Apple's New Computers Don't Get Its Usual Dismal Repairability Score From iFixit

The MacBook Pro gets a 4/10. This is a great step in the right direction.

working on a macbook pro


For years on Treehugger, we have preached the virtues of repairability. There is editorial director Melissa Breyer listing four reasons to repair instead of recycling or replacing; senior editor Katherine Martinko on how it's time to stand up for our right to repair, and me going on about Apple's Pentalobe Screws and Apple's war against self-repair. We all type these missives on our Apple computers: Writers love them because they are reputed to be dependable and easy to use, but we are not unaware of the contradictions.

The outspoken heroes of the right to repair movement are Kyle Wiens and the gang at iFixit, who have been rating the repairability of electronics and have been particularly critical of Apple, which consistently gets low ratings. It was pretty much a company philosophy and it got to the point where they were inventing new screw designs to keep people out of their own computers.

But much has changed in the Apple world since the head of design Jony Ive departed, as can be seen in the new MacBook Pro computers: It actually has ports people can use without $60 dongles. Sam Goldheart of iFixit loves this, writing: "Just look at those ports. With so many places to plug things in and so many dongles scorned, Jony Ive must be rolling in his …. Ferrari. "

Battery removal
You can get the batteries out!.

iFixit with permission

But more importantly, he can get inside and look around. And he likes what he sees. Battery replacement is a pretty standard operation and is usually difficult, requiring "infinite patience, a bottle of isopropyl alcohol, and an optional bottle of human-friendly alcohol." Instead, in the new MacBooks, he finds battery pull tabs that enable you to pull it out. Some were hard to find, but in the end, he notes: "What do you know—some smart person gave repair and access some thought."

One of the big downsides of the new design is that everything is baked onto the chip. On most computers, the memory is separate and you can upgrade or add. With the new Apple chips, memory is "unified" which increases the speed significantly. Basically, it is an entire "system on a chip."

"What does all this fancy-pants unification mean for repairability? Well, nothing great, and we’ve said it before: long-term repair options—or even removal of parts for salvage or recycling—are slim. Everything is on the board. Future-upgradeable RAM? Nada. Better shell out as much as you can afford up-front. Future-upgradeable storage: maybe technically possible, but highly impractical. You’ll either need to put those zippy Thunderbolt 4 ports to work with an external drive, or it’s the cloud for you, baby."

iFixit is not in love with the keyboard, which is screwed and riveted down and will be hard to repair: "keep a tight grip on your latte." Its biggest complaint is the "soldered-down, non-removable storage," which it says is "a major bummer for repairability, upgradeability, security, data recovery, and overall flexibility."

iFixit notes: "This would be difficult to justify in any consumer product, but for professional use it seems like an even bigger misstep. "

In the end, they give the new MacBook Pro a 4/10, summarizing the results in an e-mail:

"The usual glue-free opening and a much-improved display swap procedure gets a thumbs up; the stretch-release adhesive tabs on the battery get a hearty cheer—even if there are better ways. But, the (non-butterfly) keyboard is still the same glued-and-riveted repair nightmare. All told, this MacBook is a huge leap forward from its predecessor, if not quite all we hoped for: It garners a 4/10 on our repairability scale, for relative modularity and a vastly improved battery swap procedure, but it’s still completely non-upgradable—dooming this laptop to get left in the dust."

Now if one of my students got 40%, I would not be cheering for them. That's a fail. But for Apple, this is a huge step in the right direction.

Environmental specs.

Apple M1 Macbook Air

There is a lot to admire about Apple and its environmental initiatives, including its investment in a revolutionary way of smelting aluminum. The machines can last a very long time—my 2012 MacBook Pro is still chugging away. Its position on repairability was clearly a conscious decision; other companies like Dell get high marks from iFixit.

But Apple can do better on this issue. Start with those AirPods and their big fat zero. And, as a reminder of why this is important, here is iFixit's repair manifesto: "If you can't fix it, you don't own it."

repair manifesto infographic Domain