Product Design

Apple’s Mac Pro Is Accessible, But They Still Don’t Trust You

Two SSDs removed from the logic board of a Mac Pro.
Attempting an SSD swap on the Mac Pro.

These two things can be true: Apple’s new Mac Pro is repairable, and Apple still exerts too much restrictive control over the device. 

At a glance, Apple delivered the kind of device we’re always asking for, one we hardly expected from them: it’s extremely easy to open, comes with official parts replacement manuals, and even lets you swap RAM and other components without tools. After years of disheartening, uncertain journeys inside the iPad, MacBook Pro, and other Apple devices, it was thrilling to see numbered steps and guiding symbols etched into the Pro. Apple is showing you, the device owner, where to go and what to do to remove some of the Pro’s components. We expected many aspects of a desktop computer aimed at professionals to be more modular than Apple’s other devices, but outright enthusiastic guidance? Color us truly surprised.

But just because Apple lets you do things doesn’t mean they trust you. Trying to replace the primary solid-state drive on the Mac Pro (or the entire logic board) triggers a freak-out, where the device won’t boot again until an authorized Apple technician runs a diagnostic tool to pair the SSD with the T2 security chip. You might be able to get aftermarket storage set up and running as your primary drive, with some tinkering and great Time Machine backups. But, generally, an SSD failure means turning to Apple, and likely haul your big Mac Pro to a Store, to get it working again. Apple’s SSDs are different, and in many ways better than off-the-shelf SSDs; we get why they made them. But a T2-based security system that only Apple can sign off on sacrifices practicality for security; both are important for a “pro” machine, especially one for which you paid many thousands of dollars.

Increased security is nothing to scoff at. Apple seems to be genuinely trying to innovate here and that’s cool. But also, history shows that Apple makes zero effort to authenticate legit repairs performed by anyone but Apple. Pairing a new home button or SSD should be trivial for someone that already has the password and physical access to the machine. Instead Apple keeps the pairing tools to themselves, turning an otherwise repairable device into a brick that only Apple can un-brick, for a conveniently astronomical fee. Apple claims to be making these decisions purely in the interest of security, but it’s hard to ignore how these same decisions always end up padding Apple’s bottom line. 

Image of the Mac Pro service manual, in front of two Mac Pro components.
The user manual for the Mac Pro is helpful, to a point.

Another token of Apple’s limited trust for professionals is its service guides. While we love seeing these part-specific manuals, they’re not the same as a complete service manual. Apple recently, quietly released full service manuals for the 2019 iMac 4k and 5k. These are excellent, full repair manuals that get you all the way through the devices, and list every size replacement screw you might need. Compare this with the Mac Pro, where we see that replacing a CPU is as easy as with any standard tower PC, provided you have the right screwdrivers. But Apple doesn’t trust you, or your favorite repair tech, to spread your own thermal paste or handle a CPU, evidently. They don’t even really trust you to install wheels on your Mac Pro; they suggest contacting the company or an authorized tech for that.

Apple’s been in the news lately for staying fast to their privacy principles. They offer iPhone and iPad owners strong tools to protect their privacy, but puts the keys and controls in owners’  hands. We think that Apple’s computers, especially those in the Mac Pro’s price range, should offer the same bargain. Trust Apple to make a smart device and offer guaranteed repairs, but reserve the right to tinker and modify without their help, whether yourself or through repair shops.