Article: The Least Repairable Notebook Yet

by on June 13, 2012

iFixit took apart the new MacBook Pro with Retina Display and found it to be about as everyone expected—crowded, proprietary, not very user-serviceable, but beautifully designed. Without revisiting the play-by-play of the teardown, the big takeaways are that everything except the SSD is soldered to the motherboard, and some components (display, trackpad, battery) are fused together in ways that you’d have to destroy part of the machine to replace. In other words, this thing is a lot like an oversized iPad.

Some will cry foul at the lack of upgradability in a professional-grade notebook, and that was my knee-jerk reaction. However, in both my own experience, and those of friends and family, cracking open a computer was often caused by things this machine negates. Since there is flash memory instead of a hard drive, the failure rate is arguably much lower, due to no moving parts. If people want larger drives in the future, I’m sure some enterprising third-party will make one for the custom-fitted daughtercard.

Sadly, RAM is not upgradeable, but it seems Apple gave a decent amount to start with and the ability to order some extra as a $200 future-proof insurance policy. With most of my Macs, RAM has been the only upgrade I’ve performed, since Apple has been known to price-gouge for more memory from the factory.

The lack of an optical drive has eliminated the need to worry about replacing a failing optical drive (I haven’t really heard people want to upgrade to faster drives, but mostly replace drives that aren’t reading properly or sticking). Obviously, if you need to deal with optical discs, there’s plenty of USB-based external options, and may even outlast a computer or two.

That brings me to repairs—the computer just isn’t that repairable, but is anyone surprised? Apple has slowly shifted from a model of bulky, fairly standardized notebooks with parts that anyone with a screwdriver and a manual can repair to slim, well-engineered, efficient machines that you have to take to Apple for any sort of repair or maintenance. It may make some upset, but this is the model the auto industry has taken, especially when it comes to alternative fuel and hybrid vehicles. In other words, only we know what’s best for your gadget.

While I am disappointed that the battery is glued in place, meaning that it may be tougher for the average user to replace, I suspect Apple may offer a battery replacement service, much like the current Macs, if you actually wear the thing out. Still, by including the trackpad cable in the mix, this may actually help reliability, as there have been a few machines (iBooks, early MacBook Pro) in the past that have had trackpad issues due to the cable rubbing against other components.

I think a lot of people will be upset over the changes, but if this MacBook Pro is anything like the iPads have been as far as sturdiness, overall reliability, and squeezing power out of every chip, I think we have nothing to worry about. Plus, the whole idea of not much upgradeability or repairability in a sealed shell is nothing new.

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