In recent years Apple has soldered in many parts of their Macs – including HDDs, SSDs, RAM, etc. – to prevent users from upgrading. However, there are a few Macs still available across sites such as eBay and Amazon that are not only close-to-par with their current gens in areas like processing power, but they offer the ability to upgrade general hardware.
Generally Mac Pros and Mac Minis will be easiest to work with. Smaller systems like those found in the Macbook and Macbook Air include smaller (and sometimes custom) parts that are harder to work with. This article will detail how you can save a few bucks by buying a used, slightly older Mac, and upgrade some parts to get it up to speed with the current generations.
What Is Worth Upgrading?
When it comes to making upgrades to your Mac, or any PC for that matter, you first need to consider which devices are truly worthwhile for the money. Also not to be overlooked is what parts specifically should be upgraded to boost performance. When using this term “upgrading,” mainly the computer’s RAM and hard drives come to mind.
RAM is fairly cheap and easy to acquire. If you find that launching programs is horrendously slow or that you experience crashes and freezes, a RAM upgrade may need to be in the works. To check RAM usage, try an app like Dr. Cleaner Elite.
On the other hand but similarly related, hard drives also are a major player in a computer’s performance. If Finder seems to take a while to load, file transfer is slow, or programs take a while to respond – you may be interested in upgrading your Mac’s hard drive. There are three main reasons to replace a drive:
- The drive is failing.
- More storage is needed.
- An SSD is tremendously faster.
In regard to tackling reason two, rather than upgrading for the sake of more storage, try using an external drive. You can back up your main drive’s important files to an external drive and delete the files from the main drive to free up some space.
Which Macs Can Not Be Upgraded?
Some models cannot be upgraded at all, while devices like the 2014 Mac Mini only support a hard drive upgrade. This is because the RAM was soldered into place.
Here is a quick rundown of most devices that have their RAM pre-configured and soldered into place:
- 2014 Mac Mini or later
- MacBook Pro older than 2012
- Macbook Air Models
- Macbooks older than 2009
- 2015 21.5″ iMac or later
Unfortunately, it also looks like hard drive upgrades are becoming impossible with newer devices like the Touch Bar Macbook Pro, as they have their SSDs soldered into the logic board.
If you are still not sure, try a YouTube search for “[model name/number] RAM/hard drive upgrade.” If you do not find a result, it simply is not a likely endeavor. And if you do decide to upgrade on your own, watching a YouTube walkthrough is highly recommended.
A Disclaimer Before You Tear Open Your Mac
Seriously, do read this, please. If your Mac is still under warranty, and you open it up for any reason on your own, you will void the warranty! Once a single screw has been removed, Apple will not touch the device. Proceed with caution or consider hiring a trained repairman to do the upgrade work for you. Consider the cost to performance return rate and whether or not you can take the risk of messing up an install. I would not attempt a repair or upgrade on a mission critical machine if you have not done such an upgrade in the past.
Some of the Best Macs to Upgrade
In conclusion, if you need a powerful machine on the cheap, look to an older model Mac Mini or Mac Pro, as they are easily upgraded. If you need a more portable machine, the MacBook Air is supportive of PCIe flash storage upgrades. Unfortunately, the RAM is soldered in place from the factory.
To be able to upgrade both RAM and a hard drive but still have portability, you may wish to look towards a 2012 Macbook Pro. This is the newest MacBook Pro that still offers both RAM and hard drive upgradability. If you just wish to upgrade the drive only, look towards a 2014 Macbook Pro.
Upgrading an older Mac is only a viable option if, once again, the device is not mission critical and if you are okay with not having the most up-to-date software, hardware, and or support from Apple in the coming years.