Some mobile devices are incredibly easy to upgrade. HP couldn’t make upgrading the RAM or even the hard drive in its netbooks much easier — you don’t even need a screwdriver to remove the base plate of many recent models.

HP Mini 210

Others are much more difficult to upgrade. Want more storage space in that iPad? You should have thought of that when you bought the 16GB model and sprung for the pricier 32GB or 64GB versions.

Notebook and netbook makers have typically included easy access panels that let you upgrade RAM in a matter of seconds, and sometimes other components as well. But in an effort to keep mobile computers thin, light, and inexpensive, we’ve seen a growing number of machines that aren’t easy to upgrade.

The MacBook Air, most ultrabooks, and a number of netbooks simply don’t offer an easy way to upgrade components without voiding the warranty.

The upcoming Asus Eee PC 1025CE netbook, for instance, ships with 1GB of RAM but the hardware can technically support 2GB. Unfortunately the memory is soldered to the motherboard and there’s no SODIMM. In other words, you can’t remove, replace, or supplement the RAM.

I suspect that many consumers couldn’t give a hoot — otherwise Apple wouldn’t sell so many products with unibody cases and no removable parts. But I know there are a number of geeks out there that view computer spec sheets as starting points.

So I’m curious — do you consider the ability to upgrade components when making decisions about whether to purchase a mobile device?


thanks to cyberusa for the tip on the Eee PC 1025CE

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10 replies on “Are easy upgrades important in mobile computers?”

  1. RAM was not soldered on my 1025C. It was a nightmare to gain access to the port but I was able to swap it for a 2Go upgrade.

  2. Asus 1025ce without an upgrade slot for 2gb memory is just stupid! Please reconsider Asus!

  3. Upgrades and the ability to modify a system can be essential in a market that tends to give one size fits all products. We don’t all need the same amount of performance and there are different aspects of the system we may all focus on than others might.

    So upgrading is one way to configure systems to our personal needs or wants.

    The problem with a take it or forget it attitude is it assumes there are other choices but the industry as a whole is steadily decreasing the range of options available and therein lies the problem!

    While the industry may still do its best to cater to the masses but this often leaves out the minorities who don’t make up a large enough market segment for the industry to really bother caring about and thus end up excluded unless they leave open the possibilities of upgrades and modifications by end users.

  4. For me upgrades I desire to undertake are small, so if that is possible I’m happy.  When I bought my first netbook, within a four
    months I had researched what RAM to buy and had installed the maximum amount.  I looked at purchaing an SSD as well, but the prices were
    not low enough or my need not great enough. 
    I typically just want access to RAM, media drives or storage that
    requires four or less screws to accomplish.

  5. Back in the day when I used to build my own desktops, I would worry about getting just the right motherboard so I could upgrade things as much as possible. I found that I almost never upgraded things before the entire architecture was obsolete anyway. I couldn’t buy upgrade parts that were compatible anymore and if I did it will be cheaper to buy all new parts (rather than just the ones I wanted to upgrade) and I would get a faster machine anyway. So upgrading computers became less important for me. Even more so when I switched to using primarily laptops.

    That said, the ability to swap to a larger or solid state hard drive would be nice, as would the ability to add more RAM. Things like that would become much less important if manufacturers would stop charging ridiculous amounts for relatively simple upgrades. Does it really cost you $80 to install that extra 2GB of RAM? I think not.

    1. Yeah, it’s nice to see computers getting more and more powerful more and more quickly… but it’s a shame that it sometimes makes more sense to spend $500 or more on a new PC than to spend a fraction of that price to upgrade a few components. 

  6. Yes, but for inexpensive tablets, an SD card slot can lessen my concerns quite a bit.

  7. It matters to me because I know that manufacturers like Apple make their products unupgradable simply to reduce costs and maximize profits.

    It’s just price gouging to charge $100 for an extra 16GB of flash memory when the equivalent flash card costs as little as $16.

    1. No, “price gouging” is when a seller uses a shortage or imminent shortage of an essential item, say gasoline or food when weather disrupts  production or transport, to jack up prices.  An iPad or other gadget is not “essential” — one can take it or leave it if one doesn’t like the price — and ditto any upgrades.  When a seller charges substantially more for a nonessential device or upgrade than it costs to build or install, that’s called “what the market will bear.”  I paid $100 more for my 32GB iPad (1) because the store ran out of 16GB models; shortening the wait and doubling the storage was worth it to me, but nobody forced me to pay — I could have walked out with no significant negative consequences, just a wasted trip.

      Also, when looking at reasons to make products un-upgradeable, don’t forget to include “to reduce bulk, weight, and complexity” — it costs all of those to put components on detachable connectors, include access doors, etc.  And I have no problem with “to reduce costs” — if the company passes that on to the consumer, great, and if they instead use it “to maximize profits” then, again, I can walk away if I’m unhappy.  If you want a laptop that’s frighteningly upgradable, look at the ZaReason Chimera.  It’s not overly expensive for what you get, either, at $2299 (cheaper than the less-well-equipped 17″ MacBook Pro, say) — but it weighs twelve pounds.

      I’m sorry to sound like an “Apple can do no wrong” fanboi, and I should disclose that as a long-term AAPL shareholder I’ve benefited handsomely from their tendency to “maximize profits” (which, after all, is what a company does).  But all manufacturers in a market economy will charge “what the market will bear,” and if “we the market” don’t like a price, we don’t have to bear it.  No guns to our heads here.

  8. I would appreciate the ability to upgrade everything not soldered onto the MB with a BGA connection, which SHOULD NOT include RAM.  I would trebbely appreciate being able to buy standardized laptop MBs with processors already soldered on, and be able to add mobile video cards using standardized expansion ports, so I could find a shell with a good screen on it, and just keep that and upgrade in place rather than throwing out my lap top every few years, and having to find a new one whose quirks I can deal with…  That would be my absolute ideal, but I don’t think it will happen since it will utterly destroy what’s left of the lap top market.

    As far as tablets go…  Meh.  I don’t think they’ve evolved to the point where I’m worried at all about upgrading them.  My iPad2 works just fine with 32GB and I have yet to stress that without loading movies onto it.  That said I think portable wifi storage is going to be huge in the next few years.

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