New, cheaper iMac looks like DIY nightmare

Soldered RAM rules out memory upgrades

Apple's new iMac may be less expensive than its siblings, but that came at a price, a reseller said Wednesday: Do-it-yourselfers won't be able to upgrade the stock 8GB of memory in the new all-in-one.

Woodstock, Ill.-based Other World Computing got its hands on a $1,099 21.5-in. iMac yesterday and took it apart. "We found this iMac has the memory soldered to the motherboard, removing any possibility of adding additional memory," the upgrade-centric company said in an pictorial account of the teardown.

The other two still-available stock 21.5-in. iMac configurations do not make RAM replacement easy -- 18 months ago, Computerworld said upgrades were "practically impossible" -- as the system must be pulled apart to get to the memory. But RAM can be upgraded by a dedicated do-it-yourselfer.

The larger iMacs, which boast a 27-in. display, have a small door at the back that exposes memory so users can replace RAM without cracking open the case.

The move toward solder wasn't a surprise: Apple also fixes memory to the logic boards of its MacBook Air and MacBook Pro notebooks, another similarity between those mobile systems and the new 21.5-in. iMac. One way that Apple lowered its costs for the $1,099 machine, for example, was to use the same slower 1.4GHz dual-core Intel Core i5 processor found in the MacBook Air line.

In any case, the customers Apple has targeted with the lower-priced iMac -- consumers eyeing a Mac as a household computer but looking for the best value -- are less likely to be the kind who dabble in DIY.

iFixit, a better-known source for computer teardowns than Other World Computing, has not published a dive into the new iMac, but if or when it does, it's likely to give the all-in-one a very low repair score.

Last year, when iFixit took apart the then-new 21.5-in. iMac, the organization gave the system a score of only 2 out of a possible 10. With the new iMac's soldered RAM, it's probable that iFixit will lower the score further.

If iFixit gave the new iMac a repair score of just 1, the desktop would rank alongside the mid-2012 MacBook Pro, which the website called "the least-repairable laptop we've taken apart."

Apple does not offer a factory-installed memory upgrade for the least-expensive iMac, fixing the RAM at 8GB.

iMac RAM
No memory upgrade for the new 21.5-in. iMac; the 8GB of RAM is soldered in place. (Image: Other World Computing.)

Gregg Keizer covers Microsoft, security issues, Apple, Web browsers and general technology breaking news for Computerworld. Follow Gregg on Twitter at @gkeizer, on Google+ or subscribe to Gregg's RSS feed . His email address is gkeizer@computerworld.com.

See more by Gregg Keizer on Computerworld.com.

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