Repairable Laptop Buying Guide

Part 1: What makes a laptop repairable?

Modularity of key components.

If components can be replaced separately when they fail, they are modular.

The ability to replace components separately means you can replace only the failed component instad of replacing other components which are attached to it as well.

So you're less likely to find yourself stuck with a huge repair bill, and more likely to repair instead of replace.

Key Laptop Components

A laptop motherboard. Laptop motherboards are unique to each model of laptop.

Motherboard: The Hub

All the components of the computer connect to the motherboard in order to communicate with one another. This allows the computer to function.

The motherboard hosts the ports which make these connections possible. It also hosts ports for external devices like USB and HDMI ports.

The fewer components are built-in to the motherboard, the better.

Components built-in to the motherboard cannot be replaced at home.

Still confused? Check out my short 2-minute video explaining motherboards, listed below.

1. CPU

Intel Core i3, i5, i7, etc. Or AMD Ryzen, which is Intel's main competitor.

Laptop CPUs are built-in (soldered) onto the motherboard. However, as CPUs are generally one of the most durable parts in a computer, this does not pose a large issue to repairability.

A CPU (in green) on a laptop motherboard. It is typically covered with a cooling system, which has been removed for this picture.

2. RAM

Short for Random Access Memory, RAM is crucial for the computer to start and perform any task.

RAM is short-term memory, where temporary files are stored for quick retrieval.

RAM may come in modules (pictured). A module costs around $5-10 per GB and can be replaced in mere seconds.

If it does not, this means that the RAM is built-in (soldered) to the motherboard.

Soldered RAM replacement requires specialist knowledge and equipment. This will cost at least $200-300 for labour alone.

Make sure to buy laptops with modular RAM whenever possible.

A laptop RAM Module.

3. Storage

Is your data important to you?

Your operating system (Windows / Mac OS / Linux) resides on your storage, along with your data.

Modular storage is thus essential for repairability and basic data recovery.

Modular storage can be removed and placed into a USB enclosure to recover data in the event of a computer failing. In other words, it can be turned into an external hard drive.

The two main kinds of modular storage are Hard Disk Drives (HDDs), also called hard drives, and M.2 Solid State Drives (M.2 SSDs).

A laptop Hard Disk Drive (HDD).

4. Battery

Screw, not glue.

Almost all laptop batteries are internal these days. However, some laptop batteries are easier to replace than others.

As long as the battery is screwed in and not glued in, it is one of the easiest components to replace in a laptop.

Most laptops have screwed-in batteries. The exception are MacBooks and tablets with detachable keyboards like Microsoft's Surface series.

An internal laptop battery, outlined in red.

5. Charging Port

Does your laptop's charger feel loose when plugged in?

The charging port it plugs into is one of the most-used ports on your laptop and thus the most prone to wear and tear.

Most barrel charging ports (anything that is not USB-C) are modular and very affordable to replace, with a price tag of just $10 for the part.

USB-C ports are typically non-modular, with the exception of the MacBook Pro.

A charging port on a HP laptop.

How do I know whether these parts are modular?

Check out Part 2 below, where you'll learn how to tell if the laptops on your shopping list are repairable.