A Guide on Choosing the Right Components to Upgrade Your Laptop
Which one should you choose? Follow this guide and you can have an easier time navigating the maze.
It may seem daunting, but upgrading your laptop is easier than you think. (Image by atimedia from Pixabay)
If you are here, you are seriously thinking about upgrading your laptop. You may know a thing or two about the main components of your laptop and getting ready to splash cash on brand-new components.
But once you start searching, you are quickly bombarded with different brands and formats for just one component. Which one should you choose? Follow this guide and you can have an easier time navigating the maze.
SSDs are the go-to upgrade in any laptop to make it faster. They make storing and retrieving your data faster and overall makes the experience a lot more smoother. So, you are ready to swap out that old HDD and buy a new SSD. There are several types of SSD, so let us go through them.
This is the most common format found in laptops. The height of the SSD can be either 7mm or 5mm. The HDD is usually fixed in a bracket via screws. 2.5-inch HDD are usually are 7mm tall, so you may need to check the manual of the laptop to see if 5mm works. To check the dimensions of the SSD, read through the specification section of the component you are searching.
After buying one it is a simple case of opening up your laptop and connecting the SATA cable in the laptop to the SSD. Before that though, you may want to make the SSD a clone of the old HDD so that you do not lose any data, or having to install a fresh Windows OS.
This form factor is a smaller version of 2.5-inch SSD, hence the name mSATA (mini-SATA). They have identical speed to 2.5-inch SATA. The mSATA uses a mSATA interface to connect, so check your manual to see if your motherboard has one. Do make sure you buy mSATA and not M.2 SATA, which is another form factor of SSD.
M.2 SATA SSD
At first glance, the M.2 SATA SSD and mSATA may look identical. There is a reason to that. The M.2 SATA SSD was developed as a replacement to the mSATA SSD. mSATA SSD had size and speed limitations which led to its early demise.
The M.2 SATA comes in different sizes, so check the laptop manual to see the maximum size that can be installed. As the name suggests M.2 SATA is connected via the M.2 SATA interface, which means it is identical in speed to the aforementioned form factors. Now at around 600MB/s, this is no slouch. But if you need a faster SSD, then continue reading.
M.2 NVME SSD
The main difference you need to understand here is the interface. The M.2 NVME SSD uses the PCIe interface instead of SATA. PCIe was designed to be faster than SATA, and the M.2 NVME SSD does just that. It can reach speeds up to 3500 MB/s.
But with the additional speed, come higher price. M.2 NVME are expensive but they are getting cheaper every year. But then it all depends on the availability of a PCIe interface on your motherboard.
Brands and Capacity
So which brand should you chose? Samsung and SanDisk are two of the major storage device companies out there, but there are also cheaper yet reliable options. If money is not a problem, then go for the above two brands. If you do not want to break the piggy bank then checkout Kingston, Crucial or Transcend. These are just a few of the options out there, so do not limit yourself by not searching for more.
As for capacity, it really depends on your usage and budget. 1 TB SSD is becoming the norm nowadays, but it can cost above $100. Moreover, you still can use your old HDD as external storage. A 500GB SSD is a sweet spot and is affordable. Anything below that, you run the risk of reaching the full capacity faster and then requiring to buy an SSD with a higher capacity. A waste of your hard-earned money I would say.
Next on the list is RAM (Random Access Module). Like SSD, there a few different types of RAM available in the market right now. First thing for you to decide is the capacity of RAM you want. It could 1,2,4,8 or 16 GB. Your Windows OS will also decide how much you can have. A 32-bit OS can only handle a maximum of 4GB of RAM. A 64-bit OS can handle more. You can check which type your OS is in “System Section”.
The number of slots available on your motherboard will also decide the RAM limit. Most have two, but it could be that one is soldered in place, which means you cannot remove it. Check your laptop manual for this information. Now that you have decided what capacity and how many modules to buy, let us begin.
RAM comes in two form factors, DIMM (Dual In-Line Memory Module) and SODIMM (Small Outline DIMM). One is used in PCs and servers. The other is used in laptops. I am guessing you know which one is used in which.
When you search for your new RAM, forget about DIMM and only concentrate on SODIMM. They both look identical, so always read the description of the component.
There are several generations of RAM, but we will concentrate on DDR3 and DDR4, which are widely used and available. You will see absolutely no difference in how they look except in their description. So it is vital you go through it before buying.
Another thing to keep in mind is your motherboard. You need to check till which generation of RAM it supports. DDR4 was available from 2014, so anything before 2014 will only have DDR3 support. Best place to check is, of course, the laptop manual.
The RAM speed is another factor you should consider when choosing your next module. The speed is measured in MHz and the faster the better. But your motherboard and CPU will decide the maximum speed you can have.
Crucial, Patriot and Kingston are a few brands that offer good choice for good money. Once you have chosen your brand, see if you can find a DDR3L or DDR4L. The L suffix stands for low power and will reduce your power consumption and drain on your laptop battery.
That’s it! Keep these things in mind when you choose your RAM. The component description should have the information such the generation, speed, capacity and form factor (SODIMM).
3. WLAN Module
If you want to have a better internet connection then you should upgrade your WLAN module. It will bring better speeds, connection strength and range. It will give you peace of mind next time you are surfing the net or in an important meeting. But like all computer components, there are a few factors to keep in mind before upgrading.
There are many generations of Wi-Fi, the newest one is Wi-Fi 6. These generations are also denoted using letters after the IEEE 802.11 standard. The Wi-Fi 4 is denoted as 802.11 b/g/n, Wi-Fi 5 as 802.11 b/g/n/ac and Wi-Fi 6 as 802.11 b/g/n/ac/ax. Sometimes only the last letters will be written (e.g. 802.11ax), so pay attention to that.
But buying the latest technology would not guarantee you faster speeds. It will also depend on your Internet router and provider. Your router will also have the same denotations as above. So, if your router is only 802.11ac, there is no need to buy an 802.11ax WLAN module. You will only get 802.11ac speeds in that case. But if you do plan to upgrade your router in a year or so, then I would suggest you buy the latest version. WLAN modules do not get damaged easily, so you future proof your laptop.
The WLAN module uses either mini-PCIe slot or M.2 slot. Laptops before 2014 will probably not have a M.2 slot so you will be stuck with finding one with former interface type (mini-PCIe).
Number of Antennas
The interface is not the only thing to keep in mind. Your laptop will have antennas attached to it. Or an antenna. The laptop manual will provide you with that information.
If you have only one antenna, then choose a card which is single channel. It will be commonly denoted by “1x1”. If you have two antennas, then you can have a dual channel WLAN module, that are denoted by “2x2”. Now you can install a “2x2” module in a laptop with a single antenna; you just would not get the full power of the WLAN module.
This is a controversial topic. Some companies like HP and Lenovo had created a Wi-Fi module whitelist, meaning you could only install the spare parts that they listed in their website. The whitelist is embedded in the laptop BIOS and there was no legal or safe way to remove it.
The only safe way you can remove is via BIOS update. HP had released a BIOS update which removed the whitelist which allowed users to install WLAN module of their choice. So, head to your laptop website and see if there is a BIOS update available.
There many brands like Intel, Qualcomm and Killer that sell WLAN modules. But Intel WLAN modules are widely available and also have the reliable updates. They are cheap and you get one in around $20 to $30 range.
So now that you know what all to look for you should get ready to surf the web or visit your local store for your new hardware. This will take time though, so do not rush into buying the first piece you see. I would suggest you research each part, by reading their description, checking reviews and also searching if other laptop users of your same brand have successfully installed the part. Online forums are a great way to get this sort of information. They helped me out during my upgrades especially regarding the Wi-Fi whitelist. But also visit the official website of the part for the correct information.
Now! Get that manual out and start reading!
Hi, I'm Linto. I write about technology, sports, and everyday stories. Check out my Medium page https://medium.com/@lintolingson for other stories and my Sportskeeda page https://www.sportskeeda.com/profile/lintolingson-1 for my take on football.