Teardown of Apple's iMac Pro shows RAM upgrades possible - with extreme difficulty

Posted:
in Current Mac Hardware
One of the first teardowns of Apple's iMac Pro shows that it is in fact possible to upgrade the RAM on the computer, though all but the most experienced people will probably want to pay a specialist.




The Pro uses four quad-channel modules, in 8-, 16-, or 32-gigabyte assortments depending on whether buyers pick a 32-, 64-, or 128-gigabyte machine, a video by upgrade firm OWC reveals. While it's possible to boost RAM by swapping in new modules, as on a Windows PC, doing so requires disassembling virtually the entire computer, including a risky process to remove the display.

In its default $4,999 configuration with 1 terabyte of storage, the Pro actually uses two compact 512-gigabyte SSDs joined together in a RAID configuration, something presumably needed because of the minimal space available. These can be unscrewed and removed, though finding replacements is unlikely, at least for now.





OWC said that it will be selling RAM installations and even a do-it-yourself kit in the near future, but that given memory and labor costs -- and the trade-in value of the 32-gigabyte option -- it's best for most people to buy a Pro with sufficient RAM from the start.

The company's teardown also offers a glimpse at the Pro's elaborate cooling systems, needed to cope with workstation-level hardware being compressed into the body of an iMac.




The first iMac Pro shipments began arriving earlier this week. Check out AppleInsider's unboxing video, as well as our benchmark tests.



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Comments

  • Reply 1 of 29
    MplsPMplsP Posts: 1,204member
    Well, good that the memory can be upgraded, but total fail by the design team for making it so difficult to do, as Memory is the one thing a significant number of people are likely going to want/need to do. Would it have killed them to make an access hatch like other iMacs have?
    xzuneilmcornchipavon b7
  • Reply 2 of 29
    Rayz2016Rayz2016 Posts: 4,556member
    MplsP said:
    Well, good that the memory can be upgraded, but total fail by the design team for making it so difficult to do, as Memory is the one thing a significant number of people are likely going to want/need to do. Would it have killed them to make an access hatch like other iMacs have?
    Who do you think has more accurate figures for the number of people who buy machines with the memory maxed out, as opposed to people who upgrade later? You, or Apple?

    These are machines for people who make their living from them. They’re not for hobbyists. 
    edited December 2017 techprod1gycornchipmacpluspluspscooter63StrangeDayschiasphericwatto_cobra
  • Reply 3 of 29
    Given that OWC has opened it up I would be interested in knowing if they think there is a mechanical/heating issue that precluded an access panel.
    watto_cobra
  • Reply 4 of 29
    neilmneilm Posts: 587member
    Rayz2016 said:
    MplsP said:
    Well, good that the memory can be upgraded, but total fail by the design team for making it so difficult to do, as Memory is the one thing a significant number of people are likely going to want/need to do. Would it have killed them to make an access hatch like other iMacs have?
    Who do you think has more accurate figures for the number of people who buy machines with the memory maxed out, as opposed to people who upgrade later? You, or Apple?

    These are machines for people who make their living from them. They’re not for hobbyists. 
    I buy and install Macs for our 40 person company. Where possible I have always bought minimum RAM configurations and upgraded them either on arrival or later in their lifetime, as required. With our increasing laptop usage in recent years that's not always been feasible, but our 27" inch iMacs were all upgraded in-house.
    cornchipmuthuk_vanalingambloggerblogchiavonbrickwatto_cobraavon b7
  • Reply 5 of 29
    neilmneilm Posts: 587member
    Given that OWC has opened it up I would be interested in knowing if they think there is a mechanical/heating issue that precluded an access panel.
    I doubt it. Unlike the regular 27" iMac the Pro's RAM slots are right above the row of ports on the back, nowhere near the cooling path.
    watto_cobra
  • Reply 6 of 29
    I wonder if Jony Ive is responsible for this type of design strategy or is it something Apple as a whole has decided. I do find it odd why Apple has deviated so greatly from the norm of allowing users to upgrade computers themselves. It's likely there would be less problems for Apple employees to troubleshoot if no changes are able to be made. Other than that, I can't come close to understanding Apple's reasoning for making everything difficult to upgrade or repair. I'd love to hear the reason from someone at Apple. To me, almost everything they make seems to be compromised by form before function. Apple's business model seems to be working quite well so I'm obviously missing the big picture.

    As long as I can afford their products, whatever their reasons are for locking up devices, I'll just pay for AppleCare as insurance. It's my choice. I like Apple products and for the most part they've never let me down. Although I've worked in IT, upgrading and servicing Windows desktop computer hardware, as a senior citizen I no longer have the eyesight or patience to be fiddling around with my home computers.  As long as they stay working as well as when I bought them, I have no grievances.
    edited December 2017 cornchipmuthuk_vanalingamtokyojimu
  • Reply 7 of 29
    rob53rob53 Posts: 2,007member
    (OWC needs to add better lighting during teardown.)

     Interesting OWC said RAM upgrades would/might be coming but didn't say anything about SSD upgrades(?). When I look at where all the desired replaceable components are, it appears Apple could add a minimum of three trap doors (two banks of RAM, one opening for SSDs) and maybe a door for the GPU although it would need to change the way its attached. Getting to the CPU requires full removal of the motherboard to properly remove and re-attach the CPU.

    Any time you need to pay to have an iMac opened, you've lost any savings in parts cost. I know there are people who like to "customize" everything but in most cases, this is done because the person is a little bored (like @Rayz2016 ;mentioned) and just wants something to do other than using their computer. If Apple were to provide these access doors, I could see many more iMacs going back in for repair after people replaced Apple parts with cheap replacements from Fry's and Amazon. I trust OWC for parts but many people pay a lot for a computer (or car for that matter) and replace parts with garbage, thereby totally screwing up the initial investment. I believe this is why Apple doesn't want people opening up any of their products. 

    Looking at something like the iMac Pro, I would need help figuring out the proper configuration to get. I bought a fully blown iMac in 2009 and it ran great for me (with upgrades from OWC) until it didn't run the latest OS. It was easy to open up but it also had HDD failures, a power supply failure and recently a GPU failure I fixed (hopefully) by reflowing. Hardware has gotten better so I am hoping I won't have to do this with my newer iMac so what is my ideal configuration for work now and later? It would be nice for someone to put together a chart showing what applications benefit from multiple cores vs faster single cores, how much RAM is actually used by a combination of applications, and how much internal SSD is beneficial vs external RAID connected via Thunderbolt 3. Nice chart for AI to come up with.


  • Reply 8 of 29
    SoliSoli Posts: 8,678member
    MplsP said:
    Well, good that the memory can be upgraded, but total fail by the design team for making it so difficult to do, as Memory is the one thing a significant number of people are likely going to want/need to do. Would it have killed them to make an access hatch like other iMacs have?
    You may call this this semantics (the way one may say you can't make things colder, you can only remove heat), but I don't think Apple made upgrading RAM difficult.

    I think they made the most powerful iMac they could, which included 4 slots with desktop-grade RAM, and there was simply no good solution go having two, very large, easily accessible RAM-doors cut into the upper and lower ends on one side (read; asymmetrical) of the primary support framework.

    Note that on the standard 27" iMac it's laptop-grade RAM, it's in the center of the casing, and it's hidden behind the support arm.
    StrangeDays
  • Reply 9 of 29
    macxpressmacxpress Posts: 4,786member
    Soli said:
    MplsP said:
    Well, good that the memory can be upgraded, but total fail by the design team for making it so difficult to do, as Memory is the one thing a significant number of people are likely going to want/need to do. Would it have killed them to make an access hatch like other iMacs have?
    You may call this this semantics (the way one may say you can't make things colder, you can only remove heat), but I don't think Apple made upgrading RAM difficult.

    I think they made the most powerful iMac they could, which included 4 slots with desktop-grade RAM, and there was simply no good solution go having two, very large, easily accessible RAM-doors cut into the upper and lower ends on one side (read; asymmetrical) of the primary support framework.

    Note that on the standard 27" iMac it's laptop-grade RAM, it's in the center of the casing, and it's hidden behind the support arm.
    I'm also thinking it would screw with the custom cooling system Apple designed for the iMac Pro as well by trying to engineer access panels into the rear of the iMac. I doubt its as simple as well just cut a hole in the back of the case and put a removable door in. On a Jony Ive note though...I also think they didn't want ugly access panels on the left side of the computer where the RAM slots are.
    watto_cobra
  • Reply 10 of 29
    MplsP said:
    Well, good that the memory can be upgraded, but total fail by the design team for making it so difficult to do, as Memory is the one thing a significant number of people are likely going to want/need to do. Would it have killed them to make an access hatch like other iMacs have?
    Not a total fail. A total fail would be if it were an inadequate workstation, it's primary job to be done. Allowing a one-time, possibly-maybe, DIY tinkerer job is it not it's job to be done. Thus, not a fail.

    This machine isn't for you. And that's OK. Say it with me: "This machine isn't for me...and that's OK..."
    edited December 2017 chiamacpluspluspscooter63kirkgraymacxpresswatto_cobrapolymniamacgui
  • Reply 11 of 29

    neilm said:
    Given that OWC has opened it up I would be interested in knowing if they think there is a mechanical/heating issue that precluded an access panel.
    I doubt it. Unlike the regular 27" iMac the Pro's RAM slots are right above the row of ports on the back, nowhere near the cooling path.
    Ah look, another armchair thermal expert. Amazing how they're popping up everywhere!
    pscooter63
  • Reply 12 of 29
    I wonder if Jony Ive is responsible for this type of design strategy or is it something Apple as a whole has decided. I do find it odd why Apple has deviated so greatly from the norm of allowing users to upgrade computers themselves. It's likely there would be less problems for Apple employees to troubleshoot if no changes are able to be made. Other than that, I can't come close to understanding Apple's reasoning for making everything difficult to upgrade or repair. I'd love to hear the reason from someone at Apple. To me, almost everything they make seems to be compromised by form before function. Apple's business model seems to be working quite well so I'm obviously missing the big picture.
    Yes. The big picture is that, in this age of highly parallel (and mostly mobile) computing where power (consumed energy) and heat (dissipated energy) are two gods to worship,  users are not eligible to upgrade their computers. We’re not in the Y2K anymore. There is no such norm as to allow users to upgrade their computers, there has never been. That is an urban legend. Is there a norm to allow users to edit and re-publish the web pages they visit? There was once as part of the Hypertext concept for academics but there is none now in this age of consumer’s Internet.

    Even the most experienced person is prone to fail because some technical documentation is only available to OEMs, and not even to those as they have to test / dissassemble / reverse engineer some part from some 3D party to get to its true performance / specs. This is no longer a job one can perform reading item description on Amazon and eBay. The stakes are high, PC repair shops are full of burnt motherboards.
    watto_cobra
  • Reply 13 of 29

    Rayz2016 said:
    MplsP said:
    Well, good that the memory can be upgraded, but total fail by the design team for making it so difficult to do, as Memory is the one thing a significant number of people are likely going to want/need to do. Would it have killed them to make an access hatch like other iMacs have?
    Who do you think has more accurate figures for the number of people who buy machines with the memory maxed out, as opposed to people who upgrade later? You, or Apple?

    These are machines for people who make their living from them. They’re not for hobbyists. 
    Soli said:
    MplsP said:
    Well, good that the memory can be upgraded, but total fail by the design team for making it so difficult to do, as Memory is the one thing a significant number of people are likely going to want/need to do. Would it have killed them to make an access hatch like other iMacs have?
    You may call this this semantics (the way one may say you can't make things colder, you can only remove heat), but I don't think Apple made upgrading RAM difficult.

    I think they made the most powerful iMac they could, which included 4 slots with desktop-grade RAM, and there was simply no good solution go having two, very large, easily accessible RAM-doors cut into the upper and lower ends on one side (read; asymmetrical) of the primary support framework.

    Note that on the standard 27" iMac it's laptop-grade RAM, it's in the center of the casing, and it's hidden behind the support arm.
    Lol what typical apologists’ responses!
    Yes, people who use reason to counter your hater narrative should be called names, since you can't argue against their reasoning. Brilliant.
    chiapscooter63Soliwatto_cobra
  • Reply 14 of 29
    So if someone wanted to build a “homebrew” Mac, how hard is it to buy just the main logic board? Can you just buy it from any authorized dealer or does Apple make it difficult?
  • Reply 15 of 29
    The headline's "extreme difficulty" implies that it's harder than previous iMacs.

    After having read many iFixit repair pages, this doesn't look any more difficult than a RAM upgrade on other iMacs that lack access doors, but definitely a huge chore compared to those that have them

    So if someone wanted to build a “homebrew” Mac, how hard is it to buy just the main logic board? Can you just buy it from any authorized dealer or does Apple make it difficult?
    Not likely.  Based on what I've read over the years, Apple will only sell parts like this for the purpose of repairs and they will require the repair shop to send them the old (and presumably defective) motherboard afterward.  If they find some service person buying parts and not returning anything, he will likely lose his authorization.
    watto_cobra
  • Reply 16 of 29
    Is not just that the SSD inside iMac Pro is a RAID 0. Even worse, it is paired to the main board, which means you cannot use it elsewhere. And if such board, the controller or any disk fail, all data are lost.

    Besides, Apple should use standard parts and allow users to easily upgrade or replace them. In this case, Apple should have used better SSD like Samsung 960 Pro with sequential 3,500 MB/s read and 2,100 MB/s write, besides random 440,000 read and 360,000 write IOPS. RAID 0 is a deal breaker for our University, but imagine the iMac Pro in RAID 0 with such Samsung SSD. It would be much faster.

    If Apple want to protect the environment, they should develop more headless Macs, including low, medium and high pro models because they last much longer since you just replace the Mac and kep the display, which lasts much, much, much longer than the Mac which has a maximum life of seven, years to upgrade its macOS. In such respect, the iMac a a anti-ecological.

    But Apple can do whatever they want. Because people buy Macs because macOS. And thus, they are a monopoly in such respect. If you want macOS, you must buy whatever Apple does. There is no real choice and competition. And that is not good. In this case of iMac Pro they even fill all four RAM slots, so if you want to upgrade it, you must throw away DIMM, which again is anti-ecological. Not to mention that Apple RAM is two to three times more expensive that exactly the very same RAM from the same manufacturer.

    But it is amazing how some people approve anything that Apple does, whatever it is. Obviously, they have vested interests. They may work for Apple, sell Apple products or get profit from it from advertisements or have Apple shares. Yet, such behavior is immoral and nonethical. Besides that, companies improve because there is competition and criticism from consumers. Positive criticism is good for all, including consumers and companies.
    edited December 2017
  • Reply 17 of 29

    Rayz2016 said:
    MplsP said:
    Well, good that the memory can be upgraded, but total fail by the design team for making it so difficult to do, as Memory is the one thing a significant number of people are likely going to want/need to do. Would it have killed them to make an access hatch like other iMacs have?
    Who do you think has more accurate figures for the number of people who buy machines with the memory maxed out, as opposed to people who upgrade later? You, or Apple?

    These are machines for people who make their living from them. They’re not for hobbyists. 
    Soli said:
    MplsP said:
    Well, good that the memory can be upgraded, but total fail by the design team for making it so difficult to do, as Memory is the one thing a significant number of people are likely going to want/need to do. Would it have killed them to make an access hatch like other iMacs have?
    You may call this this semantics (the way one may say you can't make things colder, you can only remove heat), but I don't think Apple made upgrading RAM difficult.

    I think they made the most powerful iMac they could, which included 4 slots with desktop-grade RAM, and there was simply no good solution go having two, very large, easily accessible RAM-doors cut into the upper and lower ends on one side (read; asymmetrical) of the primary support framework.

    Note that on the standard 27" iMac it's laptop-grade RAM, it's in the center of the casing, and it's hidden behind the support arm.
    Lol what typical apologists’ responses!
    Yes, people who use reason to counter your hater narrative should be called names, since you can't argue against their reasoning. Brilliant.
    So Apple puts memory slots in a pro product but makes it stupendously difficult to get to should be considered as a plausible reason? Are we expected to believe a narrative where Apple was not able to place memory-slots on their own custom made boards and make them accessible like they’ve done in the past?

    The more plausible answer is that this design is meant to force customers to pay for their outrageously priced RAM and to encourage early obsolescence. Aka planned obsolescence.
    edited December 2017
  • Reply 18 of 29
    SoliSoli Posts: 8,678member
    neilm said:
    Given that OWC has opened it up I would be interested in knowing if they think there is a mechanical/heating issue that precluded an access panel.
    I doubt it. Unlike the regular 27" iMac the Pro's RAM slots are right above the row of ports on the back, nowhere near the cooling path.
    Ah look, another armchair thermal expert. Amazing how they're popping up everywhere!
    Apple was very clear in how they've adjusted the airflow for this iMac Pro and both their internal images and the teardown show that they're using 4 desktop-grade RAM slots that wouldn't fit in the space of the regular 27" iMac, even if the airflow wasn't dramatically changed to allow for all the extra cooling needed.
  • Reply 19 of 29
    SoliSoli Posts: 8,678member

    Rayz2016 said:
    MplsP said:
    Well, good that the memory can be upgraded, but total fail by the design team for making it so difficult to do, as Memory is the one thing a significant number of people are likely going to want/need to do. Would it have killed them to make an access hatch like other iMacs have?
    Who do you think has more accurate figures for the number of people who buy machines with the memory maxed out, as opposed to people who upgrade later? You, or Apple?

    These are machines for people who make their living from them. They’re not for hobbyists. 
    Soli said:
    MplsP said:
    Well, good that the memory can be upgraded, but total fail by the design team for making it so difficult to do, as Memory is the one thing a significant number of people are likely going to want/need to do. Would it have killed them to make an access hatch like other iMacs have?
    You may call this this semantics (the way one may say you can't make things colder, you can only remove heat), but I don't think Apple made upgrading RAM difficult.

    I think they made the most powerful iMac they could, which included 4 slots with desktop-grade RAM, and there was simply no good solution go having two, very large, easily accessible RAM-doors cut into the upper and lower ends on one side (read; asymmetrical) of the primary support framework.

    Note that on the standard 27" iMac it's laptop-grade RAM, it's in the center of the casing, and it's hidden behind the support arm.
    Lol what typical apologists’ responses!
    Yes, people who use reason to counter your hater narrative should be called names, since you can't argue against their reasoning. Brilliant.
    So Apple puts memory slots in a pro product but makes it stupendously difficult to get to should be considered as a plausible reason? Are we expected to believe a narrative where Apple was not able to place memory-slots on their own custom made boards and make them accessible like they’ve done in the past?

    The more plausible answer is that this design is meant to force customers to pay for their outrageously priced RAM and to encourage early obsolescence. Aka planned obsolescence.
    If this was designed around NOT being able to update RAM as opposed to designing around being the most powerful machine they build into an iMac then why the fuck didn't they include a soldered a soldered CPU and RAM that would make it impossible—not just mildly difficult and inconvenient—to upgrade with aftermarket components? Why did thy ever allow notebook-grade RAM to be upgraded on the 27" iMac if Apple's stupidly diabolical plan to make money is from RAM upgrades and not from making great devices?
    edited December 2017
  • Reply 20 of 29
    sflocalsflocal Posts: 4,492member
    Maxter said:
    Is not just that the SSD inside iMac Pro is a RAID 0. Even worse, it is paired to the main board, which means you cannot use it elsewhere. And if such board, the controller or any disk fail, all data are lost.

    Besides, Apple should use standard parts and allow users to easily upgrade or replace them. In this case, Apple should have used better SSD like Samsung 960 Pro with sequential 3,500 MB/s read and 2,100 MB/s write, besides random 440,000 read and 360,000 write IOPS. RAID 0 is a deal breaker for our University, but imagine the iMac Pro in RAID 0 with such Samsung SSD. It would be much faster.

    If Apple want to protect the environment, they should develop more headless Macs, including low, medium and high pro models because they last much longer since you just replace the Mac and kep the display, which lasts much, much, much longer than the Mac which has a maximum life of seven, years to upgrade its macOS. In such respect, the iMac a a anti-ecological.

    But Apple can do whatever they want. Because people buy Macs because macOS. And thus, they are a monopoly in such respect. If you want macOS, you must buy whatever Apple does. There is no real choice and competition. And that is not good. In this case of iMac Pro they even fill all four RAM slots, so if you want to upgrade it, you must throw away DIMM, which again is anti-ecological. Not to mention that Apple RAM is two to three times more expensive that exactly the very same RAM from the same manufacturer.

    But it is amazing how some people approve anything that Apple does, whatever it is. Obviously, they have vested interests. They may work for Apple, sell Apple products or get profit from it from advertisements or have Apple shares. Yet, such behavior is immoral and nonethical. Besides that, companies improve because there is competition and criticism from consumers. Positive criticism is good for all, including consumers and companies.
    Oh please.  Give us a break.  You represent .001% of the users that feel Apple should design the iMac to your engineering specs.  How many times does you need to beat a dead horse?  Most will NEVER upgrade their computer after the initial purchase.  FACT.  Get over it.  Move on.

    I was surprised to see that they had two 512GB SSD drives in a RAID0 configuration.  However, as before... it doesn't matter.  Your failure logic still doesn't hold.  True, if one of the drives fail, you lose all your data.  But guess what??  If you only have ONE 1TB SSD drive and it fails, you also lose ALL your data!   Case closed.  Besides, if someone truly wanted to upgrade the SSD drive, it's certainly cheaper to just install two smaller drives than one giant drive.  So in the end, it's a non-issue.

    I buy my Mac's, not just because of MacOS, but also because they are the best engineered systems around.  They are built-like-a-tank reliable, and are the best in class.

    If you want to go back to the 1990''s beige PC box with everyone expandable, go right ahead and let everyone else move on with technology.

    macplusplusmacxpresspscooter63watto_cobra
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