Is your laptop repairable?
Now we’ve understood the basics of laptop components (refer to Part 1), here’s how to tell if they’re modular, or in other words, replaceable individually.
We will focus on the RAM, Storage, Charging Port and Battery as these are the components that tend to vary in modularity from laptop to laptop.
Step 1: Find out the model number of the laptop you want to buy.
This is usually on the online store or brochure. The websites of retailers may not contain the full model number, so always check the manufacturer's online store or product page. (Model number highlighted in purple)
Step 2: Getting to the Manufacturer's product page
Then Google the model number.
Look for a Product Specification page from the manufacturer's website, in this case, HP.com.
If you are looking for a product from another manufacturer eg Dell or Lenovo, make sure the URL of the page is from dell.com or lenovo.com to ensure you are getting accurate information.
Step 3: Product Specifications
You should end up on a page that looks like the one below. It will have a table with the specifications listed. This will then be our primary source of information to determine modularity of components.
RAM / Memory
Step 1: RAM/ Memory Specification
From the specification page, look at the RAM / Memory specification. If it merely states 8GB RAM, that is not enough detail. We want to find out if the RAM is modular, not the speed or the size.
Step 2: Look for key words.
If the manufacturer’s website states 8GB SODIMM / DIMM or 1 x 8GB, that means the RAM is modular.
SODIMM stands for Small Outline Dual Inline Memory Module. Don’t worry if you don’t understand what most of that means. The important words are the last two, Memory Module.
This means that the memory is modular, which is great for repairability. Replacement RAM modules are usually available in any computer shop, which means that they are easy to obtain.
If it says onboard or soldered, the RAM is not modular and you should avoid purchasing that particular laptop if you can.
How to determine if your storage is modular?
Step 1: Key Word Search
We want to look for the table entry where it says Storage or Hard Drive.
There are 2 key words we want to look for. The first is M.2. M.2 is a form factor (basically a shared interface and size) that is used for modular SSDs. M.2 means it is modular. Whether it says M.2 PCIe or M.2 SATA is unimportant for determining modularity, as that is merely the electronic interface. Both M.2 PCIe and M.2 SATA SSDs are available for purchase in any computer shop.
If the website says onboard, soldered storage or eMMC, it means the storage is not modular.
For laptops with hard drives, they are generally all modular. This also means they can be upgraded with 2.5" SSDs as they are the same size and use the same connector as hard drives)
Step 1: Ports
Under the product page, look for "Ports" or "External Ports"
If you see a port labelled "USB-C PD" or "USB-C with Power Delivery", that means that the laptop is charged using USB-C. These ports are generally not modular. If it merely says USB-C or USB-C (Data Transfer), this means the laptop cannot be charged via those ports and instead charges via a regular charger.
If you see a port labelled AC charging port, Barrel connector or AC smart pin, then the laptop is charged using a regular laptop charger. These ports are generally modular.
Ideally, a laptop would have both a USB-C PD port and a AC charging port, as shown below.
Most only have either one.
Alternate Method: Picture Search
Get to the product page and look at the pictures of the laptop, namely the pictures of the ports of the laptop.
See if a DC-in jack/ charging port is mentioned or USB-C PD (Power Delivery) which means it can be used to charge the laptop. Often laptops will have either one. Regular USB-C ports cannot be used to charge a laptop.
DC-in jacks are generally modular, USB-C ports (whether they have PD or not) are generally modular.
To determine whether a battery is secured with screws or glue (refer to Part 1 if you haven't done so), we cannot rely on the manufacturer's website. Manufacturers usually are not particularly forthcoming about what goes on inside a laptop. While some manufacturers offer service manuals, this guide is aimed at beginners so we will not go into that.
Step 1: Google
To begin, we will search "<laptop model number/name> disassembly"
Step 2: Photo Examination
We will then look for photos of the interior of the laptop. The battery is often labelled with the word "Battery". By reading the teardown description, we will be able to tell if the battery is attached using screws or glue.
Alternatively, simply look at the perimeter of the battery. If there are screw heads and holes for the screws to go through all around the perimeter of the battery, then the battery is attached by screws. This is the preferred method of attaching a battery to a laptop.
A laptop with a glued-in battery. Note the lack of screw heads around the battery. The battery is the pouch-like object occupying the bottom half of the image.
Photo by Nikolai Chernichenko on Unsplash
Laptop Repairability Score Tool
To make it easy for you to compare the repairability of laptops on your shopping list, here's a little comparison tool. By filling up the quiz, you will get a score out of a maximum of 4. Repeat the quiz for each laptop on your shopping list.
The laptop with the highest score on your list is the most repairable!
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