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

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. 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. 

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 range 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.

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: Unibody

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.

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: Unibody

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: Unibody

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 learning 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: Mid 2015

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.

How to upgrade a Mac: iMac

How to upgrade an iMac 

The iMac 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, most iMac modifications involve removing the screen, the outer layer of which is attached via very strong magnets. 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 card to lever the outer layer off. Just don't break your card in the process…

Read next: iMac reviews | New iMac rumours

What can't be upgraded?

In short, you can upgrade almost everything, but it can get a little tricky…

How to upgrade an iMac

What can be upgraded?

RAM

Difficulty: Easy

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 21.5in

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 an iMac

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: Intel 21.5in

How to upgrade an iMac

Replacing the optical drive with additional storage media

Difficulty: Hard

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

Replacing 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: Intel 21.5in

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: Intel 27in

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: Intel 27in

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)

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: Early 2008

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: First generation

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: First generation

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: 2012 Mac Pro

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: 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: Early 2008

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: Early 2008

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: Late 2013

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: Late 2013

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

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: A1283

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: A1283

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: Mid 2011

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.

Add new RAM to an old Mac

At no time in the history of computing has it been a bad idea to max-out the RAM of your computer. The best news? As your computer gets older, RAM for it gets cheaper.

Accessing the internals of some Mac minis is as simple as popping off the bottom cover

Older models of Mac are fully expandable and it's usually easy to do so:

  • iMac: You may need a technical screwdriver to open a compartment on the bottom although on some iMacs a small panel beneath the vents on the back of the unit pops off when you press the button beneath.
  • MacBook (including Pro): On older MacBook models with a user-removable battery you'll have to remove the metal guard surrounding the battery slot. On newer models without a user-removable battery it's necessary to remove the entire bottom panel of the MacBook.
  • MacBook Air: Unfortunately it's not possible to upgrade the RAM in a MacBook Air because it's soldered in place, with no memory slots.
  • Mac mini: On some models of Mac mini the bottom panel can be easily popped off, although some require disassembly.

Read next: Which screwdrivers do I need to get into a Mac

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.

Perhaps surprisingly, Apple provides comprehensive instructions for upgrading your Mac's RAM

You'll very likely need to remove and abandon the existing memory modules to upgrade to the maximum amount of memory. For the easiest way to find out what to buy, visit Crucial's website and download its Mac memory scanner. To run this after download and unzipping you'll need to right-click the app and select Open, then click the Open button in the dialog box that appears. Of course, you can take the technical details provided and use them to search Amazon or eBay in order to compare prices – usually the DDR speed (e.g. DDR3, DDR2 etc) is required, along with the “PC” figure (e.g. PC3-8500). Most Macs take small outline memory modules, called SO-DIMMs.

Fit as much RAM as you can afford. 4GB is OK. 8GB is good. 16GB will truly future-proof your Mac, although most older Macs max-out between 4 and 8GB.

Crucial's handy memory scanner app will tell you exactly what you need for your Mac's maximum RAM

Pro tip: A small minority of older Mac models have been found to be able to take more than the "official" maximum RAM stated by Apple. EverydayMac provides a comprehensive list.

RAM is usually fitted in two modules. If your Mac maxes-out at 8GB, for example, then the best policy is to fit two 4GB modules. Mixing and matching different sizes of modules is possible – 2GB with a 4GB, for example - but identically sized modules of an identical technical specification (and ideally the same manufacturer and model) allow dual-channel operation. This brings a slight but significant performance boost, reckoned to be around 5 percent in real-life situations.

To discover your Mac model details click Apple > About this Mac. Usually this takes the form of a year (e.g. MacBook Pro 13-inch Mid 2009) but for some websites you might want to confirm you've got the right product by checking what Apple refers to as the "marketing model number". This can be found by again clicking About this Mac, then selecting the Support tab and clicking Specifications. This will open a web page listing all the technical details about your Mac. The model number will be a short burst of letters and numbers - something like MB991LL/A - and it will be listed in a table somewhere within that page.

Read: How to add RAM to a Mac

Add an SSD or more storage to an old Mac

The second piece of fruit ripe for plucking is storage. Put simply, replacing your boot drive with a solid state disk (SSD) will mean your Mac boots within seconds and apps will load in the blink of an eye.

Maxing-out your Mac's RAM and fitting an SSD will give you what feels like a brand new computer. It really is astonishing. Note that MacBook Airs have unique storage requirements, as discussed later, but other MacBook owners, as well as Mac mini and iMac owners should prepare to have their minds blown. 

SSDs can bring insane performance boosts to older computers

The upgrade method of least resistance is to simply swap out your existing drive for an SSD. With a MacBook that doesn't have a removable battery, or Mac mini, you should be able to remove the bottom panel, much as you did for the memory upgrade, and appropriate the fittings from the existing drive (although some Mac minis may require disassembly). For MacBooks with a removable battery, the same panel in the battery compartment that protects the RAM can be removed to gain easy access to the hard disk, which it should be possible to remove by pulling a tag.

Sadly, on an iMac, replacing the disk is much harder. You'll have to first remove the screen, which can be challenging and brings a comparatively high risk of damaging something. See this OWC video tutorial for a hair-raising example.

Once again it iFixIt has some excellent illustrated guides for all models of Mac and will also sell you the tools required. A simple YouTube search can also pay dividends.

An alternative method of installation on a MacBook is to remove the SuperDrive (that is, the DVD drive) and put the SSD is the gap where the SuperDrive used to be. The original disk can be left in place and the SSD selected as the boot drive via the Startup Disk option in System Preferences. Because the optical drive uses a special SATA/power connector, a special caddy for the SSD is required, which will also hold it securely in place. Examples can be found on Amazon and eBay, and are usually inexpensive. Some kits come complete with a USB connector that lets you use the removed SuperDrive externally.

An SSD can be fitted to a MacBook via a special caddy that's designed to replace the SuperDrive

MacBook Air owners have been aware of solid-state storage benefits since the very first model went on sale, although Apple refers to it as Flash Storage (and to be fair their version resembles more a stick of RAM than a typical disk drive). MacBook Air owners might be able to upgrade to larger storage, often with a speed boost over the original drive too, although their computers use a proprietary storage connector and require a specific upgrade. Manufacturers like OWC and Transcend produce the goods - just Google or hit eBay or Amazon specifying the model number, as discussed earlier. Notably, Air owners cannot fit a standard SSD.

Adding two or more SSDs to a Mac

On some models of iMac or Mac Mini you might be able to fit an SSD to an unused SATA channel connector on the logic board, and squirrel it away beneath the existing disk, or under the SuperDrive. This might be in addition to the old drive, or you might simply fit two SSDs. You'll need a kit that includes mounts and cables. OWC, iFixIt and others sells various examples, some of which are available through retailers like Amazon. However, fitting a second SSD to an iMac or Mac Mini will very likely involve an almost complete disassembly of the computer. Again, you'll find tutorials at iFixIt and on YouTube.

Fitting two (or more) SSDs isn't as daft as it sounds. SSDs are more expensive than standard disks, with prices ramping-up sharply for higher capacities, and you might find two 256GB SSDs cost less than a single 512GB model, for example. However, not all drives are fully Mac compatible and manufacturers often don't document Mac compatibility. A good way of checking is to read user reviews on sites like Amazon.

Pro tip: SATA technology is backwards compatible: a SATA3.x drive will work in computer running SATA2 or SATA1, for example.

Pro tip #2: Before fitting the SSD in your Mac, ensure the drive is using the latest firmware. Show-stopping bugs are sadly all-too common, and newer firmware can also mean improved speeds. Unfortunately upgrading the firmware can usually only be done by temporarily attaching the SSD to a Windows PC and using special software. See the manufacturers site for details.

Time Machine provides a relatively fuss-free way of cloning your original disk's contents onto a new SSD

You'll need to clone your existing OS X installation plus data onto the new SSD. Arguably the easiest way of doing this is to create a Time Machine backup before fitting the new SSD and boot to the recovery console, before restoring to the new SSD. If all else fails apps like SuperDuper or Carbon Copy Cloner can be used to clone one disk to another.

Create a DIY Fusion Drive

If your Mac ends up with the original drive plus an SSD alongside, an exciting prospect opens up: coupling the two disks together to create a DIY Fusion drive.

If you have two SSDs installed you can use the same technique to combine them into a single disk, akin to RAID. Fit a 256GB and 128GB drive to your Mac, for example, and you'll end-up with what appears to OS X to be a single 384GB SSD (actually it'll be 372GB because of the strange way disks manufacturers measure size).

An older hard disk and an SSD can be combined into one super-fast Fusion drive

The technique required to create a DIY Fusion drive is somewhat advanced and induces palm sweats in even the most technically savvy. You'll need to wipe your existing data and restore it, for example. In the steps below we use as a basis Macworld's guide to creating a DIY Fusion drive from 2012. However, the introduction of Yosemite and important changes in the way it handles disks means a few additional steps are necessary. We assume for the purpose of these steps you're using a Time Machine disk directly attached to your Mac:

  1. Start by creating a full Time Machine backup – click the Time Machine icon on the menu bar and select Back Up Now. For insurance purposes you might also want to create a Yosemite install USB stick too, which you can use to boot and reinstall if anything goes wrong.
  2. Reboot your Mac and hold down Alt (Option on some keyboards) before the Apple logo appears. When asked to select a disk, choose to boot from your Time Machine disk.
  3. You'll boot to the Time Machine disk's recovery console. At the OS X Utilities listing, choose to open Disk Utility.
  4. You must now wipe and repartition both internal disks (you did follow Step 1 and create a backup, right?). Start by selecting the partition on the first disk on the left of the screen – this is the entry indented below the main entry for the disk – then select the Erase tab and select to create a Mac OS Extended (Journaled) partition. Repeat this step on the other disk.
  5. On each disk in turn, select the main entries for the disk in the list at the left and opt to create a new partition on both by selecting the Partition tab, then 1 from the dropdown beneath Partition Layout. Again choose Mac OS Extended (Journaled) for the format. However, click the Options button and select the GUID Partition Table option.
  6. Quit Disk Utility, then select to open Terminal by clicking Utilities > Terminal.
  7. Follow the steps in the MacWorld DIY Fusion guide from the “Bust open Terminal” heading downwards, typing the commands listed. They're very straightforward and the process is quick, but read through first to familiarise yourself.
  8. When finished, quit Terminal. You'll be returned to the main Recovery screen, from where you can select to restore from a Time Machine backup. Your new DIY Fusion drive will appear as a destination.
  9. When rebooting for the first time after restoring your data, you might see a flashing question mark folder. Turn your Mac off and then on again, but this time hold down the Alt key (Option on some keyboards). Select the first hard disk entry you see by using the cursor keys and hitting Enter. Once you've booted into OS X, open System Preferences and select Startup Disk, then select the boot disk and click the Restart button.

Following this your Mac will appear to have only one disk, and you simply won't be aware that you're actually accessing two. You can enable FileVault in the usual way within the Security section of System Preferences.

Read more: Should I upgrade to a Fusion Drive when buying a Mac and iMac with Fusion Drive review

Get Handoff, AirDrop and better Wi-Fi on an old Mac

Only recent models of Mac are compatible with the Handoff/Continuity features introduced with Yosemite. This allows your Mac and iOS devices to instantly pick up on emails, websites, documents, map locations, and much more - start an email on your Mac and you can continue instantly on your iPhone.

Older Macs lack the low-power Bluetooth v4.0 mode required for Handoff/Continuity. Alas, buying an inexpensive USB Bluetooth v4.0 dongle doesn't fix the situation - unless you apply the Continuity Activation hack, which brings not only virtually full Handoff/Continuity support but also enables other cool features such as AirDrop between iOS and Macs. To learn how it's done, read our guide to getting Handoff and Airdop on an old Mac.

A cheap USB Bluetooth 4.0 adapter is all that's needed hardware-wise to enable Handoff and Continuity on older Macs

On some Mac mini or MacBook Air models you might not even need to upgrade your hardware, while on other Macs it might be possible to upgrade the AirPort card in your Mac instead of using a USB dongle, which might have the added benefit of upgrading your Mac's Wi-Fi capabilities to faster speeds (provided you've a compatible router, of course). Start by searching the forums of iFixIt, where such questions are frequently asked. Once again bear in mind that fitting an AirPort upgrade will probably involve partial or full disassembly of your Mac. Additionally, note that AirPort cards are usually expensive. 

ExpressCard options for older Macs

For a few years some MacBook models featured an ExpressCard slot. Although this technology is in the dying throes of its lifespan, you can still get some useful add-ons, such as adapters that bring USB 3.0 to your Mac. Just search your favourite site, such as Amazon. However, always check for Mac compatibility. Again, this can often be done by reading the reviews of buyers in the product description. 

Read next:

How to upgrade the CPU in a Mac

How to upgrade the graphics card in a Mac

Here's something else you might like to do: How to create Automator Actions and How to use Automator on the Mac