Repairability Is Less Important Than Upgradeability

Image: iFixIt

I really love looking at iFixIt's teardowns of recently released hardware. And they also do some great advocacy work on the "right to repair" - something many tech companies including Apple have been fighting against. iFixIt gives each device a repairability score - their view of how easy a device will be to fix if something goers wrong. But is that measure all that important?

The company's recent teardown of the new MacBook Air gave Apple's latest notebook computer a repairability rating of 3/10. By any measure, that's a poor score.

But it's only half the equation worth considering. What we don't have good data about is how many devices require out of warranty repairs. In my view, the repairability score is only a factor if the device needs to be fixed outside the warranty conditions. And it's worth noting that in Australia, the manufacturer's warranty period is overridden by consumer laws which aren't limited to a specific number of months but are about a reasonable timeframe given the value and expected use of an item.

So, in the case of a new MacBook Air, you'll have little trouble getting it repaired within the first year and, beyond that, if you've not mistreated the device, get further warranty support - without purchasing Apple Care - for a while longer.

Where I think the repairability score is more interesting is if we consider it an "upgradeability score".

In the old days, I used to buy computers with the understanding that about two years after purchase, I could add some RAM and storage easily in order to extend the life of the device. But with Apple and others now soldering memory and flash storage in place in many computers, such upgrades are no longer possible. So, we either turn devices over every three years or so or buy higher-than-we-need-today spec machines up front.

I caught up wth a couple of colleagues yesterday. One was carrying an external keyboard and mouse with her laptop - a two-year old unit - as the "A" and "S" keys had died and the others around it were becoming flakey. It should be easy to replace a keyboard. When I was IT manager at a school, my tech support team were pretty adept and swapping broken keyboards on laptops out.

Those sorts of fixes should be easy - especially for computers being deployed in large fleets.

Another friend and I were discussing how the computers most people buy are significantly overpowered for what they're used for. In most cases, CPUs are only utilised at low levels - we speculated that over the course of a year most CPUs would not see much more than 1% utilisation. And frankly, in over 20 years of using PCs, I have never upgraded a CPU. But storage and memory should be more easily upgradable.

It's also important to note that if we want thinner and lighter devices that design decisions and compromises need to be made. For example, soldering storage in place limits repairability and upgradeability but results in a smaller and lighter device as there's no need for a connector and cables.

When we look at those repairability scores I think we need to consider several things.

  • Device reliability
  • Are you thinking about upgrading in future?
  • Warranty support

While a single repairability score makes for a good headline, there's more to consider when looking at the construction of a device.


Comments

    If you extend the concept, you can include replacing cracked / scratched glass in phone screens.

    But it's only half the equation worth considering. What we don't have good data about is how many devices require out of warranty repairs. In my view, the repairability score is only a factor if the device needs to be fixed outside the warranty conditions.

    No. Not at all.

    Take the MacBook for example or any laptop. If something goes wrong id rather it be fixed than replaced. It's much easier to just have the faulty part fixed than have to set up a brand new device again. Apple intentionally makes their stuff hard to repair so they can force you into paying more.

    So, in the case of a new MacBook Air, you'll have little trouble getting it repaired within the first year

    Unless the so-called geniuses at the bar find a way to charge you for something. Ive had a friend take in an in warranty iphone 7 for repair. Which they refused to cover under the warranty because the water damage dectors had supposedly been triggered. Even though that was impossible due to it being in an waterproof case he purchased from an Apple authorized store.

    Make no mistake. Apple intentionally makes there stuff hard to repair because they hate 3rd party repair shops. They want to be able to gouge customers for something that would only cost <$50 to repair. It has nothing to do with functionality or design. A lot of companies do it. Microsoft included. It just seems Apple gets a free pass from the fanboys because its apple.

    https://youtu.be/_XneTBhRPYk - Relevant

    I don’t mind buying an overpowered machine having experienced the ‘90s era of underwhelming PCs.
    A company is ever so eager to estimate your needs to a price and give you slow hardware (with a turbo button).
    The last 15 years with multi cored machines when was the last time you saw a BSOD?

    I think you may be on the right track in regards to separating the scores. For me, I would trade repairability for reliability based on my experience.

    My previous MacBook Pro had a repairability score of 1/10 but delivered reliability by reaching 5.5 years old before I replaced it and pensioned it off to lighter duties. It's soldered on RAM, I maxed out at purchase never skipped a beat. The SSD (then still replaceable) was upgraded not because it failed but due to changed storage requirements. The battery is showing it's age and while I could attempt to get it replaced it is no longer in the "need to" category of repairs.

    A Dell Laptop, I had for 2.5 years at the same time (purchased 6 months after the Mac) which would have been considerably more "repairable" than the Mac. It's hard-drive barely made it beyond the warranty period, the RAM had a failure and was replaced / upgraded. The battery by the 2 year held about 20min charge without a power source. I would have difficulty describing it as reliable.

    That said, I would love to see devices that are designed with some level of repair in mind. Rivets and Glue to hold parts in place should be discouraged for more repair friendly methods.

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