Hell freezes over: You can now upgrade your Mac at home

You can transform the basic iMac into a far more powerful machine with some time and tweaks.
Written by Charlie Osborne, Contributing Writer

Apple has broken away from the soldered mold by allowing RAM to be upgraded and CPUs to be tinkered with by users in the new iMac range.

The iPad and iPhone maker's product ranges are known for being notoriously difficult, if not close to impossible, to DIY upgrade.

While many PCs and desktop systems on the market allow swappable RAM and quick upgrades to everything from graphics cards to internal storage, Apple's use of soldering and how its devices are fashioned not only break the warranty if you tinker, but are often not worth the trouble.

However, hardware breakdown and tinkerers iFixit have found that the new 21.5-inch iMac with a 4K display has taken a different path.

The new iMac range, revealed at WWDC this week, comprises of three new iMacs to boost a line which has not been upgraded since 2015. You can now purchase an iMac 21.5-inch, a 21.5-inch iMac with Retina 4K display, and a 27-inch iMac Retina with a 5K display.

While the upgrade was anticipated and confirmed by Apple earlier in the year, in the words of iFixit, "Hell hath -- indeed -- frozen over" with the inclusion of components which are possible to upgrade by do-it-yourselfers.

See also: How the iMac broke my 18-month PC upgrade cycle

In the company's latest teardown, iFixit discovered the 21.5-inch iMac with 4K display has both removable RAM and a modular CPU.

It's not necessarily an easy job to upgrade, but it is now possible. With some time and effort, you could at least double the base 8GB memory of the model without forking out an extra thousand dollars or so for the same performance.

"At $1299, the 2017 iMac is a decent chunk of change for many consumers -- and upgradability means they'll be able to get more use and more years out of their computer," iFixit says.

The specifications of the iMac are as follows: a 3.0 GHz quad-core Intel Core i5 processor with Turbo Boost up to 3.5 GHz, 8GB 2400 MHz DDR4 memory, Radeon Pro 555 GPU with 2GB of VRAM, a 1TB hard drive, 802.11ac Wi-Fi and Bluetooth 4.2, and an improved display of 500 nits with 4096 × 2304 resolution and support for two Thunderbolt 3 ports.

Once the team sliced through the adhesive layer, they discovered a "warranty void" sticker on the heat sink. Exploring further, iFixit found that the CPU is modular and lifts right off with the heat sink, revealing a standard LGA 1151 CPU socket.

While it is not easy to get to -- placed on the backside of the logic board and behind many other components, as well as a glued-down pane of glass -- it is now possible to change the CPU without a reflow station which requires de-soldering and re-soldering of circuit board components.

"Looking at the rest of the Kaby Lake lineup, we're actually not seeing any desktop-class CPUs in a BGA package," iFixit noted. "Maybe Apple reverted to a socketed CPU because that's all Intel is offering at the moment."

Once all the standard components had been removed, iFixit also found that the iMac contains two removable SO-DIMMs, which the team calls a "major win for upgradability" as the RAM is no longer soldered in place.


DIY fans may rejoice at this news, but upgrading your Apple iMac will not be an easy task. Not only will you have to replace the adhesive after tinkering, but actually reaching the CPU and RAM requires navigating through a minefield of other components. Despite the challenges, however, the possibility is now there -- if you are willing to risk the warranty.

iFixit gave the iMac a 3/10 for repairability, still an improvement on the 2015 models, but as the iMac is "distinctly un-fun to open" with everything buried under a glass panel.

If you're interested in learning more, head over to iFixit's breakdown.

In related news, at WWDC, Apple also revealed the iMac Pro, a $4999 workstation designed for the enterprise and users requiring serious power for their applications.

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