Is it Possible to Upgrade a MacBook Pro?

If you’re in the market for a new MacBook Pro, or if you’ve decided to buy your first-ever MacBook, upgradeability might be an important factor to you, so it’s vital that you know whether or not a MacBook you’re thinking about buying can be upgraded in the future.

Over the years, Apple has constantly changed what exactly can be replaced and upgraded in the MacBook and what cannot be replaced and upgraded. Many of the older MacBooks made before 2012 come with the ability to easily upgrade the RAM/memory and the storage drive. However, once Apple introduced the new Retina MacBook Pros in 2012, upgradeability became a thing of the past.

These new MacBooks are thinner and lighter than ever before, and that’s mostly thanks to several design changes that occurred on the inside. Apple transitioned over to using flash storage in the MacBook Pro, just like with the MacBook Air. This allowed for a much lighter machine by far.

The company also decided to solder RAM/memory directly onto the logic board, meaning that it was permanent and could not be replaced or upgraded. This allowed Apple to create a much thinner case for the MacBook Pro at the expense of upgradeability.

MacBook Pro

So if you’re thinking about getting a MacBook Pro, either used or new, you may want to be aware of what model you’re getting, that way if you ever want to make upgrades, you know if you’ll be able to or not. Here are the MacBooks that are upgradeable and the MacBooks that are not.

Will It Upgrade?

If you’re wanting to know whether or not a MacBook Pro you’re about to buy is upgradeable, there’s a really good way to tell just by looking at it, and you’ll know within a couple of seconds whether or not you can easily upgrade the memory or the storage drive.

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Simply look on the front edge of the MacBook Pro on the right side. If you see a thin black slit, then it’s upgradeable. This slit has nothing to do with its upgradeability. It’s actually an IR receiver, but Apple removed it on newer MacBooks that aren’t upgradeable, so this is the easiest way to tell if a MacBook Pro you’re about to buy is upgradeable or not.

The MacBook on the bottom is upgradeable, while the one on the top is not.

The MacBook on the bottom is upgradeable, while the one on the top is not.

These MacBook Pros that have the IR receiver were made between late-2008 and mid-2012 and sport a heavier and thicker design than the newer Retina models. These are extremely easy to upgrade, and all you need to do is remove a handful of screws from the bottom plate and you’ll have easy access to the storage drive and the memory.

As for the newer Retina MacBook Pros, the thinner and lighter design was first introduced in mid-2012, and this was when Apple started to solder the memory to the logic board and begin using solid-state storage (as opposed to a traditional hard drive).

Can You Still Upgrade Newer MacBook Pros?

While the newer Retina MacBook Pros are technically not able to be upgradeable, the solid-state storage modules are removable, so with the right know-how and the right parts, you could upgrade the storage of a Retina MacBook Pro without having to take it to Apple. However, the process is far more difficult than replacing a traditional hard drive and it isn’t for the faint of heart.

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Furthermore, different assembly lines use different proprietary solid-state storage modules, so you’d have to figure out the specific model that your MacBook Pro is using, and might even be hard-pressed to find one online in the first place, although a website like Other World Computing might have them for sale.

As for the memory of the newer Retina MacBook Pros, it’s soldered onto the logic board, meaning that it’s a permanently fixed to the MacBook itself and is impossible to upgrade. This means that if you’re thinking about getting a Retina MacBook Pro, be absolutely sure that you get the amount of memory that will be enough. You might think 4GB will be enough at first, but you may run into applications that eat up more than that in the future.

What’s Important to You?

If you’re looking to buy a new MacBook Pro, you have to decide what is more important to you: The latest and greatest processor and graphics, or the ability to upgrade your storage drive and memory whenever you see fit.

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If upgradeability is more important, then you want to make sure you get an older MacBook Pro that you can tear open and upgrade at will. It won’t have the best processor on the market, but you could get it for a good deal if you look hard enough and negotiate well.

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We actually have a handy guide on how to buy a cheap MacBook Pro, full of tips on where to look and what to look for in a MacBook Pro.

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