Surface Book sacrifices repairability for sleekness as anti-DIY trend continues

microsoft surface book detail left side ports surface pen
Peter Ruecktenwald

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Chasing Apple’s sleek, sexy, and coveted MacBooks, Microsoft’s Surface Book—the company’s first shot at a laptop—sacrificed much of what makes PCs so great: the ability to conduct repairs and swap out parts yourself. In fact, Microsoft’s design choices were so unfriendly to do-it-yourself types that the teardown specialists at iFixit recently gave the laptop a 1 out of 10 rating—the worst possible grade.

This shouldn’t be a surprise if you’ve been paying attention; the Surface tablets aren’t user-fixable to a large degree, and Ultrabooks have been forgoing repairability in the name of thinness for years now. But the Surface Book suffers from a hefty collection of anti-DIY design choices.

surfacebookdisplay iFixit

The teardown of the Surface Book’s display.

Microsoft didn’t do anything we haven’t seen before, it’s just that so many parts make even simple swaps a pain. As is typical for newer devices, Microsoft went heavy on the glue, especially for the battery in the laptop base, the front-facing camera, and the IR sensor. Other parts, including the display and base cover, were also sticky with adhesive.

The Surface Book went the way of the soldered—and hence irreplaceable—for the processor and RAM, which is typical for ultra-thin laptops and tablets. IFixit also took issue with Microsoft’s motherboard placement, which makes it difficult to get at some basic components such as the SSD module.

Why this matters: The Surface Book is one of the most interesting PC designs to come out in a long time. But its design reminds PC enthusiasts that sleek design often comes at the expense of repairability since glue is a quicker and easier solution than screws or plastic tabs. PC makers also want to sell devices at a premium to recoup design and production costs. If anybody with a screwdriver or pry tool can swap out the RAM and onboard storage in a few seconds—the two most common after-market modifications—fewer shoppers will opt for the more powerful, and more expensive, models.

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