Is Apple [AAPL] crazy? It might be, if its decision to make it near impossible to upgrade the RAM inside its new 21.5-inch iMacs is any indication. In all my years reporting on new Macs, this is perhaps the most ludicrous decision yet. It doesn't matter how good it is in every other regard, that one decision makes this a computer to avoid -- get a 27-inch model (which you can upgrade), or another system altogether. It's that simple.
[ABOVE: Thanks for the (no) memory...]
It's illogical, captain
Please don't think I'm being harsh. I'm not. The new iMacs are impressive, they maintain the platform's reputation for being good to look at while also deploying a whole series of new features (Fusion Drive, for example) that put the computer at the head of the pack.
Unfortunately, through its decision to make the RAM tricky to upgrade, Apple has changed the nature of its 21.5-inch consumer desktop -- it's not now the slimmest desktop computer you can get, but Apples biggest mobile device.
The recent iFixIt teardown on the new iMacs has found that the RAM units on the 21.5-inch models are really difficult to upgrade. Which is stupid. And Apple knows this is stupid because the 27-inch iMacs have socket installed RAM and so are later upgradeable.
"Good news: The iMac's RAM is "user-replaceable."
"Bad news: You have to unglue your screen and remove the logic board in order to do so.
"This is just barely less-terrible than having soldered RAM that's completely non-removable."
Though you have to remove the screen from the machines, which will make RAM upgrades an expensive process even for the larger model.
"Most replaceable components (like the RAM) are buried behind the logic board, meaning you'll have to take apart most of the iMac just to gain access to them," iFixit warns.
The iMac is not the MacBook Air. The first is a desktop, the second is sold as a highly portable system so customers don't seem to mind that they can't upgrade memory: it's part of the compromise for portability. That compromise does mean that as operating system and application enhancements are released, you can expect your MacBook Air performance to decline.
RAM is like Viagra for Macs
What's the best way to improve performance in an old Mac? Ask anyone and they'll tell you -- install more RAM.
The iMac may be just 5mm thick at its slimmest point, but what does that matter? It's a desktop device, not a mobile product, so who cares? What happens in two to three years time when system performance has declined to the point that you need to consider buying a new computer, because you can't upgrade the RAM (on your 21.5-inch iMac).
It's ridiculous. The iMac is an integrated product, but not a portable product. Until now it has been easy to pop in a RAM upgrade. Indeed, at times in some editions Apple has touted that as a key feature. So what's happened? What's changed?
I don't think anything has. I just think Apple has taken a bad, a terrible, design decision. Being able to tweak desktop system performance is a necessity if you want to get the best you can out of your investment.
What's happening here? Does Apple think we're made of money? Look around: on a global basis we're at best one-third of the way through the most challenging economic circumstances the world has faced since the Great Depression.
Culture -- reset
Apple, which is making billions (while legally evading some of its tax burden as part of the great corporate Google, Amazon, Starbucks cabal) doesn't appear to have received the memo about this. It seems to think we're still in the nineties and we've all got a few thousand dollars we can throw against the wall.
Apple: things have changed.
As a corporate thought leader you should already be responding to these challenging times by offering systems that will endure. The decision to make RAM upgrades in new iMacs next to impossible does nothing to address that.
At the very least, Apple's RAM decision is a poor design decision; at the very worst it dates the company, putting it inside some 90's rose-tinted spectacle-wearing bubble that perhaps suggests it is less relevant to its time than it was before. Either way, it's a shame.
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