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frugal technology, simple living and guerrilla large-appliance repair
Tue, 03 Jan 2017

Adding memory to a laptop when they don't want you to add memory

When we bought my daughter a cheap Asus laptop a couple of years ago, I knew it had only 2 GB of RAM. But I also knew, or thought anyway, that I would add memory at some point in the near future. After all, upgrading memory is easy, right?

The answer is yes, I suppose, if you have the kind of Windows laptop where you can get the battery out by switching a lever. The hard drive and memory are a plastic door and a couple of screws away.

That's how it is on my 2013-purchased HP Pavilion.

But on my daughter's 2014-made Asus Aspire E15 laptop? Nope (battery access), nope (hard drive access) and nope (memory access).

To do anything -- change the hard drive, memory or even the battery, you have to remove 18 screws from the bottom of the case, crack it open with a case-cracking tool (I use a little plastic spatula from a long-dead and -gone mini food processor), and then start taking off parts.

To get to the RAM module on this Acer, you have to remove the hard drive, pull about a dozen cables of various types and then remove the entire motherboard from the case BECAUSE THE RAM IS ON THE BOTTOM.

If I hadn't pretty much torn down and rebuilt more than a couple of laptops, I wouldn't have even attempted it.

It's frustrating. Laptops traditionally allow the user to swap in new RAM and hard drives. You might want to do an upgrade, or a drive can go bad. And batteries? Mine last about a year and a half, and then I need to replace them.

So now that tablets are ubiquitous and are basically glued together, laptops, especially cheap ones, are not serviceable or upgradable?

If the hard drive dies or I need more memory, it's just tough tacos?

No. I do not accept that.

So for this Acer laptop, I knew from online searches that it wouldn't be easy, but it was doable.

I was able to take the laptop apart -- pretty much completely apart -- replace the 2GB memory module with an 8GB part I got on eBay and then put it all back together in under an hour.

Here's what I had to do:

Get new RAM

  • Figure out which memory I needed (I used the Crucial System Scanner app)

  • Order RAM over eBay. (I actually ordered Crucial-brand memory).

Gather tools and materials

  • 0 and 00 Phillips screwdrivers
  • Plastic case-splitting tool (I use a mini spatula from a mini food processor)
  • Tray to hold screws and other parts
  • Post-Its and pencil to label parts as they come off (I usually number the parts as I remove them so I know what goes back in what order, but I didn't need to do that this time)
  • Towel to work on (so laptop isn't right on the table and screws don't go far when they fall out, or are gently "tapped" out from above

The process

  • Remove 18 screws from bottom of laptop
  • Slide out plastic "placeholder" from where optical drive would go if laptops still shipped with them
  • Use case-splitting tool to split case all around
  • Take a picture of what inside ribbon-cables look like
  • Remove all ribbon cables connecting everything from the top of the case (keyboard, touchpad, etc.) to the motherboard
  • Realize that the single RAM slot is on the BOTTOM of the motherboard, requiring full removal of that board
  • Remove hard drive screws and remove hard drive (necessary to get the motherboard out)
  • Remove various cables plugged into motherboard
  • Remove screw on motherboard and wireless unit to free motherboard
  • Turn motherboard upside-down, remove 2GB RAM module and replace with 8GB module
  • Reverse everything, putting it all back together, stopping before screwing back bottom of case to make sure laptop boots and runs and recognizes RAM
  • Put the 18 screws back

That's the procedure.

It SHOULD have been

  • Remove door to access RAM
  • Remove old RAM
  • Insert new RAM
  • Close door

I don't know if ANY laptops made these days allow easy access to the RAM, hard drive and battery. I don't worry about these things until I am shopping for a laptop.

All I can say is that it's not right to sell a laptop that doesn't allow for user replacement of the hard drive, RAM and battery.