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Picture of Upgrading RAM in your MacBook Pro 13

It is becoming increasingly popular to regularly upgrade the RAM (memory) in your Mac laptop to accommodate a constantly growing appetite for web intensive browsing or for running multiple instances of virtual machines. Programs like Excel and Autocad run more smoothly when they have more RAM to work with.

This instructable describes the process of upgrading (or replacing) RAM in unibody Apple MacBook Pro 13” and 15” models. I used a 15" model in my photos, but the process is very similar in 13" MacBook Pros.

I did this at TechShop because they have a whole bunch of really convenient, well-lit large tables in the common area.

Let's get started!

 
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Step 1: Acquire RAM for upgrade (or replacement)

Picture of Acquire 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 macsales.com, as they seem to have a good balance of price and quality. Here is what new RAM looks like in packaging. For this process this is the only part you are going to need.

Step 2: Prepare your workspace

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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 3: Connect the ground

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

Step 4: Ground 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 the entire time that you're working on the 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 your hands before this job is highly recommended.

Step 5: Make sure you have all necessary tools

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An experienced repair engineer could do this job in under 10 minutes using only one phillips screwdriver. And most likely they'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 6: Have the right screwdriver

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Choosing the right screwdriver is essential for this job. It has to fit 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 a corresponding size may not be enough.

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

In this guide I'm using a 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 ifixit.com for replacements.

Step 7: Prepare 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 an 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 8: Keep cover screws organized

Make sure you shutdown your computer before you work on it. If you're not using an 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 you 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 that are 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 9: Lifting the cover

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Once you're done with all the screws 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 10: Cleaning dust (optional step)

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If you like to clean, then it's time to pick up 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 11: Find the RAM in the guts of your computer

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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 12: Removing 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 taken most of the time.

To remove old ram, place two fingers on the 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. The 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 13: Clean RAM socket with compressed air

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It's a good time to clean dust from the ram socket, 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 14: Install new RAM modules

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 a 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 15: Checking your work before you assemble

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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 the RAM, or with the way you installed it.

Step 16: Set 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 just has to snap easily 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 17: Prepare 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 18: Insert the screws

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After dipping them in thread locker, install the screws one by one, but don't 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 the lid is in its proper position.

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

Step 19: Tighten the screws and DONE!

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

smcmasters127 days ago
Will this affect any saved files in anyway? I'm a little lost as to the difference between the RAM and the Hard Drive. Both memory- but yeah just lost. All I know is my Mac needs a boost
toddecutter11 months ago

I see in other instructions online to disconnect the battery. What is your thoughts on that?

Doctor Jazz (author)  toddecutter3 months ago

As long as you properly shut down the computer, you should be safe with battery plugged in. If you still want to unplug the battery, be sure not damage the battery connector -- it's kinda fragile.

srspring5466 months ago

Be sure to use removable thread locker, not the permanent type!

sstirling2 years ago
Hi Doctor Jazz, what is it you're plugging you anti-static wrist band into? I have a band but nothing to attach it to in my work area and something like that could be very useful.
Yllyndra sstirling10 months ago

There's a slot for it on the mat (the black plastic thing on the corner; need to remove the alligator clip first). If you're not using a mat, you can also clip the wrist band to the chassis (the metal case) of the computer (in which case leave the alligator clip on). The anti-static mat is the better way to go, though. All mats should have a place to plug wrist bands in on one of the corners. If you live in a dry area, use a water-based lotion on your wrist first to increase the electrical contact with your skin. Hope this helps.

Capt Nemo3 years ago
Great, well done Instructable. Clear,concise, well illustrated- couldn't have been done better! Thank you.
elimasmx3 years ago
Great instructable, thanks!
Doctor Jazz (author)  elimasmx3 years ago
Thanks, I'm glad you liked it!