Upgrade Imac 2011

Apple’s latest iMac models have a lot of things going for them. Unfortunately, easy upgradability is not on that list.

Upgrading an iMac has always been a challenge, but with these 2011 models, there’s another hurdle besides the intimidating glass and LCD panel removal that awaits those who are brave enough to open one up.

After finding my 2011 iMac, I decided to go with internal upgrades. Zoom installer.exe mac. OWC offers a Turnkey Upgrade program where you send them your iMac and they do all the work (you can even pay them to.

If you’ve never been under the hood of the aluminum iMac, let me tell you that it’s not for the casual user. Here’s a quick rundown of the steps involved. I used a toolkit and instructions from iFixit.

ImacUpgrade Imac 2011

iMac teardown

Suction cups are recommended for removing the glass screen cover, which is held in place by strong magnets. Once the suction cups are in place, it doesn’t take much to lift the glass off.

  • What is it you can't update, exactly? A 2011 iMac won't run Mojave. It WILL run High Sierra and the current version of iTunes. It's almost 7 years old. Technology marches on. Your iMac is still perfectly usable.
  • Link to buy thermal paste: https://www.amazon.com/ARCTIC-MX-4-Compound-Performance-Interface/dp/B0795DP124/ref=sr11sspa?keywords=thermal+paste&qid=155777.

A Torx wrench is required to remove the eight screws holding the LCD panel in place.

You need to use something like a bent paper clip to start lifting the LCD off. At this point, don’t rush to lift the LCD up completely—you risk damaging the connected cables. Slowly lift the LCD, enough to reach in and detach the four cables that connect to both the motherboard and the back of the display.

After the cables are detached, you can lift the LCD completely and remove the display. Finally, you have access to the hard drive and other internal components.

When reassembling the iMac, make sure to avoid getting fingerprints and dust on the glass screen cover or the LCD itself.

Hard drive upgrade issues

Not intimidated by taking apart your iMac? Still interested in do-it-yourself hard drive upgrades to the iMac? Well, last week peripherals maker OWC discovered an issue with the 2011 iMacs that might finally dampen your enthusiasm.

According to OWC, Apple made changes to the boot drives in the 2011 iMacs. The drives have new firmware that has a different way of tracking the drive’s temperature. Without this firmware, the iMac knows that there’s a drive, but doesn’t know how hot it might be. As a precaution, the iMac then cranks its internal fans to run full-bore—6000 rpm, which creates a hard-to-ignore roar. We contacted Apple for confirmation and a comment about this, but we haven’t yet heard from the company.

Upgrade Imac 2011

We went through the teardown process detailed above to access the hard drive and replace the standard 1TB Seagate Barracuda drive with our own 2GB Seagate Barracude drive. When we booted the iMac with the newly installed (and non-Apple provided) Seagate drive, the fans did indeed start running loudly.

HDD Fan Control is a $10 application that installs as a preference pane to allow you to adjust the speed of the internal fan and to set temperature thresholds. We used this software to control the fan. By default, HDD Fan Control sets the speed of the fan to 1000 rpm, which is much quieter than the 6000 rpm that the fan spins at without the utility.

To get the iMac working so I could observe the fan, I used HandBrake to convert a DVD file that was ripped to the hard drive. HDD Fan Control sped up the fan to keep the temperature down.

As reported by OWC, the iMac with a drive you’ve installed yourself will not pass the Apple Hardware Test that is bundled with new Macs. (It’s on the applications disc.) Failing the test may not be a big deal, since we know why it’s failing, but the AHT is frequently used by Apple certified repair folks. Failure of the AHT could mean that issues usually covered under the system’s warranty may no longer be covered.

OWC says that shorting out two leads on the drive connector can solve the Apple Hardware Test failure issue, but that’s a step farther than we were willing to go. There is also a report that a hardware component has been developed that provides the needed hard drive temperature information to the motherboard.

The vast majority of Mac owners turn to Apple for simple, pre-configured systems that they can set up and use without worrying about such things as shorting out pins, third-party fan utilities, or suction cups. These users are much more likely to connect an external USB, FireWire, or (soon) Thunderbolt drive if they need extra storage space.

But what if your hard drive fails after the warranty period expires? On this model, your options are much more limited. When the hard drive fails, you’re going to be faced with making a painful upgrade or—more likely— shelling out the money for a new Mac while junking the old one.

[James Galbraith is Macworld’s lab director.]

Read our full iMac (Mid 2011) family review

Aluminum iMac Q&A - Updated May 9, 2017

To be notified of new Q&As, sign up for EveryMac.com's bimonthly email list.

If you find this page useful, please Bookmark & Share it. Thank you.



How do you upgrade the hard drive in the 'Late 2009,' 'Mid-2010,' 'Mid-2011' and 'Late 2011' (21.5-Inch and 27-Inch) Aluminum iMac models? What type of storage do they support? Is it even possible to upgrade these models?

Please note that this Q&A covers Aluminum iMac models with flat edges and 21.5-Inch and 27-Inch displays. EveryMac.com also explains how to upgrade the hard drive in earlier 20-Inch and 24-Inch Aluminum iMac models as well as in later 'Tapered Edge' 21.5-Inch and 27-Inch Aluminum iMac models.

Apple considers the memory in the 'Late 2009,' 'Mid-2010' and 'Mid-2011' Aluminum iMac models -- all Aluminum iMacs with 21.5-Inch and 27-Inch displays and flat sides -- to be a 'customer installable part' but the hard drive is not intended to be upgraded by end users.


Photo Credit: Apple, Inc (21.5-Inch & 27-Inch Aluminum iMac Models)

Upgrading the memory is extremely easy -- there is a small removable 'door' on the bottom of each system for this purpose -- but upgrading the hard drive requires one to gingerly remove the display and effectively disassemble the entire computer.

Identification Help

If you're not sure which 21.5-Inch or 27-Inch Aluminum iMac you have, these models can be most readily identified externally via EMC number (located inconveniently under the 'foot' supporting the computer). More conveniently, they can be identified in software by model identifier.

To locate the model identifier in software, select 'About This Mac' under the Apple Menu on your computer and click the 'More Info..' button. If the iMac is running OS X 10.7 'Lion' or later, you will need to click the 'System Report' button after clicking 'More Info..' as well. As always, EveryMac.com has carefully hand documented each EMC number and model identifier for your convenience.

The identifiers for each of these 21.5-Inch and 27-Inch iMac models follow:

iMac

Subfamily

EMC

Model ID

Late 2009

Late 2009

Late 2009

Late 2009

Late 2009

Late 2009

Mid-2010

Mid-2010

Mid-2010

Mid-2010

Mid-2010

Mid-2010

Mid-2010

Mid-2011

Mid-2011

Mid-2011

Mid-2011

Mid-2011

Mid-2011

Late 2011


If your 21.5-Inch or 27-Inch iMac is not listed above, you have a later'Tapered Edge' iMac model.

EveryMac.com's Ultimate Mac Lookup feature -- as well as the EveryMac app -- also can uniquely identify these models by their Serial Number, which is listed on the underside of the foot along with the EMC number and within the operating system alongside the model identifier. More details about specific identifiers are provided in EveryMac.com's extensive Mac Identification section.

Supported Hard Drive & SSD Types

All 'Late 2009' iMac models and all 'Mid-2010' models have a 3 Gb/s SATA 2.0 connector for a 3.5' hard drive. The 27-Inch 'Mid-2010' models -- the iMac 'Core i3' 3.2 27' and 'Core i5' 2.8 27' -- also have an extra 3 Gb/s SATA 2.0 connector and power for the optional 2.5' SSD (in addition to 3 Gb/s Serial ATA 2.0 connectors for the hard drive and optical drive).

The 'Mid-2011' iMac models all support a single 3.5' hard drive and a second 2.5' SSD. As shipped, both the hard drive bay and SSD bay provided support for the 3 Gb/s Serial ATA 2.0 standard. However, as first discovered by site sponsor Other World Computing, the iMac EFI Update 1.6, released two days later, quietly provided faster 6 Gb/s Serial ATA 3.0 support for both of these connectors (but not the optical drive connector).

The education-only iMac 'Core i3' 3.1 21.5-Inch (Late 2011) supports a single 3.5' hard drive using the 6 Gb/s Serial ATA 3.0 standard. It does not support a 2.5' SSD simultaneously with an internal hard drive.

2011

These differences are perhaps best visualized with a chart:

iMac Series

Primary Storage

Secondary Storage

Late 2009 21.5'

3.5' 3 Gb/s SATA 2.0

None

Late 2009 27'

3.5' 3 Gb/s SATA 2.0

None

Mid-2010 21.5'

3.5' 3 Gb/s SATA 2.0

None

Mid-2010 27'

3.5' 3 Gb/s SATA 2.0

2.5' 3 Gb/s SATA 2.0

Mid-2011 21.5'

3.5' 6 Gb/s SATA 3.0

2.5' 6 Gb/s SATA 3.0

Mid-2011 27'

3.5' 6 Gb/s SATA 3.0

2.5' 6 Gb/s SATA 3.0

Late 2011 21.5'

3.5' 6 Gb/s SATA 3.0

None


The maximum drive height of the 3.5' storage drive in these models is 26.10 mm and the maximum height of the 2.5' storage drive in these models is 7 mm.

For storage compatibility details for each Mac, including all iMac models, refer to EveryMac.com's Mac Storage Upgrade Compatibility Guide.

Overcoming Hard Drive Upgrade Obstacles

Unfortunately, taking the computer apart -- which is challenging enough -- is not the only obstacle to upgrading the hard drive in these Macs.

OWC also discovered that the 'Late 2009' -- and subsequently introduced 'Mid-2010' -- models use a 'connector that seems to use the drive's internal sensors' rather than an external sensor like earlier 20-Inch and 24-Inch Aluminum iMac models.

How To Upgrade Imac 2011 To The Latest

Originally, this meant that the most straightforward way to upgrade the hard drive was to 'replace the drive with another model from the same manufacturer that [OWC or another third-party has] confirmed works properly with this thermal sensor cable'. OWC provides a list of compatible drives. Readers also shared reports that taping an external temperature sensor to a hard drive or SSD that does not have an internal sensor will work in these models, but this method is risky.

Thankfully, though, OWC subsequently developed a custom digital monitor that 'talks Apple SMC' and 'maintains proper temperature reporting and Apple Diagnostic compatibility' for these models and sells it as part of convenient SSD Upgrade DIY Kits. Although it still is fine to replace the hard drive with another model from the same manufacturer, this OWC solution provides many more options.

As again found by OWC, if an SSD is not installed at the time of purchase in the 27-Inch 'Mid-2010' models -- the iMac 'Core i3' 3.2 27' and 'Core i5' 2.8 27' -- the connector cables and mounting bracket are not present. It still is possible to install a 2.5' SSD in addition to the hard drive if an SSD is not installed initially, but one will need the proper connecting cable. It also is worth noting that if a 27-Inch 'Mid-2010' iMac is configured with an SSD, but without a hard drive, the hard drive temperature sensor is not present either. OWC now provides the proper cables and sensors.

For the 'Mid-2011' models, OWC once more touched off a firestorm across the blogosphere by reporting that Apple had gone even further in the company's effort to restrict hard drive upgrade options:

For the main 3.5' SATA hard drive bay in the new 2011 machines, Apple has altered the SATA power connector itself from a standard 4-wire power configuration to a 7-wire configuration. Hard drive temperature control is regulated by a combination of this cable and Apple proprietary firmware on the hard drive itself. From our testing, we've found that removing this drive from the system, or even from that bay itself, causes the machines 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). . .
We've installed our Mercury Pro 6G SSD in that bay, it too results in ludicrous speed engaged fans and an AHT failure. In short, the Apple-branded main hard drive cannot be moved, removed or replaced.

Needless to say, the obstacles to upgrade the hard drive in these models was quite disappointing. Thankfully, OWC's SSD Upgrade DIY Kits now overcome all of these obstacles for each line and taking the computer apart and putting it back together again is the remaining challenge.

Hard Drive & SSD Installation Instructions

This is a difficult upgrade. It is recommended that a professional upgrade the hard drive or install an SSD in these models.

However, for highly skilled users with previous experience upgrading computers, OWC provides detailed step-by-step instructional videos for each model:

21.5-Inch Late 2009 iMac Storage Upgrade Video


27-Inch Late 2009 iMac Storage Upgrade Video


21.5-Inch Mid-2010 iMac Storage Upgrade Video


27-Inch Mid-2010 iMac Storage Upgrade Video


21.5-Inch Mid-2011 iMac Storage Upgrade Video


27-Inch Mid-2011 iMac Storage Upgrade Video


From watching the videos, it should be clear that upgrading the storage in these models is rather challenging. If you do not feel comfortable -- or have the time -- to perform the upgrade yourself, it would be wise to hire a professional.

Hard Drive Upgrade Conclusion

Ultimately, it is possible to upgrade the hard drive in these 21.5-Inch and 27-Inch Aluminum iMac models or upgrade or install a secondary SSD in the 'Mid-2011' 21.5-Inch models and 'Mid-2010' and 'Mid-2011' 27-Inch models, but opening the case is a challenge and it is definitely not for those without significant upgrade experience.

Upgrade Imac 2011 To Catalina

iMac Storage Purchase & Professional Installation Options

Quality storage is important. Be sure to buy from a quality vendor that sells storage with a reputation for reliability.

In the US (and many other countries), site sponsor Other World Computing sells SSDs for all iMac models as well as SSD Upgrade DIY Kits for easier do-it-yourself upgrades. The company also provides a 'Turnkey' professional SSD upgrade service for many of these models.

In the UK and Ireland, site sponsor Flexx sells Aluminum iMac compatible SSDs and hard drives with free shipping. The company provides flat rate shipping to France, Germany, and Switzerland and inexpensive shipping for all of Europe, too.

Upgrade Imac 2011 Cpu

In Australia, site sponsors Macfixit and Upgradeable sell iMac compatible hard drives and SSDs with fast shipping, a money-back guarantee and more.

In New Zealand, site sponsor Upgradeable New Zealand sells iMac hard drives and SSDs with fast delivery to all corners of the country, precise compatibility, a lifetime warranty, and a money-back guarantee.

Also see:

  • How do you upgrade the hard drive in the 'Mid-2007,' 'Early 2008,' 'Early 2009' and 'Mid-2009' (20-Inch and 24-Inch) Aluminum iMac models? What type of hard drive do they support? Can you swap the hard drive for an SSD?
  • How do you upgrade the hard drive in the 'Tapered Edge' Aluminum iMac models? What type of storage do they support? Is it possible to upgrade the hard drive or SSD?

Permalink E-mail a Friend Bookmark & Share Report an Error/Typo


Suggest a New Q&A Sign Up for Bimonthly Site Update Notices


<< Aluminum iMac Q&A (Main)


EveryMac.com is provided 'as is' without warranty of any kind whatsoever. EveryMac.com, and the author thereof, shall not be held responsible or liable, under any circumstances, for any damages resulting from the use or inability to use the information within. For complete disclaimer and copyright information please read and understand the Terms of Use and the Privacy Policy before using EveryMac.com. Use of any content or images without expressed permission is not allowed, although links to any page are welcomed and appreciated.