Upgrading RAM on a Nexus 5X

A screenshot of the status screen indicating the phone has detected the extended RAM.

A denizen of the venerable XDA forums reports that it is possible to upgrade the RAM of the Nexus 5X from 2GB to 4GB.  Having suffered the dreaded bootloop, [Cathair2906] decided to send their phone off to China for repair. The technician advised that since reflow of the CPU was necessary anyway, it makes sense to upgrade the RAM as well. This is due to the RAM actually being fitted directly on top of the CPU, a method amusingly known as Package on Package (SFW).

Upgrading RAM in the average computer is a relatively trivial task. Pop the case open, and you slide the new sticks into the extra slots. It’s not the same case for smartphones and tablets — in the endless quest for the slimmest form factor, all parts are permanently soldered. In addition, every device is essentially bespoke hardware; there’s no single overarching hardware standard for RAM in portable devices. You could find yourself searching high and low for the right chips, and if you do track them down, the minimum order quantity may very well be in the thousands.

Unless, of course, you had access to the Shenzhen markets where it’s possible to buy sample quantities of almost anything. Given access to the right parts, and the ability to solder BGA packages, it’s a simple enough job to swap a bigger RAM chip on top of the CPU during the repair.

It’s the sort of thing that’s trivial in Shenzhen, and almost mind-bogglingly impossible in the West. The price of the repair? About $60 USD. [Cathair2906] was even nice enough to share the address of the shop that did the work.

We’ve seen similar antics before – like this Nexus 5 storage upgrade to 64GB.

[via XDA Developers, thanks to Jack for the tip!]

41 thoughts on “Upgrading RAM on a Nexus 5X

    1. Already facing nexus 5x boot loop problem. Just right after it was out of warranty. Now service center people says tha it will cost rs 9000 for replacing mother board. Rubbish purchased it last year in 32000 now its resale value is under 20000 and service center people want me to spend 9000 for its repairing. I am very disappointed will never purchase google phone it was my 1 st and last experience with android phones.

      1. To be fair your argument is like saying you bought a brand Y car and it broke after warranty and will be terribly expensive to fix, so, you will swear off buying a car ever again.
        The problem isn’t cars or android phones in general. The problem is a fairly specific make and model of phone. I admit to having seen mention of the Nexus 6p having bootloop issues as well, however, I have not done any research to see how prevalent it is.

        1. I thoroughly encourage any product purchaser to vote with their feet if they have the slightest dissatisfaction with any product, manufacturer or marketer.

          Gone are the days when we could expect companies and corporations to adhere to regulations and ethical standards. Instead, today, they will do whatever they can get away with to maximize profit.

          I have seen designed in hardware failures intended to last out the warranty period. Example – old CRT TV that had contact glue deliberately drawn across the horizontal drive traces on the PCB.

          I have seen designed in remote manufacturer control of devices so that they can be made functionally useless after warranty has ended. Example – Eye-Fi cards sold with server dependence so the server can later be switched off.

          I have seen designed in software to make a product exhibit intolerable annoyances after warrant has expired. Example – A very large name brand laptop that had power management software that purposely made the laptop run progressively slower after warranty expired. Even when this application was removed the system would re-install it.

          I have herd reports of but not seen – software or operating systems that emulate hardware faults that do not actually exist after warranty has expired.

          Regulations have failed our new global consumer markets. The only way consumers will be able to avoid these abuses will be by frequently voting with their feet until companies and corporations understand that we will not tolerate this abuse.

  1. When I skimmed the story before I didn’t quite realize the ram was on top of the chip. Yeah that seems a bit of work right there. I suppose you would have to flow the CPU then the ram? or would you flow them both at the same time to reduce thermal damage? Either way your gonna need BGA stencils for the ram and CPU and like the article states when you live in the west everything costs so much more thats even if you can get your hands on the right part in the first place.

    1. A rebal stencil starts at about a buck (if you need a special one). Generic 110 pcs stencils costs about 15-20$.

      To reball a bga everything you need is an soldering iron, solderwick, hotair station, flux, solderpaste and the stencil. When the bga is desoldered, the remains of the balls are removed with the wick. next align the stencil with the pads (doesn’t need to be the exact stencil, but the pitch and ballsize needs to be the same). Next get some solderpaste and put in on a paper towel and dry it a bit. Next scoop it into the stencil (all the holes with needs to be covered in the dryed solder paste). Next heat it up with the hotair until the solder melts into balls.

      Most stuff besides the stencil most hackers already have. If you want to try it out: http://dangerousprototypes.com/blog/2014/05/01/bga-reballing-practice-kit-bga-removal-reballing-soldering-exercise/ and http://dangerousprototypes.com/docs/BGA_Reballing_Practice_Kit

      1. Great info there but I meant getting hands on the correct ram chip being hard/costly and because of the chip on chip package the reballing sounds like a nightmare haha. but great comment. I have messed around with reballing but nothing serious.

      1. If so, this then just sux’ard.
        Would be great for a service where a reflow shop could upgrade a RPi to say >1GB if physically supported (Enough address space/pins).

        I suspect the BCM’s have a limited address space, so one could downgrade his/her RPi but not upgrade?

        P.S. I know, of course no-one would want to downgrade if they could help it (Unless there was a humungous power saving benefit of course) .

  2. Is there any particular reason that there hasn’t been class action suits against BGA component manufacturers???
    So many problems with so many devices due to this process.

    1. So few problems, just seems like a lot of problems.
      There are pentium-pro servers that still run to this day.
      There are pentium 2 class laptops from the 90’s still in use somewhere on this planet.
      My laptop (Latitude E6400) is a 2008/2009-ish era device with at least 2x Flip-chip uBGA on BGA-carrier chips minimum, then there are other BGA chips for things I don’t use, I’ve removed them on a spare mainboard for experimentation, it still booted and saved about a watt, translates to another 10mins average.
      Etc, etc, etc.

      Nvidia were bad at their implementation: PS3, HP DV series and NV GS7000 series, GPU cards even to this day seem to have this type of DRM (Physical Rights Management PRM???)

      Intel sucks on one of their Core i7 u-series (Laptops), I know because we constantly replaced those boards when we serviced said contract (can’t remember the model, I may have commented on HAD in the past articles though)
      a small handful of smartphones are affected, some servers.

      AMD’s ATI GPUs are stronger than NVidia, but I have seen some failures, especially when laptop manufacturers use heatsinks half the size of an Intel iGPU laptops’ in a laptop with an AMD APU+GPU+PCH.
      Talk about manufacturers seemingly paid to make AMD look bad (Though AMD’s research team went stupid rubbish in the mobile field since the 64 X2/X4 era, all sub 2Ghz with pittance caching since)

      However those failures account for a small fraction of the total market using both flipchip(uBGA), BGA and BGA-stacking.

      The failure is very low (Unless we are on about one specific brand of mobile/laptop GPU provider)

        1. Guilty also,

          Cos’ I can usually get said era laptops for around £1 or less at boot sales (Someone even once tried to give away to me an Amstrad branded 386DX luggable clam-shell brick-top for nothing, literally “Just Take it, PLEASE!!!” kind of deal, should I have taken it???)

          I once had an Intel x86 class palmtop or a laptop (can’t recall what, but for 50p):
          Intel Pentium 66Mhz (not sure if the F00F version or the next revision)
          8MB ram (or was it 16MB??)
          12GB HDD
          and I bodged the minimum specifications file for the Windows XP installer.
          3+ hour boot to desktop (A world record???).

          1. ‘Twas a proper bodge job, It worked.
            However that was about 4+ years ago, it seems the local boot sale is selling most ancient scrap-tops at no less than £5/£10 these days (Because, to them EBAY is a good reference point, god and stuff) and IMHO not worth it, Hopefully I’ll get hold of one for next to nothing and do a youtube video of one booting (If someone wishes to have 3hours+ of their life wasted)

    2. If there was a lawsuit I suspect it would have to be directed at the regulatory bodies that implemented the RoHS standards. As far as I can tell BGA soldering defects would be a small fraction of the current numbers if lead-based solder was being used. Heck, I even see obvious signs of lead-free solder degradation on the THROUGH-HOLE components of some boards I repair. Tin/Lead solder FTW!

      1. Yup. Both NASA and the ESA prohibit use of lead-free solder on their spacecraft due to the potential for tin whisker growth, which can end a mission. Wouldn’t do to have a multi-million or billion dollar mission ended because someone didn’t want an insignificant amount of lead float around the cosmos!

        • NASA
        – Prohibits pure tin as a finish and often requires 3% lead
        • European Space Agency (ESA)
        – Tin/lead required solder for assembly

        https://nepp.nasa.gov/whisker/reference/tech_papers/2011-kostic-pb-free.pdf (Page 22)

      2. I agree. I still do some component level repair on a limited number of board types. Often the repair consists of removing the Pb free solder and resoldering with tin/lead. Some manufacturers have worked out that if you make the though holes smaller then there are less failures but this also makes the repair more difficult. The old style larger holes fail often with Pb free solder. Anything with a lot of larger connectors is a waste of time because they fail often with PB free solder.

  3. “Given access to the right parts, and the ability to solder BGA packages, it’s a simple enough job to swap a bigger RAM chip on top of the CPU”

    Given the ability to master the space environment, is simple enough to live on Mars :D

    1. Living on Mars is easy given a steady and fast enough supply chain. The trick is getting it all there safely, and consistently. Remember when we lost a few rockets in short order going to the ISS? They were just in orbit and it was hard enough getting supplies to them, and they became “low” on supplies. Of course, “low” meant something like 2-3 months left of certain supplies, but given that it can take a month or more to prepare a new mission, it’s not an unreasonable thing to call that “low” then.

      To safely live on Mars, any supplies would almost certainly have to be a minimum of a year, probably 2+ years in terms of lead time for the sake of mission planning and accounting for ideal launch windows.

      Sorry, that response probably got away from me.

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