Apple solders CPU into new 21.5-inch iMac

Apple solders CPU into new 21.5-inch iMac

Summary: According to iFixit, this is "a silent, but clear, shift" by Apple towards "even poorer iMac upgradeability." But does anyone really care about upgradeability and repairability these days?

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TOPICS: Hardware, Apple
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Compared to the fanfare that surrounds a new iPhone or iPad, iMac updates are pretty low key. And the other day Apple did just that, refreshing both the 21.5-inch and 27-inch iMac.

The new iMacs were quickly ushered from an Apple store into iFixit's teardown labs for analysis so we could see what makes these new Macs tick.

Along with faster processors, better graphics, PCIe flash storage, and an upgrade to the latest 802.11ac Wi-Fi standard, the iFixit team noticed something rather disturbing with relation to the 21-5-inch iMac – that the CPU has been soldered onto the logic board, making it impossible to repair or replace.

CPU soldered into new 21.5-inch iMac
(Source: iFixit)

According to iFixit, this is "a silent, but clear, shift" by Apple towards "even poorer iMac upgradeability."

While I agree that it's a shift towards making devices harder to repair, I do wonder how many people will be affected by this. The PC repair and upgrading market has always been small, and the number of people upgrading Apple products being an even smaller subset still. I'm certain that over 99 percent of new 21.5-inch iMac owners will never know and never care about whether the CPU is replaceable.

Back in 2010 Apple released a MacBook Air which features RAM chips which were soldered to the logic board.

That said, I find it a worrying trend that makes PCs more like post-PC devices such as tablets and smartphones, where upgradability and repairability – and in the end, the lifespan – of a device is being artificially cut short. Whether this is a deliberate move to make devices obsolescent before their time, or a decision driven by design we don't know, but it's clear that Apple doesn't factor repairability into the design of new products.

iFixit gave the new 21-5-inch iMac a repairability score of 2 out of 10, where 10 is the easiest to repair. Not only is the CPU soldered to the logic board, but getting into the iMac is tricky, and once there, most of the replaceable components are buried behind the logic board, forcing you to take the system to bits.

Topics: Hardware, Apple

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75 comments
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  • Yes we do care!

    I bought an Asus G75VW over a MacBook Pro and pretty much everything else because it could be upgraded.

    I can have 32 Gigs of RAM, 802.11AC or whatever comes next, a Haswell CPU if I wanted to, A faster GPU, a second Hard drive, and better fans if I so choose!

    So, yes a lot of people care about these things and it is more likely that people who don't think about it, are the ones that are jumping on that bandwagon... I don't know if this equates to not caring or just plain ignorance and nobody can really say.
    slickjim
    • Re: I can have (whatever)

      Ok, now could you please tell us, did you in fact upgrade that laptop?

      Did you put in 32GB RAM, 802.11ac wifi, Haswell CPU, faster GPU and better fans?

      If you did not, then all of your points are moot, because you yourself do not practice what you preach!

      I will take a better engineered system that cannot have it's parts user-replaceable (*), over an poorly engineered system where I can fiddle with replacing parts, increasing my frustration that I wasted my money and time.

      For most people, any computer is just a tool. Those who want to play and fiddle with things, know well what 'constructor' parts to buy to play with. No need to preach to them at all.


      (*) considering I have all the required tools and skills, I can replace any part of any system, but that's me. I don't encourage anyone else to do it and am well aware "normal" people don't even want to know any of that.
      danbi
      • Cars

        Most people don't perform repairs on their own cars, but I'm sure glad parts are accessible to me so that I can do it, if I so choose (and have done some myself).

        I remember the driver's side of my mirror cracking for no apparent reason, and the dealer told me that the mirror could not be replaced; the entire enclosue, which contains the mirror, had to be replaced because the manufacturer did not sell the mirror separately. Mind you, the mirror is actually manufactured separately, but not SOLD separately. In the end, I upgraded the mirror alone to a signal mirror from an after-market vendor.
        davidr69
        • Cars are not the same

          Cars have many moving parts and are subject to considereable environmental strains such that the owner can reasonably expect it to need several repairs during its useful lifetime.
          oncall
          • Cars are not the same

            The issue is not that cars exhibit wear and tear. The issue is that I can perform any repair I want without being locked in to authorized repair centers, but even then, I was unable to get a part that is actually manufactured separately but not sold separately.
            davidr69
          • Still Apples and Oranges

            Cars are modular and repairable because they "need repairs", sometimes frequently, not so that you can personally repair them, though that is a side benefit. The modern CPU can be reasonably expected to long outlive the actual usefulness of the device. There is no legitimate reason to leave that modular.
            oncall
          • Rolls Rumor

            I have never owned, driven, or even touched any Rolls Royce (I wish!), but I believe I read some years ago that the "bonnet" (hood to us Yanks) of some early models was WELDED SHUT because the manufacturer did not want ANYONE repairing their engine. Since all Rolls Royce cars were sold with a lifetime buyback guarantee, there would be no need to repair their engines; and after buying one back, they would tear it down, then repair and salvage ONLY the parts they felt were high enough quality to be worth keeping, to make the next car.

            I do not know how accurate this is (it may have been a story told to buyers, who would never think to verify it by actually TRYING to open the bonnet), but it sounds like Apple's new philosophy ... EXCEPT for the guaranteed buyback part!
            jallan32
        • The car is a proprietary ecosystem

          Many can requires a specific collection of very special tools if you want to do anything thing above the ordinary. While OBD2 will help you with simple diagnosis (and this is unique to the USA), you need the factory software to perform many "routine" repairs. For instance, on my car you need software to tell the parking brake (electro mechanical) to open enough to let you change the rear pads.

          And, in a analogous theme with PC's, the reliability of vehicles has improved markedly with the degree of integration of the various parts of the ecosystem. Sparkplugs, even on my V10, are replaced every 100k kms, my engine service live is over 250k kms (even with turbos), all due to better electronics, tighter integration and better manufacturing.

          Apple is not alone in this trend. They will have lower warranty costs, the majority of their owners know that the CPU power on purchase will not decline over the next 5 years, and their requirements for additional power will also likely not grow significantly.
          paddle.
      • So...

        ...what you're basically saying is that you're willing to get gouged on an inferior computer, because you don't want to deal with the hassle of upgrading anything you want, at your own convenience?

        I see.

        As for "better engineered," no :) Sorry.
        MaestroDRAVEN
      • The Maytag repairman...

        could've been out of work, permanently, if Maytag had decided to build their washers and dryers the same way that Apple builds their hardware. And, in today's world, Apple's hardware are the most expensive, generally, when compared to the other manufacturers. IN today's world, higher-end computers cost about the same as major appliances, but the appliances are repairable, and are made repairable. If Maytag and Whirlpool and Samsung and LG and Sears decided to manufacture their appliances the way the Apple builds computers, people would have brought up the problem to the government for issuance of regulations to prevent that kind of manufacturing. If a device or appliance is built for usage of 5 years or more, then people have a right to expect that device or appliance to be repairable and/or upgradeable. Apple doesn't want upgradable devices because people would stay away from the pricier devices from Apple, if they could just upgrade an older device.

        If a device or appliance belongs to the person who purchased it, then he/she should be able to do with it as he/she wishes, including upgrading it and repairing it. That should be the case with anything which costs upwards of $500, which would include any and all Macs ever made. Apple's manufacturing practices should be brought up before whatever government agency oversees manufacturing. A device which normally costs upwards of $1000 and can go as high as $3000 (or more), should be a repairable item, and an upgradeable item.
        adornoe
        • rubbish

          Do you expect your DVR or TV to be "repairable"? The world of consumer electronics has developed higher and higher levels of integration to drive costs out and the customer has had to accept that parts cannot be replaced but boards or even whole units have to be replaced instead.

          My Bravia TV failed after a year. The TV was replaced, not repaired, and I got a new TV. I was happy and I assume Sony saved costs all around.
          skiwi
          • Compared to TVs...

            The thing that wears out fastest on a new TV is... the remote control [all those buttons]. Would you really insist on a new TV if the remote started playing up?
            alan_r_cam
          • Nope, the thing that wears out the fastest

            are the batteries.

            And what exactly was your point?
            skiwi
        • Re: in today's world, Apple's hardware are the most expensive

          This is simply not true.

          There are way more expensive "enterprise" grade "workstation class" junk sold by PC manufacturers, than what Apple sells.

          What Apple does is optimize the system so that it performs better, lasts longer and costs less. The goal is not to make the most "performant" system at the cost of everything else. Nor the cheapest system at the cost of everything else.

          There is this thing called "total cost of ownership" and Apple clearly seeks to improve that aspect.

          If you dislike Apple product, this is fine. Just don't buy them. In your own opinion, everyone else makes cheaper, better products: so you are all set!

          I for example, don't like Ford cars. Not that there is something particularly bad about Ford cars, but I simply don't like them. Call it, personal preference. But I won't claim they are overpriced and underperforming etc nonsense.

          Nor would I go as far as to suggest some Government bans Ford cars, because I can't fall in love with them.
          danbi
    • CPU swap??

      That seems an odd upgrade component to care about at this time. RAM & hard drive certainly; maybe video for some. Not much of an apple fan myself, but this doesn't seem worth getting bent out of shape over. I'd only wonder whether solder instead of socket improves or degrades long term reliability.
      rwwff
      • re solder vs sockets

        I worked as a component-level electronic tech for a decade (i.e., you don't replace the defective board, you find the defective part ON the board and replace it. It's pretty much limited to in-house at the manufacturer.)

        For some parts that are very static-sensitive AND expensive AND extremely difficult to unsolder, from a reliability perspective it makes sense to use sockets. HISTORICALLY that was the CPU and on-board RAM.

        But nowadays, unless the computer is in a harsh environment such as routine exposure to high moisture PLUS salt content (e.g., outdoors oceanside), those really are not significant issues. Yes, THEORETICALLY CPU's and RAM are still "very" static-sensitive, but in practice it's not a problem.

        And mass marketers assume--CORRECTLY--that the VAST majority of users will NEVER want significant upgrades. Yes, they might add more memory. Some might put in a newer much larger hard disk. But realistically, that's maybe 5% at most.

        Considering that no one from the manufacturers' perspective considers "long term reliability" to mean MORE THAN 5 years, (and realistically, they're thinking 3), under "normal" conditions there is no difference in long-term reliability between sockets and soldering. Of course, soldering means they're saving a few cents per socket. Doesn't seem like a big deal, but if you sell millions of units, it does add up.
        Rick_R
        • The march of history!

          Vacuum tubes once used in electronics were plugged into sockets which were bolted/riveted to a chassis and wires and components soldered to the lugs on the other side, because the average life of a tube was about 1000 hours of operation (note: AVERAGE), before the heating filament burned out or the electron emitting coating on the cathode weakened. Many consumers were encouraged to take the tubes out of their radio or TV set, carry them down to the convenience store, and test them with the kiosk-size tester (tube numbers were standardized, and a chart told the user which of many sockets to use and where to set the knobs; this was an emission test only, of course), and if one was bad, the clerk would get one out of the locked cabinet in the bottom of the tester and sell it to the user. Since several tubes were often marginal when one got bad enough to make the set stop working, this was a great marketing strategy! As far as I know, tubes were never soldered into place, except possibly in some military equipment, especially the electronics in a "disposable" unit such as a missile.

          Then, when the first solid state circuits were built, individual TRANSISTORS were also plugged into sockets (smaller 3-pin ones, of course), to allow easier replacement (and because the heat of soldering and de-soldering would damage them). After they proved to be as long lived as the rest of the circuit elements. they were soldered in. But the first CHIP packages were plugged in (some still are, where ability to swap them is important, such as ROM chips) for the same reason: uncertainty about their life span. Automated assembly onto a printed circuit board made the use of a separate socket, and a separate step of inserting into a socket, more expensive.

          Upgradability by swapping CPU chips is becoming moot anyway, since parallel upgrades to motherboard circuits are required when the CPU is upgraded.
          jallan32
          • Not all CPU upgrades

            require upgrading the motherboard to achieve the desired effect of the upgrade. After all, think about how much faster a Core i7-3770k is than a Pentium Dual-Core G620 on the same motherboard (generally an H67, P67, Z68, B75, or Z77 based model).
            Champ_Kind
    • Wait, what?

      Did your G75VW come with Sandy or Ivy in it? If so, I want to know how you managed to make Haswell work, since there's no compatibility between Haswell (desktop OR mobile) and the Intel 6 and 7 series chipsets. Also, after paying for that faster GPU, you might as well buy a new laptop.
      Champ_Kind
  • Do most Apple fanatics care?

    You know considering that iMac's use mobile chipsets anyway which reduce their performance in sacrifice for lower heat and power use. Does it really matter if they solder the chips in? Apple makes products that basically nudge you to upgrade frequently and many Apple fans oblige. My argument against a iMac has always come from the point of why would buy a Mac that's hardware is tied to its screen? That is not very economical given a monitor these days probably will outlast the feasible use of the hardware. I also look at the new Mac Pro as being no better for upgrade potential. Par for the course with Apple.
    JohnnyES