how hard/expensive would it be to make a computer/laptop that is trivial to take apart/reassemble?

suppose we want to make a desktop or laptop computer that could pass the following test - a one-armed illiterate person suffering from sleep deprivation and Down’s syndrome could successfully carry out removal and replacement of various parts (hard drive, memory sticks, keyboard etc) by following pictorial instructions within reasonable amount of time. Or maybe not quite that drastic, but nevertheless a few steps above the current “hire a $100 an hour expert” or “learn to use screwdriver, cross your fingers and hope for the best” standard we are used to.

Well, so how hard would it be to achieve that on the level of designing and producing these gadgets by the original manufacturer? Sort of like, if Dell were to decide to sell such new and improved laptops tomorrow by the million, how much extra money would they cost to make?

Now how about if we are going to buy regular computers as well as whatever other extra gadgets that may be needed and then use a standardized customization process (probably heavily dependent on availability of low cost labor) to convert those standard machines into what I described above? Would that even be possible? How expensive would such transformation be?

The original Lenovo 10.2" S-10 netbookis trivially easy to disassemble to access the hard drive, RAM and keyboard. The larger a notebook is the more screws and clips the body is going to require for rigidity, and the more difficult it will (usually) be to disassemble completely.

Within reason the only things a person is going to be able to need to access in a notebook for replacement or upgrades are are the keyboard, hard drive and RAM.

Other than the keyboard most notebook manufs make getting to the hard drive and RAM a pretty simple expertise’s where you simply open a panel. What more are you looking for?

Even a small form-factor desktop PC is fairly easy to access. However, to pack all the necessary components into the space of even a large laptop is not easy. Some laptops manage to make access to RAM and the hard drive fairly easy, but you are never going to be able to design a laptop where you can swap out a motherboard without having to totally disassemble the thing.

I’m guessing triple or quadruple the cost. Maybe more.

Easy user-replaceable components have more moving parts, more complications and hence more costs.

For example, let’s say you design a PCB that requires a battery power for some of its operations. One cheap way is to have the battery soldered right into the circuit. Since the battery leads are literally melted into the PCB, it is not easily end-user replaceable. However, the PCB could be redesigned with a more expensively with only a battery holder that’s soldered to the board. The battery itself could then slide in and out of the batter holder. But there may be extra expense in redesigning the layout so that no other parts of the chassis obstruct access. What good is a user-replaceable batter if human fingers can fit in crevice to change it? And also, you might have extra costs at the assembly line because a human or machine has to insert the first battery in product.

You could make it even easier for the consumer by not requiring him unscrew the screws that hold together the chassis. You make the battery accessible at the front panel via a slide out cartdige hidden behind a door with hinge. All those extra conveniences require more moving parts. More parts results in higher costs.

Multiply that type of design decision across all components – power supply, memory chips, etc and you will have a very expensive product. It won’t be just 5% more.

The other consideration is physical space constraints. Virtually anything that’s easy to swap or upgrade is larger than their non-swappable version. Removable harddrives with nice handles take up more room than bare harddrives. A convenient swing out hinge platform for a power supply takes up more room than a power supply that’s screwed directly to the chassis.

Another thing to consider is this: Laptops are usually designed as a “system.” For example, in many laptops, the processor dissipates it’s heat into the body of the machine. That means that it’s impossible (or at least very difficult) to make a laptop with a user-replaceable processor. And, since size and weight are at a premium, it’s probably not a good tradeoff to add the bulk of a socket just to allow the user to be able to upgrade the processor in the future. I know that some machines have done this in the past, but the trend is to smaller, lighter, and thinner laptops - the ones that were easy to disassemble were tanks.

computer shop owner here

A variety of units have been made by various manufacturers with better service access than others, most notably IBM/Lenovo. Considering they market heavily to med/lrg businesses where internal IT people do alot of the repairs, it makes sense to make them easily serviceable.

You will also note, many of the IBM/Lenovo units are not very “stylish” which HP has semi successfully bet the farm on.

Dell desktops are trivially easy to open and replace parts, and they’ve been making them easier as time goes by. I’m familiar with the Optiplex 260, 270, 280, and 700 series; all can be opened merely by pressing a couple of buttons or pulling a switch. All parts are accessible.

I think for laptops, you need to remove screws, but I don’t think it’s particularly difficult once you find the right access door.

Most Macs of 10-5 years ago (I haven’t seen the new ones, they may have kept the practice) were incredibly easy to open and service. All the needed screws were thumbscrews, all the wires were neatly out of the way, all the frequently changed/upgraded parts would just slide in and out. The way parts were mounted in the chassis made it so everything would be out of your way just by opening the case. The covers had guides to ensure proper fit when closing again.

Desktop computers have been trivially easy to put together, take apart, add components to, etc. for pretty much my entire lifetime. (I am 21.) I am, frankly, puzzled as to the OP’s inclusion of desktops in his question, for that reason.

It will probably be hideously ugly.

Modern laptops are sleek, thin, and light, but the reason for this is because they have been carefully engineered for airflow, thermal dissipation, and have custom parts meant to fit in a defined space.

If you were to make a laptop meant to be disassembled easily, and have it with easily replaceable parts, the ease of repair would be inversely proportional to the size of the laptop: the easier to use, the larger and bulkier it would be.

Because changing the components of a desktop computer is nowhere near the simplicity of upgrading the light bulb of a lamp from 60 watts to 100 watts.

To use the OPs words… conceivably, a “one-armed illiterate person suffering from sleep deprivation and Downs syndrome” could unscrew a dim light bulb and put in a brighter one.

The OP was exaggerating but the point remains: it would be extraordinarily expensive to redesign computer components to be as dead-simple as changing light bulbs.

At least you can upgrade a pc. I never liked the early Macs because they didn’t have a expansion bay. You had to use external devices to upgrade. I haven’t looked at a Mac in 15 years. Hopefully they have improved.

I’d like to know why cars can’t be easier to take apart. I’d like to upgrade my car’s stereo, but with a cheap system, installation would cost more than the equipment. (Especially if I can find some stuff used.) It’s not worth it. I wish I could take the car apart with a screwdriver. There’s also a person in my family who has a car with the cabin fan making noise, but working. It’s probably a $5 part, but it would probably cost $100 or something to get a mechanic to take things apart to replace it.

As I said, Macs swung to the other extreme for a while. They even had their processors on a card that you could swap in 2 minutes without tools. I am not sure where they sit at this point in time and I have no idea how it works with their laptops. I have vague memories of magazine reviews that mentioned the ease of adding memory to them.

Well, probably several different reasons in various combinations.

Sometimes designing a device for easy disassembly adds points-of-failure unreliability. If you have to unscrew the 10 screws on the back side of the device to change out the battery, it’s a hassle – but that design also gives you a chance to put a rubber gasket round the whole assembly to keep water out. If you put the battery behind a plastic door, it’s easy to change but it’s also an entry point for dirt and water.

Adding a flip hinge adds small parts that work itself loose over time and vibrate – adding noise. It’s all tradeoffs.

Or sometimes the reason is more devious – make it hard for customers to tinker with it which forces them into the service center to fix it. The service center has the zig zag 5-point star whatchamacallit tool that can open the box and you don.t

This is what I was going to say. My 7-year-old Mac desktop is a thing of beauty inside. It takes a little longer to add a new hard drive than to change a light bulb, but not by much-- It’s about comparable to the time to change a light bulb in a fancy fixture, if you don’t count the time the computer spends shutting down and re-booting.

My old small-form-factor Compaq could have been taken apart by a one-legged dog even without following the diagrams printed on the case itself, no screws involved. As RealityChuck posted, many Dells are much the same way.

The newer models continue the trend overall, but it really depends what model and what components.

For example, the new iMacs make it extremely simple for a two-armed person to replace RAM (sleep deprivation, Down’s syndrome and illiteracy shouldn’t be a problem, though). Other than RAM, though… you’re pretty much out of luck. I believe the Mac Mini is the same issue.

The tower Macs remain one of the best (if not the best) system for access and ease of swapping parts and they’ve been that way since at least since the Blue/White G3 tower with its hinged side panel that was released with a simple lever.

The new Unibodie Macbooks, have made it a little more difficult to upgrge, requiring you to remove a number of screws to open the bottem before you get anywhere near the Ram or HD. Having said that its pretty simple and most people can easily open it up to change the RAM and HD. Beyond that the difficulty sharply curves upwards.

In comparison The Dell XPS M1210 I have is quiet easy to disassemble, and you can easily replace the Keyboard, HD, and Ram by just opening a couple of screws. Beyond that, a Slightly technical person with a philips head screwdrive could easily disassemble the while machine in 20 Minutes to an hour. Most of the parts are pretty easy to replace.

Dells Latitude and Lenovo’s Thinkpads are similar in making it easy to service and replace parts as they are meant for education and enterprise, where they will often be serviced by corporate IT staff. However to afford that accessibility, they do tend to look like like beige boxes, i.e. not very stylish.

The original ThinkPad series (think mid 90’s) was about as perfect in this regard as one could get. The whole top part, with keyboard, was hinged like the hood of a car, and all you needed to do to open it was push the lid release levers in the wrong direction.

Once the top was lifted up, all of the major parts were laying there, color coded and easy to remove without screws.

The guy who maintained our network in that office commented to me how much he liked the design, saying, “It’s like a Jeep, very practical and functional.”