2011 iMacs Make It Impossible For You To Upgrade Your Own Main Hard Drive

2011 iMacs Make It Impossible For You To Upgrade Your Own Main Hard Drive

With the 2011 iMacs, it’s become even harder for users to upgrade their machines without paying Apple their pound of flesh.

Other World Computing, known for their excellent line of Mac-specific hard and solid state drive upgrades, have discovered that new mods made to the 2011 iMac make it impossible to do an upgrade to your main hard drive itself.

The problem is the SATA power connector for the main hard drive bay, which has switched from a 4-pin config to 7 pins, which works in conjunction with Apple firmware to control the fans for drive temperature.

The result? Replace your iMac’s main hard drive, and your fans will start spinning out of control. Your once silent office becomes a wind tunnel.

“In short, the Apple-branded main hard drive cannot be moved, removed or replaced,” OWC says.

What does that mean? Well, for now, the only way to upgrade your iMac’s main hard drive is to pay Apple for the pleasure.

There is some slight good news, though: if you want to add a secondary drive either by installing it or using eSATA, that should still be doable. If you didn’t pay for the option, though, don’t expect to hack in a third-party SSD and boot your iMac from it.

It’s obvious Apple hates users opening their own computers, but this is just getting ridiculous.

Update: Reader Ben Surtees wrote to suggest one possible way around the new restriction on upgrading your own main hard drive: HDDFancontrol, his free app that automatically controls the HDD fan speed using the temperature obtained from the drive’s S.M.A.R.T data.

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  • Imp

    On the bright side I heard you can upgrade the CPU and GPU though?

    You gain one, you lose one /sigh. But seriously Apple, picking on the Hard Drives now? Come on….. Too much money-miking >.>

  • Jonathan Perry

    Come on now, settle down. The reason the drives are not user replaceable is because they’ve gotten rid of the separate mechanism for temperature control, instead piping it all through SATA. Thus the drives need Apple’s specialized firmware. Read Marco Arment’s post on the subject for background http://www.marco.org/2011/05/1

  • trrosen

    Much ado about nothing. Give them a month to put together an adapter to hook up a temp sensor to any drive. Actually I would bet the right size resistor in the circuit would just set the fans on at a reasonable level. Alternatively just wait a bit and you’ll see cheap hard drives sporting this connector. Unfortunately this isn’t Apple’s fault the drive industry has yet to offer any kind of standard for temperature sensors.

  • gerenm63

    I must be really old, but I remember a time in the past (back in the early- and pre-PowerPC days when non-Apple drives either didn’t work well, or didn’t work at all, because Apple was having custom code blown into the drives’ firmware. Looks like we’re coming around full-circle.

    Of course, in today’s environment, we’ll probably start seeing this as a standard feature on non-Apple computers as well. Apple has always blazed a trail of new techniques and technologies. This may very well just be another example…

  • Gabriel Yagoub

    Why cant we all just get along? And build Hackintoshs´sss.

  • B066Y

    Easy…because I can afford to buy from Apple and I’m to lazy to build a computer these days.

  • BenSurtees

    I have written software which solves this issue (Its been like this since late 2009 models) i.e. the temp sensor.

    My software controlls the HDD Fan Speed using the temperature obtained using the HDD S.M.A.R.T data.

    Its opensource and can be downloaded from http://www.hddfancontrol.com

    Thanks

    Ben

  • Rob Cecil

    Who cares? I haven’t changed a hard drive in at least a decade. That’s what externals are for dude.

  • avonord

    I’ve been following up on this story cuz I bought a 2011 iMac, and here’s what I learnt:

    - The SATA connector on the iMac is actually standard. What the OWC site meant was — a few (unused?) pins of the connector are now used for temperature data.

    - Someone posted a solution for those who want to upgrade HDD to SSD.http://forums.macrumors.com/showpost….

    - For HDD to HDD replacement yet, there is the software fix in the post above

  • Samuraiartguy

    While there may be legit, in Apple’s viewpoint, technical reasons for the feature/restriction…. it certainly looks and feels like a d**k move on Apple’s part. Especially considering that apple upgrades and BTO options are legendarily expensive. But it looks like they REALLY don’t want users (or other technicians) going under the hood… at ALL.

    I am sure enterprising tech happy geeks out there will come up with workarounds the ( aforementioned hddfancontrol comes to mind.. ) and hack. But is still feels like a d**k move. But I suspect that Apple doesn’t feel that way.

  • fff

    I don’t see what the problem is. If Steve Jobs doesn’t want you to change your hard drive, he obviously has his reasons.

  • Peter

    A user on Appleinsider forums said the opposite:

    “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.”

    Perhaps this needs confirming?

  • imajoebob

    What’s new? I have to pay through the nose if I want upgrade the RAM on my old PowerBook Al. It works fine for most things, but would work great if I could kick the RAM up to 2GB. But since it’s got proprietary RAM that throttles the speed to help control the temperature/fans, the price has been ridiculous. Other computers using DDR2700 chips can get the same memory for half the price.

    While you might argue that a desktop can use an external drive – especially Thunderbolt – and never see any difference, that’s not the point. Some things like RAM and storage should ALWAYS be modular and simple to upgrade – especially drives which are prone to failure. Would you buy a refrigerator that had to be brought back to Sears to have the light bulb replaced? We’re already locked-in to one display and one processor, now Apple is moving on to RAM, drives, and batteries (in mMacBooks). This is just a way to chisel more money from your customers.

  • NoFan

    Speaking like a true apple fan-boy, LOL

  • Fearless_fred

     I care. Why? Because I have *had* to upgrade the HDD in both my 2007 MacBook and my late 2008 iMac, as *both* failed to the point where I couldn’t boot from them or repair them. I had to put in a new HDD and re-install. I used the opportunity to increase the HDD capacity for them at the same time.

    I live over an hour and a half drive from my nearest Apple store, so why not let me do a simple drive upgrade (something Apple tell you how to do on the MacBook, but not on the iMac)? It’s hardly rocket science to do a switch, except for the fact that the iMac sacrifices serviceability for design. There should be an option to alow for simple upgrades for users who want/have to do it. As I said, Apple seem happy to let you do that on the portable market, but not on the desktop. I like my iMac design, but there’s clearly a missed design step there. 

  • Theapplemobileblog

    Apple wan’t their money out of your and then some, here’s why
    http://theapplemobileblog.word

  • Ryan Partlow

    Spoken like a true fanboy. ‘…its not apples fault’ BS! BTW, did you know that ALL sata HDD’s do monitor there temperatures??

  • nojboy715

    Just to shed some light on the subject for you all (i’ve only just found this message, so its a bit delayed)

    Firstly, as disappointed as i was when i first found this out myself, OWC have not had anything to do with manufacturing a resolution to this problem. I was told they were making a hardware fix to it, but it turns out another company based in germany was manufacturing it and OWC was just going to sell it on.

    While waiting about 6 months for OWC to get these cables on their website, i got bored and ended up making a hardware fix to this problem myself.

    For starters, a standard SATA power cable uses only 4 cables, despite having a 15pin connector. This is because the pins are broken down in sets of 3, and each cable type can be combined after it leaves the connector. (the main reason for this is because the current on each individual pin cannot move fast enough on a single pin to power the 3.5″ drives, so they have to have 3x 12v, 3x 3.3v, 3x 5v then 2 sets of 3x coms, which are then combined onto 1 cable… so the 4 cables used are 12v, 3.3v, 5v and coms)

    Without going into too much technical detail, two coms tracts send the data from the internal SMART disk of the hard drive to the main logic board. The difference between Apples drives and an industry standard drive is that the firmware revision differs… The logic boards in the 2011 iMacs can only communicate with certain revisions of this firmware, and after testing nearly 100 different drives, i have been unsuccessful in finding a revision that works with it without changing the hardware or running the software. (which isn’t free by the way, its a £20 download, but you can download a sample of the app to test it beforehand)
    With the 2009 and 2010 iMacs that use the internal SMART disk to convey the hard drives temperature, i have found certain industry standard firmware revisions do work with it, but each manufacturer uses a different connection type, as they dont use the SATA power cable to send the data, but instead use a separate 2 pin connector cable that goes to the logic board directly. As there is no central source if firmware revisions that will work with it, maintaining stock of the drives that do work has proven to be a pain, as testing a drive from each stock with a 2009 or 2010 machine is not the easiest option. (suppliers are not able to specify firmware revisions when shipping drives in my experience, so restocking a specific revision that previously worked is not possible)

    Needless to say, i found a sensor that operates at the same frequency as the internal SMART disk for the 09/10 imac, and its part number is 593-1029 (you can look it up on http://www.thebookyard.com) its listed as the LCD cable for the same range, but it is compatible with the hard drive port, as i have done rigorous testing on this. all you need to do is replace the current sensor cable, then adhere the sensor to the drive (then it will act as a surface temperature sensor instead of an ambient temperature sensor)

    As for the 2011 iMac problem, the easiest solution was to make a cable myself. So, instead of explaining the whole process in all its technical glory, here is the link to the part on the site. http://www.thebookyard.com/product.php?products_id=10085

    As for an easier to fit solution, i am currently working on an adapter solution that will not require loosening the screws on the logic board to fit a replacement cable. (As the SATA ports are on the underside of the logic board by the graphics card port)

    I have also written a small blog about it here if you want a bit more detail, otherwise i can explain the process in more detail if you’d prefer.
    http://thebookyard.wordpress.com/2013/01/24/the-aluminium-imac-ranges-and-their-hard-drives-2011-hd-problem-resolved/

    But all is not lost, as there is always a solution! Even if it takes a bit of creative finagling to do so.

  • nojboy715

    Oh, and the 2010 and 2011 27″ machine can have 2 hard drives fitted. One is the standard 3.5″ drives, but there is a spare set of SATA ports on the logic board for a 2.5″ drive to be fitted behind the optical drive in the 2011 machine, or behind the graphics card in the 2010 model. (the 21.5″ Mid 2011 machine can also have a second drive fitted behind the optical drive, but the Late 2011 21.5″ cannot)

    And the cable that OWC were referring to as an option to override the sensor to the hard drive is called a jumper cable. This is only able to be used on the 2011 machines when there is no 3.5″ hard drive fitted. it basically takes up the 3.5″ SATA power port on the logic board and short circuits the sensor data so the HD fan spins at idle speed of 1000rpm at all times, so will not alter if the HD gets hotter. This jumper cable is meant to be used when you are fitting only a 2.5″ drive (it can be an SSD) behind the optical drive and are removing the 3.5″ drive completely.

    Its slightly different to the 2009 and 2010 models, because the jumper cable attaches to the sensor port on the logic board. So technically it can be connected while you have the 3.5″ drive fitted into the machine, and it will stop the fans from spinning up full, but it is not a good option to go with because the HD fan will not change speed when the hard drive gets hotter.

About the author

John BrownleeJohn Brownlee is a Contributing Editor. He has also written for Wired, Playboy, Boing Boing, Popular Mechanics, VentureBeat, and Gizmodo. He lives in Boston with his wife and two parakeets. You can follow him here on Twitter.

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