No aftermarket SSD for your new 21.5-inch iMac; custom connector means factory SSD or none at all?

“Following our post about Japanese Mac site Kodawarisan‘s teardown of the newly redesigned 21.5-inch iMac, we (and commenters) were left with several questions,” Lee Hutchinson reports for Ars Technica. “Chief among them was whether or not the new iMac would allow the installation of a third-party solid state disk.”

“Computer-savvy DIY fans had hoped to continue doing what they’ve been doing with iMacs for years by finding a place to mount their own SSDs somewhere inside the case, but it looks like this won’t be happening,” Hutchinson reports. “The connector to actually plug in the SSD is missing. It seems that the connector isn’t even added at the factory for the base model.”

Hutchinson reports, “Further, a scouring of the logic board reveals no spare SATA ports anywhere. The SATA connector used for the iMac’s 2.5-inch hard disk drive appears to be the only one present inside the computer.”

Read more in the full article here.

MacDailyNews Take: If you want to add an aftermarket SSD to your 21.5-inch iMac, you do not rip it apart looking for a port on the logic board, hoping to shove a drive in sideways before re-gluing the thing back together. Apple gave you two Thunderbolt ports for a reason. Use them.


      1. @ Marc & MDN: do please tell us where you found your external thunderbolt-interface SSD, and what it costs.

        iMacs may be great machines for people who need big desk-mounted laptops, but they are definitely a turn-off for experienced computer users who expect to do revolutionary things like upgrade graphics, RAM, or hard drive without buying $40 cables and 3rd party boxes.

        Once again, Apple makes it very expensive and not particularly user-friendly for the productivity user to consider the iMac — i.e., those of us who have to spend top dollar to get Mac Pros, which of course are NOT thunderbolt equipped. So all those 3rd party accessories you recommend we start buying for the iMac, MDN, how are they supposed to be used with an existing office full of MAc Pros? Speaking of which, when was the last time the Mac Pro offered a factory graphics card upgrade?

        Hey, if Apple wants people to go elsewhere for their computing solutions, it’s their business. But some of these decisions are just plain inconsistent and confounding.

          1. You neglected to answer his second question: what it costs.

            A 120 GB SSD is $300. That’s 3x the price for a decent self-install module from a reputable maker, and portability might not be what someone’s after.

            1. Obviously, I was being glib. Perhaps too much. I was simply making the point that they exist. If he doesn’t like the price point, that’s his problem.

              An iMac has never been a particularly upgradeable machine. Anyone that opened one up and wasn’t an authorized Apple repair technician immediately voided their warranty (except in the case of the iMac G5, which allowed the user to replace almost every part in the computer on their own, including the logic board). The iMac has long been a machine meant to be purchased at its optimum point and replaced when it becomes too underpowered to meet your needs.

              Obviously, there are a small percentage of people (that appear to be quite vocal) that want an upgradeable iMac, but that’s not Apple’s target market with this device, and hasn’t been for a long time.

              Lastly, iMacs maintain a rather significant resale value while still under warranty. If you anticipate the need to upgrade the hardware in a year or two, get AppleCare and resell your iMac and put the money toward buying a new one. Or buy the bigger, better version to begin with.

              One thing is for certain, coming on MDN and complaining about how a consumer-level device is not upgradeable enough and that Apple is “doing it wrong” is not going to change Apple’s mind. In fact, sending them feedback and filing petitions likely won’t change their mind, either. This is a decision they came to after years of market research into their own and competitors’ products. Enough people are willing to pay the premium prices for the factory installed RAM and SSDs, and that’s unlikely to change anytime soon.

            2. I stand by my assessment that Thunderbolt is currently both expensive and limiting, as well as not being supported universally across Apple machines, let alone across the computing industry.

              If you read down this page, you’ll see I’m not alone in being extremely disappointed by Apple’s latest step against user upgradeability.

              … and yes, i am very familiar with my drawer of special cable adapters that I had to buy because some idiot at Apple decided to be different — not better, just different.

            3. You may not be alone, but I can guarantee you and the others that are disappointed won’t be enough to reverse this decision. Whining about it will not mean the next version will suddenly be more expandable.

              Apple’s opinion is clear: If you want expandability, buy a 27″ iMac, buy a Mac Pro, or buy a PC.

        1. They’re not making the iMacs for us. They’re making them for the everyday consumer. We’re still waiting for the new Mac Pros. Hold on a little bit longer and I think we’ll finally have that long awaited upgrade. New Mac Pro is supposedly coming early next year. But Apple is only concerned with the everyday consumer. That’s where they make all their money. Professionals are simply an afterthought. And maybe not even that for much longer. But there is no alternative now. Hopefully that will change in the future.

        2. As an experienced computer user, I do NOT have the patience to deal with the bullshit of upgrading the GPU, RAM, or hard drive anymore.

          Ship a computer with a fast GPU and enough RAM/HD space in the first place or get it out of my sight. That’s become my attitude.

          So Apple’s decision suits me just fine.

          Also, anybody who fetishizes user expandability was never going to by a Mac anyway. So who exactly are they alienating with this? Neckbeards who were never going to be their customers? Oh no.

  1. Great MDN Take. Also…

    If you want to tear it apart, you CAN replace the stock 2.5-inch hard drive with an SSD of that same form factor, which are readily available and usually the least expensive per GB. The “factory” SSD for the new iMac is like the one used in recent MacBook models (a “non-standard” size-optimized form). So, if you replace the 2.5-inch hard drive with an SSD, you can add a “massive storage” 3.5-inch hard drive as an external disk using Thunderbolt or the much cheaper USB 3.0.

  2. So why should only RAM be upgradable? Hard drive prices increase and prices drop over time. I just may want to give my Mac an upgrade in 2 years time with some more RAM and more SSD space. And no, I don’t want some device dangling off the side.

    1. Actually, the RAM requires the same arduous disassembly if you want to upgrade it (after purchase) to 16GB. That is, for the 21.5-inch model. But the stock 8GB is a very good amount. MacBook Air and Pro only have 4GB as the “standard” amount.

      If you buy it with SSD storage, then it should have the special internal connector and “bay” for the SSD module. So, I think a vendor like OWC will offer a service to upgrade it to larger SSD capacity, and you can have them upgrade the RAM modules (and maybe the hard drive) at the same time.

      They have a video showing the disassembly, and it’s not something I would want to do myself. And I’m pretty handy with taking stuff apart and putting them back together. It looks like a huge pain…

  3. Something tells me that Ive didn’t agree with this.
    The whole point of the clean lines of the iMac is to have this wonderfully designed exterior mirror the equally thought out interior. By forcing the performance end of the market to plug in an external drive you’ve lost the whole point of the excercise. Looks like the accountants are taking over at Apple that’s not a good sign.

    1. Do many people on the “performance end” of the market buy 21″ iMacs?

      Buying an all in one design probably isn’t a good idea for people who don’t want to plug in external drives. I have 3 raid enclosures connected to my 2010 27″ iMac, and I somehow don’t think Jony would be upset.

  4. If you are the adventurous type you could try the following:
    Purchase a 500GB buffalo thunderbolt ministation external, a 480GB mercury pro 6G SSD, take apart the ministation, replace the standard HDD with the SSD, then you would have a external thunderbolt drive with a bad ass SSD solution, wouldn’t be really cheap, but it would be impressive speedwise.

  5. Check out OWC at and see what they can offer. They can upgrade the memory in the new iMacs for sure. I watched one of their videos and it can be done. I would recommend sending the iMac to them and let them do it. I’ve used them for a number upgrades to my Macs. Hope this helps.

      1. I don’t think they are offering anything yet. They are still in TBA mode. But they did take-apart their 21.5-inch iMac to learn how to do it, and installed their store RAM (16GB), so it is possible to do an upgrade, and likely that they will offer it as a service at some point.

        They post the info in their blog

  6. “MacDailyNews Take: If you want to add an aftermarket SSD to your 21.5-inch iMac, you do not rip it apart looking for a…”

    Yeah, don’t do that. By glueing the damned thing together, Apple has made it abundantly clear that you are not to touch the internals of the machine that you paid for. In a few years, when SSDs are cheaper and have twice the capacity, you are to buy a new machine and not to consider upgrading what you have. Got that? Good. Now get back in line and shut up.

    1. The iMac will not need an upgrade for its intended use. If you want it for some other use, simply buy the appropriate machine. i.e. one with 16GB or a 27 inch with other better features. This upgrading in a “few years” down the road is NONSENSE. By the time you get to the point where you NEED to upgrade the memory, so many other things will have changed such that the upgrade of the memory is not going to solve your problem……the upgrade at that point becomes a NEW machine.

      1. I’ve never owned a computer that I did not end up maxing the RAM and swapping the HD during the life of the machine.

        I’m decently new hardware early 2011 MVP 13 got it with 8 Gigs and I’m ready to take it to 16.

        I’m sorry I can’t agree with replacing the entire device because someone engineered a machine that’s glued together.

      2. Who’s intended use? Apple’s or mine? I’m sure Apple would prefer that I buy a totally new machine a few years down the road rather than make what should be some minor upgrades to deal with increasing software memory requirements. But you seem quite sure. Do you work for Apple or something?

  7. The next evolution of SSD will be the integration of NAND Flash directly on the motherboard, using a NVMe controller such as the one recently announced by IDT.

    Good bye SATA, we won’t miss you.

    1. There’s a lot of computers out there today that have 1TB drives that are sitting 75% empty; the general use case for individuals who need a 4TB are a quite specialized niche (eg, serious photographers (who shoot in RAW) and movie fans (who have ripped most of their collection).

      Personally, I do have a bit of concern over not having an OEM SSD option available to replace the boot (and only) drive, but then again, most consumers who are buying the “base model” aren’t necessarily after maximized performance and in this regard, even a ‘mere’ 1TB drive and ‘only’ 8GB of RAM are twice what they need.

      One needs to be able to recognize when one is no longer representative of the typical consumer’s use case and act accordingly.


  8. Apple has jumped the shark. Wow the iMac looks cool being so thin, there’s no reason for it to HAVE to be so thin. It could be thicker and be upgradeable. The accountants really have taken over at Apple.

        1. I didn’t say the gas tank was sealed or the starter was disabled, just implying that doing any routing maintenance or minor modification will be a lot more difficult that it needs to be.

  9. Sorry, MDN, but you’re ridiculously off on this. What the hell is the point of streamlining any system so artfully that you then have to have a damned octopus of cables and tentacles and gear coming out of it just to get it fully functional? e.g., “Yes, give me a 1TB 2.5″ drive in an iMac and then tell me to buy all kinds of HD movies via iTunes to watch at my leisure along with all that music as well movies made with iLife, etc. and, well, looks like I ran out of space.” Who could have seen that coming, a designer, perhaps? For as much as Apple sells its ecosystem, some of the design decisions here seem to have forgotten about that ecosystem and the native hardware that would allow it to truly flourish without the need for upgrades.

    I love the idea, speed, and utility of the Thunderbolt ports but that doesn’t mean I want to have to buy excess external equipment to clutter up the surroundings of such a stellar design without need, simply to return some degree of functionality that was chucked off the design bench. Believe it or not, Apple sometimes does some dopey things that have no better purpose than to shoehorn consumers into their own components that would otherwise be standard. It’s like they’re deliberately building in the overpriced upgrades (e.g., storage and RAM) that any savvy consumer would know better to get elsewhere and install on their own. To say that Ive and his crew couldn’t make this without some proprietary SSD twist, hell, much less an access port for RAM and such, is actually an insult to them. I hope somebody comes out with an aftermarket magnetic screen mounting system/service that does away with the glue and foam. There appears to be decent lip inside the aluminum case that could easily allow for that. Sorry, some of these design decisions were/are needless. They could have easily maintained the current form and allowed for the same level of prior functionality.

    With that said, I had been wondering if Apple might start using their MacBook Air or Pro SSDs to create the Fusion drives, particularly for the Mini, even though there is enough internal room for 2 2.5″ drives a la the server mode (Get that MDN? The effing Mini has room for 2 standard 2.5″ drives but the iMac just had to have something fancy. Fail.). That at least would be consistent with Apple’s focus on having a number of their computer components that show up across their products, potentially saving them money by having that part of their supply line streamlined.

  10. When the iMac first came out, people who were upgraders hated it. They couldn’t upgrade to a larger screen.

    This seems like a natural progression for the iMac. I don’t like it, though… on my iMac 20″ (2006) as I’ve changed the DVD (from a ripped apart external Apple SuperDrive), the hard drive (upgraded to 2TB), the sound card when that went, and of course RAM (that was easy).

    I’m not a tinkerer by any means. But it was kind of fun to take it apart and put it back together again.

    It’s still a great machine. Can’t believe it has lasted so long. Though, I guess that means I’m bad for the economy… as I’m not consuming more and more…

  11. What is the percentage of people who buy the iMac with any idea of upgrading? Probably less than 1%. The iMac isn’t made for that, dull non-Inspiron is. It seems a number of the complainers on this thread are from Round Rock.

    1. Nobody buys an iMac with the plan of eventually upgrading the video card and dropping in an over clocked processor like it’s some generic box from Microcenter.

      But it’s not unreasonable to expect to be able to bump up the RAM when one discovers that iMovie ’15 is taking up all of the 8GB that originally came with their machine. Those people who were born with the regrettable lack of prescience to predict their computing needs several years in advance will need to shell out $1700 for new machine instead of $50 for a couple of DIMMs that a trained chimp should be able to install.

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