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Mac 101: How to Upgrade a Computer with Soldered Components

(Neither the SSD nor memory is upgradable in the 2016 MacBook Pro with Touch Bar, pictured above.)

On January 15, 2008, Apple took a major step with its laptop line. The first edition of the ultra-thin MacBook Air was announced that day, and it featured memory that was soldered into the board, eliminating users’ ability to perform DIY RAM upgrades. Previous generation Apple laptops had contained user-upgradable memory, but the new MacBook Air locked owners into the amount of RAM that was installed at the factory.

The trend toward soldering expanded beyond memory in 2015 when Apple attached the solid-state drive directly into the board of its newly refreshed MacBook line and again in 2016 with certain MacBook Pro models. As with the memory, the SSD would not be user-upgradable.

The choice to solder crucial components that were previously replaceable has brought criticism from the DIY repair community and left many Mac owners frustrated by their lack of options to add performance or replace failed parts.

However, there are options for owners of these non-upgradable Mac models to get more from their computers while extending their lifespan and reducing e-waste. While it is still impossible to upgrade memory externally, there are many ultra-fast external storage solutions, docks that add ports, or even external GPU solutions for Macs with non-upgradable components.

So how can you find out which DIY or external upgrades are compatible with your particular Mac model? The easiest way is to use OWC’s proprietary My Upgrades tool.

OWC created the My Upgrades process to help users quickly and painlessly find the right upgrades for their specific Macs. With My Upgrades, users will see only the hardware and software results that are compatible with their machine, and they’ll instantly be able to find and order whichever upgrades and solutions they need. In fact, if there is an upgrade available, it’s a good bet that OWC has it. You can also upgrade your specs with a full swap with OWC’s selection of new, used and factory refurbished Macs.

For step-by-step instruction on how to use OWC’s My Upgrades tool and add performance and capabilities to your Mac with soldered components, please read this recent Rocket Yard article:

When buying a Mac with non-upgradeable memory or SSDs, we always recommend buying as much memory as you can afford. We also recommend that you carefully calculate the right amount of SSD storage you need in order to avoid overbuying, as factory SSD storage can still be costly. In general, the sweet spot for working storage for many users is 500GB to 1TB.

Need to know if your Mac has soldered components? Contact OWC customer service for assistance!

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  • At least for personal computers I buy with my own money I refuse to buy anything I can’t upgrade. In the recent past that included any of apple’s lower end laptops and I stopped buying apple computers for my kids long ago for that reason. For work this issue has caused me more grief than I care to talk about here. It’s gotten to a point where I have to step back and ask if it’s really worth it? I have a lifetime of software and processes I have developed for a platform that that has gone so far off into a direction that doesn’t represent what I do anymore I have to conclude these guys don’t care about us anymore. They are literally converting the entire Mac line into a giant iPad with that same disposable hardware mentality and functionality. I’m just waiting for the next OS to come out with giant clunky icons with a system that is so tightly managed that in the future you won’t be able to install anything except through the App Store.

  • I have a MacBook Air with 4GIG RAM that I will likely need to boost to 8 or 16 GIG RAM for multi external camera recording via a switcher. I have two Canon Vixia 800’s and one Canon Vixia 700 video cameras. I would be switching the feed from the cameras so that only one camera would be feeding frames to the computer at any one time. Since it may be necessary to go 2K or 4K, the info I have checked seems to recommend more than 4GIG RAM. Suggestions?

  • i was wondering if you have access to hot air soldering can you replace the storage in newer macs?

    i have a mac mini i bought in 2018/2019 and the 128gb storage is soldered onto the board and i was wondering if the chips could be replaced?

    i heard. somewhere that the security of the storage is connected to the t2 chip witch can be disabled by booting to the recovery drive and turning security to off.

    can the storage be upgraded by sourcing chips from another mac that for example has 2tb storage but some other problem killed it but the storage is still ok?

    of course i would have to reformat the storage as it is encrypted.

    i do know it is possible to boot to external drive witch i did as a test and to recover from corruption of a prefs or cache file that caused the (i suspect) the mountd to crash if i open the sound control settings.

    so if all else fails i could just install osx on an external drive and boot from external storage

  • Upgrade a computer with soldered components?

    I have the perfect solution! Refuse to purchase Apple’s overrated, ridiculously expensive, proprietary wares. Maybe they will stop this greedy, controlling crap!

    They are inching their way back to the pre-Jobs era when they almost went out of business… and I cannot play their game this time.

    Aside from making ridiculously expensive computers with components you cannot upgrade, they are rumored to be switching to ARM processors leaving Intel behind, and a host of other boneheaded and stupid moves in an otherwise (aside from Apple) world of computer upgrade paradise.

    Seems they are going back to the isolated, proprietary platform they had in the 90’s, and again, it almost cost Apple their company.

    Apple prides themselves on being “good” liberals. Yet, the more wealthy they become the more greedy and dollar-squeezing (from their customers) they become. Then again, that’s par-for-the-course for those with that “I’m a good person and I’m better than most because I care” mentality. It’s called hypocrisy… and most Apple higher-ups seem to be just that as of late… hypocrites.

    Steve Jobs, also a liberal, but he kept it to himself and concentrated on one thing… MAKING great things that were people/customer friendly. He’s probably turning over in his grave right about now.

    Whatever, I don’t care if they hug a thousand trees a day, Tim Cook pushes his sexual agenda(s) until the cows come home, and other supposed “compassionate” issues they seem to rattle on about these days. Just make great computers and wares like you did when Jobs was still alive and that’s all I care about.

    If I want your sexual, societal, political/politically-correct opinions I will look up a disingenuous politician!

    Start making great products with the customer/pro customer in mind again, ONLY customers in mind again, and keep the societal crap to yourselves, Apple… Tim Cook!

    Steve Jobs was almost no sooner gone and the little committees at Apple started reverting back to their old loser ways… at least as far as it relates to Macs.

    You solder one drive, one processor and one mb of memory to one of your mobos and I’m out. And how petty is that in today’s world anyway!

    I left Windows because I love the Mac OS, but Windows 10 is not so bad at all. Win systems now are cheaper to run and they have MUCH BETTER longevity than Macs do.

    Apple, your prices are outrageous, your business tactics and computer builds are upgrade-ridiculous (you CAN’T upgrade them), and I’m getting tired of your throwing your social experimentation in my face.

    Get your heads out of your rears Apple, and realize you still have a pro-consuming base out here who do not want to get a second mortgage on their homes in order to afford your so-called “Pro” wares… before your “Pro” users start going elsewhere. I love the Mac OS… but it’s not worth what you ask your customers to endure any longer… especially considering the direction you seem to be headed. Isolate yourselves again, you isolate me as a buyer.

    Enough is enough!

    • I just sold all but my iPhone, iPad, and Watch. When those are worn out, I will decide then what to do.

      Catalina brought two very new machines to their knees. The latest release of Safari for iOS has a set of problems not encountered before the ”improvements ”.

      From what I can see, Apple seeks to be an entertainment company, what with Apple TV+ and the like. I see them out of the computer business in the future.

      Fine. Companies evolve. American Express doesn’t ship packages; Western Union is no longer in communications. Apple will ditch computers.

  • OWC needs to start offering component level upgrades. Unsolder the Apple junk and install bigger drives & more memory. Plenty of out of warranty units that would be purchased if upgraded.

    Apple is a phone company, no longer a computer company.

  • I decided to forego replacing my existing MBP with another Mac, primarily due to this issue but also due to various other issues related to recent and ongoing problems stemming from decreased functionality, design flaws and waning quality control at Apple. I think its accurate to say that Apple is slowing slipping back into the same thinking that brought about near-demise in the late 1990s.

    As for the SSD issue, the best solution to this particular practice may be to encourage enactment of consumer protection legislation along the lines of this:

    “While manufacturers may choose to offer devices with a user data storage component (“SSD”) that is permanently affixed (“soldered”), in such instances that a failure of such device containing the consumer’s data occurs within the manufacturer’s warranty period, the manufacturer must either (a) provide a means to securely recover said data at no cost to the consumer, or (b) return the internal component that the SSD storage component is affixed to (or the entire device if component is a permanent part of the whole) at the sole election of the consumer, without additional cost to the consumer, while providing either repair or, if repair is not possible, replacement with an equivalent whole device.”

  • My 2013 MacBookPro mother board gave up a month or so ago. I use it in my business and needed something that worked NOW. The only unit available without special order taking a month to get included only 500GB which was less than my old 750GB MacBook Pro – so I am stuck with way too little storage and no simple way to solve my storage memory problem

  • I will fight tooth and nail to not buy one of the newer non-upgradeable machines. We should all be trying to reduce waste and extend the life of our equipment, whereas Apple seem intent on making their latest offerings disposable commodities. We have fitted OWC SSD’s and max ram to all of our machines, 2 MBP Pros from 2012, 1 from 2010 and a 27” iMac and a Mac Mini from 2012. I also have access to a skilled repair shop that does component-level repairs when necessary. With these upgrades the machines work brilliantly, the laptops also have all the ports we need, no dongles necessary! Apple have abandoned the professional graphics industry, alienated photography fans ( Photos is dire!) and are now driving away their remaining computer customers. Sad as it is to say it, I will be looking at a PC when I have to buy the next machine.

  • With Apple’s recent change to their MacBook line up, older MacBooks are a great value, adding an ssd and lots of ram and even adding additional ssd drives are a breeze. My 09 supports el capitian who needs ultra expensive, obsolete MacBooks?

  • Apple has made a number of missteps that are alienating veteran users. Not allowing users the option to upgrade their equipment is not just insulting, it will eventually effect our loyalty. I feel their marketing strategy of solely focusing on the iPhone and iPad has diminished interest in the iMac and MacPro and the potential to lure new users to the platform.

    • If they keep up this nonsense and one or another of my machines goes bang, I will switch to a stable release of Linux and call it a day. I am only so loyal.

      • Send it into Luis Rossman to see if he can upgrade them. He has a Youtube channel that fixes broken Macbooks including water damaged.

      • I made my 2007 MacBook dual boot Linux Mint. It works great. The only reason it is dual boot is because there is one old game that I like to play occasionally that won’t work when my main computer upgrades to Catalina.

        My wife’s 2007 MacBook just boots Linux Mint, but she doesn’t use it since she prefers her iPad Pro to a laptop.

      • I have 2 Intel nuc with i3 256gb m.2 8gb ram running Linux mint it out performs my 2013 MBP 15 retina with 2.0 i7 256gb pcie 8gb ram Catalina

    • It’s absolutely absurd!

      They are going back to their 90’s isolationism with proprietary systems, outrageous prices, bull-headed and inflexible consumer relations (pro consumers) , and if they continue down this pre-Jobs dead-end they will probably find themselves bankrupt, at least in the Mac department, once again.

      Jobs, by switching to Intel procs, allowing Windows to be run natively on Macs, allowing upgradable Macs and other intelligent decisions on his part, almost single-handedly brought Apple back from near-extinction.

      I, for one, will not go back to where Apple seems to be taking their non-professional users… back to that losing, before-Jobs business model. I cannot go back to those isolationist days again. I have too much at stake.

      Windows is not THAT BAD anymore. I still love the Mac OS… but not at the price and configuration of Apple’s hardware and the direction they seem to be headed.


  • With the direction Apple is taking with its latest computer offerings such as inability to upgrade, loss of useful ports etc., I’m seriously considering going back to MS Windows, painful as that is to contemplate. Oh yeah, I also neglected to mention that Apple is pricing themselves out of the market for the average person. This is coming for a faithful Apple user for over 10 years!!

    • I have to agree. when they took away my option to upgrade components I havent been compelled to nm purchase a new unit. meanwhile I stuck with my prior to soldering MBP and have just been keeping it going. I maxed it out on all post purchase possibilities and it’s still going 8/9 years later. the only other thing I could do is swap the optical drive for a 2nd ssd but seriously it’s not necessary cause I already swapped the 500 SATA for a 1T ssd. so no thanks Apple I’ll sit this one out.

      • I just overhauled a pre-solder MacBook Pro for a bud. Swollen battery, and with 4 gigs of RAM it was taking 5 minutes (not a typo) to boot up under High Sierra. I moved it to 8 gigs, fitted a very nice 500 gig SSD, and replacement battery. Now, it’s 27 seconds to come up to the desktop and runs like a brand new machine.

        This nonsense of virtually no ports, and those available being USB “C”, means buying all manner of adaptors to schlepp in one’s computer bag. Who needs that nonsense?

        • Agree completely about the lack of connectivity with the new laptop machines. If I am going to have to carry multiple cords and adaptors to get the thing to work with my card readers and external screens I may as well use a mac-mini!.. now there’s and idea…

          • That’s the conclusion I came to when my 17″ MacBook Pro had Battery Problems.
            Then I found it did not have up-gradable storage!
            Brought smallest memory 256 GB which ment I could not use it to replace my 2011 MBP which has 750GB.
            Now got a 500GB Hanging of the side and my 3GB Backup and a 2 GB Toshiba for my photos!
            Now my Scanner need USB 2.0 but all the ports taken so had to buy USB C to 4port USB3.0.
            All in all a mess.
            Seriously looked at Windows again and decided it was to flaky (crashed while being demonstrated at the computer store). So looking at Linux of various flavors.
            Lucky I am now retired, it has taken too much time, compare with buying and setting up my 17″ MBP.
            Technology is supposed to be improving, what happened!

          • My 2007 MacBook spent most of its life as my main computer (2007-2012) in a dock with a full keyboard, monitor (17″, then 19″, then 23″) and a few external hard drives, except when it travelled on vacation. So, in 2012, I just bought a Mac Mini since it was cheaper!

            The new Mac Mini gave me sticker shock. So, when my hard drive had issues last month, I replaced it with a 1TB Micron SSD that OWC had on sale at the right time.

            The only second thoughts about the that is … My wife would have let me replace my 7 year old computer and I didn’t take advantage of it. What is wrong with me? :)

  • Extremely disheartening that Apple seems to keep pushing their devices in this direction. That said, the upgrade solutions you offer aren’t very appealing, come across as clunky … don’t seem like practical options.

  • Extremely disheartening that Apple seems to keep pushing their devices in this direction. That said, the upgrade solutions you offer aren’t very appealing, come across as clunky … don’t come across as realistic options.

    • Extremely disheartening that Apple seems to keep pushing their devices in this direction. That said, the upgrade solutions you offer aren’t very appealing, come across as clunky … don’t come across as realistic options.