Thin is in for PC, MacBook -- upgrades out

There are fewer upgradable laptops on the market these days thanks to their thin, "sealed" designs.

Brooke Crothers
Brooke Crothers Former CNET contributor
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.
2 min read
Retina MacBook Pro: it's coolness factor precludes user upgrades.
Retina MacBook Pro: it's coolness factor precludes user upgrades. Apple

The upgradable computer is under attack.

In case you haven't noticed, Apple and every other first-tier PC maker on the planet are pushing thin laptops, not to mention even thinner tablets. Problem is, really thin computers are, by design, "sealed." That means, fewer and fewer upgradable computers.

In fact, these days the only chance you'll have to upgrade most ultrabooks and MacBooks is when you order them online. After that, you're stuck with the configuration.

As is the case with the Retina MacBook Pro. "Unlike previous generations of MacBook Pros, the MacBook Pro with Retina display is guarded by Apple's proprietary pentalobe screws," wrote iFixit -- which goes on to list other impediments to access.

While a teardown outfit like iFixit can crack open a Retina MacBook Pro, MacBook Air or an ultrabook, chances are the average user can't -- and probably shouldn't.

Take the Dell XPS 13 ultrabook. Just to access the solid-state drive, you have to peel away layers like the "power-light board" and battery -- and that's after removing 10 torx screws on the base cover.

This isn't your father's Dell (or HP) laptop (see photo below), where the underside of the laptop sported easily-removable Mini PCI, hard drive, and memory covers, to mention just a few upgradable components.

An older Dell laptop. It was a cinch to upgrade.
An older Dell laptop. It was a cinch to upgrade. Dell

And the rare ultrabook that is designed to provide access to components like the battery and SSD, is often the pricey variety, like the HP Envy 14 Spectre.

And don't expect things to improve. Apple is making a statement with the non-upgradable MacBook Pro. Meanwhile, the number of ultrabooks and tablet-like hybrids will only increase in the coming years.