Breathe New Life Into Your Old iMac

Stop, don’t buy a new iMac!

First of all they’re not so new — they were last updated in October 2015 and they’re still selling at the original price.

According to Macworld there were over 30 millions Macs sold in 2010 and 2011 and about 8 million of those were iMac desktops. That’s a whole lot of machines that are likely still functional but struggling to perform at an acceptable level.

You need only spend $171 for your anemic 27” iMac to run macOS Sierra, boot in seconds and open applications in a blink. Or you can buy a used one and upgrade it for just $500 starting from scratch. You really only require the latest models if you are working frequently with 4K video.

A machine that was originally built in 2009 can easily perform past another 5–10 years with a few straightforward upgrades. CraigsList has these computers lightly used for as little as $325 if you are patient. For another $171 in parts you can rock a machine almost matching today’s specs. And if you are presently struggling with an older iMac the decision is even easier (c’mon, it’s less than $200 and just an hour of tinkering). It’s fun and you might even learn something. Keep in mind that a new 27 iMac has a base price of $1800 (that’s with a 5K screen but no SSD and only 8GB of RAM). Boom, you just saved $1300.

More fun with maths — you can make 3.5 of the new-ish models for less than the price of a single new one at The Apple Store!

I chose all my parts from Amazon Prime (free 2-day shipping and at least 4.5 star reviews). The installation videos are available online (links below). You can do this and I’m gonna make it easy.

YOU WILL NEED:

  1. A late-2009 to mid-2011 iMac 27” found on Craigslist for $325–450

2. Four Patriot memory sticks to max out the RAM at 16GB for $76:

3. A 120 GB Samsung SSD drive to replace the stock DVD drive (use the SSD for operating system and applications. Keep the 1TB spinning hard drive for data) for $76

4. An SSD drive adaptor mount for $19

5. Suction cups to remove iMac screen for $5 (I used the suction cups than mount my iPhone holder to the car windshield)

6. [Optional] Keep the optical/DVD drive for use externally with a USB Optical Drive Enclosure for $18

7. [Optional] Use the SSD externally to clone the entire system prior to drive installation with a 3.5” drive enclosure for $8

8. [Optional] Computer Tool Kit for $12 — it’s awesome btw

HARDWARE STEPS:

  1. Swap DVD drive for SSD (45 minutes)

2. Add RAM (10 minutes)

SOFTWARE STEPS:

  1. Format the SSD using the pre-installed Mac app (Disk Utility) -

format as Mac OS Extended Journaled with a GUID partition map

2. Clone the original spinning hard drive to new SSD drive (use the free version of Carbon Copy Cloner)

3. Install Mac OSX — download El Capitan from the Mac App Store

4. Optional: wipe the old 1TB hard drive clean once everything is on the new SSD (use Disk Utility again)

5. Optional: transfer large data files to the larger 1TB original drive (ex. iTunes Music Library and iPhoto picture library)

TIPS

1. Don’t be tempted by off-brand RAM or SSD drives for a lesser price. I chose Apple quality components for reliability and speed (and a fairer comparison to current machines). Compromising with cheap components is not worth the cost savings in the long run.

2. Get your parts from Amazon rather that eBay for free Prime shipping and easy returns. It’s especially important to get the iMac its self from Craigslist (rather than eBay) so you can inspect a local machine firsthand before purchase

3. You don’t need to clone your entire old hard drive to the new SSD (it may not fit). Just install OSX to the SSD and then add the programs you use most often. You just (sort of) made a hybrid drive!

4. If you don’t want to delete your DVD drive you can just get a bigger SSD to replace the old spinning drive. That’s a little easier but a bit more expensive.

5. The Amazon and video links are specifically for the late-2009 model but you can easily search for yours using the links below.

6. macOS Sierra is likely the last OS upgrade a 2009 iMac will handle (it runs great). So stick to the 2010 or 2011 models if that’s a concern.

7. Remember to have fun. And pass it on!

LINKS:

iFixIt install videos

MacSales install videos

EveryMac specifications galore