Teardown, testing discover Apple made 2017 iMacs easier for users to upgrade

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in Current Mac Hardware
Apple is making its recently-released iMacs more easily upgradeable, with retailer OWC confirming the base specification 27-inch 5K iMac can be fitted with up to 64GB of RAM, while an iFixit teardown reveals both the memory and the processor used in the 21.5-inch 4K iMac can be removed and replaced.

RAM from the 2017 21.5-inch iMac, via iFixit
RAM from the 2017 21.5-inch iMac, via iFixit


Revealed at WWDC earlier this week, the 2017 27-inch 5K iMac is capable of accepting 64GB of RAM, but all bar the lowest-priced 3.4GHz Core i5 model can be configured on the online Apple Store to that capacity. The 3.4GHz version instead has options to upgrade the 8GB 2400 MHz DDR4 memory to 16GB and 32GB versions, despite having the same number of user-accessible SO-DIMM slots as the others.

Retailer Other World Computing put the new base model through its MaxRAM certification program, which determines the maximum amount of memory a system can take via a series of tests. The retailer notes it was capable of exceeding Apple's "officially supported maximums," and claims all of its own-brand memory upgrades will work flawlessly with the iMac in question.

The customary teardown from iFixit of the 2017 21.5-inch 4K iMac reveals that it too is capable of being upgraded, but not as easily as the 27-inch model. While the larger iMac has a small hatch that allows access to the memory, the 21.5-inch iMac requires the entire back cover to be taken off, as well as the removal of the logic board, due to the RAM's placement between the board and the display panel.

Unlike in previous iterations, it is noted that Apple is using SO-DIMMs that can be easily removed and replaced, rather than soldering the memory modules onto the logic board. This is a "major win for upgradability" over previous models, iFixit claims, albeit requiring considerable work to access the memory modules.

The processor has been given similar treatment by Apple, in being a modular component and not soldered in place. The Kaby Lake processor is fitted into the iMac using a standard LGA 1151 CPU socket, making it the first time in years that it is possible to replace or upgrade the processor.

It is noted the logic board itself has grown compared to previous models, with the board expanding into an area occupied by the right speaker. The growth now means the right speaker is trapped inside the contours of the logic board and the edge of the enclosure.

Teardown of the 2017 21.5-inch iMac, via iFixit
Teardown of the 2017 21.5-inch iMac, via iFixit


For the components, Intel provides the platform controller hub alongside the processor, AMD supplies the Radeon Pro 555 GPU, Broadcom produces the Gigabit Ethernet controller, and LG made the display panel. Texas Instruments, NXP, Cirrus Logic, Fairchild, and NXP are among the other component suppliers used to create parts for the iMac.

Despite the potential upgradability of the 21.5-inch iMac, iFixit still gave a 'repairability' score of 3 out of 10, citing the fused together glass and Retina display and the difficulty of accessing the components buried within the system. This low score is still an improvement for the 2017 21.5-inch iMac, with the 2015 model rated at a dismal 1 out of 10 because of its soldered-on components.

The use of upgradable components may be seen as an easy way for Apple to install or remove items at the point of sale or repair. The switch to socketed hardware may also be considered a change in policy within Apple regarding user-upgradeable parts and third-party repairs, typically hindered by soldered components.

On June 7, Apple reportedly launched an initiative to provide the "Horizon Machine," a tool for calibrating iPhone displays and Touch ID, in up to 400 third-party repair shops in 25 countries by the end of the year. The machines, which is used to synchronize the Touch ID sensor with the motherboard and the Secure Enclave, is said by Apple senior director of service operations Brian Naumann to potentially reduce the retail store queues for repair, by allowing the processes to be carried out via authorized third-party repair centers.

Even so, Apple is still fighting to keep repairs and upgrades performed only by those authorized by the firm. In May, it was reported Apple paid $32,000 to lobbyists in New York to campaign against the so-called "right to repair" bills, legislation that would require electronics companies to sell parts and tools to the general public and third-party firms.
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Comments

  • Reply 1 of 33
    gatorguygatorguy Posts: 19,291member
    FWIW to avoid readers/buyer confusion:  Apple say's it's not possible for users to upgrade the 21.5" version. Unlike past years tho someone with the proper tools and patience can anyway according to iFixit. 
    edited June 2017 randominternetpersonSoli
  • Reply 2 of 33
    ...the 21.5-inch iMac requires the entire back cover to be taken off, as well as the removal of the logic board, due to the RAM's placement between the board and the display panel. ...



    Well, you've actually got it backwards. The RAM is on the back of the logic board, and access to the machine is granted by removing the display. The RAM is between the logic board and the "back cover" which is really the body of the machine. 
    pscooter63randominternetpersonfastasleep
  • Reply 3 of 33
    tundraboytundraboy Posts: 1,586member
    Can a Horizon Machine be used to unlock and/or activate a stolen iPhone?
  • Reply 4 of 33
    gatorguygatorguy Posts: 19,291member
    tundraboy said:
    Can a Horizon Machine be used to unlock and/or activate a stolen iPhone?
    Wrong thread. But FWIW a Horizon machine can be used to make a repaired iPhone recognize a new fingerprint sensor. I imagine Apple has other systems in place to help prevent activation of stolen phones. 
    edited June 2017 elijahgjbdragonstantheman
  • Reply 5 of 33
    kestralkestral Posts: 200member
    How does a processor upgrade work? Provided the chip uses the same socket, can one just buy an i7 with the right socket, replace it and that's it, or is there more to do in order to get this to work?
  • Reply 6 of 33
    Mike WuertheleMike Wuerthele Posts: 3,336administrator
    kestral said:
    How does a processor upgrade work? Provided the chip uses the same socket, can one just buy an i7 with the right socket, replace it and that's it, or is there more to do in order to get this to work?
    That's not at all clear. With the tower Mac Pro, for instance, there were compatible processors in the Xeon line, and some that just didn't work even though they physically fit. We'll see with time.
    edited June 2017 jbdragondaren_mitchell
  • Reply 7 of 33
    loekfloekf Posts: 34member
    kestral said:
    How does a processor upgrade work? Provided the chip uses the same socket, can one just buy an i7 with the right socket, replace it and that's it, or is there more to do in order to get this to work?
    Yes, in principle should work. FYI, the i5 7400 is the "cheapest" Core i5 Kabylake you can get. It has a TDP of 65W. So you could replace this one with Core i7 7700, which also has a TDP of 65W.
    jbdragonkestral
  • Reply 8 of 33
    elijahgelijahg Posts: 626member
    Great to see Apple's not soldering quite so much, maybe frequent bad RAM chips requiring a logic board swap were getting expensive. Those that claimed it was "necessary" for reliability or thinness will have to eat their words!
    avon b7spinnyd
  • Reply 9 of 33
    ajminnjajminnj Posts: 14member
    About time. Here is hoping that the MacBook Pros will get the same change (If not the ones this week, then the next update at the latest)
    spinnyd
  • Reply 10 of 33
    Rayz2016Rayz2016 Posts: 4,220member
    elijahg said:
    Great to see Apple's not soldering quite so much, maybe frequent bad RAM chips requiring a logic board swap were getting expensive. Those that claimed it was "necessary" for reliability or thinness will have to eat their words!
    The article indicates that the use of removable memory means that the logic board has grown in size and is now squeezed against the right hand speaker. 

    That'll be a logic board pressed against a vibrating speaker.  

    So yes, soldering components is necessary to save space. We'll have to wait and see if the compromise affects reliability. 
    edited June 2017 jbdragonrandominternetpersonchiapscooter63stantheman
  • Reply 11 of 33
    substancesubstance Posts: 13member
    Well this is surprise, but great to see.  Anytime Apple throws a bone to the power users these days is a welcome sign.
  • Reply 12 of 33
    mknelsonmknelson Posts: 245member
    I suspect this was done in the interest of reduced service expenses. They don't need to dispatch a MLB if it's a RAM failure, etc.

    "That'll be a logic board pressed against a vibrating speaker."

    The iFixit teardown doesn't say that at all! No contact is stated or implied.
    MisterKitelijahg
  • Reply 13 of 33
    lkrupplkrupp Posts: 6,408member
    How about everybody just accept the FACT that Macs are not made to be upgraded. Claiming the changes made make them upgradeable is nonsense. These are not machines you just pop the top off of and yank out components with ease. I’m tired of listening to the bullshit put out by those who want to go back to the days of beige boxes with lids and slots on them. if you’re a hobbyist then go to MicroCenter and buy parts to your heart’s content. The new iMacs are NOT user upgradeable except for memory in the 27” models. 
    andrewj5790randominternetpersonboltsfan17larz2112macxpresspscooter63baconstang
  • Reply 14 of 33
    Rayz2016Rayz2016 Posts: 4,220member
    mknelson said:
    I suspect this was done in the interest of reduced service expenses. They don't need to dispatch a MLB if it's a RAM failure, etc.

    "That'll be a logic board pressed against a vibrating speaker."

    The iFixit teardown doesn't say that at all! No contact is stated or implied.
    Yes, my goof. I read that wrong. They've moved the speaker against the enclosure. 

    Glad about that! 
  • Reply 15 of 33
    Rayz2016Rayz2016 Posts: 4,220member
    lkrupp said:
    How about everybody just accept the FACT that Macs are not made to be upgraded. Claiming the changes made make them upgradeable is nonsense. These are not machines you just pop the top off of and yank out components with ease. I’m tired of listening to the bullshit put out by those who want to go back to the days of beige boxes with lids and slots on them. if you’re a hobbyist then go to MicroCenter and buy parts to your heart’s content. The new iMacs are NOT user upgradeable except for memory in the 27” models. 
    And that isn't a change for the bigger iMacs. 

    However, I do think they are upgradeable if you want to put in the effort, but I also reckon that none of the 'professionals' round here will put in the effort. 

    Since this also ties  in with Apple sending out calibration machines to authorised service centres, this is more about servicing than upgrading.  And let's  face it; IFixit don't want you servicing your own machine either. 
  • Reply 16 of 33
    gatorguy said:
    tundraboy said:
    Can a Horizon Machine be used to unlock and/or activate a stolen iPhone?
    Wrong thread. But FWIW a Horizon machine can be used to make a repaired iPhone recognize a new fingerprint sensor. I imagine Apple has other systems in place to help prevent activation of stolen phones. 

    It's not the wrong thread because the author of the article shoehorned a paragraph about the Horizon Machine into this article.  Frankly, that's a pet peeve of mine about AI articles in general (the tendency to glom on semi-related stuff into every article, annoying those of us who read every article and don't need the redundancy).
  • Reply 17 of 33
    appexappex Posts: 687member
    Apple should use standard ports and components, not soldered. And why is the very same make and model of RAM purchased from Apple Store two to three times more expensive than in retailers like Amazon?
    edited June 2017
  • Reply 18 of 33
    appex said:
    Apple should use standard ports and components, not soldered. And why is the very same make and model of RAM purchased from Apple Store two to three times more expensive than in retailers like Amazon?

    Damn.  I bet the "under" on this one which was 14 posts, but in this thread he didn't paste this in until the 17th post.  Maybe I'll get it next time.
    pscooter63
  • Reply 19 of 33
    Marco_NMarco_N Posts: 1member
    Any chance these new iMacs will support Target Display Mode? Did that change make it into High Sierra?
  • Reply 20 of 33
    fallenjtfallenjt Posts: 3,903member
    elijahg said:
    Great to see Apple's not soldering quite so much, maybe frequent bad RAM chips requiring a logic board swap were getting expensive. Those that claimed it was "necessary" for reliability or thinness will have to eat their words!
    However, the machine with this power wouldn't require any upgrade for ....3-4 years. I seriously rather spend $200 for more RAM when I ordered it than just do it myself to save...like $50, No way.
    StrangeDays
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