Upgrade Your Laptop: The Complete Guide for Beginners

Upgrading your laptop might seem a bit scary, but it is a great way of boosting its performance without having to spend too much on buying a new one.

I upgraded my HP laptop‘s RAM and used it for about three more years. So, upgrading your laptop makes it faster and worth the investment.

In most cases, some parts of a PC laptop can be upgraded, such as RAM, storage, and Wi-Fi card. If your laptop is highly modular in nature, changing the CPU or even the motherboard might not be out of place.

But the question is, how do you do it? Let me walk you through the steps to upgrade a laptop safely.

Can you do it yourself?

When it comes to upgrading a laptop, the first question that comes to mind is, can you upgrade your laptop yourself?

To see if you can upgrade your laptop at home, look at the bottom for access panels or service doors that let you get to the battery, RAM, or storage.

Can you easily remove if you have the tools? In most cases, the answer is yes.

how the back of a laptop will look like once the cover is removed

Now, as each laptop model has its upgradability options, so you should do some research whether you can upgrade the specific part or not.

Usually, you’ll be able to track down a user manual online if you’ve misplaced the original. Equally important, look up repair and upgrade videos as well as user comments from people who have carried out similar upgrades.

You can also browse the web to find out which parts of your specific laptop brand and model are easily replaceable. Typically, this information is available on the brand’s website or through expert reviews.

For example, we have discussed the upgradability options of the MSI Cyborg and Dell Inspiron 15 in their respective reviews. Similarly, you can find such details online.

If you find upgrading easy, you may need to buy a computer repair kit, which usually costs around $30, though there are also more expensive options available.

Can you upgrade your laptop?

Most newer laptops have some parts glued or soldered, making it hard to repair or upgrade them without special tools or professional help. Many laptops have a one-piece metal case or parts that are hard to reach without causing damage, so upgrading them can be impossible.

But there’s good news! ‘Modular’ laptops are becoming popular. These laptops are designed with swappable components, making upgrades easier.

These new modular laptops won’t help if you need an upgrade right now but keep them in mind if you’re buying a new model soon.

How much does it cost to upgrade a laptop?

The cost totally depends on what you want to add.

Currently, RAM is quite cheap in the PC market, with 16GB going for about $45.

Prices of storage are also quite affordable, whereby a 500GB SSD goes for around $60, a 1TB SSD goes for about $85, and a brand-new 2TB SSD retails between $150 and $250, subject to its brand and performance.  This is usually the hardest and most expensive part, as it must be compatible with your laptop’s motherboard and cooling system.

For Intel processors, Core i5 (10th or 11th Gen) costs from $150 to $200, while Core i7 (10th or 11th Gen) ranges from $300 to $400. The Ryzen 5 5600X of AMD is about $165, with the Ryzen 7 5800X having an approximate value of around $300.

It will all depend on the model and specifications of your laptop when summed up together.

Cheaper laptops can be upgraded using less expensive parts, while higher-end models that have powerful components will require almost similar high-quality upgrades. Upgrading a gaming laptop, for example, is usually more expensive than upgrading an office laptop.

Backing up your storage drives

Once you’re ready to proceed, it’s time to back up your files, especially the important ones.

Cloning your old hard drive can make it easier to recover your operating system and programs if something goes wrong, but there are other ways to back up as well.

If you’re replacing your laptop’s hard drive with a smaller SSD, you might need to save some files, like music, movies, and photos, to another drive first.

After cloning your operating system and programs to the new drive and confirming it’s working, you can decide which data files and folders to restore.

How to upgrade laptop’s CPU?

First of all, you should check if the brand and model you are using allow CPU upgrading. Most modern laptops from Lenovo, Dell, Alienware, HP, Acer, and Asus, among others, do not allow CPU upgrading. These brands no longer use designs with socketed and upgradeable CPUs.

If you have a laptop that allows for upgrades, the process depends on the laptop’s design. Generally speaking, there are two types: laptops with socketed desktop CPUs and laptops with modular designs.

Upgrading a socketed desktop CPU:

Here are the steps to upgrade a socketed desktop CP.

  • Check Compatibility: Find out your CPU’s chipset to see if there is a more powerful CPU that uses the same chipset. This information is usually available from the manufacturer.
  • Buy a new CPU: Purchase a compatible CPU from the manufacturer or a third-party seller.
  • Disassemble the laptop: remove the battery and other necessary components to access the CPU. This may involve removing the keyboard or motherboard.
  • Replace CPU: Carefully take out the old CPU and install the new one. Clean the heat sink and apply a new thermal paste.
  • Reassemble the laptop: Put all the parts back together.

Upgrading a modular design CPU:

Here are the steps to upgrade a modular design CPU.

  • Check Upgrade Options: Contact the manufacturer or check their website to see your upgrade options.
  • Buy a Mainboard Upgrade: Purchase a compatible mainboard module.
  • Remove Old Mainboard: Remove expansion cards, keyboard, battery, cables, RAM, and SSD to access the mainboard.
  • Install a new mainboard: Put in the new mainboard module and reassemble the laptop.

How to upgrade your laptop’s RAM?

First, determine the type of RAM your laptop uses by checking your laptop MANUAL for the memory module section. If the manual doesn’t help, use online tools like crucial to find the correct RAM for your laptop model.

Next, check how much additional memory can be added on your laptop. Most new laptops can only support up to 16 GB of RAM. Still, if you have a top-end gaming laptop, it may just take in as much as 32GB of RAM.

Check if your laptop has extra slot to add RAM:

While upgrading your RAM, this is another important step. You should see if your laptop has an extra slot to add a RAM. And it’s pretty easy on most laptops to check if you have any unused slot to add a RAM.

For instance, on the task bar, there is a search box.

  1. Search “Task manager” and click on “Task Manager”
  2. Go to “Performance”
  3. Go to “Memory” section
  4. See the details if you have multiple slots and have an unused slot.

It will look like this as shown in the image:

How to check the laptop RAM slots in the task manager

If you have an extra slot, then you can add an additional RAM. Otherwise, you will have to replace the older one with a new one.

Open the laptop’s back panel:

Before opening the back panel of your laptop, switch off the computer and remove the battery.

Using a screwdriver, unscrew the screws that are attached to the back panel. Ground yourself from static damage by touching any metal object.

Now, locate the RAM space after opening the panel. Here is how the RAM looks like:

how to ram will look like

And if you have an ASUS laptop, it can appear to be like this on your laptop:

ram in the asus laptop will look like this

However, the process may vary depending on the model of your laptop. On laptops with non-removable batteries, there is no need to remove them. Some laptops come with easy access panels at their bottoms where users can add or swap their RAM without taking off the entire back panel.

Add the New RAM

In case, there is an unused slot, you can simply add the RAM without doing anything else.

And in case, there is no extra slot available, you can replace the existing RAM with a higher capacity module.

For instance, if your laptop has 8GB of single-slot RAM, then you can replace it with a larger-capacity RAM module.

To remove the old RAM, press the clips holding the sides of it and pull gently to take it out without touching the metallic parts.

Put the new RAM in; make sure it is aligned into the slot, push in at an angle of 45° until it clicks, and push the RAM downward until it clips to place.

Here are the two points shown in the image, where you have to press the RAM gently:

press these two points to free your ram

After the new RAM is put in, replace the back panel and battery. Turn on your laptop, and it will automatically recognize the new RAM.

How to upgrade the storage (HDD/SSD):

Other than upgrading the memory, the next most common laptop upgrade is increasing storage or upgrading from HDD to SSD storage. Replacing an old hard drive with a modern solid-state drive (SSD) can provide more room and make your laptop faster. One of the best ways to speed up your laptop is by switching from a hard drive to an SSD.

Before purchasing another one, first determine if the computer allows for upgrading and what kind of drives does it has.

Many laptops made in the last few years come with at least one M.2 slot for NVMe or possibly SATA drives. It may also have 2.5-inch SATA or even an extra slot for a second drive.

You can find out what kinds of storage drives are supported by most laptop models by using tools like the Crucial Advisor Tool, which lists almost every laptop model and type that it supports.

Don’t forget to backup your data before working on your laptop’s storage if you are moving your existing system onto a new drive, you will need to clone the old drive to the new one

Tools you’ll need:

You’ll need a screwdriver, usually a Phillips head. Plastic pry tools and spudgers are useful for removing plastic clips and the laptop chassis.

Replacing an M.2 NVMe or M.2 SATA SSD

  • Ensure the laptop is powered off and unplugged.
  • Disable or remove the battery. For removable batteries, power off and remove the battery. For integrated batteries, disable it in the BIOS.
  • Remove the bottom panel of the laptop.
  • Locate the SSD and remove the screw holding it in place.
  • Carefully remove the drive. It may lift slightly from the board.
  • Insert the new drive at an angle and gently push it into place.
  • Replace the screw to lock the drive in place.
  • Replace the panel and ensure the SSD isn’t touching it.
  • Power up your laptop. 

Replacing a 2.5-Inch SATA SSD

  • Locate the hatch or panel for the SSD and remove the screw.
  • Carefully slide out the old drive. Note the orientation of the SATA data and power ports.
  • Remove any drive rails or caddy from the SSD.
  • Insert the new drive, align the SATA ports, and gently push it into place. Replace the drive rails or caddy if present.
  • Replace the hatch or panel and screw it back in place.
  • Power up your laptop.

If you are cloning a boot drive and haven’t used an SSD enclosure to copy the data, you may need to restore your data to the new drive at this point.

Can you upgrade Wi-Fi on a laptop?

You can upgrade the Wi-Fi on a laptop. Most modern laptops have removable Wi-Fi cards that can be replaced with newer, more capable models.

To do this, first, find your laptop’s make and model number, which is usually on the bottom or above the keyboard. Then, search online using the manufacturer, make, and model number, plus the word “manual,” to find and download the manual or visit the manufacturer’s website for it. The service and maintenance guide in the manual will detail hardware upgrades.

If you want to upgrade to Wi-Fi 6, check if your laptop supports replaceable Wi-Fi card slots such as M.2 or mini-PCIe ones.

Remove the bottom cover so you can access the wi-fi card, swap out the old card for a new one and you’re good to go.

As shown in the image, there will be two wires to detach carefully and attach to them to the new Wi-Fi card.

wires to remove first before you unplug the wifi card

Nothing else will be required.

And upgrading to 5G Wi-Fi (Wi-Fi 5GHz) is similar to upgrading to Wi-Fi 6. If your laptop doesn’t support 5GHz Wi-Fi, you’ll need to upgrade the internal Wi-Fi card:

  • Check current Wi-Fi capabilities: Verify if your current card supports 5GHz bands.
  • Purchase a Dual-Band Wi-Fi Card: Most modern cards support both 2.4GHz and 5GHz bands.
  • Replace the Wi-Fi Card: Follow the hardware replacement steps mentioned earlier.
  • Update Drivers: Install the correct drivers for the new card.

Can you upgrade a laptop’s graphics card?

Graphics card upgrades are usually not supported by most laptops, including gaming laptops. Laptops have limited space, unlike desktops, and do not use replaceable parts easily.

The Alienware Area 51m is among the few laptops that allow graphics upgrades; however, these options are few, costly, and less available on the market.

A better GPU can be acquired simply by purchasing a new laptop with superior graphics. Gaming laptops typically come with the best graphics cards.