One question I get asked quite frequently is whether it is possible to upgrade the processor of a laptop. The answer is that you can upgrade your laptop processor, but it depends on its surface mounting method (more on that later).
Most laptops use a mounting method called Ball Grid Array (BGA) to mount the CPU on the laptop motherboard. This mounting method is not upgrade-friendly because once the CPU has been mounted, removing it is impossible, so you have to buy a new laptop.
But keep in mind that even if you are lucky and the mounting method of your laptop model allows for CPU replacement, the process is not that easy. It is similar to desktop CPU replacement but even more difficult because of the very limited space inside the laptop.
If you want to speed up your laptop but can’t upgrade the processor, you can try upgrading the memory or adding a solid-state drive (SSD), but we are going to talk about this in another article.
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How can I find out if my laptop Processor is upgradable?
Before we discuss how you can find out if you can do a processor upgrade on your laptop, we need to discuss the different surface mounting methods.
There are 3 types of surface mounting processes:
- Pin Grid Array (PGA) – This is a method where it is possible to physically replace your processor. You just need to look at the CPU; if it has little pins, then your laptop model supports this type of processor. This is a method used on desktop AMD CPUs.
- Land Grid Array (LGA) – This method is another detachable method where you can replace the processor in your laptop. If you look at the bottom of the CPU and see a big surface with lots of tiny little squares or rectangles, then your laptop supports this type of processor. This is a method used on most Intel desktop CPUs.
- Ball Grid Array (BGA) – This is the least upgrade-friendly process because it’s not possible to remove and replace the CPU in your laptop. This is a method used on most laptop processors, including AMD and Intel.
Related Article: What CPU Is Compatible With My Motherboard?
1. CPU Mounting Method
If you want to know what type of mounting surface process your laptop processor has without having to look inside the CPU, you can look at your CPU specs.
For example, if you have a laptop with an Intel Core i5-10400h processor, you can look at the specs of your CPU to see what surface mounting process is used:
As you can see on the screenshot, next to the Sockets Supported, there is the code FCBGA1440. The FC means Flat Chip and is almost always the first two letters used in the code, so you should not care about this part of the code. What you should look for is the three letters after FC. In this case, it’s BGA, which means Ball Grid Array; therefore, your laptop processor is not upgradeable.
If the three letters after the FC were PGA, it would mean Pin Grid Array, and you could upgrade your laptop’s processor.
Finally, the numbers at the end of the code are the number of the processors’ pins. In this case, it’s 1440, which means 1440 pins (I say about because it could be 1441 or 1399). This is something you don’t care about much at this point because the only thing you should be concerned about is the surface mounting process.
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2. Socket Type And Pins Number
If the mounting process is not BGA, and you can upgrade the CPU, there are two other things you need to check. The first thing is the CPU socket type because depending on the type of socket your laptop uses, you should buy a CPU that is compatible with it. So if the socket type of your CPU is PGA, you should buy a CPU that has the same type of socket.
The second thing you need to check is the number of pins used in the CPU socket. This is where the number on the code becomes important because the number of pins of your new CPU should be equal to the number of pins of your old CPU.
If these two conditions are met, the CPU should work just fine for the most part.
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3. TDP Compatibility
The final factor that should be considered when upgrading your laptop’s CPU is your old and new CPU’s TDP (Thermal Design Power) value. Thermal power design is a measure of the amount of heat generated by an electrical component, and for processors, it is expressed in watts. The higher the thermal power design value is, the hotter your CPU will get and, therefore, may require better cooling mechanisms to operate efficiently.
Because we are talking about laptops, where space is very limited, and cooling solutions aren’t as good as they could be if there were proper fan intakes and outlets, CPUs can generate a lot more heat than they would on a desktop PC. This means laptop CPUs can have TDP values of over 100W, while most CPUs used on desktops only go up to 65 or 90W. So, if you buy a CPU that has a higher TDP value than your old CPU, then it could cause overheating problems and damage your laptop.
For example, if you have a laptop that comes with a 25W TDP Intel Core i5 10210U CPU, and you want to upgrade it to an intel core i9-11950H CPU which has a 45W TDP value, then there is a high chance that your laptop will not be able to handle the extra heat and could suffer from failures.
Related Article: What Is A Good Processor Speed For A Laptop?
An Example of a Laptop with an Upgradeable CPU
Let’s see how you should check processor compatibility. Let’s say you have a laptop with a Core I5-3320M processor. To find out if it is upgradeable, you need to look at the processor’s specs.
As you can see on the screenshot above, this is a PGA988 processor. This means the socket type is PGA (Pin Grid Array), so it is upgradeable. The 988 number means that the number of pins used in this CPU is 988. Finally, the TDP is 35W.
If you want to buy an i7 CPU for this laptop, you should look at the CPU specs and confirm that you buy a PGA processor socket with 988 pins and a TDP of 35W. The Intel Core i7-3632QM Processor would be a compatible processor because, as you can see on the screenshot below, it has a PGA socket type with 988 pins and also has a 35W TDP.
Once you check these 3 things (socket type, pins number, and thermal power design value), you can know for sure if a new CPU will work properly on your laptop.
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Can I upgrade my laptop processor from i5 to i7?
If the molding process is not BGA, then yes, you can upgrade the CPU. You only need to check that your new CPU has the same socket type as your old one and the number of pins on the new one is the same as the one on your old CPU. Finally, confirm that the TDP value of your new CPU is lower or equal to the TDP of your old CPU.
Can I upgrade the CPU without changing the motherboard on my laptop?
Again, this depends on the type of CPU that is already present in your laptop. If it is a socket-type BGA processor, then you cannot do that because the BGA type of processor is soldered directly on your motherboard. However, if you have an LGA or PGA socket-type processor, you can upgrade the CPU without changing the motherboard. You can read more motherboards in our article “Can You Upgrade Your Laptop Motherboard?“
Can I upgrade my laptop processor from i7 to i9?
Most likely, you won’t be able to upgrade your laptop processor from an i7 to an i9 (or higher). The first problem is the soldering of the processor on the motherboard (if it is a BGA type of CPU). The second problem is the TDP of your laptop. The i9 processors are made for high-performance, meaning they generate a lot of heat. If your laptop has a low TDP value, meaning the cooling system is not good enough for an i9 processor, then you will have problems and could cause damage to other components on your motherboard or even the motherboard itself.
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Upgrading your laptop processor is not as easy as upgrading a desktop CPU because of the surface mounting process. You need to know for sure that your new CPU has the same socket type and number of pins as your old one. Finally, you need to confirm that the TDP value of your new CPU is lower or equal to the TDP value on your old CPU. If all 3 factors are true (very rare), then you can upgrade your laptop CPU without changing the motherboard. If 1 or 2 factors differ, then you need to change the motherboard to upgrade your laptop processor.
I hope that this article has helped you. Please leave a comment below if you have other questions or want to share your experience with CPU upgrades on laptops
Nick Ryley, is a computer architect and the owner of The Pc Geekz.
His love to play games got him interested in computers in the first place. He wanted to be able to build a gaming PC that could run all the latest games at max settings and this has him pursuing a major in computer architecture!
He started this blog to help people out and answer some of the most common questions about computer building