, on the other hand, is almost never worth upgrading. I’m not even sure if it’s possible to upgrade. You can fix a broken screen by replacing it with the same type, but just like upgrading a PC monitor is all about buying a new one, upgrading the screen also requires buying a new laptop.

4. How to Find Compatible Parts

So now that you know the basic hardware to give your laptop a new life 5 Ways To Give An Old Laptop A New Life Computers seem to become slower as they age. Operating systems tend to become more resource-hungry over time, hardware ages, and the exuberance felt during the first months of laptop ownership fades. This is why some... Read More , you need to figure out exactly what to buy. For example, laptop RAM is different from desktop RAM A Quick and Dirty Guide to RAM: What You Need to Know RAM is a crucial component of every computer, but it can be confusing. We break it down in easy-to-grasp terms you'll understand. Read More , and if your laptop is old, it might use older DDR2 RAM rather than DDR3 or DDR4 RAM.


When shopping for RAM modules and solid state drives, companies like Crucial and Kingston have online guides to find out compatible parts for your notebook. Crucial’s Advisor Tool is our preferred choice, but Kingston’s Memory Search is a decent option too.


All you need to do is select your laptop manufacturer and model, and the tools will show you a list of compatible RAM and SSD. Apart from the specifications for the acceptable RAM or SSD, you will also find how many DIMM expansion slots your laptop has, and how much maximum memory it can support.

Using the specifications, feel free to search for similar memory or storage on Amazon or other sites. If it matches the specs, it will be compatible with your laptop.

5. Should You Upgrade or Buy New?

There are certain signs it’s time to replace your old computer 7 Warning Signs It's Time to Replace your Old PC When should you buy a new computer? Read More . If your laptop is running too slow, if it can’t install new operating systems or doesn’t support new software, or if it regularly has some problem, you may be tempted to buy a replacement just for peace of mind.


And that wouldn’t be so terrible. There are some fantastic laptops available for low prices these days, so instead of upgrading an old laptop and voiding your warranty, you might want to just buy a new one. For example, the Lenovo Ideapad 100s is a fantastic Chromebook for just $165!

In my opinion, and based on personal experiences as well as anecdotes from friends and family, buying a new laptop is almost always a better option than upgrading your current one.

The reason you’re upgrading is probably because some part is no longer working as efficiently as it should. Assuming this is because the entire laptop is old, then you’ll soon face similar issues with other parts that are nearing their end of life.

So unless your laptop is new and it’s only one part that’s malfunctioning, just go for the replacement. You’ll be happier in the long run.

What do you think, readers? Have you chosen to upgrade an old laptop, or did you just ride it out till you bought a completely new one? Has changing the operating system helped rather than upgrading? Tell us your thoughts in the comments below.

Image Credit: hand holding Computer RAM by Iaroslav Neliubov via Shutterstock

Related topics: Buying Tips, Computer Maintenance, Computer Parts.

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  1. George Schwarz
    June 4, 2017 at 1:22 pm

    If buying a new laptop means moving to Windows 10, not gonna happen. I'll run Windows 7 in a virtual machine under the version of Ubuntu that best suits me. I've been experimenting with Ubuntu 16 on an old desktop and I am learning a lot. Still have a way to go, but I'll get those tweaks done and then relegate Microsoft to the OS D-list.

  2. Matt
    June 3, 2017 at 11:40 pm

    I just bought a fairly cheap laptop for my wife. Not the cheapest one I could find, but not "top of the line" either. Her request was that she didn't want to wait all day for programs to load. She also only uses a DVD drive once in a blue moon but she has lots of media she wants to store on the laptop, which meant she had uses for both an SSD for speed and a HDD for storage. This meant she needed one with an SSD for speed AND a HDD for storage, but didn't need an optical drive. There ARE laptops with second drive bays built into them but they are generally only the high end gaming laptops (my ASUS has one, so does a friend's Alienware), but I've never seen one in a cheaper laptop. What I did was to get one that had a good sized hard drive (1TB in this case) and a DVD drive. I also made sure it had 4GB of ram and a reasonable CPU. I then bought a "second HDD caddy" from ebay... it replaces the DVD drive allowing you to fit a second 2.5" HDD in the DVD bay. I moved the original 1TB drive to the DVD bay then installed a 250GB SSD (purchased from a local shop for warranty reasons) into the HDD bay and reinstalled Windows 10 WITHOUT all the bloatware from HP. (You can download the Windows 10 install from Microsoft legally, and it should automatically regain the machine's original license. For earlier versions you should install the same type of Windows and use the machine's original installation key, often found on a holographic sticker beneath the machine.) Finally I installed the DVD drive into an external USB case also purchased from ebay so it could still be used if really required. The caddy and the drive cost me about $25 altogether.

    You may ask why I didn't buy a laptop with an SSD and just buy the HDD separately instead... good question. If you do that two things tend to happen in the cheaper laptops... they are often supplied with very small (32-120GB) SSDs, and they are often actually eMMC drives instead which are not replaceable, but if you buy one with a HDD it is always a separate, removable component (even if getting the case open is sometimes a bit tricky).

    A few things to watch out for...
    - this WILL void your warranty. If you have a problem with it and need to send it back to the manufacturer you WILL need to be able to restore it to it's original condition before you do so (the operating system on it won't matter however), and if you damage it internally they WON'T cover it. If you're not confident don't attempt it, many laptop repair places will do it for you for a small fee. If you damage your machine it's not my fault
    - many low end laptops aren't designed to have their HDDs user replaceable and so don't have the little "door" in the bottom to do so. If your laptop is one of these you'll need to open the case to access the drive. Most manufacturers have service manuals (as well as the regular user manuals) available for download on their websites that will tell you exactly how to go about this.
    - laptop DVD drives come in two different sizes; 9.5mm tall and 12mm tall. Make sure you measure your drive and order the right sized caddy and external case.
    - your DVD drive will probably have a small bracket on the end to allow it to be securely attached in the laptop; this needs to be removed (usually 2 small screws) and the bracket attached to the caddy. Similarly you can remove the front plate (the bit with the eject button) from the DVD and attach it to the caddy for an invisible, standard looking installation. The external USB case should come with it's own drive front cover. These simply clip on and can be removed with a little gentle coaxing.
    - If purchasing from an ebay vendor check their feedback to find a reliable one. If you're not comfortable doing this, I believe you can also purchase these items from Amazon.

  3. Arthur Bas
    August 4, 2016 at 3:28 pm

    And of course be aware of those cheap laptops in the market with cheap processor and 2GB of RAM, which are fast only for a few weeks, after that you start noticing they are really slow because they are basic laptops, not for everybody.

  4. Arthur Bas
    August 4, 2016 at 3:25 pm

    You're totally right Jeff, that's exactly what I thought, when I as reading this article. I would not recommend to a Chromebook if owner of the laptop is a Windows the user, and of course not to mention Linux. And of course be aware of those cheap laptops in the market with cheap processor and 2GB of RAM, which are fast only for a few weeks, after that you start noticing they are really slow because they are basic laptops, not for everybody.

  5. Anonymous
    August 3, 2016 at 8:56 pm

    Instead of upgrading an old laptop and voiding your warranty?

    How many old laptops still have a warranty?

    If it is new enough to still be under warranty it isn't very old.

  6. Jan Holtman
    August 3, 2016 at 4:49 pm

    There is another option: Linux.

    Originally I started using Lubuntu on my netbook in 2013. It was running Windows XP and it became

    so slow that it would take about 7 minutes before it really booted. I tried Lubuntu 13.04 and the very

    same netbook booted in about 40 seconds. From that time I was sold. Wow this old thing is suable

    again. So I started experimenting with the various Ubuntu versions and for me both Xubuntu and

    Lubuntu became my favorite distributions. I used Linux Mint for a while but this installation crashed

    after a while.

    Then after a while my father (at that time 85) who was still running Windows XP on his computer had

    the nth virus or malware. I installed Lubuntu. In the beginning he moaned and groaned but after a

    short while he got used to it. And since then he has been happily sitting at his computer, no more

    viruses, he can just do simple computer tasks like browse, register for events, send and receive

    emails and play his favorite game. He is 88 now. Updating is so easy, no separate programs to

    download and install, it is really ideal especially for people who are not that computer literate, but

    still need a computer.

    I installed Lubuntu on several other computers of several of his friends and they are also happy. They

    can just sit behind the computer without worrying about, viruses, updating A.V software, running

    antispyware etc.

    Also for me when I go on business travel or holiday I can take the older netbook with me and I can

    use it as well to save holiday photos and movies and backup these on memory sticks as well. Why get

    rid of a perfectly good computer? The nice thing about these old netbooks is that they are quite

    sturdy and reliable. My netbook survived (in a backpack) an accidental drop of nearly 2 meters.