Recently, I came into possession of an iMac 12.1 (21.5-inch, Mid 2011). I need a second computer to function as a home server. A used, pretty powerful (4-core, 18 GB RAM) all-in-one computer. A built-in display is a nice bonus for fast settings adjustments without using SSH or VNC. After replacing the HDD with an SSD, it was time to install the system. What is the latest version of Mac OS X that supports this model?
Eh, High Sierra.
Hackintosh on an iMac?
High Sierra is slightly outdated and doesn’t support some newer software (Office 360, Homebrew displays warnings). After checking if there is some Hackintosh-ish patch, I’ve noticed this is possible to install even Big Sur! However, it is highly unrecommended, if you have AMD Radeon graphic card, because of lack of acceleration support. It means that Radeon turns the newer Mac OS X into a slideshow.
Guess what card is in my iMac? Bingo…
So I will give High Sierra a shot.
Why most of you won’t need a brand new computer in the next 5 years
Ok, don’t let the number of lacks I write about fool you. Besides them, after a while of using this computer, my point is:
10-YEAR OLD IMAC IS AWESOME COMPUTER!
Its 4-year old operating system is awesome also!
Ok, this piece of hardware was pretty expensive when it was brand new. But new cars have sick prices too. I’ll probably never be able to afford (and in the self-driving future won’t need, I hope) to buy a brand new car.
However, I can afford a 20-year-old car that will do its basic job of getting me from place to place. In the same way, there is no need to buy a brand new computer for basic computer activities.
Browsing? Yes. (Safari, Chrome)
Editing documents? Yes. (Office 2016)
Those applications that are no longer available natively, most have browser equivalents.
If you want to be a home-grown auto mechanic
I’m a software developer so probably I cannot use it as my main device, because of USB 2.0 only (could find an adapter from Thunderbolt 2 to USB 3.0) and lack of support of modern programming tools. And it’s a waste of my time looking for hacks and workarounds.
Buuut. First, as a last resort, I can install Linux or Windows and resurrect the machine. Please. It has 18 GB RAM (upgradeable up to 32 GB), Intel i5 (upgradeable up to i7) and a new dedicated graphic card (you guessed, upgradeable!). After some modifications, it could easily run Big Sur! Many systems on virtual machines.
This thing is basically a 90s’ BMW E36 of desktops.
What about M1?
Ok, Apple is moving to M1 processors of its own making, so using Intel-based Macs will become increasingly tedious. Then you can switch to Windows or Linux, older hardware generally means fewer compatibility issues.
A bit of bitterness
The only thing to think about is security. Security fixes for High Sierra are no more. So in case of the discovery of some security errors, criminals could use it to steal your data and money. Again, Windows or Linux. Or offline.
Would a 10-year-old iMac be suitable for daily professional use? Probably not. And if I were forced to? It would not only be survivable, but rather painless.
Just as I wouldn’t use my 20+-year-old Mazda for hauling debris or as a food truck, I wouldn’t use a 10-year-old iMac for some tasks. At the same time, just as my Mazda is fuel-efficient, the iMac allows most non-power user needs to be met in an economical and pleasing way.