I’ve seen the future, and not only does it work, it works without tools. It’s moddable, repairable, and upgradeable. Its pieces slide in and out of place with hand force. Its lid lifts open and eases shut. It’s as sleek as an Apple product, without buried components or proprietary screws.
Oh how I wish this were true today for Apple. I say this as a recent purchaser of a Apple re-furbished iMac 27″. My logic and reasoning for going with the refurbished over new was based on a few bits of knowledge gained reading Macintosh weblogs. The rumors I read included the idea that Apple repaired items are strenuously tested before being re-sold. In some cases return items are not even broken, they are returns based on buyers remorse or cosmetic problems. So there’s a good chance the logic board and lcd have no problems. Now reading back this Summer just after the launch of Mac OS X 10.7 (Lion), I read about lots of problems with crashes off 27″ iMacs. So I figured a safer bet would be to get a 21″ iMac. But then I started thinking about Flash-based Solid State Disks. And looking at the prohibitively high prices Apple charges for their installed SSDs, I decided I needed something that I could upgrade myself.
But as you may know iMacs over time have never been and continue to remain not user up-gradable. However, that’s not to say people haven’t tried or succeeded in upgrading their own iMacs over the years. Enter the aftermarket for SSD upgrades. Apple has attempted to zig and zag as the hobbyists swap in newer components like larger hard drives and SSDs. Witness the Apple temperature sensor on the boot drive in the 27″ iMac, where they have added a sensor wire to measure the internal heat of the hard drive. As the Mac monitors this signal it will rev-up the internal fans. Any iMac hobbyist attempting to swap out a a 4TByte or 3TByte drive for the stock Apple 2TByte drive will suffer the inevitable panic mode of the iMac as it cannot see its temperature sensor (these replacement drives don’t have the sensor built-in) and assumes the worst. They say the noise is deafening when those fans speed up, and they never, EVER slow down. This Apple’s attempt insure sanctity through obscurity. No one is allowed to mod or repair, and that means anyone foolish enough to attempt to swap their internal hard drive on the iMac.
But, there’s a workaround thank goodness and that is the 27″ iMac whose internal case is just large enough to install a secondary hard drive. You can slip a 2.5″ SSD into that chassis. You just gotta know how to open it up. And therein lies the theme of this essay, the user upgradable, user friendly computer case design. The antithesis of this idea IS the iMac 27″ if you read these steps from iFixit and the photographer Brian Tobey. Both of these websites make clear the excruciating minutiae of finding and disconnecting the myriad miniature cables that connect the logic board to the computer. Without going through those steps one cannot gain access to the spare SATA connectors facing towards the back of the iMac case. I decided to go through these steps to add an SSD to my iMac right after it was purchased. I thought Brian Tobey’s directions were just slightly better and had more visuals pertinent to the way I was working on the iMac as I opened up the case.
It is in a word a non-trivial task. You need the right tools, the right screwdrivers. In fact you even need suction cups! (thankyou Apple). However there is another way, even for so-called All-in-One style computer designs like the iMac. It’s a new product from Hewlett-Packard targeted for the desktop engineering and design crowd. It’s an All-in-One workstation that is user upgradable and it’s all done without any tools at all. Let me repeat that last bit again, it is a ‘tool-less’ design. What you may ask is a tool-less design? I hadn’t heard of it either until I read this article in iFixit. And after having followed the links to the NewEgg.com website to see what other items were tagged as ‘tool-less’ I began to remember some hints and stabs at this I had seen in some Dell Optiplex desktops some years back. The ‘carrier’ bracket for the CD/DVD and HDD drive bays were these green plastic rails that just simply ‘pushed’ into the sides of the drive (no screws necessary).
And when I considered my experience working with the 27″ iMac actually went pretty well (it booted up the first time no problems) after all I had done to it, I consider myself very lucky. But it could have been better. And there’s no reason it cannot be better for EVERYONE. It also made me think of the XO Laptop (One Laptop Per Child project) and I wondered how tool-less that laptop might be. How accessible are any of these designs? And it also made me recall the Facebook story I recently commented on about how Facebook is designing its own hard drive storage units to make them easier to maintain (no little screws to get lost and dropped onto a fully powered motherboard and short things out). So I much more hope than when I first embarked on the do it yourself journey of upgrading my iMac. Tool-less design today, Tool-less design tomorrow and Tool-less design forever.