Retina MacBook Pro Not Upgradeable Nor Very Repairable

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Following the release and immediate availability of the next-generation Retina MacBook Pro at the WWDC 2012 keynote address, the folks over at iFixIt jumped on the opportunity to take it apart and see exactly what makes this new computer tick. While the MacBook Pro contains some new and convenient features, Apple’s approach for it has left out many user serviceable options and made it the least fixable MacBook Pro that Apple has ever made.

A welcome feature of the new MacBook Pro is, of course, its high-quality display, but in addition Apple has included some other neat features. The first of these is the use of fans with asymmetrical blade placement to spread out harmonics and vibrations and therefore reduce overall noise. Additionally, the unit’s body is nearly half battery, to extend the battery life as long as possible, and is light and portable at 4.46 pounds and only 0.71 inch thick.

Unfortunately from a user-serviceable standpoint, Apple’s design decisions have thrown a bit of a wrench into the game. To make its new system to its design specifications, Apple has foregone using industry-standard components and instead built its own approaches to the system’s internals, which in iFixIt’s teardown reveals five areas where users will have problems managing the guts of their systems:

iFixIt teardown of the Retina MacBook Pro iFixIt’s teardown of the new MacBook Pro reveals a substantial loss of user-serviceable components.

(Credit: iFixIt)

  1. Pentalobe screws
    First off, Apple has decided to make far more use of its pentalobe screws, which require a special screwdriver bit. Pentalobe screwdrivers can be purchased if needed, so there is no need for creating special workarounds, but it does hinder one’s ability to get into the system.
  2. Non-serviceable battery
    Secondly, even on the older 17-inch MacBook Pro where there was no battery latch, the battery could still be removed if you opened the case. In the new MacBook Pro the battery is glued in, to the point that iFixIt didn’t dare pry it off without fear of damaging it. The battery also has a warning sticker on it that claims users must have the battery serviced at an Apple Authorized Service Center.
  3. No standard 2.5-inch hard-drive bay
    For ages laptop systems have used the industry-standard 2.5-inch drive bay for hard disks and even newer solid-state drives (SSD); however, Apple began doing away with these options in favor of its own SSD daughtercard in the MacBook Air, and has used this approach in the new MacBook Pro. So far this means the hard drive on the system is not yet upgradable, though as we have seen with the MacBook Air, third-party companies like Other World Computing may come out with upgrades of their own.
  4. No RAM upgrade options
    Another frustrating feature of the new systems, especially for power users who currently need a cheaper system, is there is absolutely no way to upgrade the RAM. As with the MacBook Air, the RAM on the new systems is soldered to the motherboard with no expansion slots at all. In the past, one common recommendation was to avoid Apple’s pricy RAM upgrade options and purchase only the base amount in order to upgrade at a later point; however, this is no longer possible.

    If you are in the market for one of these systems, then it may be best to pay the extra amount and purchase the 16GB model, as it will no doubt give you the most flexibility down the road.

  5. Non-serviceable display
    Unlike previous systems where the display bezel could be disassembled for access to the screen, the display glass, and components like the iSight camera, the new MacBook Pro’s display bezel is completely fused as a single unit (likely glued together), so if something goes wrong with any component in it, then the only option is to replace the entire display. While this makes the options for repairing display components a simple matter, it does also increase the overall expense.

Despite the technological advancements that Apple is touting with the new MacBook Pro, these developments have had iFixIt give the system a repairability score of 1 out of 10, which means there is basically no reason to open your new MacBook Pro. In essence, if something goes wrong (even as simple as a bad RAM module), then you will basically have to have Apple either replace the motherboard, the display, or the chassis of the system. Frankly, it might be easiest for Apple to simply replace the system altogether.

While this build setup may be a great way for Apple to maintain warranties and provide its own service, once the systems have passed their warranty periods, the options users will have for keeping them going on their own will be limited.

Despite the drawbacks from a user serviceable standpoint, these design changes from Apple do bring one benefit: durability. In its video demonstration of the system, Apple showed the systems undergoing a twist test in which they clearly can withstand a fair amount of torquing and deformation, which in no doubt is attributable to solid, well-placed, and well-engineered components. It is just a bit of a shame this takes some of the service and upgrading options out of the user’s hands.

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