back to article Back to school for Microsoft as it prises apart the repairable Surface Laptop SE

Microsoft took its Surface enthusiasts back in time this week with a video demonstrating how to take apart its Surface-for-Schools laptop: SE. The Surface Laptop SE, aimed at the education sector, turned up late last year just after demand for Chromebooks fells off a cliff due to market saturation in the US. The device was …

  1. HildyJ Silver badge
    Thumb Up

    Good as far as it goes

    Microsoft seems to be playing the long game here. As iPads and Chromebooks wear out or become outdated, the Surface becomes a viable replacement.

    While I wouldn't mind being able to pop in more RAM or a bigger SSD or even a new CPU, I think that Microsoft wants to limit the SE's capabilities so as not to compete with their more powerful and pricier Surface line.

    Besides, if it were a phone, a replaceable battery and screen would satisfy my two pet peeves.

    1. doublelayer Silver badge

      Re: Good as far as it goes

      To me, the only other part I would care about is the storage being replaceable. That does wear out eventually. I think the chance that schools are going to increase the RAM on a cheap device for students to use is remote. Screen and battery are the most important, because they'll be broken or wear out more quickly. Now, since they have proven they can do this, let's see if they'll start doing that with the ones I might end up repairing.

      1. Is It Me

        Re: Good as far as it goes

        I think you under estimate how long schools will want to eke out their investment even in "cheap" computing devices.

        They will likely be buying a set for an entire class to be able to use at once, so that will be in the region of 30 of them.

        I have been involved in upgrading very old desktops and laptops with SSD and RAM upgrades for complete sets of 30 in a previous job.

        Being able to extend their useful life by another couple of years will be important most of the time.

        1. Dabooka

          Re: Good as far as it goes

          This. My current desktop recently benefited from a RAM and SSD upgrade to eeeek out some more life.

          It's 3 Ghz i5 and it's bloody ancient.

          I am not alone in this.

          1. Triggerfish

            Re: Good as far as it goes

            Did the same with my laptop l, similar chip, bigger faster ssd and from 4gb to 32gb. It's given it a few more years of life.

          2. ICL1900-G3 Bronze badge

            Re: Good as far as it goes

            Agreed. Mine is ten year old and still going strong. It does everything I could want and is easy to repair should the need arise. Long live desktops.

  2. elsergiovolador Silver badge

    Misleading

    But users hoping to bump up the RAM or storage, or even swap out the CPU, would be out of luck – those are soldered to the motherboard and so beyond the reach of Cole's Torx driver and tweezers.

    Maybe you need more tools than Torx diver and tweezers, but replacing these elements (with some practice) is definitely doable at home and within enthusiast reach. Problem is that you cannot (usually) buy chips to swap.

    These articles seem to try to embed in people psyche that soldering is some sort of procedure reserved for specialist engineers with years of training.

    This is in fact fairly easy, but with things like BGA you have to have a little bit of patience.

    As dumbing down of the generations progresses, you will have to send your TV remote to manufacturer when it stops working so they perform complex repair consisting of swapping AA batteries.

    1. Neil Barnes Silver badge
      FAIL

      Re: Misleading

      One feels sorry for the engineers who spent their time developing the plug-in parts, and the plugs they plug into... I can't decide whether MS (and other designers) have carefully soldered them in to reduce potential flakiness in the event of them coming loose, or cynically soldered them in because 'they'll never need more than 640k'... and they can always upgrade to next year's model.

      In almost every computing device I have owned in the last forty years, the device has eventually needed more ram and more storage. Until recently, this has been an easy, if sometimes fiddly, task to perform with no tools beyond a suitable screwdriver.

      Almost every task I require a computer for these days - and I appreciate others' mileage may differ - is memory bound, not processor bound and the amount of data I generate for storage increases with time. I don't care for storage any further away than the server in my basement; it is a truism of computing that the nearer the memory, the faster the memory. For me, the best place for storage (not backup) is in the machine.

      I am unlikely to be tempted by a machine which can't be upgraded. I've been down that road and for me it doesn't work.

      1. imanidiot Silver badge

        Re: Misleading

        With todays memory access speeds and the way a lot of devices are set up it's also often just very very hard to get things to work properly with the added capacitance and resistance of a connector screwing up the line impedance.

    2. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: you will have to send your TV remote to manufacturer when it stops working

      well, evolution of telly remote repair has already reached perfection: it gets broken, you order one for a fiver off ebay, free postage included, mission accomplished. Obviously cheaper than royal mailing the broken one for repair. And that broken plastic turd? Well, to the bin, and ultimately shipped and dumped on the roadside in Poland or Turkey, problem solved! Well, I guess, post-brexit it's Turkey or Georgia perhaps.

    3. Peter Gathercole Silver badge

      Re: Misleading @elsergiovolador

      I think you are making assumptions about how enthusiastic enthusiasts are. From what I know, in order to replace BGA chips you really need:

      1. A board heater

      2. A hot air re-work station

      3. Possibly a board magnifier or appropriate micro work microscope

      4. The correct BGA templates for the chip to form the solder balls

      5. The correct solder paste

      6. Flux, tweezers, de-soldering braid, scrapers etc.

      7. A ultrasonic board cleaner

      and on top of this, you need an appropriate clean space with ventilation and light, a certain level of dexterity, and quite a lot of patience.

      Whilst you could, with a bit of luck, get away without some of these, I would suspect that your failure rate for repairs would go up if you didn't. And many people would only do this once a year at most.

      It may be possible for a school, or maybe a group of schools to get together to put together a workshop containing these things, But I suspect that for all but the most dedicated enthusiast, this level of outlay would be spent buying another computer. A lot of the YouTubers (with the exception of people like Louis Rossmann, who work out of a repair shop) shy away from serious soldering jobs of BGA and SMT components.

      It's certainly not something that you would do on your kitchen table in an evening. No, most people are at a level where they will remove some screws, maybe a little glue or double sided tape, and undo clips to replace components, and not go any further.

  3. gw0udm

    I do miss the old days... I have always bought ThinkPads, usually second hand ex-corp. I've not looked lately, but on the the old T61s and T500s you could download the service manual and strip the whole thing down to its component parts, almost every screw was itemised with a part / FRU number. Going even further back I remember upgrading the CPU in my old Thinkpad R50 (one of the last of the official IBM ones I think) several times, adding 'Centrino' (remember that?) branding among other things. I now have a 5th gen X1 Carbon and you can repair some bits but most of it is on the main board now and hard to get at or change.

  4. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    ability to double the RAM would extend the life of the computer

    surely such a sensible approach would find many friends. But not on the vendors' side of the fence :D

  5. Richard Crossley
    Thumb Up

    Framework

    Although not in this price bracket, the Framework laptop is a step in the correct direction. Not only is repairable, but can be delivered as self assembly.

    Shame it's not available here yet.

    1. Martin an gof Silver badge
      Happy

      Re: Framework

      Intrigued, I had a look - not that I'm in the market for any kind of laptop at that price*, at the moment - and while you couldn't order one today and get it tomorrow, they are promising delivery in February, so it's not too far away from available.

      M.

      *I mean, it's not a bad price for that spec, and the fact that it's easily dismantlable and fully configurable is a massive bonus, but I don't need that at the moment

      1. Richard Crossley

        Re: Framework

        They don't ship to Hong Kong at the moment.

        Order now deliver Feb seems reasonable, Apple promises much the same for custom builds at the moment

  6. imanidiot Silver badge
    Coat

    But what about board views and schematics?

    If a misplaced drink can kill a few caps or resistors and destroy a few board traces it'll still be screwed, no matter if other parts can be swapped. With the proper data, plenty of people should be capable of fixing that, but if MS doesn't want to provide those or uses proprietary unobtainium parts that are exactly the same as available chips but locked to the board by serial number (*cough* like Apple and Samsung *cough*) then a simple drop of Cola on the wrong spot will kill it just the same.

    As a Mr. Clinton the cat says: Schematics or die!.

    --> The one with all the burn marks please

  7. FatalR

    They're advertising that they can be opened? This is the future! Why didn't we think of this before?

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      They had to develop a quantised nano-metallic AI helical adhesive technology to hold them together

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