External Boot SSD for Late 2009 iMac

Discussion in 'iMac' started by mattjtaylor2303, Nov 8, 2015.

  1. mattjtaylor2303 macrumors newbie


    Nov 8, 2015
    Hi All,

    1st post.....so hello to all.

    I'm thinking about creating a SSD boot drive in attempt to speed up my iMac & then using my internal 1TB for normal storage etc... I appreciate that my iMac is on it's last legs (late 2009 model) but I'm keen to see if I can get another 2 years use out of it before replacing.

    I've read up on what SSD & it seems most recent Samsung or Crucial 2.5 SSD in a USB 3 case will do the job but how do I move the apps & boot directory from my current HD & leave everything else? Or do I buy a SSD with enough memory & copy the lot?

    In terms of my storage, my 1TB HD is approx half full with the vast majority audio (282 GB), Photo's (67 GB), Movies (44 GB) + other (93 GB)....Apps (8G).

    I'm assuming that a USB 3.0 case will run ok on a USB 2.0 iMac?

    I've recently replaced the factory RAM with Crucial 4 x 4GB & have seen some improvements. This was quite easy but I'm a little nervous messing around with the boot drive in case I stuff it up but I'm keen to extract as much performance out of my iMac for another year or 2.

    Any help, user guides, links to youtube vid's etc..would be appreciated.


  2. mattjtaylor2303 thread starter macrumors newbie


    Nov 8, 2015
  3. MarkieMark92 macrumors regular

    Dec 17, 2013
    London, UK
    From what I was told from Apple yesterday you can't just leave your files on the HDD as it doesn't work that way unless your a developer. The best way is to get a big enough external SSD to put everything on which is what I have done this morning, and that way do migration assistant and that will transfer everything :) I did manage to get just the apps and OS on the SSD but when doing that the documents on the HDD don't show up unless you go actually into the HDD part of Finder.
  4. Fishrrman macrumors P6


    Feb 20, 2009

    I don't believe a 2009 iMac has thunderbolt, and it doesn't have USB3 either, correct?

    In that case, your best alternative would be to use an "external booter" connected via USB2.

    You can use an SSD, and although your boot times will be limited by the speeds of the USB2 bus, I believe the SSD would give you decent performance once up-and-running.

    But DON'T expect it to run as would, say, a 2010 iMac with a thunderbolt connection or a 2012 iMac with USB3. That's not going to happen.

    If I tried to do what it looks like YOU want to do, I'd do this:
    1. Get my external connected.
    2. Initialize it with Disk Utility
    3. Use CarbonCopyCloner to "selectively clone" the OS, apps, and accounts to the new drive. (see notes below)

    By "selectively clone" I mean that you can go into CCC and "check off", item-by-item, the things you wish to be copied during the cloning process, and that which you DO NOT want to be copied.

    Doing this will require some forethought and planning on your part.

    For example, you would want to clone (from the root level) everything in "Applications", "Library", "System". This is "the core" of the Mac OS.

    Just copying over your home folder in its entirety may present problems, IF your home folder has grown to a great size over the course of time.

    In "Users", you would want to be more selective.
    That is to say, you might want to copy your "Pictures" folder, but UNCHECK many items inside the old Pictures folder.
    For example, if your iPhoto library has grown to great size, leave that behind on the internal drive (and then re-direct iPhoto to it by holding down the option key when you launch iPhoto).

    By doing this, you can migrate "the core" of your home folder (the first level of sub-folders within it), without bringing over everything that is INSIDE them.

    If you have -other- folders on your drive that are not part of the OS and exist "outside of" your home folder, you will have to be selective about what gets copied from those, as well.

    What you want to do can be done, but again, it requires some thought before action.
    I also recommend that you keep handwritten notes as you do this, so that you don't lose track of "where you are" as things move forward...
  5. fa8362 macrumors 65816

    Jul 7, 2008
    Firewire 800 is faster than USB 2, so you should use that. USB 2 is pretty slow. Because the SSD is external, you'll be able to use it with your new computer once you upgrade. At that point, you'll need a USB 3 dock.
  6. mattjtaylor2303 thread starter macrumors newbie


    Nov 8, 2015
    Thanks Everyone

    fa8362 - Can you buy Firewire 800 2.5 SATA enclosures? Most of what I see online is via USB but I'm keen to explore the fastest options.

    fishrrman: I like the idea of selectively choosing what to clone but I fear I would miss something important; I've now seen a youtube clip which showed partitioning an eSSD & then reloading OSX onto the eSSD by holding down the option key on boot up?

    What I'm struggling to understand is if I only "clone" the boot drive & all apps & my photo's, music etc remain in the old HD then am I just going to get SSD speeds on boot up or all the time?
  7. crouchingtiger macrumors member

    Feb 15, 2004
    Your best option in my opinion is to open up the iMac and replace the optical drive with a ssd. That will get you much faster performance from the ssd. I did this in my 2009 a couple years ago and created a makeshift Fusion drive (can google for instructions) and performance has been fabulous. May not upgrade for another year...
  8. mattjtaylor2303 thread starter macrumors newbie


    Nov 8, 2015
    Croucingtiger - I've seen the video's & there's now way I'm pulling apart the iMac to install a SSD; I know I'm not going to get the same level of performance with an eSSD but that will have to do, hence the original questions.


  9. madeirabhoy macrumors 6502a

    Oct 26, 2012
    tbh im with crouchingtiger. im not really sure SSD is going to really give you any improvement over usb 2. with a normal drive, the usb 2 is a big limiter, there's a massive difference between my usb external drive in my mac with usb 2 and in newer machines with usb 3.

    maybe someone can give a better answer either way with figures to show what difference there will be, but my gut reaction is you are wasting time and money as im not sure you will see any improvement at all, i wonder if it might even be slower, but at best i wouldnt think it'd be much faster.

    id say your options are
    1. change your mind about opening your mac
    2. pay an expert to open your mac
    3. find a firewire enclosure or indeed a firewire external SSD. a quick google says there are some, amazon did have a minipro brand one but are out of stock at the minute.
    4. dont bother.

    all of which are better ideas than spending money on a SSD and attaching to a usb 2 slot.
  10. crouchingtiger macrumors member

    Feb 15, 2004
    I can understand the reluctance to opening up the computer, but it's really not bad. Whole thing took me about 30 minutes. You said yourself that the computer was on its last legs so what do you have to lose? Just get a suction cup and the right Torx screwdriver (long one is handy), a few bucks for each on eBay.

    But otherwise, find a cheap FireWire 800 enclosure and use that. With USB 2.0 probably not worth using a SSD (although seek times will still be very fast if not the throughput).
  11. widescreenparis macrumors newbie

    Nov 10, 2015
    Hi there
    I did the same on a 2008 iMac.
    Although I agree the best is to open up the computer and replace the internal drive, or get it done, if it's not an option then here's my advice.
    1/ definitely pick a Firewire 800 enclosure for your SSD, USB2 is too slow. FW800 will be capping transfer rates at around 80MB/s, but you'll still benefit from the SSD very fast access times which will make your system very reactive.
    2/ make a fresh install of El Capitan on the new SSD. You don't seem to have a lot of apps, so don't bother cloning your old system. Your new system will be much faster if freshly installed.
    3/ most of your space is used by media files, which don't require fast access times. So you can pick a relatively small SSD for cheap (as small as 128GB), and leave your music, photos and video on the internal hard drive. If you can afford a large drive you can move everything there, but there will be little extra benefit for a lot of money.
    4/ pick the external SSD as your startup disk, and set your new system to locate your media libraries on the internal drives (look for instructions for that). You can just leave them on the internal drive or save them on a backup drive, wipe the internal drive, and copy them back.
    NB : Be aware that FW enclosure can sometimes fail to boot up directly when turning the iMac on. As a result, although you will have set the external SSD as the startup disk, it will still boot on the internal drive if the old system is still there, or not boot at all if you wiped it off and just copied the media files. It's no big deal though. If it boots on the old system just reboot and it will boot on the SSD. If the old system is not there anymore, there is usually an on/off switch on the enclosure, just turn it off then back on (or unplug the drive then plug back in if there is no switch) and your system will boot just fine.
    Definitely do it, you'll have a band new mac.
    And as others have said, consider getting someone to put the SSD inside. You'll save on the SSD enclosure (about 100 bucks), so the extra might not be that much.
    In this case, you can either pick a large SSD to fit all your media in (expensive), or put the media files on a USB2 external disk (cheap !).
  12. mattjtaylor2303 thread starter macrumors newbie


    Nov 8, 2015
    Thanks widescreenparis & crouchingtiger - very helpful stuff. I will definately get a quote for an internal SSD but if any Mac dealer charges more than $100 or so, then I'll stick with a external set up.

    BTW...When I asked a Mac shop in Adelaide to quote to replace my RAM they quoted me $450....it cost me $250 (for x4 4 GB RAM modules, tools & a anti-stat mat) & about 10 minutes!
  13. venom600 macrumors 6502a

    Mar 23, 2003
    Los Angeles, CA
    Here's a couple of things to consider. First, your computer doesn't have external I/O fast enough to justify an SSD. It would be a complete waste to use an SSD over USB 2 and even over Firewire 800. A single run of the mill HDD can max out USB 2 and Firewire 800, so you wouldn't see an benefit.

    Ideally, you'd put an SSD or fast HDD on the Firewire 800 port, but the problem is that enclosures are rare these days. A good USB 2/3 enclosure for a 2.5" HD is $6 on Amazon. The cheapest Firewire 800 enclosure is $70 on top of whatever SSD you buy. I would just buy a solid full size desktop drive with FW800 if I were you.
  14. widescreenparis macrumors newbie

    Nov 10, 2015
    venom600 the benefit of an ssd as a system drive doesn't come from its high sequential speed but mostly from the absence of access time which allows to be 10x faster or more to a spinning hdd on bursts of small files, while not even maxing out the fw800 interface. I agree it's preferable to have it inside, but I can tell you that even plugged as an external drive on fw800 it makes a huge difference.
  15. madeirabhoy macrumors 6502a

    Oct 26, 2012

    was reading an article comparing speeds from hard drives and SSD from usb 2, 3, thunderbolt and firewire and remembered about your post. it alas doesnt include sata 2 and 3, but it'll at least answer your questions about putting an SSD through usb 2, basically its a complete waste of time. the times for everything, from big files to small files, to an app called aja system tests (compares real world use) are identical between hard drive and SSD as the bottle neck is the usb 2. alas firewire isn't a lot faster either,


    it lists usb 2 flatlining at 41MBps whatever you are doing, no difference between SSD and HDD.

    similarly firewire hits up to 74MBps but no noticeable difference between SSD and HDD.

    from a different article (so not entirely sure its a like for like comparison)


    it claims that even SATA 2, with an SSD gets around 260MBps.
  16. marzer macrumors 65816


    Nov 14, 2009
    Agreed! Do NOT bother investing in an SSD if you intend to hook it to USB2 or FireWire. Neither of those will give you any speed improvement over your current internal hard drive, and USB2 will be a slow crawl no matter what you hook to it (HDD or SSD). In fact, there are mechanical hard drives on the market that run twice the speed of FW800!...if you want to upgrade to SSD, internal is your only option, otherwise you're throwing your money away.

    And because your machine is only SATA2 you can get a cheap, low-end SATA3 drive from any reputable SSD manufacturer (like Samsung, Crucial) being you won't reap the benefits of pricier, faster drives. In my 2009 SATA2 iMac I'm running a Samsung 840 EVO, cheap, reliable and maxes out the SATA2 bus. Search Amazon for current prices.
  17. widescreenparis macrumors newbie

    Nov 10, 2015
    Again, please allow me to disagree !
    You guys are focusing on sequential transfers of big files, which is not very relevant to what an operating system does in real life. Random transfers of (many) small files are much more relevant and will be greatly accelerated by an SSD even with an interface that limits the maximum transfer rate. Let me show you :
    I did these measures on a PC with Crystal Disk Mark. I couldn't find an equivalent on Mac, they would all measure transfers of large files. But CDM measures how your drive behaves will littles files as well.
    I have tested one of my SSD drives, an OCZ Agility 2 which is quite old (2010 maybe) both connected to a SATA 3 internal interface, and in a USB2 enclosure. I've compared to one of my internal HDDs, not a very fast one. Here's what it shows :
    SSD on SATA3 : 200MB/s sequential read / 22MB/s random read 4KB
    HDD on SATA3 : 81MB/s sequential read / 0.23MB/s random read 4KB
    SSD on USB2 : 42MB/s sequential read / 10MB/s random read 4KB
    As you can see, even though the USB interface limits the peak speeds on sequential transfers, a SSD on USB will still deliver much better transfer speeds on random small files than an internal HDD.
    I don't have any Firewire measure, but you can assume that the top speed of the interface will be around 70MB/s and the random read speeds of small files somewhere between USB2 and SATA.
    Therefore I believe it still makes a lot of sense to host your OS on an external SSD drive, on the best interface you can pick (TB>USB3>FW800>USB2). Worst case on USB2, random read of small files will be at least 50x faster !!!
    I have done this on a 2008 iMac and I can tell you that the system is much more reactive now.

Share This Page

16 November 8, 2015