New iMac teardown reveals lots of adhesive and almost no end user upgrade options

As with every big Apple product launch, iFixIt has given the new 2012 iMac the teardown treatment. Unfortunately, it only receives a repairability score of 3 out of 10. Most of this is attributed to the difficulty level of replacing common items such as RAM or a hard drive. This time around, it's no easy task.

The first thing realized upon tearing open the new iMac is that Apple has ditched the traditional screen enclosure that used to be held in with magnets for an adhesive. According to iFixIt, it's simliar to the adhesive used in iPads. You'll need a heat gun and your ninja skills to even break into the computer. After doing so, the foam around the edges that secures the screen will have to be completely replaced. If you break the glass in the process you'll also have to replace the LCD since they are fused together in order to make the iMac so thin.

We were quite worried when we saw that super-thin bezel during Apple's keynote, and unfortunately we were correct: the glass and LCD are now glued to the iMac's frame with incredibly strong adhesive. Gone are the lovely magnets that held the glass in place in iMacs of yesteryear.

Once you get beyond the screen you'll have quite a bit of work to do before you can even replace something as little as a RAM card since it's hidden beneath the logic board. Anyone who has an older generation iMac currently enjoys being able to lay the computer flat, unscrew a few screws, pop their RAM cards out and hot swap them. This is definitely not the case here so for most users, they'll need to pay Apple's ridiculous premium for a RAM upgrade instead of ordering RAM for a lot less on their own.

iFIxIt also found some traces and connectors on their base model 21.5" iMac that they believe are for Apple's own proprietary Fusion Drive. In other words, if you order a model that is baseline, you won't be able to add your own SSD as the connectors are Apple proprietary and the connectors on upper models may even come soldered onto the main board.

While many people were irritated with the lack of repairability and upgradeability of the 15" retina MacBook Pro, the 13" variant showed a few improvements.

While laptops are not necessarily made to be largely upgradeable, desktops are. This isn't exactly good news for iMac fans who depend on being able to upgrade basic items in their computers over the years. If you'd like your new iMac to last and don't want to attempt to get past tons of glue in order to upgrade it yourself, you'll have to pay Apple a large premium for a spec'd out model.

Is upgradeability a huge factor to you when purchasing a desktop? And if you were considering a new iMac, does any of this deter you from getting one?

Source: iFixIt

Allyson Kazmucha

iMore senior editor from 2011 to 2015.

  • The fact that I cannot fix it after the warranty is out is a deal breaker for me. I'll stick with the Mini, at least until they seal that up too.
  • It's an iMac. They don't really 'break', in my experience. Not to mention, if you keep it for 4 years, you get pretty good resale value and you just upgrade to a new model at that point. And Macs like the iMac now come standard with all most anyone could need, IMO. For example, if you need more than 8GB or RAM in your iMac then if you ask me you're probably best waiting for the 2013 Mac Pro (or whatever they end up calling the new, no doubt more miniature, pro machine). Back on planet earth however, the average consumer will be more than fine with 8GB of RAM. The new iMac is a beast, and since the iPad was released (and now even more so with the iPad (4)), I feel buying an iMac makes more sense than ever. Buy personal iPads and one main top-of-the-line 27" iMac for the house. This combination/setup is the future family setup, for all families, worldwide, if you ask me.
  • 8GB of RAM is not a lot and anyone who uses Photoshop or any other photo editing, video editing, or even modest programs like that experience lag when too many things are open. I have consulting clients that are attorneys that do nothing but browse and complain about slow down, so we put in more RAM after a while. General consumers also have a nasty habit of leaving 80 billion Safari windows and other programs open that eat resources. They don't want to learn the smart way of using a computer, they just want it to be fast and do what they want, and in that case, they add more RAM, etc... I have tons of clients who will be really irritated when they start slowing down and I can't do anything about it without ripping apart the entire setup.
  • Agreed. -This message sent from an iMac 27 upgraded to 32gb of RAM and an SSD. 8GB will not seem like a lot two years from now, even for home users. But by then, they'll be stuck with one expensive upgrade or another (micro-surgery or new iMac).
  • I have to disagree. I have a 2007 IMac with 4 gb of ram and run illustrator, photoshop, all video processing, (albeit home usage - handbrake, iMovie, IDVD), and have very few issues. If home users can't make it work with 8gb of ram, I would think they should be moved closer to a power user that should either max out the new iMac or get a Mac tower to suite their needs.
  • I always find this hard to believe, considering that with 4GB of RAM I can keep pro-tools, photoshop, final cut, steam, pages, keynote, and watch a ton of videos in Flash with a bunch of Tabs open and still not get any lag. Though I can hear the fan spinning like hell.
  • Don't really break? At work we have about 40 older 27" iMacs (don't remember the year offhand). While they were under AppleCare, about 10 or so of them suffered from hard drive failure (all Western Digital), and/or memory failure (all Hynix). Since they've been off warranty, I've had to replace the hard rives in at least 10 more so far. Good luck with these new iMacs.
  • I think your workplace shouldn't have bought the iMacs for work at all. They are consumer products anyway. To me the iMac is a bag of hurt. I bought a 2008 iMac 24" and now it's very old but I can't upgrade the internals (the computer part) without throwing away the screen - I still love the screen! I can only choose to buy another one. If this iMac dies, my next set up will be a Mac mini plus a 3rd party screen.
  • Can't you disable the computer portion and just use it as a monitor?
  • Storage upgradability is not an issue when you've got 4 USB 3.0 ports. The 21.5" iMac is ideally aimed at the family. The 27" iMac is ideal if you want to run larger apps and it's really not that much more expensive than the 21.5"
  • But, as I stated above, internal drive failure can happen and it's a serious concern now since it's not user replaceable.
  • I don't mind not being able to upgrade or repair my iPad or MBAir, but a desktop is a completely different story for me. My desktop has been the workhorse. I couldn't care less how thin the edge of the screen is. I need to be able to upgrade or replace components as needed without spending another $2000. I was going to swap to an iMac before this joke happened. Instead I upgraded my trusty desktop with a new Ivy Bridge CPU, Mobo and RAM all for $300. No thanks Apple.
  • It IS worth noting that this is only the 21.5" model. RAM is user accessible and upgradeable in the 27" model. That is stated in Apple's tech specs. HD isn't from what it looks like anyways.
  • At the cost of iMacs, it would be nice to have easy access to upgrade. You can upgrade a MacBook Pro with ram, and even replace a hard drive very easy. Hopefully this glue everything together, will be a passing phase, but I do not think so.
  • The days of the desktop pc as most people are used to are slowly coming to and. Welcome to a computing world where everything resembles a device / appliance.
  • Pretty inaccurate article. "Tons of glue" adhesive tape is widely used now in industry. Not hard to work with at all, just different. Now I read some of the author's post, tons seems to be a favorite word :)
  • I've built computers for a while now iMacs are nice but if you a gamer, doing photo editing, CAD work etc, stick with windows. If you just want a computer for you or your family to use, do school work on or browse the web then 4 gigs is plenty. In my gaming rig right now I'm running a 32 bit OS. Even with high end gaming components I usually have a gig or so if free memory. I got the windows OS for free, 64 bit is not worth paying any extra for, maybe in a few years but all games are still built on 32 bit.
  • LOL, right, because an iMac with i5/i7, 16 gig RAM, fusion drive, and NVIDIA GeForce GTX with 1-2 gig GDDR5 VRAM has NO business running games, CAD, or photo editing.
  • I almost popped on a 2012 i7, 2GB Graphics, with a 1TB drive. I was just going to upgrade the RAM to 16GB and the HDD to SDD when I got the machine. As in I had the computer in my cart, credit card numbers punched in and thought, let me just watch a quick tear down on YouTube to make sure I know what I am getting myself into. Needless to say, mission aborted immediately when I saw the ridiculous amount of adhesive. I'll rock my 2011 Macbook Pro. The day a laptop is easier to upgrade than a desktop is the day I stop buying desktops. It takes like 3 minutes to switch a hard drive or change out a defunked battery. I don't even know why they are so worried about how thin it is. The 2011 model was ideal for me. At least you could get into the thing without an advanced degree in thermodynamics and the gentle hand of a heart surgeon. Apple. Return to your roots and quick messing up with the iMac!
  • Very well said, I could not agree more!
    I feel it's clear the stock holders are running Apple now.