OWC: Apple’s design changes to new iMacs restrict main drive upgrades

Apple’s design changes their new iMacs prevent firms from doing third-party upgrades to the main hard drive, according to Other World Computing (OWC).

OWC Blog reports, “For the main 3.5-inch SATA hard drive bay in the new 2011 machines, Apple has altered the SATA power connector itself from a standard 4-pin power configuration to a 7-pin configuration. Hard drive temperature control is regulated by a combination of this cable and Apple proprietary firmware on the hard drive itself. From our testing, we’ve found that removing this drive from the system, or even from that bay itself, causes the machine’s hard drive fans to spin at maximum speed and replacing the drive with any non-Apple original drive will result in the iMac failing the Apple Hardware Test (AHT).”

“Now this isn’t to say that our Turnkey Upgrade Program isn’t going to include the new model iMacs. The external eSATA port, or adding hard drives or SSDs in addition to the main hard drive are still perfectly viable and working options in our testing so far. But it isn’t looking good at the moment to have the option to upgrade or even replace the main 3.5″ hard drive as shipped from Apple,” OWC Blog writes. “It really begins to raise questions: Is this planned obsolescence at work, or is the freedom promised in 1984 being revoked?”

Read more in the full article here.

[Thanks to MacDailyNews readers too numerous to mention individually for the heads up.]


  1. The percentage is very low for adventuresome people that want to tear their new iMac apart. The numbers are fewer still for those that can actually pull this roundtrip off successfully. Anyone left can strap on a GoPro camera and record the death of their iMac in 1080p.

    1. That’s why OWC has a service that does the work for you.

      Plus, even if the owner has no need or desire to do an “upgrade,” it is quite possible that the hard drive will fail during the time of ownership. If it happens under warranty or AppleCare, no problem. If the owner has to pay Apple to repair it, it will be MUCH more expensive than a “self-repair” with a generic hard drive.

      1. The 500GB Western Digital drive in my iMac failed, and I replaced it with a 1TB Hitachi. It took about an hour because I was being extra careful, but it wasn’t that difficult. It’s still working perfectly.

        Given that the machine will probably last longer than the drive, I *do* want to be able to replace the drive myself.

        1. Good points all, though I fall into the camp of DIY upgrader. One of the first things I’d do is install a SSD as my boot drive, which is probably possible if the new iMacs have a second drive bay with “normal” SATA connectors, which the OWC report appears to indicate.

          I’d like to think that this mod by Apple will drive 3rd-party vendors to adopt a matching connector that works. Hopefully the 3rd party option will be available about the time that the 1-year warranties run out or there will be hordes of unhappy campers who have to pay for Apple to repair a failed drive. OTOH, here’s hoping that the drives Apple is using have long lives.

    2. I recently had a service provider replace my iMac’s hard drive for more storage. So no, I don’t want to tear into the iMac guts myself, but I paid a service provider to do it. Will I be able to do that with future iMacs?

      1. For adding “more storage” on a stationary Mac (not a MacBook), adding it externally is more practical. Going forward, it will be even better because a drive connected through Thunderbolt will be VERY fast for data access.

        Keeping most of your data on an external drive allow dedicating the internal drive to mostly holding OS and app files. This arrangement is efficient and reduces fragmentation of large files and free space over time (and probably reduces wear-and-tear on the internal drive). When it’s time to upgrade to a new Mac, most of your data is on the external drive which you can move to the new Mac (no need for “data migration” of hundreds of GBs of user files).

        My iMac is getting old, but that’s how I use it. It has a small 160GB internal drive, which holds mostly the OS and app files. Most of my user data is on two external FireWire drives. It’s all backed up to a very large external USB drive using Time Machine. The arrangement works quite well, even through the iMac itself is old. When I get a new Mac, it will probably have a relatively small SSD for the OS and app files, with my data on a Thunderbolt external hard drive.

        1. Sounds like the thinking person’s excellent solution. I like the idea of connecting using Thunderbolt. But I have to ask: Faster throughput than an internal eSATA drive? I dunno. I’d still like my OS and apps on an SSD.

          1. By “even better,” I meant even better than the previous best external drive data connection speed (for most Macs), FireWire 800. I’m sure the internal SATA is still better as a purely data connection. 🙂

            I find that even pokey USB 2.0 is fast enough for most data needs. It’s certainly fast enough for backing up data using Time Machine. It’s fast enough for iTunes to store its media files. It’s fast enough as an archive for (non-changing) video and image files. If you’re doing something like high-end video or audio processing, then having the highest speed data access is important. Otherwise, it won’t make that much difference to the user’s experience. With Thunderbolt for external storage, it probably won’t make ANY difference.

  2. I’m not one to get into zealous apologetics when it comes to Apple’s occasionally-too-restrictive practices, but now that Thunderbolt is here, maybe they figure the end-user can just buy an external drive. I know Apple’s philosophy used to be about keeping things as uncluttered as possible, but maybe they figure that between having users take apart a complex, integrated unit (thus risking damage to the unit, especially considering how tightly packed iMacs are these days) and having to require users use up ALL THAT DESK SPACE on a 3.5″ device, the latter sounded more feasible.

    In regards to OWC’s 1984 comment, do recall that the original Mac was never meant to utilize mass storage at all – the first Mac hard drive was shoehorned into the 128K’s FLOPPY controller. A proper hard drive interface didn’t arrive on the Mac for another two years (the legendary Mac Plus).

    Thunderbolt, on the other hand, is tailor-made for fast storage and IO operations. I would call that LESS restrictive.

    I, for one, appreciate not needing to open the computer to upgrade its storage.

  3. I’ll eventually replace my drive. It doesn’t scare me, been tearing things apart for 30 years… My new iMac isn’t any different.
    Not that I NEED to anytime soon however..
    my game pc, has a 1tb drive also, used 350gb in 2.5 years. The iMac drive will last me a long time.
    I bought the 1tb with that in mind, upgrade it later.

  4. This decision was probably made with full knowledge of how many people change out their drives. The benefit of having the integrated sensor outweighed the minuscule number of HD swappers (or people that buy the system with the tiny drive, then upgrade aftermarket).

  5. Actually the front glass is just held on by magnets and it is rather simple to open the machine. I think this is a douche-bag move by Apple Inc. to keep their margins on internal components artificially high. There seems to be no engineering need for such a setup. If the drive fails you have to pay twice as much to replace it for half the capacity. Wrong direction Apple.

    1. While there’s “margin” in upgrades for internal components for Apple, I don’t think there’s any real money in it.

      Apple knows that no one actually upgrades the drives in MacBooks and iMacs, and I think they’d be just as happy to never do this for a customer regardless of the margin on it.

      1. Agreed. I conflated 2 different points there. The margin is mostly at point of purchase (ram, HD upgrades cost much more that the market when configuring the system).
        The higher price after the purchase is to the pain of the consumer (like mac video cards) less to the benefit of Apple.
        But if I can’t buy the base model iMac and add the cheaper, better components after market, then I have to max it out when I buy it.

        1. Likewise. MBP…MB…old iMac. But, it would seem that someone will figure out a way to replace all of the components involved in a HD swapout. Are we sure there is not a workaround for “Apple proprietary firmware on the hard drive itself.” OWC is great. But, there may be a solution.

    1. I got mine 2 days ago, it screams.

      Just thought I’d rub that in 😉

      And just because apple changed the hardware on the hd now, doesn’t mean that in the coming months somebody will offer a replacement drive that doesn’t have the problems owc stated.

    2. Mine is waiting to be ordered by IT. For the first time ever, they asked if I wanted their “standard build” or would configure it myself &mdash the times they are a-changin’..

  6. Let me get this straight. Are they imagining Apple has some nefarious motive for altering the connector rather than improving cooling and possibly other functions? Are they suggesting a mean-spirited plot to foil that teens percentage of users who for some reason have to tinker with the drive? Or that the company cares more about obstructing these few rather than continually improving the finest user experience available for everyone?

    1. There are different ways of achieving an objective. *If* Apple is diverging form industry standard SATA connections on its OEM HDDs then I will have a *major* problem with it. Could it simply be the leading edge of a new Apple-driven HDD technology transition? If OWC’s claim is correct, then I certainly hope so. Otherwise Apple is going to catch it from a lot of people. Apple has been known to make ill-considered design decisions from time to time.

      I am withholding judgment for now – not enough information. I suggest patience from the rest of the Mac faithful until things become clearer. No need to let other people push your buttons for their own enjoyment.

  7. Ah, this isn’t good. To me, hard drives are like light bulbs. They WILL go out and it’s always comforting to know you can easily replace them. In all honesty, I wouldn’t be replacing an iMac internal hard drive anyway, given that you have to remove the display’s glass to get into the system. That’s been the case for years now. All I can say is it’s best to get Applecare and pray that this hard drive plug configuration doesn’t disappear like the past Apple proprietary plug configurations (ie. ADC, ADB etc). Might make compatible hard drives hard to find a few years from now, in addition to freezing you into ‘Apple’s 2011 hard drive size’ era. Just look at the sizes of hard drives offered by Apple in their computers five years ago compared to what’s on the 3rd party market today and you’ll get my meaning. My five year old iMac came with an 128Gig hard drive. If it failed today in this era of affordable multi-terra byte drives, would Apple replace it with another ‘compatible’ 128Gig drive?

  8. I know I am going to get ripped for this comment, yet again, but anyways…

    I don’t believe Macs are designed to be “upgraded” – I never have. They are meant to just work, not to be tinkered with. Sorry, but that is how they are designed. Want to tinker? Get a big PC with 90% air inside and go to town.

    I do not feel sorry for OWC which seems to be the mentality on tap here. They have plenty of customers and other offerings. “Innovate” and not just upgrade is a better business model. That’s what made Apple so good and that will be helpful for OWC to remember.

    1. $1000 for a ram upgrade from apple while you order, or $100 from owc after the fact. I forget what the upgrade cost was from 1tb-2tb but it was a lot higher than retail after the fact.

      Upgrade and replacement are two different things. You had to buy from hp to replace something in an hp, same with Dell anymore.
      If a hd fails out of warranty… I’ll replace it at a fraction of the cost apple wants.
      Hell my PowerMac g5 I bought, the vid card died 2 months after I got it, $1000 from apple for a replacement… Or I found a radeon 9800 pro in one of my old pc’s. Reflashed it for Mac, and it works great.

    2. “Upgrade” is different from “tinker” in my book. HDD and RAM replacements and upgrades have long been fair game on home computers. Apple even began to facilitate this type of activity on some models (Mac Pros) or in limited ways (RAM doors on recent iMacs and Mac minis), and by switching to IDE (now SATA) HDDs and standard SIMMs and DIMMs, etc. Only the graphics card remained a problem in terms of “normal” upgrade capabilities (except in the case of the Mac Pro).

      I am not “ripping” you. But a company should not deviate from standards unless they have a very good reason. The better approach is to stick with the standards while helping to establish a new standard that incorporates the new features.

  9. I can think of a very good reason why Apple doesn’t want people mucking around inside their iMacs. Suppose A does a dimwitted upgrade to their iMac, the iMac stops working properly, but A doesn’t have the technical expertise to understand that the symptoms are caused by his upgrade. He takes the machine into the store, and the Apple Genius has two problems: convincing a very skeptical customer that the problem comes from his upgrade, and fixing a configuration he wasn’t trained for (Apple can’t train geniuses for all possible hardware combinations). The customer will go away steamed.

    It’s in Apple’s best interest to keep customers out of the innards. It’s better for the customer to be unhappy that he can’t upgrade the computer himself than it is to convince the customer that he caused his own problem and to pay for the solution.

    1. Except the hd and ram ARE user upgradable. Search around, it doesn’t void the warranty. Odds are the genius will be able to explain the problem to the idiot.. Err customer.
      The people that would open the iMac to swap the hd… Generally know what they are doing.
      The customer you speak about, would see what they have to do… And either decide against it, or find someone to do it for them.
      I have never had a problem tearing into some electronic device to repair it, I saw the video on how to replace an iMacs hd.. First thought was holy crap.
      It won’t stop me, but I know it does stop others.
      The customer you speak of, would be rare IMO.

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