iMac Pro: Is It Easy to Upgrade?

iMac Pro: Is It Easy to Upgrade?

As Apple speeds ahead to make computers slimmer, you might wonder if there’s any point in slimming down a desktop machine. Does the new iMac Pro live up to the name, and allow for upgrades in the future?

Luckily, the guts inside the Pro version are completely different to the previous iterations of the iMac. iFixit picked up the base model of the iMac Pro and tore it to shreds. Their objective was to see how repairable it is, and what users can add after purchasing it.

Unfortunately, it’s not nearly as upgradable as the Mac Pro (the 2013 “trash can”). In recent years Apple has been soldering everything right onto the motherboard, effectively creating irreplaceable components. This isn’t necessarily the case here; it’s just awfully difficult to break the machine down.

The custom CPU isn't soldered like the GPU is.

In order to get in to remove the SSD or RAM, you’ll need to basically take the entire computer apart. As a result, the iMac Pro received a 3/10 score for reparability. Here are the main takeaways:

  • The RAM is the easiest component to replace, so you could pick up some aftermarket RAM (iFixit sells a kit) that is cheaper than Apple’s.
  • The GPU is soldered in, but the custom CPU isn’t. While it’s technically possible to replace the CPU, iFixit hasn't tested anything yet.
  • The SSDs don’t have the PCIe/NVMe controller onboard, meaning that these are too custom to replace (easily anyway).

Some other interesting finds was that while they both share the same 5K LG monitor, you can’t swap them around due to the redesign. If you’d like to get into the nitty gritty, check out the full teardown.

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8 Comments

Stephen Kampff's picture

A different setup doesn't necessarily mean it's easier to upgrade! It's unfortunate that the change in design led to it being next to impossible to swap out parts.

Stephen Kampff's picture

I was suggesting that there was hope in the design change – which you'd think is a good thing due to the "Pro" tag on it.

I wonder if iFixit have ever considered doing something like that. DIdn't OWC do it a couple years back? I also remember people modding old Macbooks into tablets pre-iPad.

If a piece of hardware requires ripping off a huge, expensive, laminated screen that's glued to the frame and afterwards replacement glue strips, then no, it's not "easy to upgrade". Having a custom CPU is not a good sign either, and speculating on future upgrades just because the chip isn't soldered to the board (which may as well be for thermal reasons, or more likely because intel stopped making BGA chips for anything but consumer mobile) sounds naïve. The only thing that's considered serviceable by Apple so far appears to be RAM, and do yourself a favour and take the machine to a repair shop with a warranty policy for that.

On the upside, with advances in CPU performance being hugely irrelevant at this time, you're unlikely to be limited by that any time soon, at least not before intel stops making parts for whatever socket it's on. You'd much rather want to upgrade the GPU. AMD were admittedly not too enthralled by the performance the Vega architecture turned out to provide, and the responsible project lead has now left for different pastures at intel, where anything will be a step up in terms of graphics and compute capabilities. But of course with that part not being interchangeable, you're SOL.

TL;DR: You don't buy that thing to upgrade later, but because you want a Mac that costs a bit more than a comparable Windows box for whatever reason.

Michael Kormos's picture

I have a feeling that most professionals that can afford to buy an iMac Pro can also afford to pay Apple to upgrade it, if and when they decide to do so. In my experience, people & companies using high end workstations rarely tinker with upgrades on their own.

Leigh Miller's picture

This again....Apple is done with "user serviceable/upgradeable" products. There is simply no juice in it for them. Besides I really don't think we "need" to upgrade computers more than once every few years. At least we wouldn't if software companies started doing a better job of coding applications better ADOBE!!

So where is the new Mac Pro which hasn't been updated since it's first model in 2013? 100+ new laptop models, iPads, iPhones, iMacs, but not a single new Mac Pro version. Nothing since 2013!?! Apple starts to suck for the pro-community ...

I do not need an ultra speed computer for my work on still images.
The price (though not trivial ) of a mid-leveliMac is low enough that after the warranty and one year of AppleCare the machine has been generating enough output to easily pay for its replacement.

The notion of upgrading a computer (with the exception of adding more RAM and lately an SSD) was that any boost in performance was hindered by the lack of performance in buses, controllers and networks.
I think for most users, buying a new computer is far simpler than upgrading components of an old one.

For power users in a commercial environment upgradability may have relevance but even then replacement is the usual path.

Chad D's picture

so true

I also think many do not understand tech which is fine I do not care how my refrigerator works nor do I care
I just want to open it and know its cold and I can turn a dial if its to cold or to warm and it works
many just want to use PS and LR and a few other apps

some of us are OK with tech and enjoy the tinker side