How To Know If You Should Upgrade Your Notebook

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Whether you’re trying to save a few dollars, can’t find the exact configuration you’re looking for, or just want a specific part, upgrading your notebook aftermarket might be the right route – or might not. We discuss the pros and cons to help you make an informed decision.

Aftermarket Upgrades: to be, or not to be?

Not every notebook is easy to upgrade at home.

Not every notebook is easy to upgrade at home.

A common practice among computer enthusiasts is to perform upgrades on their own, especially the gurus who hang around our computer hardware subforum. It’s short work to upgrade the RAM and storage drives in most notebooks, especially the business-class and gaming models, but that’s not the point of this article; to quote a classic saying, just because you can, doesn’t mean you should. We’ll evaluate the pros and cons of upgrading your notebook with aftermarket parts across four areas: the economics, the impact on the notebook’s warranty, the warranty on aftermarket parts, and the performance and quality of aftermarket parts.

The Economics

From a purely economic perspective, upgrading components on your own is almost always cheaper than buying the same upgrades from the factory. Certain notebooks, especially the high-end brands, can be customized on nearly every level, while others are offered only in fixed configurations. What you’ll likely find in either situation, however, is that the price differences between models with upgrades versus those without is slightly more than the sum of the parts – that is, purchased on their own, the upgrades purchased separately would come in slightly less than what you’d pay to have the notebook equipped that way from the factory. On the upside, getting the upgrades from the factory mean there’s no hassle when the notebook arrives – it’s ready to go. Also, as we’ll discuss in the next section, there are warranty advantages to the factory configurations as well.

RAM upgrades typically won't void your warranty, but read the fine print.

RAM upgrades typically won’t void your warranty, but read the fine print.

Notebook Warranty Status

Unless otherwise stated by the notebook maker (usually in the owner’s manual), the RAM and storage drive are generally considered user-serviceable components. Simply replacing a hard drive with an SSD, or upgrading the memory, isn’t going to hurt the status of the warranty. What will, however, is any damage you may cause to the notebook in the process – that isn’t going to be covered. To give you an idea of what’s involved in these kinds of upgrades, here’s our notebook memory upgrade guide, which shows you step by step how to change out a notebook’s RAM. If that process looks even remotely daunting to you, paying a little extra to get the upgrades pre-installed from the factory is probably a good idea.

Note that most other components in the notebook, save for perhaps the wireless card, aren’t considered user serviceable; this includes the graphics card and processor (which probably aren’t upgradeable in the first place).

(Speaking of warranties; to get an idea of how much you should spend on one, read our notebook warranty guide).

Aftermarket Parts Warranty Status

One of the potential downsides of aftermarket upgrades is that they’re warrantied separately of the notebook. If the storage drive you installed fails, you’ll be talking to Seagate, Samsung, Hitachi, or whichever company produced your storage drive to get an RMA. If the storage drive was pre-installed by the notebook maker, however, you’d simply call them up and they’d take care of you.

The fact that aftermarket parts are warrantied separate can also be a plus, in the sense that they may carry a longer warranty period than the notebook. If your notebook’s factory-installed storage drive fails, and your notebook is out of warranty, you’re out of luck, as the drive’s warranty expired with the notebook’s warranty. However, if the drive was aftermarket and failed, it would only matter if the drive was still under warranty, and the notebook’s warranty status wouldn’t come into play.

Research parts before you buy. Some expensive upgrades might turn into performance downgrades.

Research parts before you buy. Some expensive upgrades might turn into performance downgrades.

Aftermarket Part Performance and Quality

The desire to upgrade aftermarket may not always stem from economic reasons. For enthusiasts, the allure of an aftermarket brand’s high performance claims may make the effort worthwhile even if the aftermarket parts are more expensive than the factory upgrades. In the notebook world, this is mostly centered on the storage drives, as they’re one of the few interchangeable parts between notebooks that can readily be purchased aftermarket.

A notebook maker may offer a high-capacity SSD a factory option, but it might be a low-end drive with so-so performance. If the make and model of the drive isn’t explicitly listed in the notebook’s specs, you’d have a hard time finding that info, except from perhaps people who have already made the purchase. Even then, there’s no guarantee you’ll get the same drive as they did, as notebook brands tend to use whichever drives are available. In essence, if you want a specific brand and model of storage drive in your notebook, you’ll probably have to add it on your own.

Future Considerations: Keep Old Parts

As a general rule, make sure you keep all the parts you replace in your under-warranty notebook. Should you have to send the notebook in for service, you’ll want to reinstall the original parts before doing so. This is not to hide the fact you upgraded the notebook – which again, doesn’t affect the notebook’s warranty status, unless otherwise stated – but to avoid the situation where you lose your parts because the warranty depot decided to send you a replacement notebook instead of fixing yours, as occasionally happens.

One final thought on aftermarket upgrades is their compatibility with other computers. A commonly-asked question in our forums is whether it’s worthwhile to upgrade an older notebook. If all the notebook needs is a faster storage drive, then the answer is usually yes, it’s worth upgrading. Should you decide to get a new notebook a year later, your investment isn’t lost; you can take the storage drive out and put it in an external enclosure for use as a backup drive, or simply install it into your new notebook as an upgrade.

Final UpgradeConclusion

If your interest in aftermarket upgrades is purely economical, then your decision whether to upgrade aftermarket is largely a math equation: price the notebook from the factory with the upgrades you want, and then price it with a minimal configuration with the aftermarket parts added in. Remember to take into account the warranty considerations we mentioned above.

Performance enthusiasts have a slightly easier time of this decision; with the exception of smaller boutique brands, most major notebook brands won’t let you pick your own parts aside from perhaps their size and capacity. If you want a specific brand and model of storage drive, you’re probably going to have to go aftermarket.

In either situation, take the warranty considerations into account. There’s something to be said about having everything under one roof – that is, all the parts pre-installed at the factory and covered under a single warranty. The simplicity of service in that instance might be worth the extra cost all by itself.


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