can I boot and run iMac from Thunderbolt SSD?

ignatius345

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I've got a 2014 iMac 5K, which is generally quite good for my needs -- but has one bottleneck, which is the Fusion Drive. It's not terrible, and it's a hell of a lot better than just a HDD. Once you're underway with a big file or app and your active stuff is loaded onto the SSD part of the FD, it's ok -- but clearly a pure SSD would be faster. And it occurs to me that an external SSD might be way faster and be a pretty cost-effective little upgrade.

I'm considering buying this combo:

1) a Crucial P1 1000GB M.2/NGFF (2280) NVMe/PCIe (here)
and
2) a Plugable USB C to M.2 NVMe Enclosure (here)

... and installing Mojave on that SSD and booting from it for daily use. The iMac has a Thunderbolt 2 port. Will this be fast enough? Any concerns I should be aware of?
 

João Victor

macrumors newbie
Jul 19, 2013
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You will be limited to 980 MB/s, due to enclosure's interface.

Check Samsung x5 which uses Thunderbolt interface, this one reaches 3gb reading and 2,5gb writing
 
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chrfr

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Jul 11, 2009
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You will be limited to 980 MB/s, due to enclosure's interface.

Check Samsung x5 which uses Thunderbolt interface, this one reaches 3gb reading and 2,5gb writing
The X5 can’t be used with a Thunderbolt 1 or 2 computer as the Apple Thunderbolt 2 to 3 adapter doesn’t power Thunderbolt 3 devices plugged into Thunderbolt 1 or 2 computers.
[doublepost=1554425222][/doublepost]
I've got a 2014 iMac 5K, which is generally quite good for my needs -- but has one bottleneck, which is the Fusion Drive. It's not terrible, and it's a hell of a lot better than just a HDD. Once you're underway with a big file or app and your active stuff is loaded onto the SSD part of the FD, it's ok -- but clearly a pure SSD would be faster. And it occurs to me that an external SSD might be way faster and be a pretty cost-effective little upgrade.

I'm considering buying this combo:

1) a Crucial P1 1000GB M.2/NGFF (2280) NVMe/PCIe (here)
and
2) a Plugable USB C to M.2 NVMe Enclosure (here)

... and installing Mojave on that SSD and booting from it for daily use. The iMac has a Thunderbolt 2 port. Will this be fast enough? Any concerns I should be aware of?
The enclosures you’re looking at are USB devices, not Thunderbolt devices so they’d connect to your USB ports, not the Thunderbolt 2 port.
 
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ignatius345

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The X5 can’t be used with a Thunderbolt 1 or 2 computer as the Apple Thunderbolt 2 to 3 adapter doesn’t power Thunderbolt 3 devices plugged into Thunderbolt 1 or 2 computers.
[doublepost=1554425222][/doublepost]
The enclosures you’re looking at are USB devices, not Thunderbolt devices so they’d connect to your USB ports, not the Thunderbolt 2 port.
Ok, got it, thanks for the reality check -- I'll look more carefully. Is the idea of booting off a Thunderbolt SSD a sound one, though?
 

Fishrrman

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Feb 20, 2009
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OP:

Your "original plan" is a good one.

No, the Plugable enclosure + nvme drive won't be "as fast as" a true thunderbolt3 drive.

BUT... it will still be almost twice as fast as a "regular" USB3 SSD.
And... it will cost you about half (or less) of what an equivalent thunderbolt3 drive would cost.

Also, when thunderbolt3 enclosures drop in price (if that ever happens), you could just take the internal nvme drive out, and put it into a tbolt3 enclosure for even more speed.

I think you'll be very VERY pleased with the performance you get from the combination you stated in your original post above. It will make the iMac "feel new" again.
 
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ignatius345

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OP:

Your "original plan" is a good one.

No, the Plugable enclosure + nvme drive won't be "as fast as" a true thunderbolt3 drive.

BUT... it will still be almost twice as fast as a "regular" USB3 SSD.
And... it will cost you about half (or less) of what an equivalent thunderbolt3 drive would cost.

Also, when thunderbolt3 enclosures drop in price (if that ever happens), you could just take the internal nvme drive out, and put it into a tbolt3 enclosure for even more speed.

I think you'll be very VERY pleased with the performance you get from the combination you stated in your original post above. It will make the iMac "feel new" again.
My 2014 iMac 5K has Thunderbolt 2, though. Is a TB2-connected SSD going to be fast enough to boot and run the machine quickly from?
 

dwig

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Jan 4, 2015
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OP:

Your "original plan" is a good one.

No, the Plugable enclosure + nvme drive won't be "as fast as" a true thunderbolt3 drive.

BUT... it will still be almost twice as fast as a "regular" USB3 SSD.
And... it will cost you about half (or less) of what an equivalent thunderbolt3 drive would cost.

Also, when thunderbolt3 enclosures drop in price (if that ever happens), you could just take the internal nvme drive out, and put it into a tbolt3 enclosure for even more speed.

I think you'll be very VERY pleased with the performance you get from the combination you stated in your original post above. It will make the iMac "feel new" again.
I agree that the Plugable housing would be a good choice as it is USB C 3.1gen2. It will fall back to gen1 speeds when used with older USB-3 ports that use a USB-A connection (e.g. 2014 iMac) so it will effectively be that same speed as a "regular" USB3 SSD, at least until the iMac is replaced with a newer model. Also, upgrading to a Thunderbolt housing later is not likely to be an option for the "antique" 2014 iMac as it doen't support TB3 and older TB2 housing won't likely be available for NVMI drives (if they are even available today).

It all boils down to the old "every chain is only as strong as its weakest link". In this case, the weak link is the 2014 iMac with its older USB3.0 and TB2 interfaces.
 

Fishrrman

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When I wrote my reply above, I overlooked that the OP has a 2014 iMac (which has USB3 but not USB3.1 gen2).

So... for his case... the "best, cheapest, fastest" option would be to buy a USB3 "pre-built" drive (such as the Sandisk Extreme or Samsung t5). Then just plug it in and use it...
 
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ignatius345

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It all boils down to the old "every chain is only as strong as its weakest link". In this case, the weak link is the 2014 iMac with its older USB3.0 and TB2 interfaces.
Sure, but if it's faster than my internal Fusion Drive, that's all I care about. I'll spring for one of the 2019 iMac 5K machines at some point, but for right now, I'm looking for a "bang for the buck" upgrade that will improve my experience without costing a ton.

Would USB 3.0 with a decent SSD perform at a suitable level for booting and running a Mac?
[doublepost=1554495097][/doublepost]
When I wrote my reply above, I overlooked that the OP has a 2014 iMac (which has USB3 but not USB3.1 gen2).

So... for his case... the "best, cheapest, fastest" option would be to buy a USB3 "pre-built" drive (such as the Sandisk Extreme or Samsung t5). Then just plug it in and use it...
I actually have a Samsung EVO SSD (2.5" form factor) and a basic USB 3.0 enclosure -- I'm using it currently to house my iTunes media, but wondering if I should just switch things around and install Mojave on that drive and move my media to the fusion drive.

The reason I started poking around and looking at Thunderbolt stuff is that I assumed it'd be a lot faster than USB 3.0.
 

flygbuss

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Jul 22, 2018
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Sure, but if it's faster than my internal Fusion Drive, that's all I care about. I'll spring for one of the 2019 iMac 5K machines at some point, but for right now, I'm looking for a "bang for the buck" upgrade that will improve my experience without costing a ton.

Would USB 3.0 with a decent SSD perform at a suitable level for booting and running a Mac?
[doublepost=1554495097][/doublepost]

I actually have a Samsung EVO SSD (2.5" form factor) and a basic USB 3.0 enclosure -- I'm using it currently to house my iTunes media, but wondering if I should just switch things around and install Mojave on that drive and move my media to the fusion drive.

The reason I started poking around and looking at Thunderbolt stuff is that I assumed it'd be a lot faster than USB 3.0.
You would need an external Thunderbolt 1/2 SSD.
It will definitely make a difference.
Checkout Transcend's StoreJet or JetDrive.
The JetDrive comes as a kit with SSD and enclosure. The purpose is to exchange the internal SSD and put the apple one into the enclosure, but maybe you can put the Transcend SSD into that enclosure and use it externally via Thunderbolt.
I couldn't find much about it online, so you might contact them before buying.
The StoreJet definitely works as an external Thunderbolt macOS boot drive.
 

Fishrrman

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Feb 20, 2009
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OP wrote:
"I actually have a Samsung EVO SSD (2.5" form factor) and a basic USB 3.0 enclosure -- I'm using it currently to house my iTunes media, but wondering if I should just switch things around and install Mojave on that drive and move my media to the fusion drive."

This would be an excellent idea.
The speed your SSD is capable of is "wasted" by storing media on it.

Here's how to set it up:
SSD:
- OS
- Apps
- Basic accounts
(by "basic" I mean that you store your "large libraries", such as iTunes media, on the internal fusion drive.)

Fusion drive:
A COPY of the OS, apps, and accounts (you might consider partitioning the fusion drive into a "boot partition" and a "media/data" partition.
You can then use either CarbonCopyCloner or SuperDuper to clone the SSD to the "boot partition" of the fusion drive. Now you have a second boot source for emergencies. YOU ALWAYS WANT A SECOND BOOTABLE DRIVE within reach (shouting intentional).
Put your music, movies and other data on the second "media" partition. Now you can tell your apps (running on the SSD) to use the libraries that are on the fusion drive. This isn't much more than child's play.

Don't waste $$$ on thunderbolt.
You ALREADY HAVE the hardware you need to do this (the SSD).

There are different ways to go about things and "swap things around".
Do you happen to have a second drive large enough to hold the contents of the SSD? That would make it much easier.
 
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ignatius345

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OP wrote:
"I actually have a Samsung EVO SSD (2.5" form factor) and a basic USB 3.0 enclosure -- I'm using it currently to house my iTunes media, but wondering if I should just switch things around and install Mojave on that drive and move my media to the fusion drive."

This would be an excellent idea.
The speed your SSD is capable of is "wasted" by storing media on it.

Here's how to set it up:
SSD:
- OS
- Apps
- Basic accounts
(by "basic" I mean that you store your "large libraries", such as iTunes media, on the internal fusion drive.)

Fusion drive:
A COPY of the OS, apps, and accounts (you might consider partitioning the fusion drive into a "boot partition" and a "media/data" partition.
You can then use either CarbonCopyCloner or SuperDuper to clone the SSD to the "boot partition" of the fusion drive. Now you have a second boot source for emergencies. YOU ALWAYS WANT A SECOND BOOTABLE DRIVE within reach (shouting intentional).
Put your music, movies and other data on the second "media" partition. Now you can tell your apps (running on the SSD) to use the libraries that are on the fusion drive. This isn't much more than child's play.

Don't waste $$$ on thunderbolt.
You ALREADY HAVE the hardware you need to do this (the SSD).

There are different ways to go about things and "swap things around".
Do you happen to have a second drive large enough to hold the contents of the SSD? That would make it much easier.
This is great. I'm going to do exactly this! I do have a few other big drives around to help with the swapping. I actually have a full bootable clone I make via CCC every month or so and generally keep offsite in case of disaster. So I think I'm pretty well covered.

I'd been running my iTunes library off an external spinning HD for a long time and recently stepped it up to an SSD. But as you say, it occurs to me that the speed of this might be "wasted" on just playing music or video.

My only real hesistation in all this is that any hardware failure in the SSD enclosure would be basically catastrophic to my ability to use the machine. So backup will be key, and making sure there's a bootable partition on the internal drive seems like a very key thing to do.

The one thing that as far as I'm aware of must live on the drive I boot from is iCloud Drive. Photos and iTunes will happily work off whatever library you point them to, but iCloud Drive is pretty picky that way, and I'm not about to get into symlinks or any such voodoo.

Thanks for your advice. As soon as I have a day or two free to shuttle all this around I'll give it a shot!
 

Fishrrman

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Feb 20, 2009
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OP wrote:
"My only real hesistation in all this is that any hardware failure in the SSD enclosure would be basically catastrophic to my ability to use the machine."

Well.. THIS IS WHY you partition the internal (fusion) drive and then set up one partition to become A SECOND BOOTABLE-TO-THE-FINDER volume.

Now... if anything ever happens to the external SSD... you can IMMEDIATELY reboot, hold down the option key to invoke the startup manger, select the internal bootable volume, and be back-up-and-running in about 90 seconds.

And then... go to work on the problem with the SSD.

I don't use iCloud at all, and never will.
So... can't help with any issues at all that pertain to iCloud.
 
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ignatius345

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Anyone have experience with external SSD boot drive and Dropbox?
Dropbox just has to be in your account's home folder, which is on your boot drive -- whether that is an internal or external drive, I don't believe would matter to Dropbox.
 

dcpmark

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Oct 20, 2009
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Dropbox just has to be in your account's home folder, which is on your boot drive -- whether that is an internal or external drive, I don't believe would matter to Dropbox.
I moved my Dropbox Folder to an external non-booting drive, and it works great. Just Google it.
 
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need to restart

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Apr 28, 2012
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I moved my Dropbox Folder to an external non-booting drive, and it works great. Just Google it.
I have but I've only found articles that warn against it

Issues with external drives: If you’re moving the Dropbox folder to an external drive, the Dropbox folder must be available when your computer boots and before the Dropbox desktop app starts. If the Dropbox desktop app starts before such a drive mounts and gets recognized by your computer, you'll see an error. Dropbox will then give you the opportunity to relink your Dropbox account or exit if it can’t find your Dropbox folder.
  • If the external drive is disconnected from the computer while Dropbox is running, there's a small—but real—chance that the app will start deleting files before realizing that the entire drive has been removed.
I'm wondering if placing dropbox on a bootable external SSD would solve that issue as the external drive would always be available when the computer boots.

Or if there's some way to have dropbox on the bootable external SDD and then also use carbon copy cloner to back up the dropbox folder to the internal fusion drive just in case.
 
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dcpmark

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Oct 20, 2009
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I have but I've only found articles that warn against it

Issues with external drives: If you’re moving the Dropbox folder to an external drive, the Dropbox folder must be available when your computer boots and before the Dropbox desktop app starts. If the Dropbox desktop app starts before such a drive mounts and gets recognized by your computer, you'll see an error. Dropbox will then give you the opportunity to relink your Dropbox account or exit if it can’t find your Dropbox folder.
  • If the external drive is disconnected from the computer while Dropbox is running, there's a small—but real—chance that the app will start deleting files before realizing that the entire drive has been removed.
I'm wondering if placing dropbox on a bootable external SSD would solve that issue as the external drive would always be available when the computer boots.

Or if there's some way to have dropbox on the bootable external SDD and then also use carbon copy cloner to back up the dropbox folder to the internal fusion drive just in case.
Yes, just remembered that I'm using a non-booting INTERNAL drive on my Mac Pro right now....that works great, and have never had any issues so I guess it must load up all internal drives first, even non-booting ones. Good advice for when I get my new iMac as I will make sure I move it to a bootable drive if I put the Dropbox folder on an external drive.