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back to article Apple tightens screws on hardware hackers

Apple has a long history of playing cat and mouse with software coders who seek to make its iOS operating system more accessible to their fellow geeks. Now the game is being played with hardware hackers. The Mac maker isn't terribly keen on letting ordinary folk tinker with the insides of its products, most notably with the …

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FAIL

Not that hard to find...

http://www.amazon.co.uk/Silverhill-Point-Star-Torx-bits/dp/B003ALOG06/

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Coat

Look more carefully..

Massive geekery follows. Those are five-pointed stars, with a hole - known as secure Torx. These have no hole, and the lobes are oval shaped, not triangular, meaning a torx driver could easily strip them. They're not easy to track down because the patent holder doesn't want them to be widely available.

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Er, no

Those are Torx bits. The new Apple bits are a different shape all together, more like a flower than a star. That said, i give it about 6 weeks before there are a flood of bits for these new screws. Just like the tri-wing screws before them....

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No you are wrong

First of all those are way too big to work, and secondly the new apple screws are not 5 point torx, they have rounded tips, not pointy tips. Some mac books have used 5 point torx (which apparently apple has a patent on in the US), but the new things are not torx at all.

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Bronze badge

5 point torx

have been used by Leatherman.

As Leatherman tools allow you to do several things Apple doesn't like, I doubt they're in any way affiliated, or that Apple would license the use of those screws to them.

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Silver badge

Torx

"Apple has been using torx screws for many, many years, making early Macs tricky for anyone but an authorised repair engineer to open.

The access the internet brought to Asian markets eventually made torx screwdrivers available to anyone keen enough to seek them out, and they're now readily available from many hardware shops."

Um - not to appear too picky - but Torx wrenches and drivers have been readily available for donkeys years - how far back are you thinking ? (I used to use them to open up HP HVD SCSI drives for amusement, rune inspection etc)

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Happy

I got my first set of Torx wrenches...

... in 1985, when teh intarwebs wasn't even invented yet. Asian markets didn't have anything to do with it either, the wrenches in question were made by USAG, Italian-based purveyors of fine quality tools. They were also quite expensive.

I still use them.

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Silver badge

Will take about 15 seconds

For some of these to appear on Ebay, just like the tri wing driver required for Wii and DS repairs.

Really cannot see why Apple have bothered. Why do they care what people do with product THEY bought and therefore THEY own? If they void the warranty, so what? That's their lookout, not Apples.

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Anonymous Coward

But..

You don't own the hardware, you just borrowed it for a bit.

-Steve "Heff's man" Jobs

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Silver badge

I agree entirely

I guess Apple are concerned that botched adjustments by less ethical people may lead to greater support costs at their end. Though, like you, I don't really see that they're likely to see any real improvements from this change.

First person to make a workable pun about Apple screwing things up wins a prize.

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Joke

why they bothered

isn't obvious? Steve Jobs marched into the industrial design section of Apple and demanded that they begin using star-shaped screws. Duh

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g e
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That's cos

apple still seem to think they own it after you forked over the cash. Both hardwise & softwise.

More like they granted you a license to use it with that money you gave them

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Big Brother

UV Paint?

I suspect that Apple is also spraying these with a UV reactive paint as well, knowing their 'paranoia' over warranties. This is one of the oldest techniques (IBM, since 1980 at least) for determining if a product was opened.

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Anonymous Coward

So...

Should Ford, Mercedes and BMW (to just name three) stop using proprietary fittings because people might what to fix THEIR cars that THEY own? Prat.

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Sorta makes sense to me

I think Apple is protecting themselves from idiots cracking open the case, screwing up their computer, and then trying to get it repaired under warranty. Apple can say no, sure, but then they are stuck with an unhappy customer who feels ripped off. Making it harder to open makes noobs more likely to take the computer to someone who knows what they're doing.

People knowledgable enough to do their own repairs already have the appropriate tools to open up their computer, or at the very least, know where to get them.

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Bronze badge

Perhaps it's style over substance?

Maybe Apple just thinks they're pretty?

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@So...

"Should Ford, Mercedes and BMW (to just name three) stop using proprietary fittings because people might what to fix THEIR cars that THEY own? Prat."

Um, actually; none of these have proprietary tools to get into anywhere. BMW is actually well known for needing just three commonly available tools to dismantle more than 95% of the car.

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Bingo!

"Should Ford, Mercedes and BMW (to just name three) stop using proprietary fittings because people might what to fix THEIR cars that THEY own? Prat."

The inevitable pointless Apple/car analogy.

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Torx has been around longer than Apple's use

As an authorized reseller and repair center for numerous vendors, MOST of them were using Torx in some form or fashion, especially on notebooks, and the screws securing the contents of many internal drives, back in 1997.

I've had a set of T6-15 bits since at least 1995, readily available at most hardware stores at the time. Every single screwdriver with replacible tips I've acquired since then has come with torx bits. A recent purchase of a drill bit set came with over 100 different security tips in addition to the hole boring bits, and the penta bit was included.

No, your average schmoe probably isn't going to have these on hand, especially in a generic screwdriver, but a trip to a local hardware store and $10 out to get you the bit set for this.

the bits that are really hard to come by are the ones with pins inside the holes, and other security oriented bits, requiring hollow tip or other specialty drivers, but even those bits are available at loews, sears, and even sometimes target in the larger bit sets.

Worst case, order some replacement screws and use a stripped screw extractor to remove the screw you don't have a bit for. This is a barrier to some home users, but no barrier at all to ANY authorized repair center or even remotely professional repair shop.

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Grenade

hah! Apple used Torx fasteners over a decade earlier

"I've had a set of T6-15 bits since at least 1995"

sigh.

just another Johnny-come-lately to Macintosh…

my 1986-vintage Mac Plus used Torx screws to secure the case halves; and I strongly suspect so did the original 128K and 512K Mac cases going back to 1984.

(I myself got my first Torx driver in about '92, so I could crack the case of my Plus to install a rip-roaring 40MHz Total Systems Gemini 68030 accelerator card, with its gob-smacking 4MB of 60ns RAM.)

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FAIL

What's the big deal?

If you've got the skills needed to safely replace these sorts of "non-user-replaceable" parts, you likely already own the Torx TS drivers needed to remove the screws. After all, these 5-point Torx screws are hardly restricted to Apple, and your usual industrial tool distributors are happy to sell you the correct drivers for them.

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Anonymous Coward

Simple trick

A simple trick for getting almost any screw out of plastic whatever the socket shape is this: Find a flat blade screwdriver just wide enough to span the inside of the screw head. Carefully warm up the screw head with a soldering iron for a few seconds. The heat conducts through the screw and softens the plastic around the threads enough to let go slightly. Gently wind out screw with screwdriver. This works fine with even or odd lobed screws, such as Nindendo's tri-wing. Screw heads without a socket at all can still be done with the same technique but use needle-nosed pliers instead of a screwdriver.

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Coat

Damn...!

If I had the ready cash I could buy up a batch of these things, repackage them as iDrivers™ and clean up!

...At least they haven't gone so far as to use breakaway bolts, yet...

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WTF?

Pointless...

Nintendo used a weird 3 triwing type of screwdriver on some of their devices too, it wasn't long before the necessary screwdrivers became widely available... Using a nonstandard type of screw head is just ridiculous.

What does annoy me however, when the first unibody macbook pros became available you could easily remove the HDD from the slot underneath, with the newer ones you now have to take the whole bottom panel off which involves something like 10 very tiny screws, plus 2 more screws holding the disk down and 4 more (Torx headed) screws in the drive itself...

With most other laptops the drive is on a tray that slots in the side and is easily removed. I have to change drives for different purposes, and sometimes when working on a particular job am expected to leave my HD behind on the customer's site etc...

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WTF?

Hmm..

Surely the people who like hacking kit (both in a hardware and software sense) would be doing it if the things were held together with thumbscrews too? Putting odd screws in there isn't any sort of challenge to a hacker. None of them get any hacker cred just by being able to order a particular screwdriver from Amazon.

I think this report is massively overstating the significance of the type of screws Apple are using. Are you sure you're not becoming a bit obssessed?

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Silver badge

Oh noes!

Using special screws! What a dastardly plot!

I remember Rolls-Royce used to do that, too.

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Pint

Eh?

"Wiens beef with this is that the use of obscure screws makes Apple's machines less easy to repair. That, in turn, reduces the hardware's longevity, ensuring that more machines will end up in landfill.

In fact, Apple machines - Macs particularly - are notoriously long-lived, with owners passing them on to friends and relatives after new models have been bought"

Uh ... can you back this up with any, y'know, facts/statistics? Or is this just opinion?

I know lots of heavy mac users who have needed to have theirs repaired, or have done their own repairs, myself included.

Not sure why mac hardware would be any "longer-lived" than other brands which use the same generic intel hardware, care to explain ...?

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Take a wider view than "it's an intel PC"

None of these points are backed with any stats - I'm not going to that effort for a Reg comment post for an AC. So, points to consider:

* Mac owners tend to pay more for their kit than PC owners and be prouder of it (fanboi stylee), so tend to keep it longer before replacement.

* PCs often get replaced when they get slow due to Windows cruft, or infestation by malware, or they've just broken. Macs get replaced when they're broken (but often have 3 year warranty so even that can take longer) - or a new shiny! comes along.

* Macs replaced by new Shiny!s get passed down the family or sold, rather than tossed in a cupboard/bin, because they're still worth a lot of cash on eBay etc. So they tend to live on.

* Mac owners are much less likely to go digging into the innards of their kit - because there's nothing to upgrade apart from RAM, maybe HD, and they're often a bit tricky to get into. Less digging by random people = less breakage.

* Mac kit is of sturdier construction than the usual plastic shatterable £250 laptop. It has to be, to partly justify the pricing.

* Older Macs are still viable for running modern software. I know various people still using G3 and G4 iBooks and Powerbooks, kit six or more years old.

* The upgrade cycle can be much slower on kit where no games can be played! It's only very recently that games have come onboard for Mac users, so this may change in future.

Wiens beef is just nonsense. Anyone who really wants to repair a Mac - and can afford the evil prices for the screen and motherboard parts - can do so, with the help of ifixit.com and similar.

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Pint

So in other words...

or to summarise in much shorter form, no, you can't back this up, it's just opinion.

Carry on.

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Anonymous Coward

Very old hat

5 point torx have been very common on cars for the last 10 years or so. They are a damned nuisance, as the Mercede's dealers service departments found when Mercedes decided, I believe quite recently, to use them in door mirrors. but forgot to tell the dealerships. The service managers were not at all pleased, as, apparently it quintupled the time taken to change a door mirror, when the mechanic had to make a new tool to fit the head! Having over the years produced various bastard type screwdrivers to undo things, I totally loathe any product which is made difficult to repair. Probably Apple were led into this move by a supplier who wanted to increase his lockin. It fails, as the tools are readily available and easy to fabricate with a Dremel, a cutting disc and a little patience. They are easily replaced with normal screws in most circumstances.

Torx head woodscrews however, are much better for insertion than the normal four point type.

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Bronze badge
Grenade

I laugh at your puny attempts to defy me

and then reach for the right sized flat-blade and small hammer.

Yes I do, and it works. Most screws are soft enough that you can wedge a sharp blade in and then undo and replace with something nicer.

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dumb

I don't understand why Apple wants to attempt to alienate their more technical customers. I understand locking stuff down to make the product easier to use for everyday folks, but stuff like this only encourages hackers to buy products from another vendor...

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Thumb Up

Size/Profiel

Ok things are getting smaller. take a look at the first image above, its look to patrude a good couple of mm up from the base of the head, the middle image looks slightly flatter and the final *new* image looks the the screw head is only about 1or2mm deep, thus smaller gadgets need smaller componants. small compoanants needs small things to hold them together.

its ok making things small, but you gota make them tuff.. perhaps a torx head isnt as strong once you start to machine the head thinner....? thus a redesign of a stronger design is needed.

But yeh, they wana stop you opening up there 'majic box'!

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FAIL

Pah..

And THIS is why none of my family will buy Apple products.

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Anonymous Coward

Really?!

Because of the type of screw they use? Sorry, but that is absoultely fucking pathetic.

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FAIL

Just made pentalobe popular

Major fail by Apple. Up till now I would guess that pentalobe screws pretty secure as not many would know about their existence (amazon not withstanding) and not many products would have them. Now that Apple use them they've just made the screws mainstream. Now it will be worthwhile for companies to start mass producing the screws and drivers. In short order everyman and his dog will be able to get the screwdrivers. So all that Apple have done is created a slight pause in the hackers work. They will never be able to stop them.

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Bring it on...

Every time Apple do this, I show a relevant article to my boss, and he signs a form so I can get a new set of tools.

I don't do a great deal of work on Macs, but you have to be prepared...

Back in the day Mac SE30s had a plastic lid melted over the screw holes, and any DIY repairs would be immediately apparent, and warranties voided. It was a bit of a bugger - there was a half AA battery on the motherboard that powered the PRAM, and when it went flat, the Mac stopped work - I forget how much Apple wanted to replace it, but voiding the (already expired) warranty and fitting a 50p battery from Mapin saved shed loads of cash. I think it was the advent of the Centris and Performa models that allowed a little user intervention, but very limited - only Apple CD-ROMs and HDDs etc would work...

Plus ça change and all that....

As for the longevity of Apple products - they're not any better in my experience than any other well made machine, and in the case of the polycarbonate unibody macbooks, not as good- it's amazing how quickly a student can make the shiny white case look shabby.

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Pint

Don't play their game

Stop collecting ever more stupid ended screwdrivers and get a dremel and a good collection of small drill bits and a selection of little philips screws.

Drill out their wacky screw and put your own in it's place.

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Boffin

It's called being a control freak

Just as the title says. Those corps should realize that all this does, like most DRM, is aggravate people ...

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FAIL

Torx hard to find???

Total bollocks. Torx are popular in the electronics industry and have been for yearssbecause they are easy to use at very small sizes. Getting hold of the drivers might have been trickier in the days before the internet but then so was getting hold a 58mm socket. RS, Rapid and Farnells have always carried them.

Even Torx Security were never that hard to find.......

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Not only Apple...

IBM exclusively used TORX with a centre pin on many of their products, tools for these were also initially hard to obtain.

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Headmaster

Typos

"pentalobe screwdrivers are few and far better"

You meant "few and far between," although Apple would probably approve of you thinking anything it does is far better.

Sub-editors: they really did have a purpose

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Anonymous Coward

You mean they haven't patented the driver and screws used?

Someone is gong to get fired for this!

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Silver badge
Headmaster

Torx

....aren't intended as anti-tamper bits. They're used because they're more suited to the automatic drivers used on assembly lines. They're quicker for the operator to attach to the driver head than a Phillips (or more likely Pozidriv) screw, and the bit doesn't slip out when the screw is tightened (oooer...).

btw, Phillips != Cross-head.

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Silver badge

Longevity?

In my experience a laptop will probably need 2 or 3 upgrades to its memory and about the same for its disk before its reached the of its useful life. How is a system with soldered in DIMMs going to managed that?

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Anonymous Coward

RE: Longevity?

Decent memory management in the OS. Simple really.

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Confused.com

How did you get from awkward screw heads to soldered-in DIMMs?

I think the only Apple machines that you could be talking about is the Air, but as with other ultra thin and light laptops I don't think it's a unique problem, but it is a niche market.

I have a MBP that is just coming up to three years old, it still has the same HD and memory that it came with, still boots in under two minutes and is every bit as usable as it was when I first got it, even running the latest version of OSX.

By contrast, the slightly better specced Windows machine that I acquired at roughly the same time couldn't even run the copy of Vista that it shipped with in any meaningful way, so had to be downgraded to XP (perhaps I should say upgraded) and really needs a rebuild as it now takes ~15 minutes to boot. I might try W7 to see how it copes.

In short, you're not comparing like with like.

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Jobs Horns

Dammit....

I'm getting to the point of wanting to switch the office workstations back to Windows (Not a hater, just a bit MORE management required). It's not like I'm going to be able to run off of XServes anymore!!!

This is just bullshit that they continuously do this, and they are wasting their own time by going through all this extra effort just to annoy people that will find a way around these things anyway.

All it is is a mold and some metal pours, that' all it takes! Or, some will just be stripped trying to get into the machine, and then be replaced with philips heads that fit, that will undoubtedly be sold soon.

Others might say: "But this screws (no pun intended) the warranty!" Do you really think the people opening their Macs care about the warranty THAT much?

Didn't Apple/Jobs (hand-in-hand) say that they wanted to get their machines into the enterprise? Not with their constantly retarded screw changing policy to INTENTIONALLY keep people out of doing something as simple as a memory upgrade!

Why doesn't every machine just come stamped with the words "FUCK YOU" in the middle of the Apple logo? (Hey, it hasn't hurt Facebook at all!)

EVIL STEVE!

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Anonymous Coward

IT'S A FUCKING SCREW!!!

I smell a troll...

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