SSDs - Part 3 - Computer says no

  • Saturday, Feb 1, 2020

So, you’ve followed Part 1  and Part 2  of my guide to SSDs but you still don’t have the answer? Then you probably have a Mac, or something similar.



“What’s wrong with Macs?”


Well, that depends on the age of the Mac. Up until around 2010, the internal construction of an Apple Mac wasn’t all too dissimilar to a PC - it was just the operating system that was different. If you have an Apple Mac that is around that age or older, it could still benefit from an upgrade as described in Part 1  and Part 2 . Apple laptops of this age are fairly easily serviceable. iMacs can be a tougher challenge, as you have to remove the front glass to get access to the hard drive, which can be a risky affair.

After 2010, Apple began making changes that make things a little more difficult. First of all, they started to use their own proprietary hard drive connectors, mainly in Macbooks - this meant initially, unless you had AppleCare, when your hard drive broke, it would be an expensive repair, as it would have to go back to Apple (NB - there are wider issues surrounding Apple and repairs which I will detail in a future blog post).

After some time, third party drive manufacturers worked out how these proprietary connectors functioned and made their own copies of these drives. This means you can buy them and fit them yourself (or get Hither Green IT  to fit them for you of course). One such manufacturer I recommend is Transcend  - they make drives of an equivalent quality to the original Apple ones. However, because of the extra work required to manufacture a compatible connector these drives are often in the region of 3 times as expensive as an equivalent sized PC compatible SSD. (By the way, this is still probably cheaper than Apple would charge you for an out of warranty repair!)

It is possible to get converters that allow you to use some of the cheaper drives detailed in Part 2  by converting them to the Apple proprietary connection; however, this can cause issues as many drives aren’t fully compatible with MacOS, and the converters themselves can often be of questionable quality; as such I can’t recommend them and don’t use them for any repairs or upgrades.



It gets worse


In 2015, Apple started to manufacture laptops and iMacs where the SSD and RAM is an integrated soldered-on part of the main logic board. If you have a machine of this age or newer, then unfortunately the only way to repair it is:

  • A) Take it back to Apple for a logic board replacement (very expensive!)

  • B) Try to find a third party repair shop that can spot fix the broken SSD by desoldering it and soldering a new one on. These are very uncommon in the UK - in the US, there is the excellent Apple repair genius Louis Rossman  who runs an equally excellent, and informative, YouTube Channel . Not only does the channel have hundreds of videos detailing how Louis and his employees spot repair broken Apple products, but he is also a campaigner against attempts to deny Right to Repair  - warning, if you are sensitive to bad language, be aware Louis doesn’t hold back!

To find out what type of drive and RAM your machine has, you can use the excellent's Ultimate Mac Lookup Tool  to find out. Just put your serial number in the search box and it will tell you everything about your Mac, and whether you can upgrade or replace the storage and RAM.



Is it just Macs?



Unfortunately, other manufacturers saw the precedent set by Apple and followed it - there are now an increasing number of PC manufacturers that also solder SSDs and RAM to the motherboard.

Another big manufacturer that helped to propagate this trend was Google - Google Chromebooks are very cheap as they have limited storage. The way Google achieves this is to use soldered on RAM and eMMC  drives. These are somewhere between hard drives and DRAM-less SSDs in performance - this makes little difference when using Chromebooks, as ChromeOS relies on storing most of your data in the cloud with Google, and so the internal storage is used very little.

When you put these machines into Crucial's System Upgrade Checker  it will return “We’re sorry. Crucial currently does not have any compatible upgrades available for your particular system.”

However, the cheaper laptops you find in Currys and other high street stores have now adopted eMMC drives. Whilst they are faster than hard drives, I recommend avoiding machines with eMMC drives - the performance is often much worse than SSDs, and they are often only 32GB or 64GB in size. Whilst this little storage is acceptable on a Chromebook, if you use Windows 10 you’ll find this quickly runs out. You can expand storage using USB flash drives and USB hard drives, but it’s not that practical and neither offers a realistic solution, as USB flash drives are really only meant as temporary storage to transfer data from one machine to another, and USB hard drives are bulky and (unless they have an SSD inside, which is possible) can’t take being thrown around inside a bag that much.



So what’s the solution?


Obviously, if you already have an expensive Apple machine with soldered on RAM and SSD, there isn’t much you can do if you want to upgrade or repair it, other than go to Apple. When it comes to Chromebooks and cheap Windows machines with eMMC drives, their retail price is so low that it isn’t worth trying to repair them (not great for sustainability or the environment - there will be a future blog post dealing with this!)

If you are looking for a new computer, I would advise always trying to purchase one that has easily replaceable and upgradeable storage and RAM - although these are getting harder and harder to find. To find details, use Crucial's System Upgrade Checker  if you are looking at PCs or's Ultimate Mac Lookup Tool  if you are looking at Macs.

And as always, if you are totally lost by the end of all three parts of this series, get in touch with Hither Green IT  for impartial expert advice.