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We’re not going to mince words here: Apple’s newest MacBooks are pretty awesome when it comes to the sheer performance offered by Apple’s insanely powerful new M1 chip. Even the entry-level MacBook Air runs circles around every other Intel Mac ever made, and they can even hold their own against a $6,000 Mac Pro.
Unfortunately, however, all of that performance comes with a pretty big downside in terms of having virtually no upgradeability. This means that you’d better pick the right RAM and SSD configurations before you hit that “Buy” button, as you’ll be stuck with them for the life of that machine.
At least, that’s what we’ve generally believed until now, but it turns out it may not be the case. As reported by MacRumors, a group of technicians in China has succeeded in upgrading the memory and storage of an M1 Mac — something that many didn’t think possible.
To be fair, most of Apple’s MacBooks have gotten more difficult to upgrade over the years, with RAM and SSDs soldered directly onto the main logic board, rather than socketed in. However, the M1 chip took that to a whole new level, with the RAM and SSD attached directly to the M1 CPU.
This led to a scenario where upgrades aren’t even possible on the M1 Mac mini, which has otherwise always supported aftermarket RAM upgrades, and of course, that didn’t bode well for the future of Apple’s other desktop Macs like the iMac.
Upgrading the M1
According to Chinese site chongdiantou.com (Google Translate), technicians in Guangzhou, China, have discovered that it actually is possible to detach the RAM from the M1 chip, along with the nearby SSD module, and replace them with higher-capacity components.
To be absolutely clear, this is not a procedure for the faint of heart, as it requires precision soldering by a trained technician, and there’s obviously a high chance of permanently damaging your M1 chip if you slip up. However, it does prove that RAM and SSD upgrades are possible on the M1.
It also goes without saying that this isn’t officially sanctioned by Apple, and will almost certainly void your warranty.
An important aspect of this discovery, however, wasn’t just that the components could be removed and replaced with higher-capacity ones, but rather the fact that the hardware and macOS happily recognized the upgraded components.
The report includes several images illustrating the process, which took a base model M1 MacBook Air — the version with 8GB of RAM and a mere 256GB SSD — and successfully upgraded it to 16GB of memory and 1TB of storage. Once booted up, macOS Big Sur correctly showed the new specs in the standard About This Mac and system profiler screens.
Not surprisingly, the self-installed upgrades are considerably less expensive than what Apple charges for the same pre-configured capacity jumps.
At this point, however, it’s unclear exactly how high users will be able to go on the existing M1 chip. Apple’s own stock configurations cap out at 16GB of RAM and a 2TB SSD. Since Intel Macs can be upgraded to much higher capacities, it’s commonly believed that this is a limitation of the current M1 chip architecture. So far, however, the team in Guangzhou doesn’t appear to have attempted to try any higher-capacity components.
Why This Matters
This isn’t something most Mac users should even attempt to try on their own, so if you’re buying an M1 Mac, we’d still strongly recommend buying as much memory and storage upfront as you think you’re likely to need, if not a bit more.
However, this experiment does show that Apple Silicon is ultimately not the final nail in the coffin of upgradeable Macs. It seems that where there’s a will, there’s always a way.
Further, now that this discovery has been made, it makes room for enthusiasts and grey market service technicians to start offering unofficial upgrades, and the process could even be further refined over time. While any upgrades like these are guaranteed to void your warranty with Apple, it could become an option to prolong the usable life of an M1 Mac beyond the warranty period.