back to article Can I get some service here? The new 27-inch iMac forgoes replaceable storage for soldered innards

The 2020 27-inch iMac is almost certainly Cupertino’s final Intel swan song before it departs into the uncharted waters of Apple Silicon. And while it would be easy to dismiss this as a final iterative upgrade designed to freshen up its product line while it transitions, that isn’t really the case as a new teardown from iFixit …

  1. Dan 55 Silver badge
    Meh

    The thing is, would you even want to preserve it?

    Trying to preserve a modern-day Apple computer is like trying to preserve any other unfixable domestic household appliance which is built to fail after a few years.

    I'm trying to think of what they've done to the iMac line, but they've not done much after 2007 except use the latest Intel reference design for that particular year and make it harder to upgrade and fix.

    1. Mark 65

      Re: The thing is, would you even want to preserve it?

      My 2010 2.93GHz i7 seems to be going just fine. Sure it’s now relegated to just being the “family” computer as it met the barrier of to low a graphics card for post High Sierra macOS, but for modern versions where thunderbolt and USB allow you to effectively upgrade the graphics card it’s not so much of a problem.

      1. Dan 55 Silver badge

        Re: The thing is, would you even want to preserve it?

        I have a 2007 iMac, but there's no way it would have made it to today if it were as untinkerable as this year's model.

        1. Mike the FlyingRat
          Boffin

          Re: The thing is, would you even want to preserve it?

          My earlier iMac died after 7 years. Wasn't worth the cost to fix versus buy a new one.

          My 2012 macbook pro is still kicking, albeit after I accidentally trashed the monitor... I think it will last another couple of years... (This has seen 3 continents, and traveled w me on average of 45 weeks in the year. ) None of my windows machines have lasted that long.

          I think Apple made a goof with this. It would mean buying a service contract and then swapping the guts out if something fails.

          To the author's point, w Thunderbolt 3, you can use an external raid box, which is what many people do. Would love to upgrade my Promise R4 to something using NVMe or 2.5" SSDs to get a smaller faster package.

  2. UCAP

    Thing is, would you even want to buy it?

    Given that it has lowered lifespan and any fault is an expensive RTB.

    1. Warm Braw Silver badge

      Re: Thing is, would you even want to buy it?

      You wouldn't. I wouldn't. Macs make up only around 7% of PC sales and less than 10% of Apple revenues and that's probably the sweet spot for ROI: they really don't want us ruining that.

    2. NoneSuch Silver badge
      Devil

      Re: Thing is, would you even want to buy it?

      All true, but it has an Apple logo on it which guarantees millions in sales.

      If they bought products based on reliability, self-maintenance and value for the Pound, they wouldn't be buying Apple.

  3. Jay 2

    Funnily enough I was looking at the 21.5" iMac earlier today. I'm pondering when I may need to replace my similarly sized iMac from 2014 as this WFH lark isn't ending too soon and for reasons I can only attach one extra screen right now.

    The thing is I'm not a great fan of the all-in-one concept. But at the time of purchase the Mac Mini wasn't really going to cut it, and the less said about the wastebin MacPro the better. Previously I had a proper-looking MacPro you could open up and change/repair bits, but I don't think I could really justify a MacPro now (and that's before any mention of wheels!). So I'm stuck with the iMac and its shortcomings when it comes to upgrades/repair etc. And don't get me started on how by default the peripherals are wireless by default...

    1. MatthewHughes

      Couldn't you attach a second display and use an iPad as a third display over SideCar?

    2. Dan 55 Silver badge

      This claims that it's possible to connect up to two Thunderbolt displays up to 2560x1600 to that machine (if I've got the right one) and I guess adaptors to convert from Thunderbolt to something else also count.

      Or there's a longer list of models and the displays they support here.

    3. anothercynic Silver badge

      The 'wastebin'

      The wastebin Mac Pro is surprisingly good and holds its value well. I recently had to upgrade away from mine to... the newest iMac at the time and the specs and prices were on par despite a 5 or 6 year difference. Performance of it was also grand. I was sad to have to give it up. If you're concerned about SSD storage wearing out, buy 1TB of USB 3.1 Samsung T5 storage in a credit-card-sized bundle and stick it into one of the Thunderbolt 3 ports in the back. You won't notice any difference really...

    4. Mark 65

      What about the mini with an external graphics enclosure over thunderbolt?

  4. Phil O'Sophical Silver badge
    Facepalm

    It won points for the use of a socketed (and thus, upgradeable) CPU

    So the CPU is upgradeable (which almost nobody does) and the storage and RAM is not upgradeable (which almost everybody wants to do at some time). It really makes you wonder if anyone in Apple cares about user-oriented design beyond getting the right curve on the corners.

    1. maffski

      Of course Apple cares. A custom CPU package would cost more.

    2. My Coat

      > and RAM is not upgradeable (which almost everybody wants to do at some time).

      Did you read the article? "Fortunately, Apple hasn’t (yet) dished out the same treatment to the iMac’s RAM, which remains user-serviceable and uses standard 260-pin DDR4 sticks. ".

      In fact, for the hard of thinking, the article mentions the user upgradable RAM twice, the second time being the second half of the sentence you half-quoted: "It won points for the use of a socketed (and thus, upgradable) CPU, as well as the user-serviceable RAM."

      1. Phil O'Sophical Silver badge

        Mea culpa

        True enough, I misread that, but non-upgradeable storage is still baffling.

        1. Mark 65

          Re: Mea culpa

          Not with thunderbolt and current USB. I used to run my iMac with a SSD over fw800 and it was an improvement - it’s the small random file reads and writes.

    3. anothercynic Silver badge

      RAM IS upgradeable.

  5. Lee D Silver badge

    Why do people buy this junk, and why do the Reg keep pushing articles about it?

    "New Mac out. Slightly less repairable than ever".

    Headline done.

    1. Jimmy2Cows Silver badge

      Did anyone put a gun to your head? You didn't have to read the article.

  6. Stumpy Silver badge

    But this approach from Apple matters because the iMac is no longer a consumer device, like the original technicolour G3 machine. The 27-inch iMac is a work machine. It’s used by developers and designers and filmmakers. And those people tend to need to store lots of stuff: be they codebases, image assets, or b-roll.

    And you've answered the question right there as to why it doesn't necessarily matter if the machine has a non-replaceable SDD. If it's a work machine, then no professional worth their salt will store work data on their local drive without either (a) a backup or (b) likely stored on network or direct to cloud storage.

    Thus, the internal storage device is becoming less and less relevant for the storage of data, and more as the home for the installations of executables and the OS.

    1. iron Silver badge
      FAIL

      Are you mad? You want to render or build directly to slow network / cloud storage? Why don't I just go for lunch while I wait. Dozens of times a day.

      1. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        If it mentions professionals then perhaps they use build servers?

        1. Nick Ryan Silver badge

          Render farms have been the way to do things for a long while when it comes to video. They were comparitively easy to setup but there were never good reasons to have them cloud based due to the size of the master assets and the time taken to transfer these followed by the subsequent download time. And not forgetting that when renders became quick, they became more common as it was easier to tweak and test.

          On the other hand, non-video work is largely exclusively local as this still lends itself to very fast access.

      2. katrinab Silver badge
        Meh

        An extra £100 will get you a 10Gb/s network card, which unusually for Apple is a very reasonable price. Connect it to a suitably specced server and it should be almost as fast as local storage.

    2. Dan 55 Silver badge
      Stop

      Presumably professionals want to be able to replace a borked SSD from time to time too.

      With a T2 chip that is impossible, and you won't be able to boot from an external drive either because the UEFI is also on the same borked SSD and the T2 chip won't allow any other SSD to work.

      That's the lifetime of your shiny over, it's landfill Apple.

    3. doublelayer Silver badge

      Of course the professional users will have a backup. Unless they are only professionals in their field and don't know how to, but most of them will have a backup. The backup is useful in case of drive failure, because you can replace the drive and restore the backup to it. Oh, wait a minute, I meant that the backup is useful in the case that the drive fails and the user has to either boot to the backup disk, probably over USB, or restore the backup to a new drive in something else. Neither is a good approach if you need fast throughput, because you probably didn't buy two machines to do the fast professional work on when you only need one. You could buy a spare iMac, and if your work is really important you might, but it might be easier just to buy something that can take a new disk and put a new disk in.

      As for network storage, no, that's not going to work. People who need local processing usually also need local storage so their processing actually helps. If you get a processor that's twice as fast as the old one and put your data on a network connection that slows you down, there's little reason to have bought the faster computer in the first place. Sure, the data gets synced to the network eventually, but it's for a rolling backup and for easier access. When you're doing complex stuff with said data, you want it on the same machine that does the processing, and usually with the fastest access you can get, which is why there's a business for really nice SSDs and in-memory caching.

    4. beep54
      Meh

      I'm going with Stumpy. I try not to put ANY data on the drive that has the OS on it. Seems stupid. It's also why I have 7 external drives. F* Microsoft for trying to make me put valuable data on things like, oh, Documents, Music, Pictures, Video on an inherently unstable drive.

      1. doublelayer Silver badge

        And why do you do that? A disk failure can happen to any of your disks, so you're no safer your way than the other way. If you're concerned about software writing over the files because it's on the OS disk, you could create a separate partition on the same disk. If you have enough data to use seven external drives, more power to you. If you want duplication so you use seven drives, that's fine too. Some people either don't need that or are happy to have that on their backup system. For example, I use multiple drives to store backups, but I use a single disk in my laptop to do everyday work. It is faster to compile a bunch of code if it's read from inside the machine than if it has to be pulled off a RAIDed set and over a USB cable or the network. Worse, the original post suggested that this would be happening with cloud storage--retrieving from RAID on my local network isn't great, but retrieving from I don't even know what the hardware's like from the nearest data center is going to add plenty of problems while I'm trying to get work done. Back up there for off-site media, certainly. Read production media from there every day for performance-sensitive tasks, not a chance.

        1. Martin an gof Silver badge

          I thought separating OS and data was pretty much universal these days?

          From my pov I put data on separate discs (or at the very least separate partitions) to the OS, mainly so that it's possible to wipe and re-install the OS without having to worry about the data. The same goes for home folders. For a single user the discs might as well be in the machine - and are probably faster for it. With multiple users, data on separate - shareable - discs means people can access their files from any suitable machine and don't have to make sure to log into the same machine on which they originated a file.

          There is a slight performance argument - temp files are more likely to be stored on the OS disc, as are applications which may need to access libraries during use, so if you are hitting a lot of data it's a bit quicker to get it from a separate place where it isn't contending for accesses (though the performance arguments aren't as great with SSDs as they were with spinning rust).

          There's also the option of formatting the partitions differently though the choices may not be great under Windows. OpenSuse, for example, uses BTRFS by default for the OS, but BTRFS is not renowned for its speed, so speed critical data could usefully be put on a disc formatted differently - until recently OpenSuse's default for a home folder / data partition was XFS which regularly beats BTRFS in speed trials, though of course BTRFS uses Copy-on-Write which has some safety advantages.

          M.

  7. anthonyhegedus Silver badge

    Making the RAM upgradeable by just using opening a flap and replacing it sounds like the work of a company who's encouraging people to upgrade when they want. Making the CPU upgradeable (albeit a lot more complex than RAM) smacks of a company who cares a little about what people want to do with a computer that costs the best part of £2000 in an age where they shouldn't.

    Making the flash storage totally un-replaceable smacks of arrogance and a total and wilful disregard for Apple's customers, let alone the environment. It's a kick in the teeth really. You spend that much money on a computer, knowing that a key part, the one you're most likely to want to upgrade, and the one most likely to fail within 5 or 6 years, is soldered on to the motherboard!

    It's put me right off Apple's computers. They're just a plaything for the rich. It might as well be a glorified iPad. And it will be, when the ARM chip models come out. Not only will people be unable to upgrade them, but they'll be unable to install from anything except the apple store. It'll become just an appliance.

    1. keithpeter
      Coat

      "It'll become just an appliance."

      What is the lifetime of the SSD in question under typical use conditions?

      Looking around my kitchen, my appliances range in age from 20 years (cooker, ok but might need a new one in the next 5 years) to a couple of years (toaster, going strong). Mind you the whole lot cost less than £2k

      I'm not averse to the consumer-end-point-as-applience model, but would want a decent lifetime for £2k's worth. 10 years (£4 a week roughly) perhaps.

      Aftermarket: anyone want to take bets on a piggyback SSD holder mod appearing in a few years?

      Icon: off out before the thunder storms

      1. anthonyhegedus Silver badge

        An SSD can just fail after any amount of time. But assuming they don't have any sudden failures, it will vary depending on usage. If used for frequent video editing, it will last less. But I'd give it 4-10 years. I mean if you spend £2k on a home computer, you'd better have a damn good reason for having it and using it.

        My last mac, which I no longer use due to its speed, was a core i7 Macbook Pro from 2012. I upgraded it to have an SSD and 16GB RAM (it's easy to do on those machines). It's just too slow for the kind of multitasking work I do. I've got a much newer core i5 PC and much as I like MacOS, the PC is so much faster. I don't have to wait for anything. And despite it being Windows, which I like less than MacOS, it is more efficient, pleasurable and easy to use, because it's so fast in comparison.

    2. confused and dazed

      Having just replaced the fusion drive on my 2015 27 iMac - it's not exactly easy anyway. Why they can't figure a way of opening it without all that glue and spudgers is a mystery to me. This is a step too far for me - perhaps I'll go for a mini next time, or just wave a white flag and give up ....

  8. DoctorNine

    Apple is trolling

    At every turn, Apple are disappointing people. It's like they are trying to see how far they can go until people stop buying the i-things. On purpose. And amazingly, nothing seems to slow down the masses. Remove this feature here, add this incompatibility chip there, decrease functionality in another place, or remove ports people need to get their expensive equipment to work the other expensive stuff they already have.

    "Go on... you'll buy it anyway!"

    And darned if they don't. Boggles, really.

  9. RM Myers Silver badge
    FAIL

    Sad

    I have upgraded or replaced the storage (bigger HDD, SSD) on every computer I have bought or built in the last 30 years, except for my current build which is only 1 month old. I have never replaced a CPU, and only twice have I upgraded the memory. I wouldn't buy a laptop with no user upgradeable storage option, let allow a desktop. This is Apple greed at its worst.

    1. Lee D Silver badge

      Re: Sad

      Bought new laptop two weeks ago.

      Ordered another NVMe for it the week after.

      Sorry, but I'm going to max out storage because it's the one thing I use / want the most, to actually hold things I want to keep.

      I could have gone from 16Gb to 64Gb of RAM for the same price - but I can do that any time and as my need requires it.

      But I filled up my first 1Tb NVMe within the first week just loading my Steam collection and files from my old laptop - before I'd even STARTED downloading anything new.

  10. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    HP's Gen8 / Gen9 Server (Microserver) iLO NAND Flash symptomatic failure

    I mentioned it previously in another Apple article regarding how it's not just onboard SSDs that punters need to be wary of in terms of soldered NAND (flash) ICs and built-in obsolescence.

    The Apple T2 chip will have onboard NAND flash storage within it, for the secure enclave and there has been no mention by Apple on the design life of this NAND storage in terms of the number of data writes to such a device. It could potentially only have a 4-5 year operating life too, aka. Built-in obsolescence.

    This has shown to be true in terms of HP's Gen8 / Gen9 / Gen10 Server (Microserver) iLO 4Mb NAND Flash storage and how we are seeing symptomatic failure of this onboard soldered NAND IC due to the way data is continually written to the system health, onboard temps etc, and it's ability to get into a race condition and continually write to the NAND causing its premature failure, causing failure just outside the warranty period.

    What's interesting (what we have found from investigating this as we've had several fail outside the warranty period) is that HP themselves have produced a technical white paper outlining the inherent design fault and it's clear from the document, that the fault has been there since manufacture and that HP has failed to take action promptly (the first firmware 2.61 to tackle this was released in Aug 2018, with most sales much earlier than this 2014 onwards) in terms of capping the number of daily writes to the NAND IC.

    In the technical white paper, HP clearly acknowledge the issue and how it causes built in obsolescence if the NAND fails before the firmware is upgraded to mitigate the excessive number of writes to the NAND (additionally, this gem of document - seems the perfect technical white paper to show legal liability in order to obtain recompense in terms of a UK court),

    The problem is, if you contact HP support channels, it's still a very expensive chargeable replacement / swap-out for a board replacement outside the warranty period.

    You have to ask, how can that be given the contents on the white paper, HP(E) seem to be blatantly flouting UK consumer law by not honouring a replacement / swap out of the motherboard to fix this issue.

    Here's the technical white paper (worth saving if you operate lots of these HP Gen8/Gen9/Gen10 servers/HP microservers).

    https://support.hpe.com/hpesc/public/docDisplay?docLocale=en_US&docId=emr_na-a00060052en_us

    1. Archivist

      Re: HP's Gen8 / Gen9 Server (Microserver) iLO NAND Flash symptomatic failure

      "HP(E) seem to be blatantly flouting UK consumer law by not honouring a replacement / swap out of the motherboard to fix this issue."

      I doubt many HP Gen.. servers are bought by consumers. Business purchases don't qualify for this. It's still the wild west for business.

    2. Mark 65

      Re: HP's Gen8 / Gen9 Server (Microserver) iLO NAND Flash symptomatic failure

      Do these issues exist for those that buy them and load freenas as many seem to do with these boxes? I believe it is possible to attach an internal storage device for the OS without occupying one of the hot swap bays.

  11. Kevin McMurtrie Silver badge

    Also

    SSD drives will eventually fill.

    My Linux boxes came with 1TB and it wasn't long before I moved the home directories to an internal ZFS RAID to get more breathing room. Part of the 1TB nvram became cache.

    My experience with MacOS is that a filling boot drive is serious hassle to deal with. You can't just mount new storage into whatever directory needs it. It doesn't like files being moved either because it breaks versioning in auto-save apps.

    1. Archivist

      Re: Also

      "...You can't just mount new storage into whatever directory needs it....

      Ever heard of symlinks?

  12. -tim
    Facepalm

    Again?

    This is hurting their iPhone sales. We do not allow work computers to leave the office with their storage incase it has something sensitive on it and that means no soldered in storage. Since we told people we don't support the soldered in storage macs, they tend to pick a Windows or Linux system. When it is time to upgrade their phones, they tend not to pick Apple products. When asked, our IT staff all use the phase "We can't recommend Apple products" with an ever increasing list of technical reason why.

  13. Zebo-the-Fat

    Why?

    £1,799 for a machine I can't upgrade? I think not!

    1. Mark 65

      Re: Why?

      You’re not their target market. Tinkerers need not apply. These devices are targeted at people that buy what they need first up and “admire the design” as it sits on display. Pros using Apple machines spend big dollars on high end kit and write it off against tax. Their boxes have replaceable components.

      Others like myself will run hackintoshes until they go all in with their own silicon. However we take the occasional pain for that choice.

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