Can I upgrade the components in my Mac?

What if we told you that you can take an older Mac and turn it into something that feels and acts like it's fresh from the Apple Store - including jaw-dropping performance, and features such as Handoff or Fusion disk technology that are theoretically only available with latest models?

If you've got a MacBook, Mac mini or iMac powered by an Intel CPU manufactured as early as 2007 then it can be surprising what's possible via a few hardware or software hacks; and there are plenty of upgrades for Mac Pro owners too.

In this article we look at the upgrades that are possible on each category of Mac, as well as discussing some more general Mac upgrade advice.

Wondering what tools you might need to get into your Mac? Look here first: Best tools for repairing and upgrading iPhones & Macs

If you don't want to do something as drastic as upgrading your Mac, read about how to speed up a slow Mac here.

Additional reporting by Keir Thomas

Mac upgrade warnings & limitations

Please note, first of all, that this guide doesn't cover pre-intel Mac models. And it probably goes without saying, but DIY upgrades can invalidate your Mac's warranty.

How to upgrade an iMac

Before you get the screwdrivers out, be sure to check your device serial number against Apple's 'Check Coverage' page.

Now let's talk briefly about what can't be upgraded or hacked.

Put simply, it's often not possible to upgrade the CPU in a Mac, or its GPU (that is, the graphics card). With Mac models featuring Thunderbolt you can attach an external GPU, but those Macs are recent models. In the categories below we explain which components can and can't be upgraded.

Inside your Mac some components simply can't be upgraded, while others can - with a little know-how

Some components can be swapped for replacements if they suffer damage or failure, and there are several different spares outfits online. You can swap out a dead SuperDrive, for example, or a cracked screen for a replacement. But it isn't possible to take advantage of an upgrade at the same time - you can't fit a higher-resolution screen, or upgrade to a more powerful battery, or swap your SuperDrive for a Blu-Ray model (although it is possible to attach a USB Blu-Ray drive).

As for most of the other components in your Mac, however… Well, it's open season. 

On the second page of this article we look specifically at updating RAM, the SSD and creating a Fusion Drive.

How to upgrade a Mac: MacBook Pro

How to upgrade a MacBook, MacBook Air or MacBook Pro 

Once you get the bottom cover open, you'll find the MacBook Pro is surprisingly easy to improve upon. The internal workings changed a little when Apple introduced Retina, but there's still plenty in common between the various models. The MacBook Air is a little more limited, but you should be able to upgrade the SSD and battery. The Retina MacBook on the other hand can't be upgraded at all, unfortunately.

Read next: MacBook buying guide 2017 | MacBook deals 2017

What can't be upgraded?

Processor

In all MacBook models the processor is soldered onto the motherboard and not upgradeable.

RAM (Retina only)

RAM is soldered to the motherboard and cannot be upgraded. Thankfully, this is not the case for pre-Retina MacBooks.

What can be upgraded?

RAM

Difficulty: Easy

What you'll need: Screwdriver, compatible RAM

You may have to remove the lower case to get to it, but once you're there, replacing your Macbook's RAM SO-DIMMs is relatively simple.

Instructions: Read these instructions to change the RAM in the Mid 2012 Unibody MacBook, or look below for your specific model.

Notes: As previously mentioned, RAM upgrades are currently not an option in Retina models.

Apple provides an illustrated guide for memory upgrades. Just click Apple > About this Mac, and click the Memory tab then the Memory Upgrade Instructions link.

You can also find out what kind of RAM you might need using Crucial's system scanner.

Wondering about how much RAM your Mac can actually take? Have a look here. Plus, we have this article about How to install extra RAM memory in a Mac.

How to upgrade a MacBook

HDD (including HDD to SSD)

Difficulty: Hard

What you'll need: Screwdriver, compatible HDD or SSD

As time goes on, hard drives continue to fall in price - and nobody ever complained about having too much storage. So, if you've an old Macbook, and are willing to do a little work, then a new HDD (or SSD) might be just what the doctor ordered…

Instructions: Read these instructions to fit an HDD in an older MacBook, or look below for your specific model

Replacing the optical drive with additional storage media (installing a 'Data Doubler')

Difficulty: Hard

What you'll need: Screwdriver, OWC's 'Data Doubler', compatible HDD or SSD

As optical media appears to be on the way out, many savvy users with older MacBooks are switching out their optical drive for a second HDD or SSD. Here's how.

Instructions: Here are iFixIts intructions to fit a hard drive in a 2011 MacBook, we have instructions for other models below

Notes: This is for pre-Retina models only, Apple did away with optical storage in Retina.

If you're installing a second storage drive into your Mac, you might be interested in our article about how to make your own fusion drive.

SSD (Retina onward)

Difficulty: Hard

What you'll need: Screwdrivers, compatible SSD

Newer, MacBook-compatible SSDs now available can provide the same speed as the one that came with your Mac - but far more storage. Here's how to upgrade yours.

Instructions: Here are iFixIt's instructions to upgrade the Mid 2015 MacBook Pro, for more instructions look below.

Notes: It's worth noting that various Retina models use different proprietary SSD varieties. It is best to check which is right for your MacBook. In the UK, Flexx Memory is a good place to start looking.

Upgrades by MacBook model

Here's a run down of the different post Intel-switch MacBook upgrades you can carry out according to the model:

MacBook Pro upgrades and repairs

2009 13-inch MacBook Pro

  • Hard drive - find out how to do it here.
  • RAM - find out how to do it here.
  • Battery - find out how to do it here.

2010 13-inch MacBook Pro

  • Hard drive - find out how to do it here.
  • RAM - find out how to do it here.
  • Battery - find out how to do it here.

2011 13-inch MacBook Pro (early 2011 and late 2011)

  • Hard drive - find out how to do it here or here.
  • RAM - find out how to do it here or here.
  • Battery - find out how to do it here or here.

2012 13-inch MacBook Pro

  • Hard drive - find out how to do it here.
  • RAM - find out how to do it here.
  • Battery - find out how to do it here.

15-inch MacBook Pro

  • Hard drive - depending on the model you can find out how to do it here, here or here.
  • RAM depending on the model you can find out how to do it here, here or here.
  • Battery: depending on the model you can find out how to do it here, here or here.

MacBook Air upgrades and repairs

2010 11-inch MacBook Air

  • SSD - find out how to do it here.
  • Battery - find out how to do it here.

2011 11-inch MacBook Air

  • SSD - find out how to do it here.
  • Battery - find out how to do it here.

2012 11-inch MacBook Air

  • SSD - find out how to do it here.
  • Battery - find out how to do it here.

2013 11-inch MacBook Air

  • SSD - find out how to do it here.
  • Battery - find out how to do it here.

2014 11-inch MacBook Air

  • SSD - find out how to do it here.
  • Battery - find out how to do it here.

2015 11-inch MacBook Air

  • SSD - find out how to do it here.
  • Battery - find out how to do it here.

2010 13-inch MacBook Air

  • SSD - find out how to do it here.
  • Battery - find out how to do it here.

2011 13-inch MacBook Air

  • SSD - find out how to do it here.
  • Battery - find out how to do it here.

2012 13-inch MacBook Air

  • SSD - find out how to do it here.
  • Battery - find out how to do it here.

2013 13-inch MacBook Air

  • SSD - find out how to do it here.
  • Battery - find out how to do it here.

2014 13-inch MacBook Air

  • SSD - find out how to do it here.
  • Battery - find out how to do it here.

2015 13-inch MacBook Air

  • SSD - find out how to do it here.
  • Battery - find out how to do it here.

Retina MacBook upgrades and repairs

The Retina MacBook is not very repairable at all. If you want to find out about the few things you can change read this.

How to upgrade an iMac 

How to upgrade a Mac: iMac

The iMac (iMac reviews | New iMac rumours) isn't particularly upgrade friendly (most of its upgrades involve screen removal, which can be tricky). Despite this, once you get 'under the hood' you'll find that there are plenty of components waiting to be improved upon.

Note: Barring RAM upgrades - which are very easy if you have a 27-inch model, but less easy for the 21-inch iMac, most iMac modifications involve removing the screen, the outer layer of which is attached via very strong magnets on older models.

Many upgrade guides recommend the use of suction cups to do this. If you don't have suction cups to hand (we didn't) you can use a credit card to lever the outer layer off as we did in the picture below. Just don't break your card in the process…

What can't be upgraded?

In short, you can upgrade almost everything inside the iMac, but there are some 21-inch models for which the RAM can't be touched as it is soldered on.

What can be upgraded?

Whether it's the RAM, hard drive, GPU, CPU, or something else, upgrading the iMac is generally possible, although it can be tricky, especially with the 21.5-inch model…

RAM

Difficulty: Easy (really easy if you have a 27-inch iMac)

What you'll need: Screwdriver

RAM is the easiest thing to upgrade in your iMac because it doesn't involve removing the screen. All you need is a screwdriver and a little patience.

Instructions: Intel 27-inch - with a 27-inch iMac there is a hatch on the back of the screen which allows you to replace the RAM really easily.

Instructions: If you have a Intel 21.5in iMac then we recommend you follow this tutorial or one of the ones linked to below. Apple has recently made it easier to update the RAM in the 21.5in iMac, but it's still difficult to get to it.

Notes: Apple provides an illustrated guide for memory upgrades: just click Apple > About this Mac, and then click the Memory tab and then the Memory Upgrade Instructions link.

You can also find out what kind of RAM you might need using Crucial's system scanner.

Wondering about how much RAM your Mac can actually take? Have a look here.

HDD/SSD

Difficulty: Hard

What you'll need: Screwdriver, some kind of card/suction cups, compatible SSD or HDD

If you want to take advantage of falling storage prices and you're not adverse to taking off your iMac's screen, then a hard drive upgrade is a great way to get a little more life out of your Mac.

Instructions: You could follow this tutorial or or one of the ones linked to below, depending on your model. 

Removing the optical drive to add extra storage

Difficulty: Hard

What you'll need: Screwdriver, some kind of card/suction cups, compatible SSD or HDD

Removing the optical drive isn't an option for every type of iMac, but if you're not seeing much need for DVDs and CDs any more, this is a logical (if somewhat tricky) use of space.

Instructions: You could follow these instructions, depending on the age of your machine. 

Notes: If you're installing a second storage drive into your Mac, you might be interested in learning how to make your own Fusion drive.

How to upgrade an iMac

Graphics card

Difficulty: Hard

What you'll need: 2 credit cards/suction cups, compatible GPU

Whilst upgrading the iMac's graphics card doesn't seem to be popular amongst Mac power users, it is certainly possible.

Instructions: Follow these instructions to update the graphics in your iMac. There are further links below according to the model you have.

How to upgrade an iMac

Processor

Difficulty: Hard

What you'll need: 2 credit cards/suction cups, thermal paste, various screwdrivers, compatible processor

As a rule of thumb, processor upgrades are some of the hardest to get right - as such, they are not quite as popular. The iMac is no exception, but if you're feeling adventurous, take a look below…

Instructions: Follow these instructions to update the processor in your iMac. There are further links below according to the model you have.

Notes: Do you really need to upgrade your processor? If you're looking for performance improvements in an iMac, you may wish to consider replacing your boot drive with an SSD first.

How to upgrade a Mac: Mac Pro (tower)

Upgrades by iMac model

Here's a run down of the different iMac upgrades you can carry out according to the model:

27-inch iMac upgrades

Late 2009 27-inch iMac

  • Hard drive - moderately difficult: find out how to do it here.
  • RAM - easy: find out how to do it here.
  • CPU - moderately difficult: find out how to do it here.
  • GPU - difficult: find out how to do it here.

Mid 2011 27-inch iMac

  • Hard drive - difficult: find out how to do it here.
  • RAM - moderately easy: find out how to do it here.

Late 2012 27-inch iMac

  • Hard drive - difficult: find out how to do it here.
  • RAM - very easy: find out how to do it here.
  • SSD - difficult: find out how to do it here.
  • CPU - difficult: find out how to do it here.

Late 2013 27-inch iMac

  • Hard drive - moderately difficult: find out how to do it here.
  • RAM - moderately difficult: find out how to do it here.
  • SSD - difficult: find out how to do it here.
  • CPU - difficult: find out how to do it here.

Late 2014/2015 Retina display 27-inch iMac

  • Hard drive - moderately difficult: find out how to do it here.
  • RAM - easy: find out how to do it here.
  • SSD - moderately difficult: find out how to do it here.

Mid 2017 Retina display 27-inch iMac

  • RAM - easy: Can be updated via the access hatch at the back of the screen.
  • SSD - difficult: You will need to tear down the system but it is possible.

21.5-inch iMac

Late 2009 21.5-inch iMac

  • Hard drive - moderately difficult: find out how to do it here.
  • RAM - Easy: find out how to do it here.

Mid 2010 21.5-inch iMac

  • Hard drive - moderately difficult: find out how to do it here.
  • RAM - easy: find out how to do it here.
  • SSD - moderately difficult: find out how to do it here.
  • CPU - difficult: find out how to do it here.
  • GPU - difficult: find out how to do it here.

Mid 2011 21.5-inch iMac

  • Hard drive - moderately difficult: find out how to do it here.
  • RAM - easy: find out how to do it here.
  • CPU - difficult: find out how to do it here.
  • GPU - difficult: find out how to do it here.

Late 2012 21.5-inch iMac

  • Hard drive - moderately difficult: find out how to do it here.
  • RAM - moderately difficult: find out how to do it here.
  • CPU - moderately difficult: find out how to do it here.

Late 2013 21.5-inch iMac

  • Hard drive - moderately difficult: find out how to do it here.
  • RAM - moderately difficult: find out how to do it here.
  • SSD - moderately difficult: find out how to do it here.

Mid 2014 21.5-inch iMac

  • Hard drive - moderately difficult: find out how to do it here.
  • SSD - moderately difficult: find out how to do it here.

Late 2015 21.5-inch iMac

  • Hard drive - moderately difficult: find out how to do it here.
  • SSD - moderately difficult: find out how to do it here.

Late 2015 21.5-inch 4K Retina iMac

  • Hard drive - moderately difficult: find out how to do it here.
  • SSD - moderately difficult: find out how to do it here.

How to upgrade a Mac Pro (Tower) 

What can't be upgraded?

In short, you can upgrade almost everything. Apple designed the Mac Pro to be improved upon and, over the years, this flexibility combined with aftermarket ingenuity has made it into what is arguably the ultimate FrankenMac….

What can be upgraded?

Processor

Difficulty: Hard

What you'll need: Various screwdrivers, anti static wrist strap, thermal paste, rubbing alcohol

It is possible to upgrade your Mac Pro's processor but it is not for the faint of heart. Many opt for professional assistance, take a look at the tutorial and decide for yourself.

Instructions: Follow these instructions to update the processor in Early 2008 Mac Pros

Notes: Do you really need to upgrade your processor? If you're looking for performance improvements you may wish to consider replacing your boot drive with an SSD first.

Make sure that your new processor is compatible: Some forum members at MacRumors have created a list of compatible processors.

How to upgrade a tower Mac Pro

RAM

Difficulty: Easy

What you'll need: Nothing

Upgrading the RAM on your Mac Pro is about as straightforward as a Mac upgrade can be. All you need to do is remove the side panel and push down on the ejectors next to each panel.

Instructions: Follow these instructions to upgrade the RAM in the 'cheese-grater' Mac Pros

Notes: Apple provides an illustrated guide for memory upgrades: just click Apple > About this Mac, and then click the Memory tab and then the Memory Upgrade Instructions link.

You can also find out what kind of RAM you might need using Crucial's system scanner.

Wondering about how much RAM your Mac can actually take? Have a look here.

How to upgrade a tower Mac Pro

HDD (via hard drive bays)

Difficulty: Easy

What you'll need: Screwdriver

Thanks to the modular 'sled' design in the Mac Pro, removing and replacing your HDDs is a breeze.

Instructions: Upgrade the hard drive in the cheese-grater Mac Pro

SSD (via hard drive bays)

Difficulty: Medium

What you'll need: Screwdriver, 2.5in hard drive sled mount/adaptor

The Mac Pro's hard drive bays were originally designed for 3.5in HDDs - but you can mount an SSD (which is smaller) using a 2.5in sled/adaptor.

Instructions: How to install an SSD in a 2012 Mac Pro (video)

SSD (via PCIe slot)

Difficulty: Hard

What you'll need: Screwdriver, M.2 PCI-e SSD to PCI-e Adapter Card, SSD (either in 'blade' M.2 form factor or SATA)

Another way to install an SSD into your Mac Pro without even touching your HDD bays is to install it directly via PCIe with an adaptor. The PCIe connection actually yields better performance than the standard SSD through SATA approach, and allows you to mount 5 hard drives internally (1 via PCIe, x4 via SATA).

Instructions: How to add a PCIe Samsung SSD into Mac Pro

Notes: If you opt to use a blade drive instead of a standard SATA SSD, you may want to look at this thread, which provides a list of compatible components.

Want to know what TRIM is, and how it can help your third-party SSD work better? Check out Howtogeek's article on the pros and cons.

Graphics card

Difficulty: Medium

What you'll need: Screwdriver, anti static wrist strap

Unlike with some other models, a graphics card upgrade can seriously boost the performance of your Mac Pro. Be sure to check your card compatibility first.

Instructions: Upgrading an Early 2008 Mac Pro

Notes: Although there are a lot of PCIe compatible graphics cards, most were designed for windows computers and driver support can be an issue. We've provided a few recommendations in our guide: How to upgrade the graphics card on a Mac

Optical Drive to Blu-Ray

Difficulty: Medium

What you'll need: Screwdriver, compatible Blu-Ray drive

For various reasons, Blu-Ray was never a format officially supported by Apple. However, many Blu-Ray drives are compatible if you're willing to put the work in.

Instructions: Upgrading an Early 2008 Mac Pro

Notes: Though not officially supported by Apple, there are some workarounds that'll allow you to watch Blu Ray movies on your Mac. Check our guide here: Watch and rip Blu-ray movies on your Mac

How to upgrade a Mac: Mac Pro

How to upgrade a Mac Pro (Cylinder/2013 and later)

What can't be upgraded?

Officially, Apple only allows us to upgrade the RAM and SSD on the Cylindrical Mac Pro - and these are both relatively easy to do. Unofficially, adventurous Apple users have worked out how to upgrade the processor too.

A note on graphics cards: Both graphics cards are removable and can be replaced, but, due to compatibility issues and a complete lack of aftermarket options, it seems there's nothing really to upgrade to (…yet?). As usual, iFixit have a handy guide for graphics card replacements.

Read next: Mac Pro reviews | New Mac Pro rumours

What can be upgraded?

The Cylinder Mac Pro contains no traditional drive bays and was built mainly for external expansion via Thunderbolt 2. So, if you're looking for additional SATA storage, or more PCIe slots, there are a number of external Thunderbolt 2 products that will do the job for you.

As for what can be upgraded internally, take a look at the below:

RAM

Difficulty: Easy

What you'll need: Nothing

Instructions: How to upgrade the RAM in the 2013 Mac Pro

Notes: It's worth being in mind that the memory latches are not very sturdy and prone to bending if you're not careful. OWC provides a 'nylon pry tool' (AKA "Spudger") for just this, but it's not entirely necessary - a little gentleness and a little patience go a long way.

Apple provides an illustrated guide for memory upgrades: just click Apple > About this Mac, and then click the Memory tab and then the Memory Upgrade Instructions link.

You can also find out what kind of RAM you might need using Crucial's system scanner.

Wondering about how much RAM your Mac can actually take? Have a look here.

How to upgrade a cylinder Mac Pro

Internal SSD

Difficulty: Medium

What you'll need: Screwdriver, compatible 'blade' SSD

There are now a small number of compatible aftermarket SSDs that, although expensive, can provide plenty more internal storage for your Mac Pro (up to 4TB). At the current time, OWC seem to be the only source of such drives.

Instructions: How to update the SSD in a 2013 Mac Pro.

Notes: A more cost-effective way to increase your Mac Pro's storage might be via an external Thunderbolt drive - the 20GBps bandwidth can provide excellent performance.

How to upgrade a cylinder Mac Pro

Processor

Difficulty: Very hard

What you'll need: Screwdrivers, thermal compound, tweezers, spudger

It is possible to upgrade your Mac Pro's processor but it is not for the faint of heart. Many opt for professional assistance, take a look at the tutorial videos linked in the Everymac page below and decide for yourself.

Instructions: Everymac have instructions here

How to upgrade a Mac: Mac mini

How to upgrade a Mac mini 

As a rule of thumb, earlier versions the Mac Mini are not particularly 'upgrade friendly'. There's also quite lot of variation in the internal layout of the various models, which means that some require more disassembly than others - there is often the need to unplug components on the logic board.

Depending on the model you're working with, it's likely that you'll need some kind of flat implement to get the top cover off (blunt, not sharp). Don't let that stop you, though - we managed to do it in a mere 6 minutes.

Read next: Mac mini reviews | New Mac mini rumours

What can't be upgraded?

Processor

In most makes of Mac Mini you can't upgrade the processor - for models released since 2009, processors have been soldered onto the motherboard.

What can be upgraded?

RAM

Difficulty: Hard

What you'll need: Putty knife or equivalent blunt implement, screwdriver, spudger

Instructions: Follow these instructions to update the RAM in the Mac mini

Notes: Apple provides an illustrated guide for memory upgrades: just click Apple > About this Mac, and then click the Memory tab and then the Memory Upgrade Instructions link.

You can also find out what kind of RAM you might need using Crucial's system scanner.

Wondering about how much RAM your Mac can actually take? Have a look here.

How to upgrade a Mac mini

HDD

Difficulty: Hard

What you'll need: Putty knife or equivalent blunt implement, screwdriver, spudger

Instructions: Follow these Instructions to update the HDD in your Mac mini

How to upgrade a Mac mini

Dual Hard Drive Kit (Mac Mini Mid 2011)

Difficulty: Hard

What you'll need: Putty knife or equivalent blunt implement, screwdriver, spudger, Mac Mini dual hard drive kit

Installing two hard drives is not an option for every type of Mac Mini, but if you have a Mid 2011 model, and fancy a challenge - try this.

Guide: Here's how to update the Hard Drive in a 2011 Mac mini

Notes: If you're installing a second storage drive into your Mac, you might be interested in learning how to make your own 'DIY' fusion drive.

On the next page we have specific information about adding RAM and adding an SSD.