Hardware

Apple MacBook (2015) teardown: Revamped design makes DIY repairs very difficult

Apple packed a ton of new tech into the 2015 MacBook, but thanks to a completely redesigned interior, DIY repairs on this laptop can be a real nightmare.

The 2015 MacBook isn't just a thinner, lighter version of the MacBook Air. Apple has completely redesigned the laptop from the ground up and unfortunately, those changes also make DIY repairs a real nightmare.

The 2015, 12-inch MacBook comes in two base hardware configurations (1.1GHz CPU with 256GB storage and 1.2GHZ CPU with 512GB storage) and three colors (silver, gold, and space gray). Our gold test unit, had a 1.1Ghz dual-core Intel Core M processor, 8GB of RAM, 256GB of storage, and Intel HD Graphics 5300.

For more information on the 2015 MacBook, including real-world tests and pricing, check out Dan Ackerman's full CNET review.

macbook-air-gold-2015-16.jpg
Sarah Tew / CNET

All the new MacBooks have a Retina display, and Apple went with a single USB-C port instead of separate power, USB, and display ports. They did however, leave the 3.5mm headphone jack. The keyboard has been completely redesigned. The mechanics under the keys, the actual keys themselves, and the lighting is all new. The new MacBook also has Apple's Force Touch trackpad, which the company used on the 2015 MacBook Pro. And, those are just the changes that you can see on the outside. There's lots more to see on the inside.

To see more photos of our 2015 Apple MacBook teardown, check out our full cracking open gallery.

Cracking Open observations

Special tools required: Whether you're just opening the case or removing internal components, you'll need several specialized tools to get the job done. The case panel is held to the body with the same tamper-resistant pentalobe screws Apple uses on the MacBook Air, MacBook Pro and iPhone. You'll need a special 5-point screwdriver to remove these.

Bill Detwiler / TechRepublic

Once you're inside the case, you'll encounter Torx, Phillips, and even a tri-wing screws. You'll also need a pair or ESD-safe tweezers and plenty of plastic prying tools to remove the interior hardware.

All new internal hardware layout: Although it looks similar to the Air and Pro on the outside, the 2015 MacBook has a completely redesigned interior. For starters, many components (such as the logic board and battery) that are normally attached to the laptop's main body are instead attached to the removable case panel. That means there are several very thin, very fragile cables that connect the two halves of the case.

Hardware changes galore: Other big changes include, a radically redesigned and significantly-smaller logic board, no fan and cooling assembly, and no discrete SSD. The Force Touch trackpad also seems thinner than the one on the Pro. The battery cells are contoured to fit snugly within the case's curved depressions. And although we can't really see it's inner workings, the keyboard's all new too.

Bill Detwiler / TechRepublic

New battery connector: The battery contacts are attached directly to the underside of the MacBook's Logic board. To disconnect the battery, it appears you remove a screw and metal clip that sit above them. I've never seen this type of connector in a laptop.

Very fragile cable connectors: As laptops have gotten thinner, so have the components, cables, and connectors inside them. The flexible flat cable connectors inside the MacBook are some of the thinnest and most-fragile I've ever seen. I had to be extremely careful when disconnecting each component not to damage the cable or the connector in the process.

Bill Detwiler / TechRepublic

To see more photos of our 2015 Apple MacBook teardown, check out our full cracking open gallery.

Apple's vision for the future of laptops

So what should we make of all the changes and new hardware Apple put into new MacBook? First, it's a clear sign of where Apple is taking laptop design. Eventually, all the company's laptops will have their redesigned keyboard, a Force Touch trackpad, a Retina display, and ultimately USB-C ports. As processors get more powerful and produce less heat, internal fans will disappear.

As for their product lines, Apple may keep the MacBook Pro around for power users (at least until mobile processors are a bit more powerful), but the Air's days are numbered. There's no reason for Apple to offer two, distinct ultraportable lines. I can see a future where the MacBook is Apple's only laptop (in a variety of hardware configurations).

Lastly (and most disappointingly), although the changes to the new MacBook don't make DIY repairs impossible, they do make them extremely difficult. I hope that as Apple refines the MacBook's design, they don't forget about those of us who still need to crack open their computers.

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About Bill Detwiler

Bill Detwiler is Managing Editor of TechRepublic and Tech Pro Research and the host of Cracking Open, CNET and TechRepublic's popular online show. Prior to joining TechRepublic in 2000, Bill was an IT manager, database administrator, and desktop supp...

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