How to Add RAM to Your Laptop

Getting to the Memory

Gaining access to the memory on your laptop is usually a simple matter of unscrewing a panel on the bottom of the unit. In some cases, however, the task may instead involve removing the keyboard, or even disassembling virtually the entire unit.

If you're lucky, you'll just have the bottom panel to get through. Remove it, and you should see the memory slots on the bottom of the motherboard. Upgrade the SODIMM modules using the techniques we described earlier.

If you have to remove the keyboard. This is somewhat more difficult than simply unscrewing a panel, but it's not terribly challenging in most cases. Commonly, you need to remove the top panel of the upper deck between the keyboard and the display, or remove the entire keyboard deck by prying or removing screws from the bottom of the laptop. If you must remove the entire keyboard deck, you'll have to remove some screws from the bottom of the unit or (on some thin-and-light laptops) spudging along the seam between the top and bottom parts of the case.

If you need to remove your laptop keyboard, be careful not to rip out the cable that connects the keyboard to the motherboard.

Once you've removed the appropriate portions of the keyboard deck, the keyboard should slide upward and out with no further effort; if it doesn't, you'll have to remove a few more screws. The keyboard is connected to the motherboard by a ribbon cable, so be careful and lift it only slightly to discover the means and angle of attachment.

Usually you can lift the keyboard up and out of the way without disconnecting the ribbon cable. If you do need to remove the keyboard entirely, you'll have to unlatch a clamp on the back of the motherboard's keyboard connector. Flip the latch up to release the cable. You may also need to remove an RF shield, typically by removing more screws, though you may also find items taped to the shield. Peel the tape back, and if you have any low-adhesive material, use it to protect the sticky side of the tape.

At this point, you should see the exposed memory slots, and you can replace the SODIMM modules using the procedures described above.

Regrettably, some vendors still sell laptops with memory slots positioned on the bottom of the motherboard but with no access panel. Faced with this type of design, you must disassemble practically the entire laptop in order to access them. The documentation provided by the vendor rarely covers this daunting process. The vendor may have a technician's manual available online for downloading, but the odds are slim.

If you have an older laptop, you may need to disassemble the entire case to get to the motherboard and add new memory modules.

However, it's not rocket science, and helpful individuals from every corner of the planet have published guides and (in most cases) videos on how to disassemble and reassemble virtually every electronic device in existence. Search the Web, especially YouTube, and you're bound to find a guide.

Tip: It pays to be organized and to take notes. For a complex breakdown, find a container divided into many sections. Place the screws and parts from each major step into a separate section. Videotape the disassembly procedure or take photos that show where screws and other parts go at each major step. When you reassemble a unit, this visual record can be a lifesaver, or at least a time saver.

The basic steps of the process are almost always the same:

  1. Flip the laptop over and remove the screws holding the keyboard deck in place. Remove the keyboard deck. This may require sliding a spudger along the seam between the lower portion of the case and the keyboard deck to release the snaps holding the two sections together. Some modern units are sealed, so don't assume that there's an easy way in. If you discover that your laptop vendor used hot glue to hold things together, you might want to farm out the chore?it's easy to mess things up with heat.
  2. Remove the keyboard and other components that prevent you from dislodging the motherboard. This will involve taking out the screws used to secure hard drives, modems, Wi-Fi modules, and other components, as well as detaching clamped ribbon cables, regular cables. or antennas with pressure-fit connectors. You'll probably also have to remove metal RF shields. Be gentle and read about the hazards below.
  3. Freeing the motherboard so that you can flip it over and access the memory slots usually involves no more than removing another few screws. The ports integrated onto the motherboard protrude out the case, however, so you may have to jockey the board somewhat as you pull it out. Again, watch out for hidden cables.

Disassembly Hazards

The number one rule for successfully disassembling a laptop or other device is simply this: Do not force things. If you have to exert more than modest pressure to remove or separate parts, a hidden screw or fastener is probably in play. If you see plastic bending, stop immediately and look for the hidden fastener. You may be have to remove another part or turn the unit over to find what's holding things together. Many vendors hide screws under rubber feet, labels, and panels.

Many types of cables run between various components. Even if you don't feel any resistance initially, carefully examine any component that you're separating for cables before yanking it out completely.

Removing ribbon cables requires flipping up a tab or latch at the back of the slot where the cable terminates. Wire and antenna connectors usually end in pressure-fit connectors that you'll have to pry loose. The latter are round and are usually flat-fit against the motherboard.

Ultimately, if you have the proper documentation, proceed patiently, don't force things, and keep all parts organized, you should have little trouble replacing or upgrading your memory. Bon chance.

Of related interest: How to Replace Your Laptop Hard Drive

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