Deciding whether to upgrade your laptop or simply buy a new one is a big decision. For most of us, a laptop is an essential tool - for work and for play - so things like speed and memory are a huge deal.
While conventional wisdom may fall into the “buy a new one” camp, replacing some parts or making a few changes can save the DIY-er a lot of money or give you a few extra months while you wait for the right time to upgrade.
Whether you’re hoping for better graphics, more RAM, or faster processing power, here's what you need to know before you start upgrading your laptop:
Upgrading can void your warranty
This process isn’t for the impatient
Not all components can be changed out
Some upgrades could damage your laptop
Can you upgrade a laptop processor?
Let’s start with the big question. And while we hate to be the bearer of bad news, in most cases, you can’t upgrade your laptop processor. There are some laptops with interchangeable processors, but these machines are expensive and difficult to find.
Most processors are soldered right into the motherboard
, presenting a challenge to the typical user, as you’ll need to remove the CPU and swap it out for a new one. If the processor is changeable, then you’ll need to make sure it fits in the same socket and that the motherboard can interact with the new CPU once it’s installed.
If you have an HP desktop computer
, the product specification page will be able to tell you which processors are compatible with your existing network. While this doesn’t answer the laptop question, long story short, processing power is more or less locked in…permanently.
Is your laptop too slow?
If your laptop is moving more slowly than it used to, it may be a sign of normal wear and tear. However, there are a few things you can do to get your computer humming along more quickly, more like when you first pulled it out of the box.
Start by checking how much free space you have on hand. For example, if your laptop’s hard drive is running low on open space, this can make opening programs or files an exercise in extreme patience. Or, the culprit could be a lack of RAM, which serves to support your software. While increasing RAM won’t solve all of your speed problems, it can offload some of the pressure on your CPU, making for faster processing.
Start with upgrading your laptop’s RAM
Most laptops allow the user to upgrade their RAM or memory by adding a stick to a compartment in the computer. Generally, you must purchase new memory for your computer from an authorized dealer or directly from the PC manufacturer
. In some cases, third-party manufacturers make compatible memory sticks that work with a variety of notebooks.
At HP®, most of our laptops have been designed so the user can open the unit with a Phillips screwdriver and add new or upgrade memory
with relative ease. Other computers have soldered the device shut making it impossible for users to upgrade memory.
Consider upgrading your laptop's hard drive
Most manufacturers allow for the existing hard drive
to be replaced with one that has more storage. How much you end up spending on this depends on how much room you'll need.
A 480GB SSD
can approach $400 or $500 rather quickly, while a 1TB standard hard drive can cost just $50 or $100. With laptops that make it easy to replace the hard drive, you'll usually be able to find a compartment that houses the hard drive.
An external hard drive
is an attractive solution for many users because you can simply plug it into the USB port to get started. Plus, you’re able to keep using it when you do end up buying a new laptop.
Move up to an upgraded operating system
In most cases, you don't need to buy a whole new laptop to get the latest operating system. Yes, more modern laptops come equipped with newer OS, but you can generally install the updated system with minimal effort on your end.
For example, if your laptop is still running on Windows 8 and you want Windows 10, you'll need to erase Windows 8 from your hard drive and download the newer version. If you've got the space, confirm the download. In some cases, you might not have enough RAM to support the update.
If you need more RAM, you should be able to replace it, no problem. But, if you're downloading the new OS in hopes of faster processing speed, you may want to consider purchasing a new laptop with a faster CPU.
Upgrade your graphics card
A lot of people want to know how to upgrade the laptop graphics card (GPU)
, typically within the context of gaming. Like your CPU, your GPU is generally soldered into the motherboard, making it difficult to change.
Interestingly, there is a way to upgrade your graphics capabilities: buy an external unit that connects to your USB port. You’ll get improved graphics output that provides the ability for a second display to complement your laptop screen.
If you want to add a CD/DVD drive
Thanks to streaming, discs aren’t as popular as they were in the past, so most newer laptops don’t come with a built-in disc drive.
Fortunately, if you’d like to play a favorite game from a few years back or watch a DVD every now and again, you can buy an external optical drive
. It’s one of the easier upgrades you can make, because all you need to do is plug in the drive via USB, and you’re ready to go.
How to upgrade your laptop for gaming
In most cases, it’s not possible to upgrade your laptop’s graphics card for a better gaming experience
. As we mentioned earlier, the bulk of modern laptops come with an integrated graphics card that’s soldered into the motherboard, allowing for minimal customization.
There are some ways that you can boost your gaming experience:
Physically clean your laptop: Dust and dirt can harm performance by reducing airflow, causing your computer to overheat.
Defragment hard drive: While Windows automatically defrags your files, you may want to manually check your defrag status as well.
Make sure DirectX is up to date: Check which version you’re using by typing “dxdiag” into the menu. From there, run a Windows update to potentially get more performance out of your gaming-related hardware.
Overclock your graphics card: There are tools that can help you push your graphics card to the limit by increasing your GPU’s voltage and clock frequency. The tool comes with a hardware monitor so can monitor system stability. You must proceed with caution here. Overclocking increases the risk your computer will overheat and shut down and let’s face it, that doesn’t exactly make for the most enjoyable gaming experience.
Upgrading your laptop isn’t always the easiest route to a better computing experience, but as we’ve outlined here, most of these tips are easy to implement on your own.
If you’re looking for a computer that can be customized, especially when it comes to gaming, your best bet may be a desktop. But if you simply need more RAM or space for your files, there are simple ways to make that happen with your laptop.
About the Author: Dan Marzullo is a contributing writer for HP® Tech Takes. Dan produces strategic marketing content for startups, digital agencies, and established brands. His work can be found in Forbes, Entrepreneur Magazine, YFS Magazine, and many other media outlets.