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NVMe SSD Upgrade on a Late 2012 iMac

CuriousOtter

macrumors newbie
Original poster
Sep 22, 2020
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INTRO
Hello, I do hope you as the reader are well!
I have been given a Late 2012 iMac 2.7ghz 21.5" as a gift, and it is painfully slow. The HDD corrupted and it is running off an external HDD connected via USB. So I am looking to add a few upgrades. I am focussing on the RAM and SSD as the CPU and GPU are fine and I don't think I need to upgrade them. I'll be using this computer for Video Editing and Graphic Design. This is my first post here and I'm new to computer upgrades, so shout if anything is unclear.

SSD UPGRADE
I wanted to see if any other Mac owners have been able to use an NVMe SSD on a iMac that is from an older generation. The issue is, with the current SATA input I can plug in a normal SATA SSD, which is fine, clocking R/W (Read/Write) speeds of 500 mb/s, but the NVMe SSD's can clock R/W over 2000 mb/s! So you can see why I would love to opt for a NVMe over a traditional SATA SSD. Please let me know if you know of any adaptors/convertors that can connect the SATA port to a M-Key NVMe Driver. See the photo attached, this shows that most of the adapters are compatible with the m.2 SSD's using a M/B -key, however, they do not support the NVME M-Key or B-Key drivers. And ones that do tend to only connect to PCIE instead of SATA.

RAM Upgrade
I have been monitoring my RAM usage and it is using around 70-80% of the RAM most of the time, which is concerning. I only have 2 ports with 4gb 1600hz (8gb total) DDR3 RAM inputted available. Do you think the upgrade to 2 x 8gb DDR3 RAM (12gb in total) is worth the money? I checked and the Mac can go up to 16gb of RAM so it is fine for the upgrade.

Thank you for your help!
 

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vertical smile

macrumors 603
Sep 23, 2014
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I have been given a Late 2012 iMac 2.7ghz 21.5" as a gift, and it is painfully slow.
Are you on Catalina?

There have been many reports of performance issues with HDDs with APFS, and for some reason, this has gotten much worse with Catalina.

I wanted to see if any other Mac owners have been able to use an NVMe SSD on a iMac that is from an older generation.
I have a Late 2012 iMac, and use an external TB3 NVMe drive, the Samsung X5. A NVMe using a TB3 drive and your TB port is the fastest you will get without doing a striping RAID.

The second fastest will be swapping the internal HDD for a SSD.

The third would be a SATA SSD over TB.

A close forth would be SATA SSD over USB3.

A close fifth would be a high speed SD card.

You can get faster than everything above with a striping RAID, and while there are a bunch of options and configurations for doing this, I was thinking about doing an internal RAID0 using the a blade SSD and swapping the HDD for a SSD on my Late 2012.

but the NVMe SSD's can clock R/W over 2000 mb/s!
You will not see speeds like this on your Late 2012 without doing a striping RAID.

Please let me know if you know of any adaptors/convertors that can connect the SATA port to a M-Key NVMe Driver.
If there is such a thing, it would only give your SATA3 speeds. There would be little point in using this.

Do you think the upgrade to 2 x 8gb DDR3 RAM (12gb in total) is worth the money?
Do you mean 16GB total?

If you are currently only utilizing 70%, maybe not worth it, but to be sure, check out the memory pressure and use this guide to determine if you could benefit from using more:

If it was me, and I was opening my Mac to swap the drive, I would definitely do the RAM while it was opened.
 
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CuriousOtter

macrumors newbie
Original poster
Sep 22, 2020
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Are you on Catalina?

There have been many reports of performance issues with HDDs with APFS, and for some reason, this has gotten much worse with Catalina.

Thanks so much for the responses. Super helpful!

Yes I'm on Catalina, but the HDD was corrupted long ago before it was updated to Catalina. It sounds like the HDD has been corrupted from another issue apart from the OS
 
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CuriousOtter

macrumors newbie
Original poster
Sep 22, 2020
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have a Late 2012 iMac, and use an external TB3 NVMe drive, the Samsung X5. A NVMe using a TB3 drive and your TB port is the fastest you will get without doing a striping RAID.

The second fastest will be swapping the internal HDD for a SSD.

The third would be a SATA SSD over TB.

A close forth would be SATA SSD over USB3.

A close fifth would be a high speed SD card.

You can get faster than everything above with a striping RAID, and while there are a bunch of options and configurations for doing this, I was thinking about doing an internal RAID0 using the a blade SSD and swapping the HDD for a SSD on my Late 2012.

Brilliant, thanks for letting me know about instructions on doing this. I don't have the budget for the external SSD's (they look epic), so will opt for the Internal SATA SSD.

Agreed, Changing the RAM too so should be a good operation as a whole really! Lets hope this all goes to plan.

Really appreciate your time on looking through this issue!
 
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hwojtek

macrumors 65816
Jan 26, 2008
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Poznan, Poland
So you can see why I would love to opt for a NVMe over a traditional SATA SSD. Please let me know if you know of any adaptors/convertors that can connect the SATA port to a M-Key NVMe Driver.
You will find it difficult to connect a NVMe drive to a SATA port. An adapter from NVMe to SATA is unknown of (wouldn't make any sense anyway, since it will top out at ~550 which is a fraction of NVMe speeds.
Therefore if you connect to internal SATA, you're well catered with a SATA3 SSD. If you are certain you will need faster storage on this computer, using an external TB enclosure with a NVMe drive seems to be the only (albeit cost-uneffective) solution.

See the photo attached

M-key is a physical connector, used in both SATA and NVMe applications, however they are not compatible (nor they actually fit each other)

Do you think the upgrade to 2 x 8gb DDR3 RAM (12gb in total) is worth the money?

16. This RAM is cheap and it's always worth to have more RAM. That said, my portables run 8 GB comfortably, even using Photoshop mildly. This is, however due to swapping to an NVMe drive and not SATA. You'd be better off with 16 GB obviously.
 
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HorstMeier

macrumors newbie
Nov 9, 2020
4
1
I have a Late 2012 iMac, and use an external TB3 NVMe drive, the Samsung X5. A NVMe using a TB3 drive and your TB port is the fastest you will get without doing a striping RAID.
Hey, this sounds very interesting to me.
I'm also thinking to connect an external NVMe SSD to my Late 2012 iMac but had those Thunderbolt 2 Transcend JetDrives 855 in mind (actually had already ordered one but cancelled then because I was not sure if the iMac 2012 can work with NVMe drives at all).
Could you tell more of your experience with the Samsung X5?
Is the iMac booting from this SSD? What read/write speeds does it reach on TB 1?
When used as boot drive, does it get quite hot and/or does it throttle on bigger copy actions?
What's the size of the SSD you're using?
 
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CuriousOtter

macrumors newbie
Original poster
Sep 22, 2020
4
0
Hey, this sounds very interesting to me.
I'm also thinking to connect an external NVMe SSD to my Late 2012 iMac but had those Thunderbolt 2 Transcend JetDrives 855 in mind (actually had already ordered one but cancelled then because I was not sure if the iMac 2012 can work with NVMe drives at all).
Could you tell more of your experience with the Samsung X5?
Is the iMac booting from this SSD? What read/write speeds does it reach on TB 1?
When used as boot drive, does it get quite hot and/or does it throttle on bigger copy actions?
What's the size of the SSD you're using?
Hi, well firstly the whole thing was a huge success. Switched out the RAM and HDD and it was pretty easy. Used this to take the mac apart.


I believe I am getting the read write speeds that were advertised on the product (550mb/s). I only have a 250gb version though. I haven’t noticed it getting hot or having any issues on copy actions. Bear in mind i am using a SATA SSD, not nvme as the port input is a SATA input.

I have it configured so the max boots from the SSD, and I keep the heavy documents on a external hard drive to free up space.

Works great so far! I would recommend it. I would recommend increasing the ram too
 
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HorstMeier

macrumors newbie
Nov 9, 2020
4
1
Hi, well firstly the whole thing was a huge success.

Bear in mind i am using a SATA SSD, not nvme as the port input is a SATA input.
Thanks for your reply but the question has been addressed to vertical smile.
I hope he'll drop few sentences specifically for the external NVMe thing since I'm not going to replace internal parts of the iMac.
I'm quite curious if the TB 1 interface can be saturated on read from SSD, say, approx. 1200 Mbyte/s throughput.
 
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vertical smile

macrumors 603
Sep 23, 2014
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Could you tell more of your experience with the Samsung X5?
I have been using the Samsung X5 for about 6 months on the TB1 port of my Late 2012 iMac. My experience overall has been positive.

The only two negatives I experienced were really minor (also, both may have not been a fault of the X5).

The first being that the drive didn't come on the first time I plugged it in, and I thought it didn't work. I unplugged it, and plugged it in again, and it started to power on. I think I may have not had it plugged in all the way, so most likely my fault.

The second, which I am unsure if it had to do with the drive, or maybe something else, my Mac started acting goofy the day after switching to the X5 as a boot drive. It behaved similarly to having a corrupt boot drive. I didn't do anything to correct nor troubleshoot the problem, other than a restart which seemed to resolve the issue. I have not see this problem come back since.

I wouldn't consider a negative, as I knew about it prior to using the X5, but using a TB3 drive on TB1 isn't as simple as plugging it into the Mac. You need something to power the drive, and in my case, I used a TB3 Dock.

So, it is more equipment than other options.

Is the iMac booting from this SSD?
Yes. I did some testing on it prior to cloning my Fusion Drive, for speed. The testing lasted about a week or two, then I cloned over to the X5 and started booting from it ever since.


What's the size of the SSD you're using?
I purchased the 500GB X5 because I got a really good deal on it, and I have since installed a 1TB Samsung 900 EVO Plus NVMe SSD in the X5. I am using the 1TB as the boot drive.



What read/write speeds does it reach on TB 1?
The original 500GB NVMe that I removed from the X5 actually has a slightly better write speed. I got a little over 800MBps write and almost 900MBps read speeds using the BMDST with a 5GB stress.

The 1TB NVMe that I swapped got a similar read speed, but I lost about 100MBps on the writes. It currently gets about 730MBps write and almost 900MBps read.


I'm quite curious if the TB 1 interface can be saturated on read from SSD, say, approx. 1200 Mbyte/s throughput.
I expected to get a little over 1000MBps reads over the 1TB port, and I didn't quite get that high.

I am thinking that there could be more overhead than expected, and that maybe using a dock in between the drive and the Mac is adding to the overhead.

Still, the speeds that I am getting with the X5 are faster than other non-striping RAID options, so I am pretty happy overall.

When used as boot drive, does it get quite hot and/or does it throttle on bigger copy actions?
I actually tested for this, but not on a really long write test.

After a lot of testing and research, I have determined that the "overheating" of the Samsung X5 could be a myth, but the temperature thresholds for throttling might be set too low. This may have been corrected with the newest firmware, but I don't not know this definitively.

During my tests, the temperatures if of X5 at idle is a little hot. But, under a load, the temps stayed under the iMac's internal SSD temperature.

I cannot remember the exact times, but I think I ran BMDST for 20 minutes on both the X5 and the internal SSD. The internal SSD started out cooler, but got hotter under the load. The X5 started out warmer, but the peak stayed under the internal SSD by a few degrees.

The problem with my test is that it more simulated what a boot drive would do, and not a long term write, which might be when throttling would be experience.

From my research, it appears that the X5 could start to throttle down to USB2 speeds when writing really large transfers of 50GB+. The only time I transferred something that large was when I did the cloning, and I didn't time nor monitor the transfer.

This also appears to be an issue with the X5, and not other TB3 NVMe drives. Like I mentioned before, the firmware had (or had* if the new firmware fixed the issue) the thresholds set to throttle way too early.

Other TB3 NVMe enclosures would actually get up to much higher temps than the X5 when doing large transfers.


Another thing to keep in mind is that if you plan on using this as a boot drive, you would most likely never even come close to the thresholds that throttle as it only happens on very large writes. Reads don't cause it, and alternating reads and writes don't cause it.
 
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HorstMeier

macrumors newbie
Nov 9, 2020
4
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Wow, thanks for this comprehensive statement.
So you were using two different NVMe drives (500 and 1000 GB) and both worked with iMac 2012.
I think I'll take the small risk and get me a Transcend JetDrive 855 (TB2 interface, no need for an adapter) although they didn't mention iMac on their website, but even not with the older SSD models.
I have slight suspicion they mix compatibility information for internal drives if user likes to replace the old built-in with the new one and recycle the old one in external case.
 
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vertical smile

macrumors 603
Sep 23, 2014
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So you were using two different NVMe drives (500 and 1000 GB) and both worked with iMac 2012.
Well, two different NVMe SSDs in the same TB3 enclosure.

I used the 500GB NVMe that was the OEM NVMe SSD that came with the Samsung X5.

I removed the 500GB NVMe from the X5 enclosure, and installed a purchased a 1TB Samsung 970 EVO Plus NVMe SSD inside the X5. I wasn't even sure if it would work, but it did.


One thing I was going to suggest was that if you did end up going for a TB3 drive, I would recommend getting an enclosure and getting the NVMe separate. The X5 is great, but very expensive. I think you could save money by getting an empty enclosure and getting a cheap NVMe to put inside.

It might also be worth noting that I am using High Sierra. I am unsure if the NVMe would work on earlier OS versions.

I think I'll take the small risk and get me a Transcend JetDrive 855
If you do, let me know how it works and the speeds you get, please.

One reason I went with the X5 was that I would most likely use it on a newer Mac with TB3 when I decided to upgrade. But maybe I might try the transcend drive if it works out for you.
 
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osplo

macrumors member
Nov 1, 2008
74
7
Well, two different NVMe SSDs in the same TB3 enclosure.

What type of TB3 dock are you using? I understand that your iMac (if it is the late 2012 is the same I have) has only TB 1 connectors. Is there a dock that accepts input from a computer using TB1 and lets you attach TB3 peripherals? Which one?

Thanks for sharing.
 
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vertical smile

macrumors 603
Sep 23, 2014
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What type of TB3 dock are you using?
I am using a TB3 Dock, the CalDigit Thunderbolt Station 3 Lite.

The dock is connected to Apple's TB2/TB3 bidirectional adapter, that is connected to a TB2 cable, which is plugged into the back of my Late 2012 iMac's TB1 port.

But, there isn't anything special about this particular dock, you can use other TB3 docks.

I understand that your iMac (if it is the late 2012 is the same I have) has only TB 1 connectors. Is there a dock that accepts input from a computer using TB1 and lets you attach TB3 peripherals? Which one?
It isn't the dock that is making the TB3 to TB1 connection possible, it is only needed to power TB3 devices because Apple's bidirectional adapter does not provide power for TB3 devices over the bus.

The dock has a separate source of power via a power adapter you plug into a wall. I am only using the TB3 dock to power the TB3 NVMe SSD.

If the TB3 device you want to use has its own power source via a power adapter, then you will not need a TB3 dock to power it, you can connect it directly to the bidirectional adapter.

To connect bus-powered TB3 devices to your Mac, at a minimum, you need the TB2 cable, Apple's bidirectional adapter, and a dock or something else to power the TB3 device.


Here is Apple's TB2 cable, but you can use third-party cables for this one:

This is Apple's bidirectional adapter, only Apple makes this:
 
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HorstMeier

macrumors newbie
Nov 9, 2020
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If you do, let me know how it works and the speeds you get, please.
Well, here we are.

Received the JetDrive 855 480GB yesterday evening.
iMac 2012 running HighSierra recognized and mounted it flawlessly when plugged in.
The drive came formatted with ExFat, had to reformat with APFS.
Installation of Catalina worked well.
Booting from JetDrive is also fine, even when iMac is switched on.
When running OS from the external drive and keeping it busy quite well, the case gets notably warm but definitely not hot, approx. 40 degrees I guess.
Transfer speed doesn't meet my expectations (according to Transcend the NVMe SSD is able to deliver "up to" 1600 MB/s on read and 1400 MB/s on write) but most likely I expected a bit too much - I've never used Thunderbolt interface before.
BDMST reports approx. 670 MB/s on write and 765 MB/s on read, which is of course still remarkably faster than the internal SSD part of fusion drive.

Just checked on System Information - the external NVMe is reported using 2 PCIe lanes while Transcend mentioned interface type PCIe Gen.3 x4 (i.e. 4 PCIe lanes).
This might well explain why I can see just half of the specified data throughput.
All in all it's OK and I'll keep it, finally I can utilize one of the so far useless TB interfaces.
 
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vertical smile

macrumors 603
Sep 23, 2014
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Well, here we are.
Thanks for posting about your experience with it.


Transfer speed doesn't meet my expectations (according to Transcend the NVMe SSD is able to deliver "up to" 1600 MB/s on read and 1400 MB/s on write) but most likely I expected a bit too much - I've never used Thunderbolt interface before.
You are using it on a Late 2012 iMac, correct? Those speeds listed are most likely for TB2, and your iMac only has TB1.

It would be impossible for you to get up to the listed speeds with TB1, the max possible would probably be about 1000MBps with overhead.


All in all it's OK and I'll keep it, finally I can utilize one of the so far useless TB interfaces.
It is still faster than what you can do internally, not counting striping RAIDs.
 
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instructionformula

macrumors newbie
Nov 24, 2020
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A big thanks to those who contributed their experiences above, it's been really useful. I have a 27" late-2012 iMac running Catalina that I'm trying to keep going for a little while longer. Have been booting from a SATA SSD over USB3 for years, but it recently that drive died so went to consider my options.

Following HorstMeier's results, I thought I'd try my luck with the lower-spec JetDrive 825 240GB, advertised "up to 950MB/s". With BMDST I get around 580MB/s write, 710MB/s read: so slightly but not massively lower than what they reported with the 855. By comparison the SSD I was using over USB3 gave me around 410/430, and the internal SSD from the split 3TB fusion drive 260/460.
 
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