Wednesday, June 20, 2012

Upgrading RAM in your MacBook Pro 13" or 15"

Upgrading RAM in your MacBook Pro 13\" or 15\"
It is becoming increasingly popular to regularly upgrade RAM (memory) in your laptop to accommodate constantly growing appetite for web intensive browsing or running more instances of virtual machines. This instructable is describing the process of upgrading (or replacing) RAM in unibody MacBook Pro 13 and 15 inch models. I used 15" model in my photos, but the process is very similar in 13" MacBook Pros. So let's get started. I made it at TechShop (, they have a whole bunch of really convenient large tables in the common area with some great lighting.

Step 1Acquire RAM for upgrade (or replacement).

RAM is cheap these days, so you can afford to buy more of it for less. I've been lately purchasing RAM for my Macs at, as they seem to have a good balance of price and quality. Here is what new RAM looks like in a packaging. For this process this is the only part you are going to need.

Step 2Prepare your workspace.

Having a large space to work on is very convenient. For best result and safety I'd recommend using one of those anti-static mats and laying it on a large flat surface.

Step 3Connect the ground.

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Connect the ground wire of your anti-static mat to ground prong of any electric plug.

Step 4Ground yourself with anti-static wristband.

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This step is important. When working with electronics, have yourself well grounded with a wristband. Very little static electricity can send electronics of your computer into knock-out.

When wearing the wristband, make sure it's not too tight. Wear it entire time while you're working on internals of your computer. Even though you're well grounded, I would recommend not touching any electronic parts with your hands, as you're leaving natural oil behind. Washing hands before this job is highly recommended.

Step 5Make sure you have all necessary tools.

Experienced repair engineer could do this job in under 10 minutes using only one phillips screwdriver. And most likely he'd be fine, but we need to be much safer than that. We could also learn some interesting tips and tricks with other tools.

You are going to need:
1. Phillips 0 size screwdriver;
2. Pry Stick Opening Tool;
3. Head light (having the area you're working on well lit makes any job much more enjoyable);
4. Piece of cardboard;
5. Double-sided tape;
6. Compressed air;
7. Rubbing alcohol;
8. Microfiber cloth;
9. Thread locker.

I'll explain how to use these tools along the way.

Step 6Have a right screwdriver.

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Choosing the right screwdriver is essential for this job. It has to feet snugly inside of the screw grooves, not have much wiggle room and just feel right in there. Not all Phillips screwdrivers are equal, some manufacturers make them slightly different shaped, so just choosing corresponding size may not be enough.

For this job you need Phillips size 0. Wrong size and you'll end up with stripped screw heads, which is not cool at all.

In this guide I'm using high quality German made Wiha screwdriver. If you like good tools, I strongly recommend checking out their inventory.

If you happened to strip the screws on your Mac, or damaged any other part, check out for replacements.

Step 7Prepare sticky tape for small screws.

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A few years back I came up with this simple technique of laying out screws in a similar pattern to their original placement on electronic device. With complex devices like digital cameras you may need a lot of tape and real estate, but for this project you will only need a small, 4" piece of double-sided tape.

Peel one side of it and apply it to the cardboard. And then expose the other side. Now you have a small sticky area to secure your screws.

Step 8Keep cover screws organized.

Make sure you shutdown your computer before you work on it. If you're not using anti-static mat, lay it on some soft surface "upside down" or "belly up", whichever you like better. Make sure your screwdriver is fitting snugly and start with any screw. It seems to not matter where to start.

Once you have a screw in your hand, stick it on the double-sided tape. Work them one by one laying them out in the same pattern as on the back of the computer. See pictures for details.

Notice, that some of the screws tips are different -- there are some cone shaped while others are flat. I don't know what purpose that serves, but it's safer to just keep them in their respective places.

Step 9Lifting the cover.

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Once you're done with all screws and get the prying tool and stick it in the gap between the cover and the computer body. Slowly and carefully work your way around the perimeter and then lift one corner and pick it up with your hands. Cover should come off with no excessive effort. If it feels like applying force, then stop and double-check everything.

Step 10Cleaning dust (optional step).

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If you like to clean, then it's time to pickup that microfiber cloth and collect some dust, which tends to deposit inside your computer especially around the fan exhaust area. If you have a pet, you'll see a lot of hair in there too, don't be surprised. You can safely clean the aluminum cover and small flat areas of the computer, like the battery or the hard drive, but leave the electronics alone and don't touch them with your cloth.

After taking the cover off, don't stack it on top of the exposed parts of the computer, find another clean spot for it on the table.

Step 11Find the RAM in the guts of your computer.

That little board, approximately 1 x 3 inches with chips on it and surrounded by plastic is your computer's RAM. These are usually green, but you may encounter blueish or dark red colors as well. 

Step 12Removing old RAM

If you're replacing RAM, then in most cases you'll have to get rid of what's in there. You can't just add RAM in MacBook Pros, because there are only two RAM slots available, and both of them are most of the time taken.

To remove old ram, place two fingers on plastic springs on both sides of the RAM board and push them outwards. It should not require any force at all, just gently push them simultaneously. RAM board should pop up, as it's spring loaded from beneath. Gently take it on both sides and pull out. Then repeat the procedure for the second board one layer deeper. Don't grab the RAM by the chips. Set this RAM aside and prepare to install your new RAM modules.

Step 13Clean RAM socket with compressed air.

It's good time to clean the ram socket from dust, which might have settled in that area and you don't want to be pushing it deeper when installing new modules.

If you don't have compressed air in cans, then rather don't use anything else. DO NOT use air out of air compressors (used to drive pneumatic tools), it will damage your computer.

Step 14Install new RAM modules

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Now we're finally getting to it! Unpack your new RAM and gently holding the modules by the sides first insert them into the socket at an angle, and then push down, until it clicks.

Ram modules have a single cutout on one side to give you clue on how to insert them. Only one side will work. Do not apply any force, modules must slide into position smoothly.

You'll need to install both of them, bottom one first of course :)

Step 15Checking your work before you assemble

At this stage I recommend to do something unusual -- boot your computer to check that it accepted the new RAM and doesn't report any errors. In order to do that, very carefully lift it, open the lid and set it on the side. Don't lay it down on the open bottom.

When the chime sounds in the very beginning of the boot process, it means that the hardware test has passed. Nevertheless, let it boot completely and then just shut it down before you continue working on it.

If you hear a sound of a broken glass right after you press the power button, then something is wrong either with RAM, or with the way you installed it.

Step 16Set the back cover in place.

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After testing it, lay the computer back on it's display lid in the same orientation you had it before so that you're not confusing placement of the screws. Very carefully place the aluminum cover without touching on any internal parts -- hinge side goes first. It has to just easily snap into place. If it feels like pushing on something then stop immediately, open it up and make sure you didn't leave any objects behind -- no force is applied at any stage in this job.

Step 17Prepare a drop of thread locker.

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If not used, over time you'll start loosing screws from the bottom of your computer. Thread locker can be purchased at any hardware store. Put a drop of it anywhere on the cardboard and dip the very tip of every screw before you put it in.

Step 18Insert the screws.

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After dipping them in thread locker, install the screws one by one, but tighten them up just yet, especially if your computer has been dropped and deformed any parts. You'll finally tighten the screws after all of them are in their respective places and lid is in proper position.

Everyone seems to have a different technique when it comes to putting in small screws. I usually use my pointing finger of my left hand to press the screw against the screwdriver.

Step 19Tighten the screws and DONE!

Once you have all screws in their places, make examine the position of the aluminum cover and tighten the screws and some moderate amount of force and you're DONE. Boot the computer up and check "About This Mac" to verify that expected amount of RAM is recognized by the computer.

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