The text below comes from a shooting script for the video above; it may not perfectly reflect the dialogue of that video.
Apple’s eagerly awaited M2 chip has finally arrived and no one—and I really do mean no one—seems excited about the vessel heralding its arrival, the 13 inch MacBook Pro.
Reviews are pretty unanimous across the board, it’s a good laptop with great battery life but:
- it doesn’t have enough ports
- the display doesn’t support high refresh rates
- it’s too expensive for what you get
- and it’s already overshadowed by the redesigned MacBook Air being released in a few weeks
We’re guessing this machine is pretty much the 2020 model with an upgraded Logic Board, but we won’t know until we tear it down!
The chassis of the machines are identical, right down to the model number printed on the bottom of the case. With the exception of a tiny EMC number on the back, there is not a single thing we can identify that’s different about the exteriors.
The bottom cover and screws are the same as is the removal procedure for the cover. That’s to say, unnecessarily difficult.
Here’s where things get really interesting. Looking at this shot of the two logic boards, it’s clear that some of the chips and smaller components have changed but otherwise everything else looks identical. Cables, grounding pins, screws and standoffs, you name it. The interior of the machines are identical in all things—other than the logic board itself.
One exception that stands out: the heatsink on the M1 has slightly rounded corners as compared to the squared-off corners on the M2. If you get the impression we’re really reaching to find differences here, you’re not wrong.
At this point we’re wondering if Apple has made their first truly upgradable laptop, which would make them the only other manufacturer other than Framework to do so.
If you haven’t heard already, Framework has begun production on a world first upgradeable laptop motherboard which is due for release later this year. Did Apple beat them to the punch?
This needs to be tested but first we need to free the logic board from the case.
Disassembly & Swapping Logic Boards
First up we disconnect the trackpad and battery from the rest of the board followed by the remaining components. This is fiddly work, and those cables are pretty delicate.
Once all the cables are loose we can proceed to remove the M2 Logic Board.
Ok let’s see if the M2 board will fit in the M1 case…and it’s a perfect match! We should test to see if the machine powers on.
We eventually get it to boot…but it can’t detect the built in peripherals.
Trackpad Woes and Test Findings
After checking the cables and reseating everything several times, replacing the Touch ID sensor between machines, and perhaps a dozen other tests, we finally concede defeat and reached out to Hector Martin at the Asahi Linux Project.
We’re told that the M2 trackpad has offloaded some processes to the SoC. We can’t say for certain that this is serialisation but for all intents and purposes, in its current state, it serves the same purpose. In other words, this blocks a full logic board upgrade unless you change the trackpad with an M2 compatible one.
The machine works just fine with an external mouse and keyboard but then it wouldn’t be a functional laptop if you have to drag a keyboard and mouse around with you. And maybe that’s the point.
In our tests we found that the components that have some or all functionality disabled are the trackpad, keyboard, and TouchID sensor. The latter of which is understandable but we find the decision to disable the trackpad and keyboard baffling, if intentional.
There’s definitely still a positive side to all this. We assume that Apple will be adding this device, and maybe even the M1 model, to its Self Service Repair program. This means that you may potentially have the opportunity to upgrade and repair your machine. Could you potentially upgrade your old M1 machine to an M2 at some point in the future? Doubtful, but who knows!
The parts are clearly cross-compatible and we’re again faced with what seems like an attempt to block repairs and replacements through software barriers.
While recent findings by the Asahi team seem to suggest that the lack of compatibility was not baked in as a design choice, the lack of driver updates to get these components to talk to each other will prevent cross compatibility between generations.
As a final note on the hardware, various reviewers have commented on the slower read/write speeds on the base model M2 and they’ve narrowed the problem down to one 256 GB SSD chip on the board doing all the work, whereas the M1 used two 128GB SSD chips to spread the workload.
With two SSD chips the system reads and writes up to twice as fast because its performing the operations at the same time. This is similar to a RAID 0 setup where read/write workloads are distributed among multiple drives.
It may seem wild that Apple re-used so many old parts, but honestly it would make perfect sense if we lived in a world where rampant consumption was not the norm. This pandemic has exposed flaws in our supply chains and has led to chip shortages that eventually culminated in various “odd” decisions such as this.
As far as we’re concerned, this is a missed opportunity for Apple to introduce their first upgradeable device in a good long time. What’s more, it’s a missed opportunity for the electronics juggernaut to set the tone for repairability and eco-friendly design.