On Thursday, tech teardown website iFixit discovered exciting details about Apple’s new 21.5-inch iMac: You can upgrade the RAM, and even the processor, yourself after you bought it.
Allowing users to upgrade the new iMac is a big shift in Apple’s normally closed-off mentality about its computers.
Apple had actually removed the ability to upgrade the 21.5-inch iMac’s RAM and CPU in 2013, which wasn’t a popular move, despite the fact that iMacs continued to be popular computers. Indeed, forcing users to buy a new iMac because their current one was starting to slow down also meant replacing parts that didn’t necessarily need upgrading, like the iMac’s built-in display and outer shell.
But Apple has now re-instated upgradeable parts in the 2017 model, and that’s a huge deal for power users who want to prolong the life of their 21.5-inch iMacs.
It also means Apple is likely listening to what its power users want. Now a 21.5-inch iMac owner could greatly prolong the life of their computer by upgrading individual parts for less money than buying an entirely new iMac, which costs $1,100 for the base model.
Still, while I’m sure that users who want to upgrade their iMacs are appreciative, there’s one major thing that’s holding users back from making their iMac truly upgradeable and last forever.
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In theory, the new iMac’s upgradeability means you could continuously upgrade the 21.5-inch iMac with more RAM and new processors so it stays speedy forever. However, that is unlikely to be the case, at least for the processor.
Here’s a quick explanation why: Processors need to be fitted onto the socket of a component called a “motherboard.”
But not all processors can fit into just any motherboard. Different generations of processors come in different sizes.
Different generations of processors come in different sizes, which means they only fit on a motherboard’s socket that can support a specific processor generation’s size.
For example, Intel’s second generation of processors used the “1155” socket, whereas Intel’s latest seventh generation of processors use the “1151” socket. You wouldn’t be able to fit a second-generation 1155 processor onto an 1151 motherboard.
The motherboard inside the new 21.5-inch iMac is designed to only fit Intel’s 7th-generation processors.
And unfortunately, it looks like the iMac’s motherboard is a custom part that isn’t upgradeable, which means you may not be able to fit later generations of processors into the new iMac’s motherboard.
I don’t fault Apple for using a custom motherboard in its new 21.5-inch iMacs, as off-the-shelf motherboard models probably wouldn’t be able to fit into the iMac’s sleek body.
That means you may only be able to upgrade within Intel’s 7th-generation processors.
It’s possible that Intel’s eight generation of processors will use the same 1151 socket size as the seventh generation. Indeed, Intel’s sixth generation of processors, called “Sky Lake,” also used the 1151 socket size. Yet, there’s no information available at the moment about future processor socket sizes.
Still, if you have a 2017 21.5-inch iMac with a 7th-generation Core i5 processor, you could upgrade it to a more powerful 7th-generation Core i7 processor, which will give it a huge boost in performance and lifetime.