I spent the better part of this week with my 2012 Mac mini in pieces in my living room, as I attempted to fix an issue with a dead drive. The problem that sparked it is still plaguing me, but the experience has given me both some appreciation for the way Apple used to do things, as well as the way it might once again.

This isn’t the first time I’ve taken apart a Mac—it’s not even the first time I’ve taken apart this particular Mac mini. Diving into hardware has always been a task that I enjoy. It’s fun not only to see how everything fits together (especially with Apple’s famously small tolerances) but also to realize that this amazing box, which can do all these cool things, is a clever combination of so many parts working in concert.

This particular Mac mini has the benefit of being a model that’s both reasonably easy to disassemble (assuming you have the right tools) and actually fairly upgradeable. Not all Macs, past or present, have quite that level of flexibility and lately the company’s products have seemed to trend towards the other end of the spectrum.

The ability to upgrade

Like many fellow Apple fans, one of my first stops upon the release of a new product is the folks at iFixit, who not only tear every device down to their components, but also subsequently produce excellent guides on how to follow their example—preferably without destroying anything. In fact, I used one of those very guides to disassemble my Mac mini.

It’s disappointing, certainly, that most modern Apple products are difficult to take apart and upgrade. Eking a little more life out of an old machine is not only a great way to save a few bucks, but also helps cut down on the waste produced when we simply toss our old tech, as we so often do. And I understand why some people are angry when they see that Apple’s taken steps to make so many of its products less upgradeable and repairable.
Apple The 2012 Mac mini
That said, I understand why Apple has made many of those choices, and I don’t buy the cynical line that the company’s intention is simply raking in money by making people buy new devices. There’s always a balance inherent in the design and decisions around a product, and Apple obviously has different priorities from many of its consumers.

For example, many recent Macs have featured memory and/or storage soldered to the logic board rather than as discrete, modular components. From Apple’s perspective, this cuts down on space both in terms of being able to make those components smaller, but also in terms of not having to include all the extra pieces required to make those components user-removable. That in turn lets them make their devices smaller, sleeker, and lighter, all of which the company believes is in its interests. In some cases, it may also make them more power efficient or easier to assemble as well.

That’s not to say that the company hasn’t opted to let things be removable when it’s in harmony with their goals. The Mac mini that the company released in 2018 is, by all accounts, easier to disassemble than its predecessor, and even sports user-upgradeable RAM. If the company truly wanted to block upgrades and repairs at any cost, it could easily have continued on the path it was on.