Above is a photo of part of the motherboard of a laptop a client of mine brought to me a few days ago, an ASUS X54C laptop. It’s not to be confused with a small netbook or anything made by Acer. In fact this laptop comes standard with a 15.6 inch display, USB 3x ports, Blu-Ray player, and either an Intel Core 2 Duo or an i3 processor. So in other-words this isn’t supposed to be some light weight, disposable toy judging by the hardware specs.
Now to the problem at hand, the first of its kind that I’ve encountered in the wild. Now, I’m certainly not THE first person to encounter this in the wild but I’m nowhere near the last. The 4 black chips you see in the photo above are 4 Gigabytes worth of RAM that were built into the motherboard itself and cannot be removed. Tragically, the RAM in this particular laptop was defective and unfortunately can’t be simply replaced. It’s like a car with the spark plugs welded into the engine block on a car. They go bad, you can’t just buy new spark plugs; you’ve got to buy a whole new f***ing engine!
Traditionally laptops are built with expansion slots for RAM to be seated in and will come with one or both slots occupied by sticks of RAM that look like this:
Often these sticks are very easy to access and replace with upgrades by removing a hatch door on the bottom of the laptop. RAM itself is relatively inexpensive so had the RAM on this laptop not been built into the motherboard it would have been a simple matter of replacing the bad RAM with good RAM and about 5 minutes of actual labor performing the replacement; a relatively cheap repair that would have been worth the time and money.
What ASUS has done here is effectively designed a laptop that was not only built with defective RAM but you could also argue that they built a defective motherboard, too. After all, the only way to replace the faulty RAM is to replace the motherboard and if the laptop is no longer covered by a warranty it would border on being cheaper to just go buy a whole new laptop, especially when you discover just how difficult it is to find parts for ASUS products anywhere online, including from ASUS themselves. They don’t sell parts for their products online AT ALL.
Now in a attempt to defend ASUS, they probably did this to save money; those greedy bastards. By building a laptop that didn’t require an assembly line worker to stand in front of a conveyor slotting memory sticks in all day, they’ve saved themselves perhaps 25 cents per laptop, and that can add up if you’re moving 100,000 units. However, I would have to say that while saving a few cents on thousands of units might look good on paper it doesn’t necessarily make it a smart idea. I don’t have a problem with hardware being integrated together in a smaller form factor, like an iPad or a smart phone but c’mon ASUS, this is a 15″ laptop. You have the space to spare and, trust me, the owner would have been more than willing to spend a tiny amount more in the price tag to pay for you to have made this thing like a proper laptop.
Other brands such as Dell and HP have been known to do this with some of their products, but typically only smaller devices such as a 10″ inch netbook which are priced to be disposable, unlike Apples’ next ~$2,200 Macbook Air which has been dubbed by iFixit.com as “the least repairable laptop [ever]“ for having not just non-removable RAM but also batteries that are glued to the inside of the case, proprietary hard drives that can’t be upgraded, a display panel that is inside a completely fused assembly so if you crack the screen you’ll have to replace the bezel and display. Also, if you ever were to find a reason to open one up you’ll need a proprietary screwdriver to do it. I still can’t believe people are willing to pay more money to get a computer that will be more vulnerable to obsolescence than any other laptop out there, including this damned ASUS I started on about above.
The moral of the story is that you should avoid buying a laptop made by anybody that was built with on-board, non-removable RAM on the motherboard because that just multiplies the points of failure and the amount of money and energy you might have to spend down the road to fix it if something goes wrong.
Wednesday, June 13th, 2012