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If you have a slow older iMac with regular HD, read this!

Turnpike

macrumors 6502
Original poster
Oct 2, 2011
423
229
New York City!
Thanks to all the help from this forum, I've got two older iMacs up and running as if they are nearly new again.

There are better ways to do this for better performance and speed. People will probably add those methods, enclosures, and connections below, but as someone new-ish to messing with iMacs and the OS, I only wanted a super easy and cheap fix so I could see something work before I invested any more time and money into it.

I had a smaller iMac and the larger 27" one, both 2011ish, and you could actually hear the Hard Drive start up with an un-co-operative attitude, and besides the loooong startup time, just coming out of sleep mode was ridiculously slow. Between that and actually browsing online or opening files, I stopped using both of them about a year ago.

The poor, lazy, uninspired man's fix:

I got a $15 Sabrent USB 3.0 to SSD /2.5 Inch Sata External Shockproof Aluminum Hard Drive Enclosure (looks like those orange LaCie external HD's but all black- and there are cheaper ones, but this way I could use it for something else down the road) that holds a regular SSD and connects by a regular SATA connection included with the enclosure, and the other end is a regular USB wire.

And I put a cheap 128GB $40 SSD from Amazon into it and just used the USB connection (not the fastest I'm told, but works excellent for me) and booted from it with directions on Google/YouTube.

It's like night and day, I have both machines as my main daily work units, and I run them like they're stolen- no sleeping or pausing all day, they are on and running 12+ hours every day 7 days a week. The only time I notice any slowdown is if I open too many tabs (way more than 20) while researching something online. No expensive enclosures, opening up the iMacs, pretty much no effort and less than $60 in parts per machine, and those are items that I can use for other stuff once I move on to another iMac.

I only use them for web browsing and watching videos (online and iTunes) and it was the best shortcut I've benefited from since switching to Macs. Thanks to all those who answer silly questions by noobs on this forum, and apologies to those who told me better ways that required a little effort.
 
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Fishrrman

macrumors Core
Feb 20, 2009
20,226
7,139
OP:

Thanks for your writeup.

This shows how using a USB3 external enclosure with an SSD can breathe some extra life into almost any older iMac, even one that has only USB2.

Quick and easy without having to pry open the computer -- which not all folks can do successfully without breaking something else in the process.

And -- an added benefit -- when it's time to retire the old Mac, you can disconnect the external drive, and "take it with you" to the next Mac "just like that"...
 
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BrianBaughn

macrumors 604
Feb 13, 2011
7,023
1,170
Baltimore, Maryland
The 2011 iMacs have USB 2.0 ports (480 mbps). The SATA connector inside is capable of 6 Gb/s. The Thunderbolt port is capable of 10 Gbps. USB 3.0 is 5 Gbps so a Thunderbolt to USB 3 adapter should be much better than the USB 2.0 port.

2012 (and later) iMacs have USB 3.0 ports.
 
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EugW

macrumors G3
Jun 18, 2017
9,041
6,425
If you're going to use an external drive:

For 2012+ and later iMacs with HD, I'd recommend an external USB 3 SSD.
For the 2011 iMac with HD, I'd consider a Thunderbolt SSD, if you can find a reasonably priced enclosure. Or else FireWire 800 is also a possibility.
For 2010 and earlier iMacs with HD, I'd recommend a FireWire 800 SSD.

Yes, for the 2011, or 2010 and earlier iMacs, USB 2 with SSD will work, but in my experience the speed isn't very good. FireWire 800 with SSD is much, much faster with SSD than USB 2.

Also, I'd recommend getting an enclosure with external power. Many of these enclosures are powered by the connector only, which can work, but which can also cause problems. If you get one that supports external power, you remove one possible variable for reliability.

OWC sells one with dual 2.5 bays, with FW800 support, for $49.

https://eshop.macsales.com/item/NewerTech/GMM8QKIT0GB/
 
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Guy Clark

Suspended
Nov 28, 2013
1,036
1,008
London United Kingdom.
Older iMacs are all too often written off. However from Late 2009 onwards the iMac is a fine machine with the later generation 3.0GHz and 3.33GHz Intel Core 2 Duo CPU's being more than capable even in 2018.

The iMac hit the sweet spot in mid 2011 with the excellent Intel i5 Quad Core (Sandy Bridge) CPU's which remain powerful to this day.
I have one of these 21.5" mid 2011 iMacs as well a 21.5" late 2015 4k Retina iMac and the older machine continues to hold its own performance wise when pitched against the newer machine only being held back by 512mb Graphics and USB 2.0 otherwise the mid 2011 iMac is the complete package. Both are fitted with Seagate Solid State Hybrid Drives (SSHD)
https://www.seagate.com/gb/en/solutions/solid-state-hybrid/
 

EugW

macrumors G3
Jun 18, 2017
9,041
6,425
Older iMacs are all too often written off. However from Late 2009 onwards the iMac is a fine machine with the later generation 3.0GHz and 3.33GHz Intel Core 2 Duo CPU's being more than capable even in 2018.

The iMac hit the sweet spot in mid 2011 with the excellent Intel i5 Quad Core (Sandy Bridge) CPU's which remain powerful to this day.
I have one of these 21.5" mid 2011 iMacs as well a 21.5" late 2015 4k Retina iMac and the older machine continues to hold its own performance wise when pitched against the newer machine only being held back by 512mb Graphics and USB 2.0 otherwise the mid 2011 iMac is the complete package. Both are fitted with Seagate Solid State Hybrid Drives (SSHD)
https://www.seagate.com/gb/en/solutions/solid-state-hybrid/
i5 and i7 quad core iMacs came out in 2009, and are still very decent. They are quite a bit faster than the Core 2 Duo models.

IMO the true sweet spot is the 2012 with USB 3, although the 2011 at least has Thunderbolt.
 

Guy Clark

Suspended
Nov 28, 2013
1,036
1,008
London United Kingdom.
i5 and i7 quad core iMacs came out in 2009, and are still very decent. They are quite a bit faster than the Core 2 Duo models.

IMO the true sweet spot is the 2012 with USB 3, although the 2011 at least has Thunderbolt.
The major advantage with the mid 2011 iMac is it is readily user repairable/upgradeable.
 

redheeler

macrumors 604
Oct 17, 2014
7,663
7,509
IMO the true sweet spot is the 2012 with USB 3, although the 2011 at least has Thunderbolt.
The 2011 21.5" can easily take 32 GB RAM, while the 2012 21.5" can take only half that with a much more complicated upgrade process. Internal SSD upgrades are also easier with the 2011, and price to performance is better with the 2012 usually costing more to acquire due to the still-current design.

These things taken into account, I'd say the Mid 2011 is the sweet spot.
 

EugW

macrumors G3
Jun 18, 2017
9,041
6,425
The 2011 21.5" can easily take 32 GB RAM, while the 2012 21.5" can take only half that with a much more complicated upgrade process. Internal SSD upgrades are also easier with the 2011, and price to performance is better with the 2012 usually costing more to acquire due to the still-current design.

These things taken into account, I'd say the Mid 2011 is the sweet spot.
Ah. I was only considering the 27” models.
 

sman789

Customer Support
Staff member
Dec 25, 2007
2,275
1,376
Richmond, VA
Hm I just got a 2011 21.5 iMac from a friend. It's Fusion drive is dying and was thinking about replacing it with an SSD. I'm a bit wary because I've only worked on PC laptops and desktops that were meant to be tinkered with.

Then I see this thread and looked up the transfer speeds for external drives:
Spinning HDD

SSD

They are fine but I'm used to at least triple these speeds with my MacBook Pro and Windows desktop. Looks like I'm going to crack this baby open.
 
Last edited:

Guy Clark

Suspended
Nov 28, 2013
1,036
1,008
London United Kingdom.
The 2011 21.5" can easily take 32 GB RAM, while the 2012 21.5" can take only half that with a much more complicated upgrade process. Internal SSD upgrades are also easier with the 2011, and price to performance is better with the 2012 usually costing more to acquire due to the still-current design.

These things taken into account, I'd say the Mid 2011 is the sweet spot.
Yes maxed out with 32 GB RAM and fitted with an SSD or Hybrid Drive the mid 2011 21.5" iMac is a mean piece of kit even in 2018. Sure USB 2.0 is a bit of a trade off but there is Thunderbolt 2 and for those with older external drives there is Firewire 800 which is a significant plus point.
 

Turnpike

macrumors 6502
Original poster
Oct 2, 2011
423
229
New York City!
The 2011 iMacs have USB 2.0 ports (480 mbps). The SATA connector inside is capable of 6 Gb/s. The Thunderbolt port is capable of 10 Gbps. USB 3.0 is 5 Gbps so a Thunderbolt to USB 3 adapter should be much better than the USB 2.0 port.

2012 (and later) iMacs have USB 3.0 ports.


YES! I just discovered that an older 2010 or 2011 iMac only has USB 2.0 ports, so with that in mind, would one of these $100 enclosures from Ebay work with an SSD and use the Thunderbolt port on the iMac? Is this an enclosure that would work for that? Or is there a different port I am needing? These G Drive enclosures are on Ebay, and I don't mind spending $100 or so on an enclosure like this since I know I can take it with me to my next outdated iMac. Thanks!

https://images.iskysoft.com/data-recovery-mac/hard-drive/thunderbolt-external-hard-drive.jpg
 

jamesarm97

macrumors 65816
Sep 29, 2006
1,063
65
My Mid 2012 MPB is my work computer on 24/7. Swapped out the internal drive for a 1TB SSD and removed the optical and put in a hybrid 1TB drive in its place. Runs nicely.
 

Matz

Contributor
Apr 25, 2015
930
1,302
Rural Southern Virginia
My mid 2010 27” iMac i7 with a regular HD, was upgraded a couple of years ago with an OWC 512GB SSD. As others have said, an SSD makes a night and day difference.

However, Mojave won’t install on this machine, and I’m wondering how much of an issue that’s going to be, if any.

I use it for the basics, such as email, writing, spreadsheets, a family tree program, viewing and minor editing of photos, and so forth. No real heavy lifting since I stopped consulting and went back to being an employee.

I’d like to have a new one, but can’t say I really need it enough to justify spending the money.
 
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