PCs

27" Apple iMac (2011): Cracking Open hardware analysis

With Intel Sandy Bridge processors and AMD GPUs the 2011 Apple iMacs are powerful all-in-ones. Bill Detwiler analyzes the hardware inside a 27" iMac.

In 2011, Apple revived the iMac line with Intel's second-generation Core CPU family and AMD's new Radeon HD 6000-series graphics processors. Apple also replaced the old Mini DisplayPort input with a Thunderbolt port.

In March, I took a look inside the HP Compaq 6000 Pro All-in-one Business PC and couldn't wait to see how the new iMac's hardware compared. After cracking open the 27" Apple iMac, I have my answer.

As of this writing, the 27" Apple iMac (2011) has a suggested starting price of $1,699.99 (US), and the 21.5" iMac starts at $1,199. Our 27" test unit cost $1,768 (before taxes).

Full teardown gallery: Cracking Open the 27" Apple iMac (2011)

Cracking Open analysis:

  • At 30+ pounds, the 27" iMac is heavy--very heavy. It looks great on your desk and gives you a ton of screen real-estate, but it's a pain to move.
  • You can upgrade the RAM without removing the iMac's front cover.
  • The front panel is held on with magnets and can easily be removed with a thin plastic tool.
  • There's plenty of room inside the 27" iMac to work on the internal hardware, but removing the motherboard is a time-consuming task.
  • The power supply is located inside the case and is not covered with a metal shield. You'll need to exercise caution when working around or removing the power supply. The same goes for the display's LED driver board.
  • The new 27" iMac has three separate cooling fans and massive CPU and GPU cooling assemblies. Unlike the first aluminum-body iMacs (released in 2007), overheating should not be a problem on the 2011 models.
  • The optical drive and hard drive are easily assessable once the display assembly is removed. They may not however, be easily replace. See my next bullet point.
  • Replacing the 3.5 SATA HDD with a non-Apple drive isn't easy and may not be possible. According to Other World Computing (OWC), the SATA power connector on the 2011 iMac hard drives have a 7-wire configuration, instead of the standard 4-wire configuration. Apple uses this new connector and proprietary firmware on the hard drive to detect and control the drive temperature. While OWC has been working on workarounds, there's no guarantee that these will be 100 percent effective. Only time will tell.
  • The CPU is not soldered to the motherboard, which means it could be replaced.

Internal hardware and chips:

About

Bill Detwiler is Managing Editor of TechRepublic and Tech Pro Research and the host of Cracking Open, CNET and TechRepublic's popular online show. Prior to joining TechRepublic in 2000, Bill was an IT manager, database administrator, and desktop supp...

21 comments
MacNewton
MacNewton

Back to my report on Apple Hardware. All new PC's or Mac's (Top of the line HP or Dell) have electronic devices and circuitry that prevent premature failure due to overheating. Techniques for heat dissipation can include heat-sinks and fans for air cooling, and other forms of computer cooling such as liquid cooling. They also have very good Heat Management systems with thermal sensor placed throughout the system. Low cost PC's (Not Mac's) have a fewer sensor and the management software is mostly out dated. Little effort is done to make the system better. It cost more to manufacture this type of system. So when you buy a low-cost PC (under $500.00) you're not really getting the same protection and reliability that you would get when you buy a iMac or Mac mini. Apple may use the same parts as some PC's but they don't skimp on the technology. Its like comparing a Honda civic with a Acura - Same manufacture and some of the parts are the same. But the Acura is a much better car the a Honda. ( Boy, that statement is going to bring out the I hate Honda people)

gunnerjoe
gunnerjoe

Hi All, As a sysadmin (Windows,Linux, Mac) in a very large org, 10,000 + people, I can attest to the fact that Apple makes quality hardware and most PC's are junk. Dell and HP have higher end Workstations that are very nice machines but the lower end consumer products are plastic piles of junk. Now there are custom PC makers (http://www.digitalstormonline.com/) that put together some killer boxes but you pay a premium for that service and some of you were crying about Apple charging a little more for quality I don't see how we can justify buying a custom PC. As for Apple using this new connector and proprietary firmware on the hard drive to detect and control the drive temperature, I'm curious as to why they would use custom hard drive, it is sure to cost them more and they seem to have a reason for everything they do; have they found that temperatures in these "All In One" systems needs to be close regulated and standard hard drives were not cutting it? We all have used laptops that get too hot to keep on your lap and you know that can't be good for the internal components, maybe Apple is just trying to extend the life by keeping things as cool as possible; whatever the reason I'm pretty sure it was not to make upgrading your hard drive difficult. Besides you can buy it with a 2TB drive, was there a bigger drive you have in mind. These machines are a solid consumer product, made to set on the desk, plug in and get to whatever work or play you had in mind; not disassembled and critique by an angry hoard of PC users :) Joe Stock Quote, wonder which one is doing it right, hmmm: dell -- 15.68 hpq -- 36.26 appl -- 343.86

Rob37n
Rob37n

I have to say that in 12 years of owning Macs I've never had a hardware problem other than when the wife knocked a glass of water down some ventilation holes and my lovely Powerbook made an odd noise and died, although the hard drive was removed and serves as a backup disk now. The only other problem was with my notebook when the cat sat on it and scratched several of the keys off. I got most of them back on bar the F7 key. That's it, and both of those incidents were avoidable. My only gripe with the Mac is the obsession with the region settings on the DVD drive, traveling between Europe and the US it would be nice to have a region free drive without the hassle of the five changes between regions and then requiring it to be reset.

MacNewton
MacNewton

I have owned a number of Mac's in my life and a Hard Drive failure is not something I've seen, except for a Rev 1 iMac ( One of the first) and had it replaced by a Mac Tech, and that was me! At the time I was working for a Mac Shop so I did the warranty work myself. After that, every one of my Mac's over 6 of them (3 of them were the iMac design) Not one of them had Hard drive problems. Thats why we buy an extended warranty folks. After 3 years, its time for a new on so you sell it off or pass it down through the family. And thats were all my old Mac's end up, With my kids or folks and a brother in-law. All are working including the Hard drive. I can't say that about a Acer and a HP that I purchased for a family member that needed it for work ( PC only office) The HP (HD) and (floppy drive )was replaced under warranty. The Acer we just returned it to costco and got our money back. Just to help educate the PC user out there thats going to say, " But what if you need a lager drive! ? That why the all have fast firewire ports 400 or 800, Most of my Macs all have external Backup and extra storage HD's And Now my next Mac will have a Thunderbolt drive. Now thats cool. So stop thing like a PC user were the HD is replaced every 6 Months or so.

rwbyshe
rwbyshe

I'm overwhelmed by Apple's engineering design department! Can you imagine, you ONLY have to remove the monitor to access the removable/repairable components. A truly unique approach. Who'd have thunk? I really hate it when ALL I have to do is remove a back or side panel to access the hardware. This all sounds worse than changing out MoBo's on some laptops and that this thing is designed so folks (a) will definitely break things if they do open it up, and (b) will have to buy nothing but Apple parts to repair it. I shouldn't have read Bill's article again... it's making me dislike Apple more by the minute.

rwbyshe
rwbyshe

I'm going to spend $1700 of my hard earned money on a computer that I can't replace the optical drive or the hard drive on... did I read that right??? Guess what, that's exactly my reason for talking as many of my clients as I can out of Apple products. Sure they have decent products but the ridiculousness of their cost and repairability has always made me an Apple fan NOT! JMHO...

aswift
aswift

Is this always going to be an on-going battle over technilogical territory. I am a tech period. Whether service a Mac or PC, they are both computers. Grumble if you like, but electronic components are not always manufactured by the computer companies. Internal architecture will differ and satisfy a wide range of people, but in the end it will fall on the need of the indiviual and what they are willing to pay for it. If I were a shop mechanic and worked on Mercedes, who am I to say that I won't find satisfaction in customizing a Ford or Toyota? The same in the computer world. The Mac supporters are adamant about their tech, PC users don't care to much one way or the other, they like the ability to customize at their leisure, creating a multi-platform environment for different operating systems. As for replacing components every 6 months??? If you use cheap components you will most likely incur failures, which is what a lot of us lose hair over, but that's why we are System Admins, Engineers, Electronic technicians. As for the stock quote it is not what is being done right by Apple in the computer realm, it is Apple the company which manufactures Macs, iPhones, iPads, an assortment of accessories. In contrast, Dell and HP are a different type of innovator. Funny you didn't reflect on the net worth of Apple vs Microsoft where the latest stats show Apple at 5 Billion to MS 54 Billion. Again, big deal. In the end it all about what you like, we all have a choice... " If you don't like the program, change the channel".

Spitfire_Sysop
Spitfire_Sysop

Computer hardware is all very similar. Even more so now that Apple has adopted PC hardware. All "Intel Macs" are actually PCs. My girlfriend had to have the motherboard replaces twice on her MacBook. Sure, it was covered under warranty but this is a major repair. A few years later her optical drive went out. It was a DVD R/W drive. This was not covered by the warranty. She had to pay for the repair and they gave her a regular CD R/W without telling her beforehand. Now she has lost the ability to burn DVDs. As I have said before, Apple is not magical. It's just a computer that was built by humans. Mistakes are possible.

afitts
afitts

Seen the 27.5" late 2009 iMacs. We have just changed 28 Hitachi hard drives with more coming in. Granted, Mac doesn't make hard drives, but neither does Dell or HP.

Spitfire_Sysop
Spitfire_Sysop

I have been a PC user for over twenty years. I am now an IT professional. I have never had to replace a hard drive near the six month mark. Macs usually have Seagate HDs in them. They are not magical. I currently have 3 HDs in my PC. One of them is a Seagate. HDs generally last 3-5 years but I don't wait for them to fail. I put a new one in after 3 years and I copy my data over to the new one. I like to keep multiple copies of important data live so I don't have to restore from backups. When I buy a new computer I like to carry the latest HD over from the old one. Now I have a fresh system with 100% of my old data in it. No restore, no "Time Machine" needed. Sure, external drives are nice and they have their place. My computer does have Firewire 800, it also has eSATA. Internal drives also have their advantages.

rwbyshe
rwbyshe

There are sooooo many things you said that really should be responded to by any openminded IT person, but I think I'll simply let you wallow in your convoluted and distorted (if not somewhat perverted) world of the Mac. They're simply not all that good. I suppose you believe there is only one good make of automobile also...

snoop0x7b
snoop0x7b

Exactly what I was thinking... Proprietary hard drive? Wtf? How the hell do you make a proprietary hard drive...

MacNewton
MacNewton

It is a big deal to some. Make good products and you make good money. M$ will only be a footnote in the history books. Way to go Monkey boy" Steve Ballmer , developer, developer, poor house. In May 2010, Apple's (AAPL) market cap passed Microsoft's (MSFT). In October, Apple overtook Microsoft in total revenue. On Thursday, when Microsoft reported its earnings for the March quarter," Monkey boy" Steve Ballmer lost what edge he still had. Microsoft's net income for calendar Q1 2011 was $5.23 billion. Apple's was $5.99 billion.

user support
user support

I agree, I am a tech and work on whatever brand device needs service. We are a Dell shop but many users have been asking for help in buying wireless routers - Cisco or other brands, or which model of iPad. I don't understand why people object to the cost or propiertary hardware if the company is spending their money not yours. But if you did want to buy an iMac you could look for the financing deals over 12 months through Barclays or 18 months at Best Buy. If the device meets your need and you see value in it, I believe you would buy it.

MacNewton
MacNewton

The DVD Drive is covered under warranty, and if if was a certified Mac repair shop, they would have received the replacements drive from Apple Pats and repaired the unit with the same DVD drive. Sound like a Non-Apple repair shop. Best Buy & Futureshop are know to have done this in the past. If it's not to late have that checked out again. Apple certified Tech's may sometime use swapped parts for systems that are not under warranty. But that should be up to the end user, not the tech. Hope this helps

afitts
afitts

Sorry, meant the 21.5" late '09 iMacs. Apple is sending out Seagate drives as replacements.

MacNewton
MacNewton

The idea of a iMac is that is used by a Non-technical user. Thats is, a person that has't any idea what a hard drive is. They have a iMac that is easy to use and mostly trouble free. For people like your Apple sells a Tower system called a Mac Pro. With is type of system the end user can swap out drive and add RAM and add up to 2 - 16-lane PCI Express 2.0 and 2 - 4-lane PCI Express 2.0 slots. As for why the hard drives last longer, I think it has to do with the type of system the drive is installed in. Not all PC's are made the same, some have very low cost power supplies, the mother-board may not be the best. So if the drive is the same in both PC & Mac. It may last longer due to the fact that the Mac my provide a better environment? When you place a Mac Pro next to a brand-name PC even an idiot can see the deference. And that why a Mac Pro costs more to buy. Quality equipment that will last longer cost more! That said, I just love cobbling together a " PC" so I can make a Linux File Server. Parts are easy to get thats to all PC stuff on the market.

MacNewton
MacNewton

Yep, I'm at a age that I can tell you that you are the one with the problem . I on the other hand I have a vast amount of tme to experience both sides of the story. As a retired Mac tech and have also worked on the PC side as far back as the release of win 3.1. I can say from experience that most PC sold in retail stores are made so crappy that it a wonder they last past the 90 day return policy! I do have an IBM PS/2 from 20 years ago and its still fires up. IBM made them like battle tanks back then.

Tony Hopkinson
Tony Hopkinson

stoopid as well, mind... Course stupid is relative, there are those that will buy the damn thing.

MacNewton
MacNewton

Thats right, if it was't for Dell supplying low cost computers to small business they would have to pay more for HP or Acer. That said, they will also have to replace them every 3 years. the math is this: Good=low cost / low cost = low milage- The truth is "Good" does not equal reliability! If you can't afford the best go for the "Good" You will just have to spend more in repairs and service costs.

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