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Hard drive upgrades restricted in Apple's new Thunderbolt iMacs

post #1 of 106
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Apple's newly upgraded iMac desktop line features a new custom 7-pin serial ATA connector and proprietary temperature control system that will make hard drive upgrades difficult for end users.

The internal changes were noted on Thurdsay by Other World Computing, which found that the main 3.5-inch SATA hard drive bay in the new 2011 Thunderbolt-equipped iMacs has been modified significantly. Instead of a standard 4-pin power configuration, the drives in the new all-in-one desktop use a custom 7-pin configuration.

In addition, hard drive temperature control is reportedly detected through a combination of the new cable and proprietary firmware that Apple has on the hard drive itself.

"From our testing, we've found that removing this drive from the system, or even from the bay itself, causes the machine's hard drive fans to spin at maximum speed," the report said," and replacing the drive with any non-Apple original drive will result in the iMac failing the Apple Hardware Test."

The site tried a number of methods to circumvent the changes Apple has implemented in the new iMac, including swapping the main drive out with the same model drive, as well as a different solid-state drive. All testing so far has found that the Apple-branded hard drive not be removed or replaced.

In addition, though the iMac EFI Update 1.6 released earlier this month allows 6Gb/s speeds on two internal ports, the standard 7,200rpm drive that ships with the new iMacs cannot take advantage of those fast throughput speeds.

The site sells a "Turnkey Upgrade Program" that allows for hard drive upgrades on Mac hardware. While the service will not allow upgrades to the main drive, it can take advantage of an external eSATA port or allow additional, secondary hard drives to be added.



Apple's new quad-core Sandy Bridge iMacs with Thunderbolt ports debuted earlier this month. Users can configure the desktop to include both a standard spinning hard drive as well as a 256GB solid-state second drive, on which Mac OS X and all applications will come preinstalled.

The new iMacs were the first hardware to ship with Intel's new Z68 chipset, which allows for faster solid-state drive caching performance with hybrid drives or a combination of SSD and traditional drives. However, Apple's new iMacs do not take advantage of the new caching feature offered by the Z68 chipset.
post #2 of 106
Perhaps they are trying to improve the acoustics. The main weakness in the iMac design from my perspective (and it is my favourite computer) is the way it situates the HD level with the user's face. Unless they are very careful what brand of HD they pick (and in the past they haven't been, mixing and matching presumably to get the best price) you can get quite a loud one.

In any event, perhaps with the new Thunderbolt ports you can just order it with an SSD and use a Thunderbolt drive which you put at your feet.
post #3 of 106
Thanks, Apple. I've been able to count on replacing most basic parts with a short visit to newegg.com. Not anymore, I guess.
post #4 of 106
On one side, I can understand Apple wanting to include extra diagnostics on the hard drive to improve performance and reliability. Can't fault them for that.

However, suddenly I'm finding myself quite happy with my Dec 2009 27" Quad i7 iMac with standard SATA connectors. I'm curious how Apple will respond to those wishing to upgrade the hard drives on their iMacs. I certainly plan on placing an SSD in my iMac as soon as the 512GB models drop more from there stratospheric prices.

I'm holding neutral on this until I hear more. Perhaps Apple has an inside scoop on the direction of hard drive interfaces and is planning ahead? Hmmm....

Not feeling warm and fuzzy on this one. \
post #5 of 106
All through the 80's and most of the 90's Apple loved to put proprietary hardware into their computers. Eventually, this design philosophy wound up biting them in the ass because their systems were too closed. With the advent of the first iMac, Apple seemed to embrace open standards, like USB. Gone were proprietary standards like ADB and localtalk.

Alas, with Apple's astounding success over the last decade has come an arrogance that believes that open standards are no longer in Apple's best interest. We saw this trend with the latest MacBook Air and its proprietary SSD. And now this. Apple will live to regret returning to its old bad habits.
post #6 of 106
Bonehead.

Embracing open, commonly supported standards is what got Apple here. Now Apple wants to relive the nineties.
post #7 of 106
I just ordered a custom build 27" i7 iMac and my only gripe with the design up to date is the difficulty with the internal HD replacements. I was hoping (and waiting) they would make it easier with this revision... looks like the opposite. I'm fine with the 1T HD I ordered with the system, but if it fails then relying on external drives is anything but an elegant solution.

On the bright side I can't wait for it to arrive and I am stoked with everything else these iMacs offer. At least my 8 GB extra ram on order will be easy to install.

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post #8 of 106
Quote:
Originally Posted by ascii View Post

Perhaps they are trying to improve the acoustics. The main weakness in the iMac design from my perspective (and it is my favourite computer) is the way it situates the HD level with the user's face. Unless they are very careful what brand of HD they pick (and in the past they haven't been, mixing and matching presumably to get the best price) you can get quite a loud one.

In any event, perhaps with the new Thunderbolt ports you can just order it with an SSD and use a Thunderbolt drive which you put at your feet.

Very true... Thunderbolt will certainly have the speed to use an external drive. Still would have been nice to keep the internal drive standard so that users have the option to keep their iMac clutter free of external devices.

If Apple eventually goes to SSD drives similar to the MBA and they are user-installable like their RAM cards, it will kind of be a yawner for me then. I'll hope for one of those iMacs.
post #9 of 106
Quote:
Originally Posted by sflocal View Post

If Apple eventually goes to SSD drives similar to the MBA and they are user-installable like their RAM cards, it will kind of be a yawner for me then. I'll hope for one of those iMacs.

Now that *would* be cool. It never occurred to me, looking at those Air HDs that the iMac could one day have installation similar to the way ram is done, but "of course."
post #10 of 106
Quote:
Originally Posted by popnfresh View Post

All through the 80's and most of the 90's Apple loved to put proprietary hardware into their computers. Eventually, this design philosophy wound up biting them in the ass because their systems were too closed. With the advent of the first iMac, Apple seemed to embrace open standards, like USB. Gone were proprietary standards like ADB and localtalk.

Alas, with Apple's astounding success over the last decade has come an arrogance that believes that open standards are no longer in Apple's best interest. We saw this trend with the latest MacBook Air and its proprietary SSD. And now this. Apple will live to regret returning to its old bad habits.

We don't know that this is a whimsical return to proprietary hardware on Apple's part just yet. There might be a legitimate reason they chose to change the drive connector. Why don't we wait and see what they say, if anything?
post #11 of 106
Quote:
Originally Posted by tink View Post

On the bright side I can't wait for it to arrive and I am stoked with everything else these iMacs offer. At least my 8 GB extra ram on order will be easy to install.

Well I hope you got the new 27" iMac RAM then - they reversed 2 of the address pins on it to make sure you don't buy bad 3rd party memory. Just... kidding?

Unreal that they're doing that. Or maybe not unreal. My 21" white iMac was totally beautiful inside, easy to open & swap out parts. As soon as Intel hit, that changed big time. At least my Mac Pro is still openable (it must be a real word since it didn't underline in red. )
post #12 of 106
A non-standard ATA connector? That is totally whack.
post #13 of 106
What about the other bay? Also, does anyone know why there is no option to upgrade the storage on the base 21.5" model? Is there a difference with the internals of this model as compared to the others (like not having a second hd bay)?
post #14 of 106
Quote:
Originally Posted by WelshDog View Post

We don't know that this is a whimsical return to proprietary hardware on Apple's part just yet. There might be a legitimate reason they chose to change the drive connector. Why don't we wait and see what they say, if anything?

Agreed. I'm willing to bet they have a reason. To move away from an industry standard "just because" would add unnecessary costs to the special hard drives themselves. I'm willing to sit back and see what the future holds before I jump to conclusions...
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post #15 of 106
I love how every mac site is running with this OWC story when none of them has tried to confirm it.

iFixit didn't seem to notice anything out of the ordinary during their tear down......
post #16 of 106
I'm thinking they did this so that they could have more compatibility with their own drives, and at the same time make it so that the users would have to use the TB ports to add a new hard drive. Not a big issue at all, except that the price will be really high. I'm thinking though that it shouldn't be a big issue to just have a large TB drive sitting on your desk next to your machine while you also are able to use your internal drive.
post #17 of 106
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
post #18 of 106
Is the Z68 caching feature something that a firmware/software update could address later? If so, maybe Lion will do so?
post #19 of 106
I had to replace my iMac's hard drive earlier this year. I attached the new drive exactly as the old one was. After booting, the fan would spin like crazy - even though I had attached the heat sensor and everything in the exact manner. I opened up the iMac again thinking that maybe the sensor wasn't applied correctly or that I had forgotten something - I wiggled the connectors and replaced the sensor. Plugged it back in - same thing! I disassembled it one more time and this time I noticed an unused cable(heat sensor) taped to the assembly by Apple. I attached it and now my iMac runs perfect.

Surely the guys over at OWC are aware of this, but I can't help but wonder if they tried this. I was afraid I would have to send my iMac back to Apple, but thankfully they included the additional cable for OEM's.

I'm hoping this is just an oversight by OWC.
post #20 of 106
Does someone have a picture of the connector? I took a look at the iFixIt teardown and they didn't mention anything, but the pictures I found there didn't show the connectors.

There are several SATA-defined power connectors, though none I found with 7 pins. The four-pin power connector they mentioned is old (though still common).
post #21 of 106
Quote:
Originally Posted by Patranus View Post

I love how every mac site is running with this OWC story when none of them has tried to confirm it.

iFixit didn't seem to notice anything out of the ordinary during their tear down......

Amen!

Hopefully this just an oversight.
post #22 of 106
Quote:
Originally Posted by alanshutko View Post

Does someone have a picture of the connector?



On the Hard drive side, there is nothing special about it. Just a standard SATA Power connector as described here:
post #23 of 106
Quote:
Hopefully this just an oversight.

You're too nice. "Incompetent" is the word that was going through my mind (with regard to OWC) after reading maxinc's comment.
post #24 of 106
Thanks Apple for giving me another reason not to upgrade my iMac. Having the drive hard to reach is bad enough. Having it non-standard is even worse. The iMac is becoming something you have to throw away when anything breaks.
post #25 of 106
Quote:
Originally Posted by maxinc View Post

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

Thanks for posting this!!!
post #26 of 106
Quote:
Originally Posted by ascii View Post

Now that *would* be cool. It never occurred to me, looking at those Air HDs that the iMac could one day have installation similar to the way ram is done, but "of course."

I think it is Inevitable. Next to the CPU/GPU, the hard drive is one of the biggest contributors to internal heat, and also contributes to the thicker vertical footprint.

We all know how Apple is always going with the thinner-is-better mantra. Removing the drive altogether and replacing it with super-quiet, cooler-running, very reliable MBA-style SSD cards on the bottom of the machine I would think would allow Apple to get their machines even thinner and run quieter as well.

If/When that day arrives, that will be my next iMac upgrade.
post #27 of 106
Quote:
Originally Posted by WelshDog View Post

We don't know that this is a whimsical return to proprietary hardware on Apple's part just yet. There might be a legitimate reason they chose to change the drive connector. Why don't we wait and see what they say, if anything?

There might be a rational reason but honestly I don't think it exists. At least I can't come up with one. Maybe Apple is trying to get us to go back to running Linux. On the surface this move is stupid enough to impact sales and cause people to look for alternative platforms.
post #28 of 106
Quote:
Originally Posted by TenThousandThings View Post

Is the Z68 caching feature something that a firmware/software update could address later? If so, maybe Lion will do so?

It is a rather stupid idea. Most people would be far better off with a larger SSD. Further people using a conventional HD for bulk storage don't need the speed there.

Mac Book AIR proves that SSD can be affordable and by itself enough for many users. I may need an external drive for my "media" files but not everyone is so inclined. The Intel feature is just a solution looking for a problem.
post #29 of 106
Gots to lock-in that profit margin, right?
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post #30 of 106
The previous models also had a proprietary temps sensor plug on the drive.
post #31 of 106
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...3&postcount=59
- For HDD to HDD replacement yet, some guy posted a software solution somewhere, but I can't find it any more -- Something about a software that controls the HDD fan from data from the S.M.A.R.T. sensor.
post #32 of 106
Quote:
Originally Posted by wizard69 View Post

There might be a rational reason but honestly I don't think it exists. At least I can't come up with one. Maybe Apple is trying to get us to go back to running Linux. On the surface this move is stupid enough to impact sales and cause people to look for alternative platforms.

I seriously doubt this will impact sales... 99.9% of iMac buyers wouldn't even consider changing the internal HD.
post #33 of 106
Quote:
Originally Posted by Avonord View Post

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 standard, but the OWC site says 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...3&postcount=59
- For HDD to HDD replacement yet, some guy posted a software solution somewhere, but I can't find it any more -- Something about a software that controls the HDD fan from data from the S.M.A.R.T. sensor.

Here it is..

http://www.hddfancontrol.com/HDDFanC...n_Control.html
post #34 of 106
Quote:
Originally Posted by sflocal View Post

On one side, I can understand Apple wanting to include extra diagnostics on the hard drive to improve performance and reliability. Can't fault them for that.

However, suddenly I'm finding myself quite happy with my Dec 2009 27" Quad i7 iMac with standard SATA connectors. I'm curious how Apple will respond to those wishing to upgrade the hard drives on their iMacs. I certainly plan on placing an SSD in my iMac as soon as the 512GB models drop more from there stratospheric prices.

I'm holding neutral on this until I hear more. Perhaps Apple has an inside scoop on the direction of hard drive interfaces and is planning ahead? Hmmm....

Not feeling warm and fuzzy on this one. \

Im all for moving the technology along, but when it specifically comes to the HDD/SSD and RAM connectors they either need to be standard or give vendors plenty of time to get 3rd-party options to market. Its not like releasing this data months ago for a future Mac(s) would have made their reveal any less notable.
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post #35 of 106
Quote:
Originally Posted by wizard69 View Post

There might be a rational reason but honestly I don't think it exists.

Yes, it makes no sense. I can't believe that Apple wants to be the only avenue for repairs and upgrades to the drives, especially after the warranties expire on these machines.

It's quite likely that maxinc's comment earlier is accurate, and the OWC report that this story was based on was not entirely accurate, especially the bit about there being a "custom" SATA connector. If so, Apple Insider should update this story, since people don't read all the comments, and it is contributing to an unfounded panic.
post #36 of 106
Quote:
Originally Posted by popnfresh View Post

All through the 80's and most of the 90's Apple loved to put proprietary hardware into their computers. Eventually, this design philosophy wound up biting them in the ass because their systems were too closed. With the advent of the first iMac, Apple seemed to embrace open standards, like USB. Gone were proprietary standards like ADB and localtalk.

Alas, with Apple's astounding success over the last decade has come an arrogance that believes that open standards are no longer in Apple's best interest. We saw this trend with the latest MacBook Air and its proprietary SSD. And now this. Apple will live to regret returning to its old bad habits.

The auto industry does not design cars to suit "backyard mechanics" .... that's not their major demographic.

So why do the loudest/most frequent complainers in the computer industry expect Apple to design a computer to suit the "nerd" demographic?

The vast majority .... vast majority of consumers are like me. I don't want to work ON my computer .... I just want to work WITH my computer. This is not "rocket science" people .... just good consumer marker analysis 101.
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post #37 of 106
I'm not the only one who did this as there are more people on MacRummors Forums who messed with the 2011 iMacs. As far as I can tell, there isn't even a external temperature sensor on the 2011 HDD.

They may be using the SMART data for temperature reading and for that, perhaps a certain HDD firmware revision is required but as other members have discovered, an aftermarket 2TB WD Caviar Black with standard firmware, works fine.

I think there would be a certain amount of incompatibility since is not in Apple's interest to create another user customisable PC but I don't think they intentionally altered the design in order to prevent user upgrades and sell their own hdd's. Considering the difficulty of opening an iMac, is more likely to brick the unit in the disassemble process which would only benefit Apple financially.
post #38 of 106
Where is the photo credit for the picture included in the post?


The picture is a dead ringer for an iFixit image.
http://www.ifixit.com/Teardown/iMac-...eardown/5485/2
post #39 of 106
Quote:
Originally Posted by newbee View Post

The auto industry does not design cars to suit "backyard mechanics" .... that's not their major demographic.

So why do the loudest/most frequent complainers in the computer industry expect Apple to design a computer to suit the "nerd" demographic?

The vast majority .... vast majority of consumers are like me. I don't want to work ON my computer .... I just want to work WITH my computer. This is not "rocket science" people .... just good consumer marker analysis 101.

That's true, but auto manufacturers also don't go out of their way to make you buy a new car (or take it to the dealer) if you have the skills and tools to, say, change your tires yourself, either.

I'm really hoping that this report is in error. Apple has never been terribly proprietary in regards to hard drives or RAM. (Yes, they used SCSI drives instead of IDE in the 80's/90's, but that was a performance choice. They were standard SCSI drives.)

The reasoning behind not supporting SSD caching baffles me.
post #40 of 106
Quote:
Originally Posted by Maltz View Post



The reasoning behind not supporting SSD caching baffles me.

It's not platform agnostic. Intel has to deliver drivers for the OS to enable the Smart Response Technology under Snow Leopard or Lion.

Who knows if Apple even wants this. I personally would like it very much with BTO options for 20-40GB SLC SSD for the cache.
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