The Sins of Proprietary: Retina Display MacBook Pro totally upgrade proof.

Thinking of buying that shiny new 15 inch MacBook Pro with a Retina display? Are you slightly short of cash at the moment so planning on going for the lower spec with smaller RAM and HDD and then upgrading those down the line? If you answered yes to both then proceed to my third question, for which the answer will be the same as the last two: Are you going to be kicking yourself when you realise that Apple’s new flagship portable device is the least upgradable notebook of any in kind?

The kind folk over at ifixit performed their extensive teardowns they do with most electronics that have come to the market. Their findings are pretty disturbing. There is basically no way that the average consumer can upgrade this laptop in any way or shape. At all.

So what can’t be upgraded that could have been in the previous versions? Well the MacBook Pros have always been pretty open giving consumers the ability to add more RAM and hard drive space and more seasoned computer “fiddlers” may have also replaced their optical drive with another hard drive. None of this can be done now, especially the changing of the optical drive as, well, there isn’t one to replace.

Chips but no RAM stick

As you can see above, two rows of memory chips, plus an additional two rows which are on the reverse, are all soldered onto the motherboard. Planning on getting 8GB and upgrading to 16GB yourself when you need it? No happening. This also spans to the storage space. SSD as standard is great but what happens when you start running out of the 256GB of space on it? With the previous MacBook Pros you just get a bigger SSD, stick it in, and clone from your Time Machine backup and you are up and and running again. Not here.


From what we can see in the photos, that thin strip of chips that is being lifted is the SSD. Some good news is that it is not soldered which means that it can be swapped. Bad news: swapped with what? What looks like an mSATA connection is actually a proprietary slot that only exists in the Retina MacBook Pro so your upgrade options are only viable if you own another Retina MacBook Pro and you want to swap drives with that or have a friend with one who wants a smaller drive. Possible? Sure. Likely? Probably not. And then we come to the battery. The 2009-2010 edition MacBook Pros had removable batteries. The later models had them locked inside of the chassis but they were still replaceable. The batteries on the Retina MBP? Glued.

Sticky stuff

That’s right, ifixit found that all six cells are glued to the system and any tampering will likely void your warranty.

And finally, we come to that beautiful screen. Surely if there was a dead pixel or some kind of error with the display, all Apple would have to do is remove the lid, open up the display swap out the panel right? Right…? Wrong. The panel is sealed shut inside the display assembly. But that’s not too bad, I hear you say…this also means that if something goes wrong with your iSight camera, WiFi or Bluetooth, then you’d have to replace the whole display assembly as well. Ah. Why? Because the antennas and the camera module are all sealed inside that display assembly. Imagine you just ran out of warranty, and then your iSight camera packs it in or your WiFi stopped responding. On the old MacBook Pros, you’d take it in and they’d charge you for a new camera or some antenna cables. Now, they’ll probably charge you for a whole Retina Display assembly. Ouch.

To conclude, what does all this mean for the consumer and the rest of the world? Well first of all, if you are planning to buy one of these then you need to be thinking far, far ahead and wondering if you would ever need more than what you are configuring your system with now. Oh and did I mention if you didn’t need the quicker processor and opting for the 2.3Ghz one, you then don’t have the choice of the bigger SSD, you are stuck with the 256GB on? This forces you to dish out all the dosh for the higher end model with more configuration options which you don’t need just because you want the larger storage space. This is a classic marketing ploy; giving customers what looks like choice but actually, if they want one small upgrade, they have to take the lot and pay for it.

The new MBPs are also worse for the environment now. With the introduction of the unibody design, the 2009-2011 MacBook Pros were crafted in highly recyclable aluminium and glass. Good. Now that aluminium is glued to the glass, it creates all kinds of difficulties for the recycling industry.

So. The new Retina Display MacBook Pro. A step forward in technology. A step forward in profit. And a big step forward in greed.