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What Laptop Upgrades Should You Make?

As much as most people loathe the reality, computer technology grows outdated in a big hurry. While it’s not as bad as it once was with a three-year cycle, you still can’t expect more than about five years of use before it’s time for a new laptop computer. Except, that’s not entirely true.

While you’re generally stuck with the motherboard and processor that your laptop originally came with, there are a handful of laptop upgrades that are worth the effort. Not only will they boost laptop performance, but they can boost the working life of your gaming laptop or work laptop.

If you’d like to hang on to your laptop a little longer, keep reading for some key upgrades for your laptop.

Basic Tools

If you’re thinking of upgrading your laptop instead of just placing it with one that has better laptop specs, you’re probably doing the work yourself. That means you’ll want a few basic tools to make the job go a little easier.

Some of the key tools you’ll need include:

  • Precision screwdriver set
  • Trays
  • Antistatic mat

You’ll need the precision screwdriver set because the screws holding your laptop together are tiny. If possible look for a set that includes some Torx heads, since you may need those as well.

Once you start removing those screws, you don’t want to dump them into a single bowl. Otherwise, you’ll spend a short eternity trying to figure out where the screws go. Look for a divided tray so you can segregate the screws as you go.

If you’re feeling especially detail-oriented, you can label the tray section with post-it notes.

The components inside your laptop are sensitive to electric shocks. An antistatic mat will help prevent random shocks from damaging those components.

Wait! Won’t This Void My Warranty?

In the old days, computer manufacturers put seals on their devices and refused to look at them if you broke that manufacturer seal. Critics of this approach claim that it’s little more than a money grab by corporations meant to bleed consumers with pricey repair fees.

In recent years, many state governments passed or introduced right-to-repair legislation that supports consumers’ right to fix their own electronics. The right to repair movement has also gotten support from the FTC. While some companies may still deny warranty claims, it’s a strategy that most computer manufacturers have abandoned.

So, yes, it’s possible that your laptop’s manufacturer may deny your warranty claim, but it’s increasingly unlikely as the legislation accumulates and federal support gains ground.

Memory Upgrade

One of the most popular laptop upgrades out there is a basic memory upgrade. Bear in mind that memory and storage are different things in a computer. Memory is the RAM in your laptop.

As time goes by, laptops and desktops alike come standard with increasing amounts of RAM. It wasn’t that long ago that 4 GB of RAM was considered more than enough for any applications you might run on your laptop.

Now, if you don’t have 8 GB of RAM, odds are good that your laptop runs in a very sluggish way. Ideally, you’ll have 12 GB or 16 GB of RAM post-upgrade. This is where things get tricky, as there are a couple of factors that determine your memory upgrade potential.

Motherboard

Most of those factors boil down to the motherboard in your laptop. Any given motherboard can only handle a specific amount of RAM. If your laptop’s motherboard can only support 8GB of RAM, that’s the hard cap. In most cases, though, you add anywhere from 2 GB up to 8 GB more RAM.

You must research the laptop and find out what motherboard it uses. Once you know what motherboard you have in the laptop, you can look up the specifications for it. Those specifications will let you know how much RAM it can support.

They will also tell you how many slots there are for the RAM sticks. Most laptop motherboards come with two slots, but you’ll routinely see four slots as well. The standard types of RAM are DDR3 or DDR4 and the motherboard specs should specify which kind it uses.

Memory Speed

The next concern is memory speed. When you shop for RAM, you’ll see something like DDR4 PC-1600 or DDR3 2666. It’s that four-digit number you want to look out for.

That number essential tells you the speed of the RAM. Your system will only support speeds up to a certain level. You’ll want RAM that matches the maximum supported speed.

Pin Count

Different manufacturers use different styles of RAM. The specs on your computer should tell you which pin count it uses. Common pin counts include:

  • 200-pin
  • 204-pin
  • 260-pin

Replaceable RAM in a laptop is typically SO-DIMM. If your manual says it LPDDR3 or LPDDR4, that means the manufacturer soldered the RAM into place. If you see that, you cannot upgrade the RAM.

The good news with replacing RAM is that it generally pops in and out, or has retainer clips that keep the RAM in place.

Storage Upgrade

The next most common upgrade is a storage upgrade. Let’s say that you bought your laptop when funds were tight, so you only got a 512 GB HHD. As files accumulated and you put new software on the laptop, the available storage shrank and shrank.

The good news is that you can replace that drive with one that has more storage. Here’s the bad news. Unless you’re planning on a fresh installation of your operating system, you must back up the entire drive.

In some cases, you can copy that backup onto the new drive and sometimes you can’t. You can find tutorials on backing up and copying installations onto a new drive on YouTube and on many computer websites.

Storage Types

Storage drives come as either hard disk drives, typically in a 2.5-inch configuration, or a solid-state drive. Some solid-state drives also use the 2.5-inch configuration, while others come as a stick.

Computers that use the 2.5-inch versions provide a dedicated bay that the drive sits in, which is typically around 7mm deep. The drive links to the computer via a SATA connector. You must unplug the old drive from the connector and attach the new drive to the same connector.

In some cases, the computer uses a kind of tray or caddy that keeps the drive in place. If so, the tray will typically use screws to secure it in place.

Stick-style solid-state drives look a bit like RAM, except the connection is on the end. One or two screws will hold the stick in place. Remove the screws, and you can typically slide the old stick out of its connection point.

You slide the new stick into place and secure it with the same screw or screws.

Caveat

Some laptop systems can only support a certain amount of storage. Make sure you find out the storage limit for your laptop before purchasing a new drive. Installing an oversized drive can create problems.

Battery Upgrade

One of the major weak points in all mobile technology is the batteries. Even straight out of the box, they often underperform in terms of the total hours of use you can get from them. Of course, that’s not the biggest problem.

The biggest problem that you face is that your battery’s working life will slowly, but surely, grow shorter over time. A battery that got you a solid 9 hours when it was new may only give you five or six hours of useful life after two years.

You have a couple of options when it comes to a battery upgrade. Option one is that you get an identical battery to the one that came with the laptop. That should restore the working life of the laptop back to what you enjoyed when you first got it.

The other option is a higher-capacity battery that can extend the working life of your laptop by as much as double the time. Just make sure you get one that is compatible with your laptop.

What If I’m Still Not Happy?

Let’s say that you maxed out the RAM, maxed out the storage, and got a new battery. What can you do if you’re still not happy?

At that point, you’re out of upgrade options. The next step is visiting a retailer or computer site, like this website, and looking for a new laptop with better laptop specs.

Laptop Upgrades and You

Unlike a desktop system where you enjoy countless upgrade options, you only get a few choices for laptop upgrades. You can upgrade the RAM, storage, and battery. That’s about it.

If you do upgrade your laptop, make sure you find out the key details before ordering parts. You must know what kind and how much memory the laptop will support. You must also make sure you know the storage limits for the laptop.

Batteries aren’t as tricky but always check for compatibility with your laptop model.

Looking for more tech upgrade ideas? Check out the posts in our Technology section.

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