What kind of hard drive does an iMac use?

The iMac is an iconic all-in-one desktop computer made by Apple. First introduced in 1998, the iMac has undergone many design changes over the years while maintaining its status as Apple’s consumer-focused desktop offering. According to The Verge’s visual history of the iMac, there have been over 18 different iMac models since the original iMac G3, with each iteration bringing improved performance and new design elements.1

While the overall form and function of the iMac has evolved dramatically across models, one component that can vary significantly between different iMac generations is the internal hard drive. Early iMac models utilized hard disk drives (HDDs), while newer models use flash-based solid state drives (SSDs) or Fusion Drives that combine an SSD with a HDD. The type of internal drive used impacts performance factors like boot times, app launch speeds, and general responsiveness.

This article will provide an in-depth look at the different kinds of hard drives used across iMac models over the years. It will examine how iMac storage technology has progressed and help you understand the key differences between HDDs, SDDs, and Fusion Drives in current iMacs.

Hard Drive Basics

A hard drive is a data storage device used to store and retrieve digital information in computers and other devices. It works by writing and reading data on rapidly rotating disks that are coated with magnetic material (How do hard disk drives work 2022). There are a few different types of hard drives:

HDD (Hard Disk Drive)

A traditional hard disk drive (HDD) uses rotating magnetic disks called platters to store data. Read/write heads float over the platters reading and writing data. HDDs have moving parts which makes them slower and more prone to failure than solid state drives, but they are less expensive per gigabyte (How do hard drives work types of computer hard drives explain 2022).

SSD (Solid State Drive)

A solid state drive (SSD) uses flash memory chips to store data, similar to a USB flash drive. Because there are no moving parts, SSDs are faster, quieter, and less prone to mechanical failure than HDDs. However, they are more expensive per gigabyte (how does a computer hard disk drive operate? 2022).

Fusion Drive

A Fusion Drive combines an HDD and SSD into a single logical volume. Frequently accessed files are stored on the faster SSD while less frequently accessed files are stored on the HDD. This provides performance close to an SSD with the larger storage capacity of an HDD at a lower cost (How are hard disk drives beneficial 2022).

iMac Hard Drives Through the Years

The original iMac in 1998 came with either a 4GB or 6GB hard disk drive (HDD). Early iMacs continued to use HDDs for several years. According to Quora, Apple started using solid state drives (SSDs) in their computers around 2010, though not all Macs switched to SSDs at that time.

The iMac lineup began offering SSDs as an upgrade option in 2011 with the release of the Sandy Bridge iMacs. However, HDDs remained the default hard drive. It wasn’t until 2012 with the slim “tapered edge” iMac redesign that SSDs became the standard hard drive on all 21.5″ and 27″ iMac models, according to the Apple Fandom wiki.

Apple introduced Fusion Drives in 2012 alongside the SSD transition. Fusion Drives pair a small SSD with a larger HDD, combining some of the speed benefits of solid state storage with the affordability of traditional hard disks. The iMac has offered Fusion Drives as an upgrade option ever since.

Today, all current iMac models come standard with SSD storage. Customers can upgrade to a Fusion Drive or larger capacity SSD if they need additional storage. The shift to solid state storage has brought major performance improvements to the venerable iMac lineup over the past decade.

Current iMac Hard Drives

The latest iMac models released in 2021 and 2022 offer several hard drive options across the consumer and pro lines. The standard consumer iMac models come with either a 256GB SSD or 512GB SSD depending on the configuration. More expensive build-to-order options are available up to 8TB SSD. The pro iMac models aimed at creative professionals start with 512GB SSD and can be configured with up to 8TB SSD or 8TB Fusion Drive.

The key differences between the consumer and pro iMac models in terms of hard drive options are that the pro models offer larger maximum capacities up to 8TB, and the option for Fusion Drives which combine an SSD with a traditional hard disk drive (HDD). The consumer models max out at 2TB SSD with no Fusion Drive option.

In summary, the latest 2021 and 2022 iMac models offer all SSD configurations on the consumer line, while the pro line offers a choice of all SSD or Fusion Drives. HDDs are no longer offered as a standalone option due to their slower speeds compared to SSDs. The trend is clearly towards faster flash storage even on baseline models, though higher capacities up to 8TB are available on the pro line for those needing massive storage.




Comparing HDDs vs SSDs vs Fusion Drives

With most computers, you have three main options for the internal hard drive – a traditional hard disk drive (HDD), a solid state drive (SSD), or a Fusion Drive which combines an HDD and SSD into one unit. Each has its own unique pros and cons.

Hard Disk Drives (HDDs)

HDDs have spinning platters and a mechanical arm for accessing data. They have been around for decades and are a proven, low-cost storage technology. However, their mechanical nature means they are not as fast, silent, or reliable as solid state drives.


  • Low cost per gigabyte
  • High capacity drives available
  • Mature, established technology


  • Slower performance than SSDs
  • Noise from mechanical parts
  • More prone to damage from drops or vibration
  • Shorter lifespan than SSDs

Solid State Drives (SSDs)

SSDs have no moving parts – they store data on flash memory chips. This makes them much faster, quieter, and more reliable than traditional HDDs. However, they are more expensive per gigabyte of storage.


  • Very fast data access and transfer speeds
  • Silent operation
  • More resilient to physical shock
  • Typically longer lifespan than HDDs


  • Higher cost per gigabyte
  • Lower capacities available
  • Newer technology with some reliability questions

Fusion Drives

Fusion Drives combine an HDD and SSD together in a single logical volume. Frequently accessed files are cached on the faster SSD, while less accessed files reside on the slower HDD. This aims to give a balance of speed, capacity, and cost-effectiveness.


  • Cost-effective high capacity storage
  • Faster than HDD alone for frequently used files
  • Easy for computer to manage file placement


  • Slower than SSD for infrequent file access
  • More points of failure than a single drive
  • Requires macOS support

Upgrading or Replacing an iMac’s Hard Drive

Upgrading or replacing the hard drive in an iMac can be a challenging process, especially for the thinner, more compact models. Opening up the iMac enclosure usually requires specialized tools and careful disassembly. According to EveryMac, the upgrade difficulty is rated “extreme” for the 2012 to 2015 iMacs, “very difficult” for the 2017 model, and “difficult” for the 2019 to 2020 models.

The main steps involve using suction cups to remove the screen, detaching the cables, removing the logic board, and finally accessing the hard drive bay to swap out the old drive. Apple provides repair manuals but recommends having an Apple-certified technician perform upgrades. There are also third party kits with specialized tools to help DIY upgraders.

For those not comfortable doing it themselves, many Mac repair shops offer iMac hard drive upgrades and replacements. Costs vary based on model, drive type, and labor.

While Apple’s proprietary drives provide seamless compatibility, there are also compatible third party M.2 NVMe SSD options from companies like OWC and Sabrent that offer more affordable storage upgrades.

Maximizing iMac Hard Drive Performance

Keeping your iMac’s hard drive running fast and at peak performance is important for the overall speed and usability of your computer. Here are some tips for maintaining optimal hard drive performance on your iMac:

Keep 25% free space available – Having too much data filling up your hard drive slows it down, so aim to keep at least 25% of the drive free. Delete old files, clear caches, and move lesser used data to external drives.

Run maintenance utilities – Utilities like Disk Utility and third party defragmenters help keep hard drives optimized by cleaning up unnecessary files and consolidating data.

Upgrade firmware – Check for firmware updates for your specific hard drive model and install any available updates.

Monitor drive health – Use SMART status utilities to check drive errors and health indicators to spot problems before failure.

When an iMac’s hard drive is consistently running slow or reaching maximum capacity, it may be time to consider upgrading it for better performance:

– Replace with a larger HDD, SSD, or Fusion drive

– Add an external drive over USB or Thunderbolt

Upgrading allows you to regain speed, add needed capacity, and take advantage of newer technologies. With some configurations, you can even add a second internal drive for more storage.

The Future of iMac Hard Drives

With Apple’s transition to its own Apple silicon chips in recent years, the future of iMac hard drive technology is likely to see some major changes and innovations. According to industry experts like Mike Thornton (https://www.production-expert.com/production-expert-1/predictions-for-new-apple-mac-computers-in-2024), Apple will likely focus on maximizing speed and efficiency as they design chips and storage solutions specifically for their devices.

Some predictions indicate Apple may move towards flash storage or even MRAM (magnetoresistive random-access memory) for future iMacs and Macs, allowing for faster read/write speeds and instant-on capabilities (https://www.production-expert.com/production-expert-1/predictions-for-new-apple-mac-computers-in-2024). With Apple in control of chip design as well as hardware and software integration, they have more flexibility to optimize and innovate.

Additionally, increased adoption of cloud storage and services could also impact internal storage needs in future iMacs. Some speculate larger local storage may become less necessary with internet speeds allowing for easy cloud access and syncing (e.g. iCloud). However, local storage will likely remain important for performance-intensive tasks.

In the nearer term,expect minor storage updates to align with the latest market solutions, but the next 3-5 years could see more drastic changes as Apple silicon matures. Overall, the future iMac hard drive landscape will be shaped by Apple’s tight integration of proprietary chips and operating systems.

Recommendations for iMac Hard Drives

When choosing a hard drive for your iMac, there are a few key factors to consider based on your needs:

If you need lots of storage and don’t mind slower speeds, a traditional HDD is likely the most cost-effective option. HDD capacities range from 500GB to 8TB for iMacs. The LaCie d2 Professional 8TB External Hard Drive is a great HDD choice providing ample storage.

For quicker speeds and performance, an SSD is recommended. SSDs range from 250GB to 2TB for iMacs. The Samsung T7 Portable SSD 1TB is a top pick with fast transfer speeds up to 1,050 MB/s.

If you want the best of both worlds, a Fusion Drive combines an SSD and HDD together. This provides faster speeds for frequently used files stored on the SSD, while lesser used files go on the slower HDD. Apple’s 2TB Fusion Drive is a good option for general use.

For casual users who don’t need tons of storage, a 500GB – 1TB HDD or 256GB – 512GB SSD is likely sufficient. Power users and creatives working with large files benefit from 2TB+ HDDs or 1TB+ SSDs.

Ultimately the ideal storage capacity and type comes down to your budget and performance needs. SSDs provide much faster speeds but lower capacities per dollar compared to traditional HDDs.


Apple’s iMac has evolved to offer customers a range of high-performing storage options over the years. The original iMac models shipped with traditional hard disk drives, providing ample storage capacities but slower performance compared to solid state drives. Apple eventually introduced flash-based SSDs and hybrid Fusion drives to balance performance and affordability. Today’s iMacs come equipped with speedy SSDs up to 8TB, delivering both fast boot times and ample storage for large files and media libraries.

When purchasing or upgrading an iMac, the type of storage is one of the most important considerations. SSDs are best for those needing optimal speed, while HDDs and Fusion drives provide more storage capacity for the price. Power users may want to configure an iMac with both an SSD for system files and applications, and a larger HDD for data storage. With Thunderbolt ports, external drives are also an option. While SSD prices continue to drop, Fusion drives deliver a good middle ground for general consumers.

Apple is likely to move exclusively to SSDs in future iMac models as prices fall over time, possibly supplementing this with external storage options for media and backup needs. For now, buyers should weigh their performance needs against storage requirements. But no matter which iMac or drive type they choose, users can expect a major upgrade over older hard disk drives in speed, reliability, and overall user experience.