Looking for advice regarding updating a 2011 iMac

Discussion in 'iMac' started by Beets-and-bytes, Jul 10, 2019.

  1. Beets-and-bytes macrumors newbie

    May 31, 2019
    I am looking for advice and links to any relevant tutorials as I am wanting to help my friend improve the speed of their Mac.
    They have an iMac 21.5-inch, Mid 2011 with a 2.5 GHz i5 and 8 GB of 1333 Mhz DDR3 memory.
    Its currently using OS X El Capitan Version 10.11.6

    My plan is to:
    1. Update their OS to the latest possible version for their hardware. I believe it is macOS High Sierra?

    2. Install more RAM. My understanding is there is 4 ram slots so it would currently have 2 slots filled with 4GB sticks and I could double that by buying this specific model of RAM?

    3. Thinking of using an SSD. Reading online it looks sort of daunting to install an internal SSD. But using an external SSD instead seems to be pretty straight forward and would still be much faster than the current internal HD. I believe I can use the thunderbolt port to connect it? What external SSD would be a good choice? I have been looking at this one.

    Thank you for any help.
  2. ayaka19 macrumors newbie


    Jan 13, 2019
    I would do 1 and 3. External SSD should work well, however I’m not sure if 2011 model has USB 2.0 or 3.0. USB 3.0 is probably necessary in order to get decent performance. Otherwise you might want to shell out for a thunderbolt hard drive case.
  3. Fishrrman macrumors P6


    Feb 20, 2009
    RAM isn't going to help very much.
    Nor is an external SSD, because a 2011 iMac only has USB2.
    A 2011 iMac is now 8 years old, and it's just not going to perform anywhere near "more modern hardware".

    If your friend REALLY "wants more speed", it's time to be shopping for a replacement.
    If he/she can't afford "new", I'd suggest looking at Apple-refurbished 2017-design iMacs.

    Don't put $$$ into an 8-year-old iMac.
  4. krazzix macrumors member


    Jun 15, 2010
  5. Silencio macrumors 68020


    Jul 18, 2002
    Installing the SSD and boosting the RAM won't perform major miracles with that system. You are also limited to macOS 10.13.6 due to the outdated GPU. I wouldn't spend good money updating such a system, but if you already have the parts handy, may as well give it a go.
  6. smirk macrumors 6502a


    Jul 18, 2002
    Orange County, CA
    Like others have said, the best upgrade is to get a new or newer computer. But if your friend is really strapped and can't afford that, then I agree with @krazzix. I had a 2011 iMac with the Core i7 CPU, and I opened it up and replaced the hard drive with a Samsung EVO SSD. The difference in speed was startling. Bootups went from over 45 seconds to 15 seconds, apps launched after one bounce, etc. I did this in 2015, and at the time the i7 was fast enough to hold its own. And actually, those speeds were obtained with a home-made fusion drive; I replaced the old HDD with a new 2TB one and added the SSD.

    Everything was great until the video card failed and I had to get a new machine. That's always a risk with the 2011 iMac, that you'll pour money into it and then the display or video card will go out.

    If you really want to upgrade it and you really don't want to switch to a different machine, it is very doable for normal people to open it up and replace the hard drive, if you are careful and go slowly. If you replace the existing HDD with an SSD, you'll have to install a special cable from Other World Computing that has a temperature sensor on it, to compensate for the custom hard drive that shipped with that computer. It is a common topic on these forums, so you should find info on it without much trouble.

    Good luck!
  7. Beets-and-bytes thread starter macrumors newbie

    May 31, 2019
    Hi Ayaka19 thanks for the response. The computer only has USB 2.0 so I would need to use the thunderbolt connection. But it looks like this would be an affordable option for that: https://www.amazon.ca/Transcend-256GB-Thunderbolt-SJM500-TS256GSJM500/dp/B00NV9LSGW/ It would only have room for the OS but my understanding is apps would still run faster that way even if the majority of the files are still on the internal HDD?
    --- Post Merged, Jul 11, 2019 ---
    Thanks for the advice Fishrrman. I will bring this up with my friend, thats a good point about not wasting money on updates vs new hardware. It looks like although there are only USB 2 slots there is the thunderbolt connection. https://www.amazon.ca/Transcend-256GB-Thunderbolt-SJM500-TS256GSJM500/dp/B00NV9LSGW/ This drive uses that and would be under $200. Its not a big investment, just not sure how much faster it would be if I put the OS on that. He is dealing with really slow applications right now.
    --- Post Merged, Jul 11, 2019 ---
    Thanks for that link krazzix. It does look doable. The other option I was looking at is using thunderbolt and this external drive https://www.amazon.ca/Transcend-256GB-Thunderbolt-SJM500-TS256GSJM500/dp/B00NV9LSGW/ as it doesn't seem very expensive.
    --- Post Merged, Jul 11, 2019 ---
    Thanks Silencio, that is good to know. Right now it seems like the applications are at a sluggish pace, not sure how much that would improve. The part I was looking at https://www.amazon.ca/Transcend-256GB-Thunderbolt-SJM500-TS256GSJM500/dp/B00NV9LSGW/ is not that expensive and could be used on a future machine as well as it does have thunderbolt and USB 3 connections.
    --- Post Merged, Jul 11, 2019 ---
    Thank you smirk for the detailed response.

    My friend is dealing with really slow apps right now, everything is very sluggish. Does having your OS on an SSD speed up programs as well as boot times then? Even if your other files are all on an HDD?

    Yes I don't want him to waste money, the external SSD I was looking at would connect through thunderbolt but it would be usable for future computers as it does have USB 3.0 https://www.amazon.ca/Transcend-256GB-Thunderbolt-SJM500-TS256GSJM500/dp/B00NV9LSGW/

    Thanks a lot
  8. velocityg4 macrumors 601


    Dec 19, 2004
    If you do open it up to replace the HDD with an SSD. I'd also suggest replacing the CPU with a Core i7-2600s. I don't think the 21.5 will handle the regular i7-2600.

    Still price out all the upgrades. Also look at sold prices on eBay for that iMac. Once you price out all the upgrades and factor in the resale value. Your friend may be able to just purchase a 2013 to 2015 model with an SSD and at least 8GB RAM. Perhaps even a 4K model. All for the same net price. Although I'd sell the current iMac on Craigslist. There's just too many fees with eBay and an iMac is easy to sell.
  9. Cruz3LT macrumors newbie


    Jun 24, 2019
    Seattle, Washington
    Do all the upgrades that you want. The most expensive part will be the SSD and even that isn't bad. It makes a huge difference compared to the HDD. Also increasing the ram will boost some performance as well and you can get ram for fairly cheap also. Watch the tutorials on SSD upgrade. It is really easy. Just take your time.
  10. Beets-and-bytes thread starter macrumors newbie

    May 31, 2019
    Thanks for the advice velocityg4. Yes I am just considering all the options right now and seeing what the best value would be. I am leaning towards using the external SSD over thunderbolt just because it sounds like it will be a quick and noticeable fix for the slow apps https://www.amazon.ca/Transcend-256GB-Thunderbolt-SJM500-TS256GSJM500/dp/B00NV9LSGW/ but also be quite cheap at $200 and the drive can be used for future computers.

    Thanks for the advice Cruz3LT. Yes the ram and SSD upgrades do seem to be pretty affordable!
  11. smirk macrumors 6502a


    Jul 18, 2002
    Orange County, CA
    When you install macOS onto the SSD, the Applications folder will also be on the SSD, so the launching of applications will occur at SSD speeds, as well as any virtual memory swaps or scratch disk usage performed by the app. If the application is CPU-bound, using an SSD won't help with that. In other words, launching Photoshop will be much faster, and certain aspects of using Photoshop will be faster, but a filter with intensive CPU usage won't be faster.

    As far as which route to go, it kind of depends on what your friend wants to get out of it and how he uses his computer. For me, I needed 2 TB of storage and I didn't want to have to back up separate volumes, so I decided to create a fusion drive to replace the failed HDD. This meant replacing the existing HDD and installing an internal SSD. For your friend, it may be enough to use a 256 GB external SSD. Just keep in mind that the internal drive is now eight years old. You haven't said what he uses it for, so it's hard to give targeted advice.

    I guess in a nutshell, yes, using that external SSD will give a nice speed boost for anything disk-related.
  12. bpeeps macrumors 68030


    May 6, 2011
    For what it's worth, OP. I just ordered a 2019 iMac to replace my top spec 2011 iMac. I wasted money on upgrading RAM for it late last year and I still can't multitask the way I want to; it's better but still remarkably slow. Opening up the chassis and installing an SSD is going to be a bit of work as well. Don't waste the money on an 8 year old machine. Now is the time to upgrade, the iMacs are refreshed and Apple dropped storage upgrade prices by half.
  13. nambuccaheadsau macrumors 68000


    Oct 19, 2007
    Nambucca Heads Australia
    One important detail not covered. The 2012 and later have USB3 as a minimum which is important for external
  14. gauchomac macrumors newbie

    Jan 14, 2019
    Have to disagree. I bought a 2011 i7 mac with a bad graphics card for $100. I installed an SSD I had handy, replaced the graphics card for $100 with a Dell, and replaced the original spinner HDD with a newer one I had available as my Time Machine/data drive. After it was all working, I bought a thunderbolt to USB3 adapter. It boots incredibly fast, and runs everything I throw at it.

    Now, I don't do intensive video editing, nor am I building the space shuttle. But I do use CAD, and often have many things open.
  15. Beets-and-bytes thread starter macrumors newbie

    May 31, 2019
    Thanks for explaining that Smirk. My friend is using their computer for basic things like email, browsing and Word.
    So it sounds like he would benefit from the external SSD.
    I am being told on the apple forms that I would also need an enclosure for the external SSD? I am confused by that, I though enclosures were for internal SSDs. I though I could just connect the external SSD through the thunderbolt cable and be ready to go?

    Thanks for letting me know Bpeeps. I was looking at the apple store at newer iMac models. Their basic 21.5 inch iMac is $1399. Do you think that, without any upgrades, would be way better than my friends current iMac, enough to easily justify the price?

    Thanks for pointing that out nambuccaheadsau. My friend is using the 2011 model so that's why i've been considering external SSD over thunderbolt, as USB 3.0 is not an option. Still confused by the claims I need an enclosure as well to use that external SSD, I though enclosures were for internal SSDs.

    Hey gauchomac thanks for the response. That is good to hear you're having success. Can you link your thunderbolt to USB3 adapter? I didn't know they existed. You use it for connecting devices or external drives?
    Do you know if I actually need an enclosure for the external SSD I linked? I am confused by that, I though enclosures were for internal SSDs. I though I could just connect the external SSD through the thunderbolt cable and be ready to go?

    Thanks a lot.
  16. mikehalloran macrumors 65816

    Oct 14, 2018
    The Sillie Con Valley
    Over the original HDD? Absolutely it is.
    Only if you haven't seen the difference. Compared to a 2017 or later SSD based iMac, it's slow but for surfing the web, word processing, email, general web based activities, it's no slower.

    I can A/B my iMac Pro and my wife's 2011 i5 for any task she does while making a living—her office is about 30 feet from mine. Very little difference. That changes only when running tasks that I use to make a living — there the differences are quite pronounced (my 2010 i7 was a lot faster than that i5 for what I do).
    Yea, no reason not to. Replace the NV RAM battery with a CR2032 while you're at it—takes a tech about 30 extra seconds; might take anyone else 2–5 extra minutes.

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15 July 10, 2019