Apple Restricts Hard Drive Upgrades in Thunderbolt iMacs

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Apple has seemingly gone to great lengths to make replacing the main 3.5” hard drive in your iMac all but impossible unless you do it through Apple. According to analysis by Other World Computing — a company that offers hard drive and other upgrades for Apple’s Mac product line — Apple is now using a proprietary cable and a proprietary temperature and fan control system that results in the iMac failing a hardware test if replaced.

There are two components to these changes. The first is a proprietary 7-pin connector that Apple used to replace the industry-standard 4-pin connector. The additional pins are apparently used to connect a proprietary sensor — the second component — in Apple-branded hard drives to the logic board.

“From our testing,” OWC wrote in a blog post, “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).”

In other words, users can no longer replace the Apple-branded hard drive in their Mac without doing it through Apple, though owners can install install a second drive in their system.

“It really begins to raise questions,” OWC asked rhetorically. “Is this planned obsolescence at work, or is the freedom promised in 1984 being revoked?”

Apple has long made a practice of making it difficult for users to replace some components on their Macs, particularly on consumer models like the iMac, and in its MacBook and MacBook Pro products. This is the first time, however, that Apple has made it so that your Mac becomes unusable if you replace a hard drive.

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I cannot be too critical on this. It’s a throwback to the bad old days when Apple parts were unique, expensive, and hard to come by. I also am very bothered by any company going away from standards. Dell has been doing that with other parts and it’s a pain in the a$$. Apple doing it is unconscionable.

Ross Edwards

owners can install install a second drive in their system.

Is this new to the 2011 iMac?  My 2009 iMac appears to have no provision for the addition of an internal HDD, and I was unaware that it had been added in the meanwhile.  I was kind of wondering why they were offering an SSD+HDD option, and maybe this is the answer?

Honestly, most casual users shouldn’t be replacing their main HDD anyway, and most tech-heads will find a workaround for this.  (From what I have read, it is because the temperature sensor that used to be glued to the HDD exterior is now commonly built into the HDD by the manufacturer, with pinout support, and Apple simply adopted the options they were offered.)  In essence, the people for whom this presents a dealbreaker-level issue probably aren’t likely to be Mac buyers in the first place.

For 99.999% of all users, an iMac that can have a second internal HDD added relatively easily (regular SATA-II, etc) would not to present a usage problem, and I would suspect the change to the main HDD hookup reduces the rate of system failure besides.  Going forward, I could see buying a 2011 iMac with an SSD for the main HDD and then slapping in some 3TB or larger monster for media as a secondary HDD.


Dell did this years ago in many of their towers. The HD and fan had proprietary connectors and parts had to be purchased from Dell’s sole authorized parts distributor. I’m glad they gave up that boondoggle (I stopped buying Dell BTW for the office).

If you’re going to do something like this, why not announce it to your customers ahead of time instead of taking yet another PR hit?


Root around the internet a little and you will find out that the OWC report is inaccurate.  Apparently people have been able to swap out the drive after all.


@Ross Edwards

Adding a second hard drive conventional or SSD was introduced with the early 2010 iMac. If you buy a brandnew iMac Thunderbolt 2011 you can add a Second HD or SSD but you will have to use a Apple HD for the reason mentioned in this post. However Apple doesn’t offer 3TB HD so you are stuck with their 2TB drives. Therefore it"s best to order a brand new iMac with a 2 TB drive rather tan a 1 TB drive since Apple will not let you upgrade yo a 2 TB later if you wish to. Not even if you pay them extra. I think that’s insane. It makes no sense and if this spreads around it will do a lot of repetitional damage to Apple.


This really sucks if it portends a Mac trend. I’m hoping it’s just for the iMac and it’s cooling issues. I’ve been buying Macs since 1984 and have replaced original hard drives?for larger ones?in half of them, including my 2006 Mini. It’s extended the life of Macs whose HDDs were getting full. If this means shorter lifespans or higher parts costs, it will really tick off a faithful customer.

Andy Seal

In Apple’s Logic, Thunderbolt removes the need to upgrade internal drives and if you can add a second internal one anyway that’s a bonus.
Of course we’re in that period of limbo where we have a new superfast connection on the new imacs and MBPs but very few Thunderbolt equipped external drives available.  That will change in time.

Bosco (Brad Hutchings)

I’m sure Gruber and Dilger will explain why this is actually wonderful for everyone involved, including internal hard drive resellers. They haven’t let us down yet!!


So few people actually open up an iMac case these days to replace the drive themselves that this level of effort (to generate a non-standard connector on the drive) just to discourage the few who would otherwise attempt just doesn’t seem worth it.  It’s far more likely valid engineering concerns (i.e. heat) are the reason for the change.
The iMac family has always packed a lot of heat generation into a very cramped space (remember the G5 iMacs?).  Now that the iMac sports a quad core processor, higher performance graphics, the possibility of two drives, etc. thermal budget is getting even tighter than ever before.  The iMac isn’t some big tower case sitting under a desk that’s 90% air and multiple massive fans howling away.
And if Apple’s sole motivation was to “force” users to only purchase drives through Apple, why do they go out of their way to provide multiple options to add storage without having to even “crack” the case?  The iMac user has a choice between USB, Firewire, and (soon) Thunderbolt external drives.  Even if you didn’t want to purchase a pre-packaged external drive, for about $20 you can pick up a good USB enclosure and plop in any internal SATA drive yourself. 
However, If massive storage capacity is really your thing, you should seriously consider a RAID array anyway (which is definitely an out of the case experience).  A RAID array (preferably RAID 5 or better) offers performance advantages as well as protection against data loss due to drive failure).  A decent 4 bay RAID enclosure can be purchased for as little as $150.  Plop four 2TB SATA drives into the enclosure and you have a really decent amount of storage with a reasonable level of protection against drive failure.
Oh, and I’m also sure that it won’t be long before at least one drive manufacturer start offering internal drive options that are compatible with the new iMac.
Personally, if I had one of these new iMacs, I’d either be augmenting the internal storage with a external RAID array, or saving my $$ to invest in a Thurderbolt compatible drive and not be “dinking around” with trying to cram a slightly bigger hard drive into the iMac’s enclosure.


I own 1 Ipod, 2 touches, 2 macbooks
If they make it impossible for me to work on my own machine, I guarantee that I will buy something else, I might put osx on it though.
If you don’t think its all about apple taking more money ask yourself what apple has to do with third party in app purchases…. answer = Nothing other than keeping the competion out and costing you the consumer more.
Buy Android & MS keep up the competition because without any competition apple will keep us all bankrupt and beholden to it.

Lee Dronick

If they make it impossible for me to work on my own machine, I guarantee that I will buy something else, I might put osx on it though.

As you say your a tech, so you like to do that sort of stuff. However, you are in the minority of Mac users, probably PC users too for that matter, who want to get work done and not work on.


As you say your a tech, so you like to do that sort of stuff.

With all due respect, the issue is bigger than a few techs not being able to hot-rod their Macs.

Drives die. That’s the way it is. The second you unpack a new computer and turn it on for the first time, a clock has started. When the alarm goes off your drive will die and have to be replaced. When that drive dies, do you want to trust that Apple will still be selling these special drives? I don’t believe they sell SCSI drives any more? I don’t believe they even sell IDE drives any more. Eventually Apple will phase these drives out for something else. They are in the computer business, not the selling parts business. It’s called ‘planned obsolescence’ and it’s bad for the customer.

What’s going to happen to the owners of these machines when the drives fail? Are they expected to just throw them away and buy something new? Should we just trust that OWC or someone comes up with a hack to make normal SATA drives work? I had a couple of LCIIIs that were supposed to get all sorts of fancy features via the Processor Direct Slot. Never happened, from Apple or anyone else.

Would you buy a car if you had to go to the dealer for all parts? If you couldn’t go to NAPA for even a floor mat or fuzzy dice? If your mechanic couldn’t even do a tune up without getting factory air filters or spark plugs? Would you buy a stove that the local repair guy couldn’t fix. One that had to be sent back to the factory if a burner went out? One that you had to mail order to get a new oven light? Would you buy a gun if the ammunition came in dodecahedral cartridges you had to get from the factory?

I sure wouldn’t. That’s why most industries have industry wide standards. It’s beneficial for the companies and the customers.

If this move stands, and I wouldn’t be surprised if in the next week there is a ‘clarification’ from Apple that says ‘it was all a mistake, and here is the kit that OWC didn’t know about that we were going to sell all along to put a normal SATA drive in these systems” it will be bad.

More bad press for Apple. It is already generating bad press here and elsewhere.
Don’t think for a moment that Dell and HP won’t jump all over this to push their systems. It will cost sales.
More costs for customers. Sole source is always more expensive that competing vendors.
It will also cost Apple because any minute now some yahoo will sue them for fraud because Apple didn’t disclose the custom drives that made these systems non-upgradeable.

All the way around it’s a very very bad move.

I see this as an Engineering decision made without looking at the bigger picture.

There are two things that I’m worried about. Either Apple is going to push these seven pin SATA drives out to all of their products. Then we’ll be back in the mess we had in the ‘90s when Apple was the only one using SCSI drives and they were a pain to find and very expensive. Nearly as bad though, is if they limit this to just the iMacs, making them orphans that will soon become nearly unrepairable. Either way is bad.

This is a very stupid move by Apple.


From AppleInsider
“The OWC report is quite inaccurate and I wish they did some more testing or at least read the forums before creating mass panic.

The SATA data connectors are very standard and so is the SATA power cable feeding the hard drive. The only difference is that they used 7 wires instead of 5, probably some extra grounds.

I installed a Vertex3 SSD and used a plain 4 wire Y-splitter sata power cable which effectively discards the 3.3V from the apple’s wiring and only feeds 5V and 12V to the original drive. Guess what, fan speed is as quiet as it can get and the Apple Hardware Test passes successfully.

I went further and moved the internal HDD from SATA0 to SATA1 port to better accommodate the SATA connector for the SSD and this didn’t create any adverse effects.

Another member of the forum swapped the 1TB WD Black with a 2TB WD Black and again, no adverse effect, Hardware Test completed successfully.

With the SSD in place now, the only thing I can hear is my breath reflected by the glass screen”

Perhaps this is similar to the recent iFixit hysteria regarding the lobed screw heads on the iPhone 4?? Much ado about nothing…

Lee Dronick

Perhaps this is similar to the recent iFixit hysteria regarding the lobed screw heads on the iPhone 4?? Much ado about nothing?

Done to death by slanderous tongues. Act V, Sc. III smile


ask yourself what apple has to do with third party in app purchases?. answer = Nothing other than keeping the competion out and costing you the consumer more.

The answer isn’t “nothing,” though. The answer is that they’ve created the market.


Tech, bless you. Keep buying non-Apple crap. We need those horrors to show off how wonderful Apple products are. Suggest you upgrade your Pods to Zunes. A good place to use your products would be your outhouse.

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