Macworld Masterclass: Upgrade your Mac

Make your Mac more stable, last longer and be even faster with upgraded components. We show you what’s possible

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  • upgrade07 Intro
  • upgrade01 Step 1: Assemble your tools
  • upgrade02 Step 2: Identify your machine
  • upgrade03 Step 3: Fitting a battery
  • upgrade04 Step 4: Buying a battery
  • upgrade05 Step 5: Spares or repairs
  • upgrade06 Step 6: First memory
  • upgrade07 Step 7: RAM in a MacBook
  • upgrade08 Step 8: RAM in desktop Macs
  • upgrade09 Step 9: RAM in iMacs
  • upgrade10 Step 10: Upgrading your hard drive
  • upgrade11 Step 11: Which drive do I choose?
  • upgrade12 Step 12: Need some speed?
  • upgrade13 Step 13: Installing OS X
  • upgrade14 Step 14: Upgrading the graphics card
  • upgrade15 Step 15: Audo expansion
  • More stories
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Intro

One way to keep your Mac fresh and fast is to upgrade and refurbish it. Our options for this are limited compared to many PC owners. Macs are highly designed machines, and many already run at their optimum speed and efficiency, but there are several key hardware changes that can make your Mac even better.

We’ve confined our advice to cover Apple computers built since 2008. Go back any further and you’ll encounter issues with PowerPC architecture and a range of divergent designs. We’ve also sidestepped the MacBook Air, which isn’t designed to be upgraded.

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Next Prev upgrade07

One way to keep your Mac fresh and fast is to upgrade and refurbish it. Our options for this are limited compared to many PC owners. Macs are highly designed machines, and many already run at their optimum speed and efficiency, but there are several key hardware changes that can make your Mac even better.

We’ve confined our advice to cover Apple computers built since 2008. Go back any further and you’ll encounter issues with PowerPC architecture and a range of divergent designs. We’ve also sidestepped the MacBook Air, which isn’t designed to be upgraded.

 

Step 2 of 16: Step 1: Assemble your tools

Before attempting any upgrade, make sure you have the right tools. We have a general purpose kit with a set of small Philips screwdrivers, a T6 screwdriver for hex screws and an antistatic wristband. You may also need a plectrum or a plastic putty spreader. Try Maplin (www.maplin.co.uk) for cheap tools.

 

Step 3 of 16: Step 2: Identify your machine

The specs of Apple computers vary widely from model to model, as well as from version to version. Grab Mactracker (available on the Mac App Store) to identify your model and find out what’s already under the hood. Need more information? Use your Mac’s built-in System Profiler.

 

Step 4 of 16: Step 3: Fitting a battery

Over time, the life of the battery in your laptop will diminish. As long as it’s not built into a unibody Mac laptop you may be able to replace it with a higher capacity battery. To remove the old one, carefully insert a penny into the battery lock, gently twist it clockwise and it should pop out.

 

Step 5 of 16: Step 4: Buying a battery

Apple laptop batteries can be expensive to replace as they aren’t standard items, unlike those found in PCs. You can find non-Apple batteries that are designed to fit your MacBook with higher capacities than Apple’s own designs, but be careful – if the price looks too good to be true, it probably is.

 

Step 6 of 16: Step 5: Spares or repairs

If you’re upgrading or refurbishing an older machine, you might consider buying a broken Mac. No, really. Get yourself onto eBay and search for an identical model to your own listed for ‘spares or repairs’. You can pick up entire machines for less than the cost of a new laptop keyboard or screen.

 

Step 7 of 16: Step 6: First memory

Use Mactracker (from the Mac App Store) to find out how much more RAM you can install and what type to buy. Be sure to order it from a reputable source as not all RAM is the same. Be careful when fitting it too; ensure that your machine is switched off and unplugged and the battery is removed, if possible.

 

Step 8 of 16: Step 7: RAM in a MacBook

In recent MacBooks, you need to remove 10 screws in the bottom of the case to access the RAM. On 2008 models, access to the RAM slots (and hard drive) is via the battery bay. Older PowerBooks have easily accessible RAM bays. For detailed instructions, visit Apple’s Support Pages (support.apple.com/kb/ht1270).

 

Step 9 of 16: Step 8: RAM in desktop Macs

Accessing the RAM slots – and any upgradable component – is relatively easy for Mac Pros. You simply drop the side panel. For a list of full instructions, visit Apple’s Support Pages (support.apple.com/kb/HT4433). Easiest of all, the new Mac mini has a dedicated access port on the bottom of the unit.

 

Step 10 of 16: Step 9: RAM in iMacs

Accessing the RAM slots in modern iMacs is also very easy. There’s an access port held in place by one
or two screws on the bottom of the unit. Tabs help you remove and replace the existing memory modules and access the empty slot. For instructions, see Apple’s Support Pages (support.apple.com/kb/ht1423).

 

Step 11 of 16: Step 10: Upgrading your hard drive

This can be a significant upgrade, but it’s seldom an easy process. On an iMac, you could end up dismantling the entire unit. Start by asking yourself if you really need to do it. If you’re running out of space, or using very large files, the answer may be yes, but the process could take you a whole day.

 

Step 12 of 16: Step 11: Which drive do I choose?

The best place to start is, again, Mactracker. Find out what size and configuration your current drive is and make your upgrade choice accordingly. As a rule of thumb, you’ll be looking for a 2.5in SATA HD for MacBooks and Mac minis and a 3.5in SATA HD for Mac Pros and iMacs.

 

Step 13 of 16: Step 12: Need some speed?

There’s another reason to upgrade your hard drive – and that’s to switch to solid state storage. SSDs are becoming far more affordable, although this upgrade may be better suited to older machines where a 60GB or 120GB drive would provide storage comparable to it’s existing spec.

 

Step 14 of 16: Step 13: Installing OS X

Upgrading the hard drive? You’ll need to reinstall OS X too. That’ll require a retail OS X disk, a Lion USB drive or the disk that shipped with your Mac to boot into the installer. From there you can format the drive, and install OS X from scratch or via a disk image. See our October issue for more advice.

 

Step 15 of 16: Step 14: Upgrading the graphics card

PC users can easily replace their graphics cards. If you’re an iMac, MacBook or Mac mini owner, you can’t. If you’re a Mac Pro owner, the process is easy, but few cards are compatible. The Apple Store has two ATI Radeon upgrades. See Apple’s Support Pages (support.apple.com/kb/HT2848) for details.

 

Step 16 of 16: Step 15: Audo expansion

On Macs, the only real option for audio port expansion is to go with an external device. Fortunately, the external sound card market is thriving as more users turn to using laptops for recording – and many are Mac compatible. We currently like the Avid Pro Tools Mbox Mini, retailing at around £250.

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