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iMac Upgrade Guide

Upgrade Your Intel iMac With Memory, Storage, and More

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Apple emloyee Jason Roth (L) and his son Tyler Roth, 3, play with an iMac
Brian Kersey/Stringer/Getty Images News/Getty Images

When is it time to buy a new iMac? When is it time to just upgrade your iMac? Those are difficult questions, because the right answer varies from individual to individual, depending on needs and wants. The first step in making the right decision about whether to upgrade or buy new is to become familiar with the upgrades that are available for your iMac.

Intel iMacs

In this upgrade guide, we'll look at just the Intel-based iMacs that have been available from Apple since the first Intel iMac was introduced in early 2006.

iMacs are typically considered one-piece Macs, with few, if any, upgrades available. You may be surprised to discover that you do have some upgrade options, from simple upgrades that may boost your iMac's performance, to somewhat advanced DIY projects that you may or may not be willing to tackle.

Find Your iMac Model Number

The first thing you need is your iMac's model number. Here's how to find it:

From the Apple menu, select 'About This Mac.'

In the 'About This Mac' window that opens, click the 'More Info' button.

The System Profiler window will open, listing your iMac's configuration. Make sure the 'Hardware' category is selected in the left-hand pane. The right-hand pane will display the 'Hardware' category overview. Make a note of the 'Model Identifier' entry. You can then quit the System Profiler.

RAM Upgrades

Upgrading RAM in an iMac is a simple task, even for novice Mac users. Apple placed either two or four memory slots in the bottom of each iMac. The key to performing an iMac memory upgrade is selecting the proper RAM type. Check the iMac Models list, below, for the RAM type for your model, as well as the maximum amount of RAM that can be installed. You'll also find a link to Apple's RAM upgrade guide for each specific iMac model.

Internal Hard Drive Upgrades

Unlike RAM, the iMac's internal hard drive wasn't designed to be user upgradeable. If you want to replace or upgrade an internal hard drive in your iMac, an Apple service provider can do it for you. It's possible to upgrade the hard drive yourself, but I generally don't recommend it except for experienced Mac DIYers who are comfortable taking apart something that wasn't designed to be easily taken apart. For an example of the difficulty involved, check out this two-part video from Small Dog Electronics on replacing the hard drive in an early 2006 iMac.

First-generation iMac hard drive replacement video part 1

First-generation iMac hard drive replacement video part 2

Remember, these two videos are only for the first-generation Intel iMac. Other iMacs have different methods for replacing the hard drive.

Another option is to forgo upgrading the internal hard drive, and instead add an external model. You can use an external hard drive that you connect to your iMac, by USB 2.0, FireWire 400, or FireWire 800, as your startup drive or as extra storage space.

iMac Models

The Intel-based iMacs predominantly used Intel Core 2 Duo processors of various speeds. The exceptions were the early 2006 models with the iMac 4,1 or iMac 4,2 identifier. These models used the Intel Core Duo processors, the first generation of the Core Duo line. The Core Duo processors use a 32-bit architecture instead of the 64-bit architecture seen in the Core 2 Duo models.

iMac models can use different RAM types. The hard drives that Apple used had either SATA I or SATA II interfaces. If you decide to replace an iMac's hard drive, use a SATA II hard drive because it will work with any of the Intel iMacs, regardless of the SATA interface used within the iMac itself.

17-inch and 20-inch early 2006 iMacs

Model identifier: iMac 4,1, early 2006 model

Model identifier: iMac 4,2, mid-2006 model

Memory slots: 2

Memory type: 200-pin PC2-5300 DDR2 (667 MHz) SO-DIMM

Maximum memory supported: 2 GB total. Use matched pairs of 1 GB per memory slot.

Hard drive type: SATA I 3.5-inch hard drive; SATA II drives are compatible.

Hard drive size supported: Up to 2 TB

User manual early 2006 (iMac 4,1) with memory upgrade instructions

User manual mid 2006 (iMac 4,2) with memory upgrade instructions

17-inch, 20-inch, and 24-inch late 2006 iMacs

Model identifier: iMac 5,1, late 2006 model

Model identifier: iMac 5.2, late 2006 model

Model identifier: iMac 6,1, late 2006 model

Memory slots: 2

Memory type: 200-pin PC2-5300 DDR2 (667 MHz) SO-DIMM

Maximum memory supported: 4 GB total. Use matched pairs of 2 GB per memory slot. Apple officially supports only 3 GB of RAM in these models. You can install 4 GB, but your iMac won't use all of the available RAM.

Hard drive type: SATA I 3.5-inch hard drive; SATA II drives are compatible.

Hard drive size supported: Up to 2 TB

User manual with memory upgrade instructions

20-inch and 24-inch 2007 iMacs

Model identifier: iMac 7,1, 2007 model

Memory slots: 2

Memory type: 200-pin PC2-5300 DDR2 (667 MHz) SO-DIMM

Maximum memory supported: 4 GB total. Use matched pairs of 2 GB per memory slot.

Hard drive type: SATA II 3.5-inch hard drive

Hard drive size supported: Up to 2 TB

User manual with memory upgrade instructions

20-inch and 24-inch 2008 iMacs

Model identifier: iMac 8,1, 2008 model

Memory slots: 2

Memory type: 200-pin PC2-6400 DDR2 (800 MHz) SO-DIMM

Maximum memory supported: 6 GB total. Use a 2 GB module in one slot, and a 4 GB module in the second slot.

Hard drive type: SATA II 3.5-inch hard drive

Hard drive size supported: Up to 2 TB

User manual with memory upgrade instructions

20-inch and 24-inch early 2009 iMacs

Model identifier: iMac 9,1, 2009 model

Memory slots: 2

Memory type: 204-pin PC3-8500 DDR3 (1066 MHz) SO-DIMM

Maximum memory supported: 8 GB total. Use matched pairs of 4 GB per memory slot.

Hard drive type: SATA II 3.5-inch hard drive

Hard drive size supported: Up to 2 TB

User manual with memory upgrade instructions

20.5-inch and 27-inch late 2009 iMacs

Model identifier: iMac 10,1, 2009 model

Memory slots: 4

Memory type: 204-pin PC3-8500 DDR3 (1066 MHz) SO-DIMM

Maximum memory supported: 16 GB total. Use matched pairs of 4 GB per memory slot.

Hard drive type: SATA II 3.5-inch hard drive

Hard drive size supported: Up to 2 TB

User manual with memory upgrade instructions

20.5-inch and 27-inch mid 2010 iMacs

Model Identifier: iMac 11,2 and 11,3

Memory slots: 4

Memory type: 204-pin PC3-10600 DDR3 (1333 MHz) SO-DIMM

Maximum memory supported: 16 GB total. Use matched pairs of 4 GB per memory slot.

Hard drive type (21.5-inch iMac): SATA II 3.5-inch hard drive.

Hard drive type (27-inch iMac): SATA II 3.5-inch hard drive, SATA II 2.5-inch SSD.

User manual with memory upgrade instructions

20.5-inch and 27-inch mid 2011 iMacs

Model Identifier: iMac 12,1 and 12,2

Memory slots: 4

Memory type: 204-pin PC3-10600 DDR3 (1333 MHz) SO-DIMM

Maximum memory supported: 16 GB total. Use matched pairs of 4 GB per memory slot.

Hard drive type SATA III (6.0 Gbps) 3.5-inch hard drive, SATA III (6.0 Gbps) 2.5-inch SSD.

User manual with memory upgrade instructions

20.5-inch late 2011 iMac

Model Identifier: iMac 12,1 (Education model)

Memory slots: 2

Memory type: 204-pin PC3-10600 DDR3 (1333 MHz) SO-DIMM

Maximum memory supported: 8 GB total. Use matched pairs of 4 GB per memory slot.

Hard drive type SATA III (6.0 Gbps) 3.5-inch hard drive, SATA III (6.0 Gbps) 2.5-inch SSD.

User manual with memory upgrade instructions

20.5-inch late 2012 iMac

Model Identifier: iMac 13,1

Memory slots: 2

Memory type: 204-pin PC3-12800 DDR3 (1600 MHz) SO-DIMM

Maximum memory supported: 16 GB total. Memory in the 21.5-inch 2012 iMac is not considered user upgradable. Upgrades can be performed by an authorized Apple Service Provider.

Hard drive type SATA III (6.0 Gbps) 3.5-inch hard drive, SATA III (6.0 Gbps) 2.5-inch SSD. Drive replacement in the 21.5-inch iMac is not considered user replaceable. Upgrades can be performed by an authorized Apple Service Provider.

User manual with memory upgrade instructions

27-inch late 2012 iMac

Model Identifier: iMac 13,2

Memory slots: 4

Memory type: 204-pin PC3-12800 DDR3 (1600 MHz) SO-DIMM

Maximum memory supported: 32 GB total. Use matched pairs of 8 GB per memory slot.

Hard drive type SATA III (6.0 Gbps) 3.5-inch hard drive, SATA III (6.0 Gbps) 2.5-inch SSD. Drive replacement in the 27-inch iMac is not considered user replaceable. Upgrades can be performed by an authorized Apple Service Provider.

User manual with memory upgrade instructions

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