Want to upgrade that 'Retina' MacBook Pro? Tough luck

Want to upgrade that 'Retina' MacBook Pro? Tough luck

Summary: iFixit have given the new MacBook Pro a reparability score of 1 out of ten, calling it "virtually non-upgradeable".

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TOPICS: iPhone
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Did you rush out and order a brand new 'Retina' display MacBook Pro immediately following their unveiling at the WWDC 2012? If you did then you'd better have loaded your purchase up with all the RAM and storage you'll need, because you're not going to be able to add any more once you get it.

The folks at iFixit have managed to get their hands on a new 'retina' display MacBook Pro and took it apart to see what makes it tick. What they found doesn't bode well for anyone planning to attempt a repair or upgrade on their new MacBook Pro.

According to Kyle Wiens, CEO of iFixit, the new MacBook Pro is "the least repairable laptop we've taken apart". In fact, it seems that Apple has gone to great lengths to not only make the new MacBook Pro almost impossible to upgrade, but also a major challenge to even get into it in the first place.

First, the notebook is held together with proprietary Pentalobe screws, just like the iPhone 4/4S. This means that you need a special screwdriver just to remove the bottom cover. But even if you get your hands on a proprietary screwdriver and get the bottom cover off, your pain is only just beginning.

Think you'll be able to upgrade the RAM in your MacBook Pro? Think again. The RAM is soldered directly to the logic board just as it is on the MacBook Air. Whatever you order when you buy the MacBook is what it will have forever. As Wiens says "max out at 16GB now, or forever hold your peace - you can't upgrade."

While you've got the bottom cover off you might be thinking about upgrading the storage. Sorry, but you're out of luck there too, I'm afraid, because the proprietary SSD isn't upgradeable either, at present. It is similar but not identical to the one in the MacBook Air and comes on its own separate daughtercard. It's likely that there will be third-part upgrades parts available in the future, but for now you don't have any options available to you.

Even replacing the battery won't be easy. The lithium-polymer battery is glued rather than screwed into the case, which increases the chances that it'll break during disassembly. A broken battery is not only expensive, it can potentially expose you to nasty chemicals, not to mention being a fire hazard. The battery also covers the trackpad cable, which tremendously increases the chance that attempting to remove the battery will shear the cable in the process.

Oh, and while you're at it, try not to damage or break that 'retina' display screen. The entire display assembly is completely fused together, and there's no glass protecting it. If anything ever fails inside the display, you will need to replace the entire assembly. That will not be cheap.

Overall, iFixit have given the new MacBook Pro a repairability score of 1 out of ten, calling it "virtually non-upgradeable" and labeling it "the first MacBook Pro that will be unable to adapt to future advances in memory and storage technology."

It's not all bad news though. "Despite its dismal repair score," writes Wiens, "there's much to be excited about here beyond the Retina display: New ports, an asymmetrical fan, and a Samsung flash memory SSD. Oh, and the screws are replaceable".

Image credits: iFixit.

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73 comments
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  • It's an Apple Product

    There are no user serviceable parts. The upgrade for any Apple product is to hop on the hamster wheel and get the latest version.
    Your Non Advocate
    • And given how fast they can overheat,

      their lifespan won't be as good as your cheap PC competition if you do a lot of number-crunching (3D rendering, movie editing, etc.)

      There's nothing in this new model that addresses it, and the metal chassis is useful as a cooling agent ONLY if it directly touches the CPU as a direct heatsink (which it doesn't).
      HypnoToad72
    • Ignorant post

      With the notable exception of the MacBook Air, every Mac before now has used standard parts and many people do, in fact, upgrade them. My Late 2008 Unibody MacBook is currently sporting a HDD from Newegg and RAM from MicroCenter. If I buy it from my employer when it EOLs (likely) then I'll remove the optical drive to an external enclosure and add a SSD.

      Having said that, I am *immensely* disappointed in this unit. Soldered RAM? That's ridiculous.
      use_what_works_4_U
    • It's actually too bad...

      ..considering this "design" has come from the company once credited with building the most easily upgradeable computers in the world - even laptops (remember Pismo G3 PowerBooks? Even the original iBook was easy to open).
      daftkey
  • RAM, HD & battery replacement

    I know of plenty of people that purchase high end laptops with lowered specs with the thought in mind to upgrade it later with more RAM, larger/faster HD. It allows them to 'buy in' with the money they have on hand, and defer the cost of best specs until later. I can't speak to the percentages of people worldwide, but would like to know how you've concluded "a clear majority and sizable one..." Are you sure you aren't just being defensive of an inanimate object built by an entity that doesn't even know you exist?

    EDIT: One last thought. While you attempt a logical argument in favor of Apple's decision, wouldn't it have been even the slightest bit more appealing if any of those parts were replaceable, serviceable, upgradeable?
    TechNickle
    • its about size....

      they would have had to make the whole machine bigger or have less battery, to fit in those sockets and such. To get things in a tiny size, you have to make compromises, and with the number of sales of Macbook Airs just like this, most Mac users must not care.
      doh123
    • Then all your complaints about Windows must be wrong

      [i]with the number of sales of Macbook Airs just like this, most Mac users must not care.[/i]

      Using your logic, you should never again say anything is wrong with Windows. After all, with the number of sales of Windows, most Windows users must not care.
      toddbottom3
  • I have no idea how one would find a diffinitive answer to that question.

    That said, there is a HUGE industry surrounding replacement parts/ upgrade parts. A quick cruise of any number of internet sites, NewEgg, Tiger Direct, etc., will show just how many parts are sold for Wintel machines. Enough that I am persuaded your argument is specious, especially if one considers memory and hard drive upgrades alone.
    whatagenda
    • Battery

      Not to forget the battery. It will inevitably run out of gas.
      dem05
  • Every single computer owner I've ever met...

    eventually wants to upgrade their PC. It extends the useful life of the hardware they already spent good money on. Apple computer customers probably don't consider it because they are technically challenged to begin with.
    kstap
    • We're talking laptops here

      Not PCs.
      Pete&Pete
    • @Pete&Pete

      "We're talking laptops here... Not PCs. "

      I suppose, but considering the iMac has been moving from relatively easy to upgrade (hard drive, RAM very easily accessible on the G5 versions - not so much now) to what it is now, I can see this trend spilling over into their "PC" products.

      Of course, I guess we could all buy Mac Pros if we want the only "upgradeable" Mac left. Or we could leave the camp - it's our choice.
      daftkey
    • @Pete&Pete

      How many laptops cannot be user-upgraded as far as ram or hard drive? Previous models of the Macbook were user upgradable as are Windows based laptops - and possibly netbooks as well.
      NonFanboy
  • hmmm...even the battery

    that is known to degrade over time regardless of usage.
    You are the king of apple fanboys!
    Imagine your car having a non replaceable battery that lasts 5 year max.
    The Linux Geek
    • Apple Fanbois trade in their Volkswagons and Birkenstocks constantly

      A Macbook, like an iPad, is a status symbol. Do you really think that an Apple Fanboi will be caught with last seasons styles, much less something five years old?
      Your Non Advocate
    • except...

      except the flaw in your logic is... the battery here *is* replaceable! its just not as easy as previous models.
      doh123
    • Prove it

      @doh123

      Really? It's only replaceable if Apple says so. If the thing is glued in and covers cables, etc... (it does, iFixit never gets these things wrong b/c they actually put their hands in there) then 'replaceable' may not be 'applicable'.
      use_what_works_4_U
    • @Linux Geek

      This is one of the extremely rare times I agree with you.

      @doh123 From the article:[b]

      "Even replacing the battery won???t be easy. The lithium-polymer battery is glued rather than screwed into the case, which increases the chances that it???ll break during disassembly. A broken battery is not only expensive, it can potentially expose you to nasty chemicals, not to mention being a fire hazard. The battery also covers the trackpad cable, which tremendously increases the chance that attempting to remove the battery will shear the cable in the process."[/b]

      That does not sound very user upgradable to me.
      NonFanboy
    • i didnt say user replaceable

      I said it can be changed out if there is a problem, its just not easy, meaning a lot of people would probably pay someone else (like Apple) to do it for them.
      Saying its not replaceable is just wrong.. thats saying when it goes bad, you cannot do anything about it, just throw the whole machine away or never use battery power.
      doh123
  • A lot of good responses already...

    ...but I'll throw in my 2 cents as well.

    First, assuming that everything you've said is 100% accurate (which I will address later), that doesn't say anything about the repair issues. The construction of this laptop will make non-warranty repairs much more expensive, and that can't be a good thing.

    Second, as others have pointed out, almost everyone wants to increase RAM or upgrade their HD at some point in the life of their computer, even if they pay someone else to do it. This design makes that much more expensive and risky, at best.

    Related to that, in the past, when people would comment about how much more expensive Macs are over PCs, a common response from the pro-Mac people would say that you should never buy RAM from Apple as it's always over-priced, and to buy the minimum amount and upgrade from another source after you get it, and that helps level the pricing. So I think it was a pretty common practice to upgrade RAM on Apple systems, at least at one point, and not as rare was you may have thought.
    brble