iFixit: Apple locks down new MacBook Air

The new MacBook Air has a large dose of proprietary engineering, making it a challenge for users to tinker with the internals, according to iFixit. But, to be fair, Apple has done this in the past.

The new MacBook Air
The new MacBook Air Apple

Similar to the past MacBook Air design, Apple's new Air is under lock and key--or five-point Security Torx screws, to be exact. So, users will have to defer to Apple for upgrades, according to iFixit's teardown of the Air.

"The new MacBook Air is an exercise of proprietary engineering. While you can easily access everything once you remove the proprietary screws, you can't really replace any component with an off-the-shelf part," according to iFixit, which dissassembled the 11.6-inch model.

And iFixit offers some advice for prospective buyers: "Unfortunately, like all previous MacBook Airs, the RAM is soldered to the logic board and is not upgradable. Apple does offer a 4GB RAM option at the time of purchase, but if you opt for only 2GB and decide you want more RAM later you'll be out of luck. Our advice? Go for 4GB."

Not surprisingly, the thin-and-wide battery--which CEO Steve Jobs says will deliver up to seven hours of active battery life in the 13.3-inch model and five hours in the 11.6-inch version--comprises vast tracts of real estate inside. Also of note is the flash memory module which is not a solid-state drive per se, but a flash module like the one used in the iPad.

Apple's thin-and-wide battery modules
Apple's thin-and-wide battery modules iFixit

There were a few small component surprises in the 11.6-inch model:

  • The proprietary Apple flash module "appears" to be based on an mini-SATA (mSATA) standard.
  • The inside is dominated by six individual lithium-polymer cells making up the 35 Wh (watt hour) battery.
  • Four Toshiba 16GB flash chips make up the 64GB flash module (128GB is also available).
  • Micron DDR DRAM cache chip.
  • Broadcom Wi-Fi/Bluetooth chip (this is not a surprise).

"We gave the 11" MacBook Air a not-so-good repairability score of 4 out of 10, with 10 being easiest to repair. Simply put, a plethora of proprietary parts prevents people from painlessly fixing their machines," iFixit said.

About the author

Brooke Crothers writes about mobile computer systems, including laptops, tablets, smartphones: how they define the computing experience and the hardware that makes them tick. He has served as an editor at large at CNET News and a contributing reporter to The New York Times' Bits and Technology sections. His interest in things small began when living in Tokyo in a very small apartment for a very long time.

 

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