Friday, May 13, 2011

New iMac Drives Not Meant to Be Replaced, And I Hate It

Don’t replace the hard drive in your new 2011 iMac , or the fans will scream like a banshee as they spin up to full-speed and the Apple Hardware Test (AHT) will fail. The issue is that the factory-installed Apple hard drives have a built-in thermal sensor that is connected to the logic board by a proprietary SATA power cable that includes additional pins for the sensor. The Apple drives have custom firmware to send the temperature information to the logic board through this custom connector. Replacing the drive with one that does not run Apple’s custom firmware, or disconnecting the thermal sensor entirely, will unleash the whirling dervishes that are normally held in reserve for when you foolishly decide to run Flash video in Safari.

he fans-gone-wild issue and the failed AHT warning is a result of the logic board losing communication with the sensor. Thermal sensors have been included in Macs for as long as I can remember to help the system adjust fan speed to maintain acceptable temperatures. If these sensors do not report any temperature information, the firmware will turn the fans up to full to prevent a core breach in the warp engines, and/or red-hot CPU’s flowing like molten slag all over your pretty blue logic board. It’s a precautionary measure to prevent an overheating problem. The AHT warning is there to tell you which sensor has failed so you can replace it.
What makes this sensor different is that it is integrated into the custom hard drive. A lot of the earlier thermal sensors were stick-on affairs that attached to the hard drive or other locations with tape. I presume that Apple asked manufacturers to bake them into the drives to reduce both additional component costs and assembly steps.
The iMac is the hardest piece of Apple kit to work on yourself on by a long shot. The Mac Pro is designed to be easily opened. MacBooks and MacBook Pros provide easy access to the hard drives and RAM. The new Mac mini has a twist off access panel. Even the old Mac minis are not that bad as long as you have the right putty knife. It’s certainly not as bad as the old iBook (about 50 screws to get at the hard drive!), but it’s the worst of the current Macs. I don’t even think most people need access to the other components inside the machine, but access to the hard drive is important. The old iMacs were designed so that you could remove the back and get quick access to the drives. The aluminum iMacs were designed to open from the front so that you have to remove the glass panel (it pulls off with suction cups) and the LCD screen behind it to get to the drives.

The worst part is that you often put it all back together only to find a piece of hair or lint or a stray thumbprint on the back of the glass. Takes me straight back to the days when I ran a frame shop and would turn a framed photo back over after papering the back only to find a small piece of dust emerge from the dark suede mats, staring at me from under museum glass like a blazing signal fire warning of imminent customer dissatisfaction or framer’s rage. That glass on the front of the iMac is likely responsible for more referrals to Apple’s generous mental health programs than any other item that has ever sat on a Genius Bar.
It does make for a very pretty iMac though.
Which is, I suppose, the reason why Apple has kept roughly the same iMac design for so long (since 2007). Maybe the drive could be relocated from where it is now, smack dab in the center of the machine, out to the edge where it could be accessed with a removable panel. But you can’t add an access panel for the drives to the top or bottom because that has to be kept open for the convection cooling airflow to pull air in at the bottom and vent out the top. So maybe, the side opposite the optical drive. But that would mess up the unibody look of the iMac with no visible seams in the aluminum (just the RAM slot at the bottom). Okay, so maybe adding easy hard drive access is too much of a design sacrifice, but now even if you manage to get at the hard drive, you can’t replace it.
I understand that there's a secondary bay but not being able to simply replace a hard drive?  


  1. Actually the new iMac have two drive bays. Only the first drive has this issue. OWC can still install high capacity drives in the second bay.

  2. "I understand that there's a secondary bay but not being able to simply replace a hard drive?"

    Most drives will be replaced under warrantee. For free. Better than paying OWC to do it for you.

  3. What about after the warranty? I want to be able to replace my own stuff. F you apple.....

  4. @Anonymous

    Which part of "(you) can still install high capacity drives in the second bay." don't you understand?

  5. I usually defend Apple against unfair criticism, but this seems like an unfortunate design decision by Apple. I'd be interested in hearing Apple's justification (if there is one).

  6. OWC just published more info.

    I suspect this is not the end of the issue.

  7. More commentary on the subject:

    Apple is using drives with custom firmware and pinouts that support direct temperature monitoring without separate sensors and cables. It's actually a pretty neat idea. The shame is that this is not a standard. Maybe someday it could be, one hopes. The point is that Apple isn't doing this to screw users, although it will have that effect for some.

    I guess Apple views the iMac as a disposable (or to be charitable, recyclable) appliance. Certainly, they don't support end-users opening iMacs themselves. Most people will not care about this.

    I wouldn't mind so much if only they also offered a reasonably priced Mac minitower for those few of us who prefer to service and upgrade their computers. This is one of those issues where I am less than happy with Apple.

  8. Or just make it upgradeable and make more people happy. You don't have to make everyone happy, just provide more options. I'm just sayin'....

  9. hi snot nosed little bastard cheap arses. you want to buy a Mercedes {Apple} then you pay for Mercedes prices. you want to buy a Mercedes yet pay for only a Hyundai you Get the Kia {windows}. that's how this works you idiots. you can't get the best at a cheap price and the sooner you learn that the better. people who hate apple are basically cheap. if you buy the drive from apple there would be no problem since it's covered under their warranty. But since you don't like the prices they offer why do you care to use their products?

  10. Wow, you're comparing Windows to a KIA, sounds like you are the moron here. I have always had Windows machines and always had a great experience. Sure I've had small issues here and there with the older OS's but not one problem with Windows 7. I can produce beautiful videos, play the latest (high-end) games, browse the web and do pretty much anything I want. I've never payed more than $800 for a desktop or laptop and they have all served me extremely well. In fact, they can do more than any Mac I know. I think it boils down to this, Mac users don't REALLY know how to use a computer, PC users do.

    As far as the drive replacement thing goes, I would always use the warranty first, but when that's over I want the freedom to do it myself. Mac FAILS in that regard.

  11. A little late to the party, but the one anon bringing in car talk in a typical noob fashion when comparing computers seriously needs to take Jobs's gentleman's sausage out of their mouth. Mac parts are NOT some magical uber hardware. In fact, just about all their components (aside from things like their batteries) is the same bit of kit everyone else is using. In fact, some parts are even LOWER quality such as the OEM'd Foxconn motherboards. And Foxconn is as cheap as you
    can go in the OEM market. The hard drives are the same drives the rest of us use sans being bastardized.. Ssame intel chips, anemic GPU ect ect. In many ways, a Mac is clearly inferior on the hardware front. The software that matters in the industry is crossplatform anyway. The Apple sheep will buy any hype, I swear.

  12. The hype is a huge part of the problem with Macs. People "think" they are better with no real reason why they think that. Sure, there are the occasional Mac owner that knows a little more than the rest and will say stuff like "you get what you pay for" and "I don't get viruses cause I own a Mac" and other BS like that. They tell the dumber people that Macs are better and there you go. EVERY technician, engineer, programmer or otherwise intelligent person I know prefers windows to Mac. Hey, maybe that should be a new slogan:

    "When you know, you go Windows."

  13. "EVERY technician, engineer, programmer or otherwise intelligent person I know prefers windows to Mac."

    It's big world. Maybe you should step out of the echo chamber some time.

    Here is a more accurate slogan:

    "When ALL you know is Windows, you go Windows"

  14. These people here are try to say that Windows - which has lots of viruses and malware - is worse than a mac - which can get one trojan only if a security update isn't installed and even then the chance is small. What kind of reasoning is that?!!! I'm telling everyone here there are no mac viruses currently and all you stupid pc lovers out there say it's a virus when it's a trojan. You might think that those are the same but they are not the same at all.

    I have to say that this site used macs at their worst and even then made some bad assumptions. Really, I can't see why someone would ever choose an hp over a mac.

  15. Um, retard, why do you think 95% of the friggin world chooses Windows over Mac. BECAUSE IT'S BETTER! Mac is fine but very limited.

  16. A good portion of those running Windows didn't "choose" it. Windows was foisted upon them at their workplace. Windows, with all its overhead is certainly "BETTER" in terms of guaranteeing support personnel continuous employment.

    Yes more people by WIndows PCs for themselves as well. But few have actually made an informed decision. They tend to buy what they already know, which is of course what they were forced to use at work. Or they blindly buy the PC that their geek friend recommends, and find themselves over their heads when things go wrong.

    Ubiquity is not necessarily an indicator of superiority. While Windows is not without its benefits, I feel that a good portion of those currently using Windows would be better off had they bought a Mac.

  17. If I have to continue the PC vs Mac argument one more time....

    -Macs look nicer than PC's. End of story
    -OSX has fewer catastrophic bugs or problems than Windows. End of story.
    -Apple provides 1 place to call or go to when something does go wrong. With a PC you may have to go to dozens of different websites and be calling all over the place.
    -Macs have better graphic design, video editing, photo editing, and web design software than PC's.
    -Apple tends to set trends that other companies follow (Unibody alu cases, glass capacitive touchscreen phones and devices, multitouch trackpads).

    Bottom line about Apple: Forget about price for a moment. When Apple does something, they usually get it right.

    -PC's are cheaper than Macs
    -PC's have more games than Mac.

    Bottom line about PC's: They are cheaper.

    You hear about all of these problems with Apple products, but in reality, PC companies such as HP and Dell screw up equally if not worse all the time. However, there are so many PC's on the market that it masks their failures, while Apple is constantly being criticized.

    Peace out.

  18. 1. That's an opinion. My old Alienware laptop got me plenty of compliments and I think it looked way cooler than any Mac.
    2. That may have been true with W95-98 but that's simply not true anymore.
    3. Apple's 1 place to call can tell you there is no problem and not offer any help (see the article about Apple staff told to ignore the Mac Malware problem) or charge you a ton of cash to help. There are many places to go for help with Windows, that sounds like a good thing to me.
    4. That's the oldest myth going. I can create graphics on a W7 pc that look as good as or better than a Mac. And I'm not a high-end graphic artist professional either.
    5. Other companies had those ideas before Apple. Apple just made them look sexy and had good marketing and PR (I'll give them that).

    Forget about price, fine. There is still more that I can do with a windows machine and more places I can go to for help, tutorials, software and upgrades.

    Bottom line about PCs: They are better than Mac.
    Bottom line about Macs: They are an expensive status symbol.

    I will agree that ALL makes of computers and OS's have their problems, so as far as problems go, they're all (sort of) equal, they just have different problems. I would prefer the device that costs less and has more resources and options available to it.

  19. My feeling is that unless there is an overriding requirement to run Windows (for example gaming, Windows software development, or vertical business apps), the average person is better off with a Mac.

    Even some long-time Windows users eventually succumb because the experience is just plain better..

    MS certified IT pros and DIY tweakers are typically Mac-averse, but they are a minority-- obnoxious, condescending, and with inordinate influence, but a minority nonetheless.

  20. I keep hearing the excuse that the the "experience" is better on a Mac, but I thought we were talking about computers, not theme park rides.

    Your right about Macs being for average people: let them have it. All they're doing is checking Facebook and emails anyway.

    The problem is that its now bleeding over from the average user to the experienced user, in which people who have never really understood computers are holding their Macs over their heads, yelling about how superior their machines are, and how us experts need to rebuild the entire computer industry around Macs. It's like someone with no pilot experience wanting to fly a jet plane without all that pesky "learning" about aerodynamics (Where do I find the app to fly this baby to the Bahamas!)

    What these people don't realize is that working with a computer is supposed to be a free-flowing task, experimenting with different programs and software to find what works(ex: Macs aren't compatible with my custom-made home security system, nor my home audio setup.) I like to think outside the box and create new concepts on my own, and that's something that Apple computers are not suited for.

    So if your a Mac person, thats cool. They're great appliances. Just understand that theres a reason that Windows has been around for years, and its that not everyone has had the trouble you've had PCs.

  21. To address some of your points:

    "Experience" is not about theme park rides. Don't be condescending. It's about how it makes you feel to use something for hours each day. It's why a $700 Herman Miller Aeron Chair is preferable to the $79 office chair from Staples. Both have the same basic function but there is a noticeable difference to anyone who has actually tried them both. Experience matters.

    If your security system was custom made, it could perhaps have been made to work with a Mac. (In fact, as Mac market share increases and more developers learn how to program and interface with Macs, you will see more compatible peripherals and applications).

    I currently use a new Mac mini with my home audio setup. A friend of mine wirelessly streams music all over his house from his iMac, using his iPhone and iPad to control the volume in each zone, and to select tracks and playlists.

    Macs can be more than just appliances. As has been often been mentioned (derisively by haters), Macs contain essentially the same hardware components as PCs. OS X is built on top of UNIX for which there is a wealth of specialized software available, and plenty of people with expertise. While there are no doubt many more options for Windows users, there is nothing inherent about Macs that prevents people from doing all kinds of interesting and unusual things with them.

    That being said, I don't claim that a Mac is the best computer for everyone. You clearly have your reasons for using Windows and that's fine. The world is big enough for lots of choice.

    But I reiterate that just because a few people with particular needs and abilities find Windows right for themselves is no justification for craving that everyone lemmingly march in lockstep to Microsoft's monopoly.

  22. So, what you're saying is that Macs are just for a few people and Windows is for everyone else. Makes sense I guess. Oh, for the record, there is plenty you are prevented from doing on Macs and Apple products for that mater. There's a lot of software not available for the Mac but there are abundant options for the PC.

    Also, Microsoft is FAR from the lemming/lockstep monopoly you're talking about. That's Apple's gig. Everyone in the world laughs at how Apple is now like the evil cult in their own 1984 Apple commercial.

  23. Wow! You didn't understand a thing I wrote.

    I'm saying that Macs already do what MOST people need from a computer (email, web browsing, word processing, photo and video editing, image and music curating, social networking, etc.). If a particular Windows program (for which there is no Mac equivalent) is required, there are multiple ways to run it on a Mac.

    That being said, some of the reasons a Windows computer is justified are that you already know, love, and are prepared to deal with WIndows, are into DIY or customizing your computer, If the bulk of your use revolves around programs for which there is no Mac equivalent (like certain games or vertical business apps), if there isn't a Mac available in the configuration and form factor you require, or if there is plenty of local support for Windows, but none for Mac.

    Macs are not for everyone, but they potentially meet the needs of far more people than their current market share. That is why I expect that they will continue to grow in popularity.

    I always interpreted the 1984 commercial was a jab at the very real tendency for businesses standardize and force a IBM PC technology on end-user employees. The commercial was counter-productive however, as end-users had little say in corporate IT purchasing decisions. Apple failed miserably in penetrating the business market and Wintel PCs prevailed.

    Call Apple a cult if it makes you feel better, but It was Microsoft that was ultimately sanctioned for being an illegal monopoly. And PC users ARE "lemming-like". Their justification for choosing Wintel is, more often than not, "'cause that's what everyone else uses".