In my adventures as a technician, I have come across a number of people who want to upgrade their own computers, but are not quite sure what to do. Actually, I empathize with them, because while I can take apart a computer with very little thought (I had been known to completely disassemble and reassemble my “Wallstreet” PowerBook while talking on the phone), the concept of basic auto repair remains rather elusive for me. As a result of this, when it recently became time to replace the HVAC blower in my car, I was forced to really look at what I needed to perform this repair myself.
What does this have to do with computer repair? Quite a bit, actually. Once I got that information together, I realized, that much of what I needed to affect the fan replacement is what was required for most general computer upgrades. I also realized that this was (mostly) what people were asking for when questioning me about their own computer repairs.
So, with that in mind, here is the basic list of what you need when you upgrade your computer.
Knowledge of how to perform the installation and/or a how-to guide.
In flowchart form, most (if not all) systems – computer, automotive or otherwise – are fairly straight forward in setup. Actual physical layout, however, can be somewhat tricky. For my car, I purchased a take-apart/repair guide. For your Mac, your best resource is the manual that came with your computer, which generally lists all the user-performable upgrades. Another great resource is the Support section of the Apple Web site, which often has upgrade information. Last, but certainly not least, we also have OWC’s Tech Center, where you can find video walkthroughs of most, if not all, the main Mac upgrades we offer.
The proper parts.
This almost goes without saying, but you need to make sure that the part you’re installing/replacing is the correct one for your computer. Just like windshield wipers for a 1998 Ford Taurus won’t fit on a 2008 Prius, if your computer requires an IDE/ATA hard drive, the fastest, largest SATA drive in the world isn’t going to do you any good.
If you don’t know what parts are appropriate for your particular computer, you can usually find that information in your User Manual, as well. Alternatively (and usually more specific) you can go to MyOWC, where you can select your computer model, and get a list of all the compatible upgrades we offer for that machine. If neither of those work for you, talk to someone familiar with your model computer (such as an Apple Genius or an OWC Sales Representative) and draw on their experience to get the right part.
An appropriate work space.
Both cars and computers have specific repair environments that are “ideal” to work in. When working on your car, you’d ideally be in a mechanic’s garage, with a hydraulic lift, diagnostic equipment, and the like. With a computer, you ideally want a static-free environment, with grounding straps, testing equipment and all sorts of tools and specialty equipment.
However, for the average DIY project, these situations are not a realistic situation. For most basic auto repair, all you need is an open space that you can move around in comfortably – a heated storage space worked well for me. For most basic computer upgrades, all you need is an open work space, and a way to keep major sources of static electricity away – working at the kitchen table with the family cat locked in the other room is generally sufficient for most computer repairs.
The appropriate tools
When replacing something on your car, you need to have the right tools. If your socket set is metric, you’re not very likely going to remove that ¼” hex bolt without stripping something. The same thing goes with the screws on your computer. The screwdrivers in your average home tool kit aren’t likely going to work when opening a MacBook. You need smaller Phillips screw heads, the occasional Torx 8 screwdriver, or even something simple like a plastic pry tool.
I spent several years picking up the parts to my tool kit, but you don’t have to. The Newer Technology 11-Piece tool kit has the appropriate tools for taking apart about 95% of the machines I come across, for less than $20
This is one that a lot of people forget. In almost every case of major error I’ve come across, one of the main causes of trouble was that the installer rushed through the job because they “needed” the repaired/upgraded machine “right away.” As much as that extra bit of memory or faster hard drive may help get a job done faster, taking your machine down at a critical time is almost a sure-fire way to ensure something will go wrong.
By waiting until you can afford some computer down-time, you not only get your project done on time, but you also remove some of the pressure to finish, allowing you to concentrate on the work at hand.
Upgrading your computer is not a difficult task to do, even if you’ve never done it before. As long as you make sure to have the proper tools, parts, information and time, you can accomplish anything.