Become a MacRumors Supporter for $50/year with no ads, ability to filter front page stories, and private forums.

imac_ben

macrumors newbie
Original poster
Mar 14, 2022
9
1
Hello,

I am having issues with my iMac that I am hoping to get some help with. I am new to the forum. I have tried searching for similar threads/ posts, but haven't been able to pin down exactly what i have happening here.

I will explain what I have been experiencing and what I have tried. I am hoping someone here has some insight on what is happening with my machine and how to resolve it.

Specifications:
Late 2013 iMac 27"
El Capitan 10.11.6
3.5 GHz Intel Core i7
32GB memory (16GB is 3rd party aftermarket)
NVIDIA GeForce GTX 780M 4096MB
3TB Fusion Drive
- partitioned with bootcamp/ windows 10 (2tb mac/ 1tb windows)

I have been using this machine daily and sometimes fairly intensively since i bought it new in 2013. I use it for day-to-day computing, school, and work. I am in architecture so I use a lot of CAD and 3D modeling software, adobe suite, etc. The most intensive work I do is 3d rendering with v-ray and that is done on the windows side. I use both the mac and windows side for visual work in adobe suite, but I usually do this on the mac.

This machine has been running more or less perfectly since I got it. I have had only minor issues. No major breakdowns or crashes. I upgraded through a few different OS versions as they became available, but stopped at El Capitan because I wasn't keen on subsequent versions - photos app, connecting everything to the iphone, etc.

I have now experienced my first major issue that I am hoping to get some assistance with. About a week ago I was watching a movie in VLC on the mac side. Part way through it started to lag a bit, every 5-10 minutes pausing for a few seconds and then resuming. I assumed it was just a bad video file. When I went to shut down the computer for the evening, quitting apps, etc. also lagged a bit, but not excessively. The next day I turned it on and it booted at a regular pace. Once I logged in though, it was a bit slow. Desktop icons loaded slow, windows opened slow, etc. I was worried it was malware so I ran a full scan with MacScan. This took about twice as long as usual, but didn't turn up any issues.

I have spent the last week searching around the internet and trying various procedures to identify and resolve the issue. I have tried:
- cleared cache (browser and system)
- reset nvram
- reset smc
- ran apple diagnostics twice (no issues found)
- today I tried booting in safe mode (it took quite a while and all I reached was a black screen with cursor before shutting off manually)

I have had no success with any of this. The machine seems to be getting slower now each time I try to turn it on and log in, though not consistently. Sometimes it boots and logs in quicker, sometimes it lags for quite a while. It seems to lag most in opening windows, files, etc. The mouse tracking is totally fine and the dock icons even seem to animate without issue, though the dock takes a while to load initially.

I really don't know what the issue is. This thing has worked so well for so long, I have mostly been able to avoid learning how to deal with this stuff. I assume something is toast and the machine likely needs to be replaced. My biggest issue right now is recovering the files on the hd. Some of it was manually backed up, but most of it is not. I tried copying some folders but it was excruciatingly slow (estimated 19 hours for a 15GB folder). This brings me to the next measure I took to fix this:

I booted the iMac in target disk mode with my macbook (late 2013, 10.11.6) connected via thunderbolt cable. Both the mac and bootcamp volumes registered right away on the macbook. I tried copying a folder from the mac volume to the macbook, but it seemed to be working at the same sluggish pace as exhibited by the imac itself. I then ejected the two imac volumes. The bootcamp volume ejected right away. The mac volume however would not eject. It was spinning for quite a while and became totally unresponsive on the macbook (couldn't right click it, highlight it, or anything). I then just pulled the thunderbolt cable and the macbook was back to normal right away. I restarted the imac and everything was still on it, but it was still super slow. I have not tried booting to the bootcamp/ windows volume, but based on this test, it seems like it might be fine.

I assume this machine is toast. I am going to eventually try to wipe it and try reinstalling the OS or something. But right now, my main priority is recovering the files on it. Does anyone have any advice on this? Is it even possible?

Please let me know if I can provide any more information to help troubleshoot this situation.

Thank you for reading. I look forward to your responses.

Ben.
 

chscag

macrumors 601
Feb 17, 2008
4,622
1,946
Fort Worth, Texas
All symptoms of a failing Fusion Drive. Wiping the machine and reinstalling macOS is not going to help and may in fact make things worse. Have you been making regular backups, Time Machine, clone, etc? If not, try copying or backing up what data you need the best you can no matter how slow it is.

There is always a danger of the drive failing completely where you can not access it all. If that happens, recovering data from the drive would not work and you would have to use a data recovery service which will be expensive.

Perhaps someone else may have better advice or other ideas. Good luck with it.
 

Fishrrman

macrumors Penryn
Feb 20, 2009
28,751
12,862
Seems to me that there was an Apple recall on the 3tb hard drives that were used in the fusion drive iMacs from around this time.

I don't know if that recall is still in effect (I would think not), but might be worth investigating on your part...
 
  • Like
Reactions: imac_ben

GalileoSeven

macrumors 6502a
Jan 3, 2015
599
827
I had an external HD crap out on me a few years back. DiskDrill helped me recover most of what I had lost while DriveDX gave me a better look at the health of my drives.

Not sure if this would be viable, but perhaps you could score an external SSD (Samsung has 1-2TB models for under $300USD), reinstall the OS on it and run things from there??
 
  • Like
Reactions: imac_ben

imac_ben

macrumors newbie
Original poster
Mar 14, 2022
9
1
thank you for the responses. it is much appreciated.

So at this point since the machine seems to remain functional, just really slow, I am moving my important files in relatively small portions to a thumb drive and then saving to an external hdd via macbook for now.

I have a few other questions about this situation and the suggestions made so far:

1. What is a reasonable life expectancy for an imac like I have specified here? Is this issue likely just the result of the machine getting old? In general I would consider myself a pretty responsible user. I am not a computer wizard but it is difficult to imagine what I could have done to cause this other than close to ten years of regular usage.

2. Based on what I have described (and further research seems to support this), is this likely just a hardware issue - specifically the fusion drive? If so, why did it not register on an apple diagnostics test?

3. Can a hardware issue like this result in corruption to software/ directory/ files? or is it purely a physical issue? everything I have moved so far seems fine.

4. If indeed it is the fusion drive that is the issue, I like the idea of using the rest of the imac hardware to boot via external ssd. Is there much likelihood that any other hardware has become problematic here and is there a way to detect it? I didn't realize you could boot a mac from an external hd. I have started to research this but if you have any other tips or documentation on best practices for this, please let me know. Is it possible to boot to bootcamp/ windows using this setup?

5. Lastly, this might sound a bit weird but I thought I would throw it out there: a few months ago I bought a brand new apple wireless keyboard for this imac. It said the system requirements (os) were one release past the one I have on this machine. I set it up and it registered right away on bluetooth. I just had to remap a couple of the F keys and the battery level didn't show in bluetooth preferences. Is it possible that this newer, supposedly incompatible hardware somehow conflicted with this imac, causign the issues I am experiencing?

Thanks again for helping me out with this.

Ben.
 

Nguyen Duc Hieu

macrumors 68030
Jul 5, 2020
2,929
970
Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam
thank you for the responses. it is much appreciated.

So at this point since the machine seems to remain functional, just really slow, I am moving my important files in relatively small portions to a thumb drive and then saving to an external hdd via macbook for now.

I have a few other questions about this situation and the suggestions made so far:

1. What is a reasonable life expectancy for an imac like I have specified here? Is this issue likely just the result of the machine getting old? In general I would consider myself a pretty responsible user. I am not a computer wizard but it is difficult to imagine what I could have done to cause this other than close to ten years of regular usage.

2. Based on what I have described (and further research seems to support this), is this likely just a hardware issue - specifically the fusion drive? If so, why did it not register on an apple diagnostics test?

3. Can a hardware issue like this result in corruption to software/ directory/ files? or is it purely a physical issue? everything I have moved so far seems fine.

4. If indeed it is the fusion drive that is the issue, I like the idea of using the rest of the imac hardware to boot via external ssd. Is there much likelihood that any other hardware has become problematic here and is there a way to detect it? I didn't realize you could boot a mac from an external hd. I have started to research this but if you have any other tips or documentation on best practices for this, please let me know. Is it possible to boot to bootcamp/ windows using this setup?

5. Lastly, this might sound a bit weird but I thought I would throw it out there: a few months ago I bought a brand new apple wireless keyboard for this imac. It said the system requirements (os) were one release past the one I have on this machine. I set it up and it registered right away on bluetooth. I just had to remap a couple of the F keys and the battery level didn't show in bluetooth preferences. Is it possible that this newer, supposedly incompatible hardware somehow conflicted with this imac, causign the issues I am experiencing?

Thanks again for helping me out with this.

Ben.

1. With your condition (no inside cleaning & reapplying thermal paste), I guess its life expectancy is about 10~12 years.

2. Apple diagnostics test is not a thorough test. Sector checking (physical error checking) on a healthy 2TB hard drive would take at least 8 hours. I once tried to format (not a quick format) a new 2TB HDD and it took me 6 hours to complete the format process.

3. HDD failure will result in file corruption. Worst case scenario is when you cannot read the whole HDD.

4. It's not possible to run Windows from an external USB enclosure, unless you know how to get around the OS default setting.

5. El Capital is really too old. It lacks the driver needed to operate newer functions of your new keyboard. The only solution is upgrading the OS to newer one.
 
  • Like
Reactions: imac_ben

Fishrrman

macrumors Penryn
Feb 20, 2009
28,751
12,862
OP wrote:
"I like the idea of using the rest of the imac hardware to boot via external ssd. Is there much likelihood that any other hardware has become problematic here and is there a way to detect it? I didn't realize you could boot a mac from an external hd. I have started to research this but if you have any other tips or documentation on best practices for this, please let me know. Is it possible to boot to bootcamp/ windows using this setup?"

DON'T OVERTHINK THIS.
(shouting is intentional).

Just get an external USB3 SSD, plug it in, put a copy of the OS onto it, and go back to work.

One consideration:
I'm not sure if you can install Windows on an external boot SSD.
I've never tried it, I have no need for Windows.
However, you can probably install an EMULATED version of Windows, using Parallels or VMWare Fusion.

Once you get booted from an external drive, you may have options as to "seeing" and possibly recovering data from the internal drives that are not available to you right now. Remember, I said "possibly". No guarantees.

Another consideration:
With a fusion drive, if one component of the fusion drive fails (in your case, possibly the HDD), the SSD portion of the fusion drive may still be usable and "re-purpose-able".

If the HDD has failed, once you get booted from an external boot SSD, you might be able to erase the internal SSD (which is 128gb in size), and then install Windows onto that.
Then you would have two boot options:
1. Mac OS, from external SSD
and
2. Windows, from internal SSD.
 
  • Like
Reactions: imac_ben

4sallypat

macrumors 68040
Sep 16, 2016
3,508
3,318
So Calif
thank you for the responses. it is much appreciated.

So at this point since the machine seems to remain functional, just really slow, I am moving my important files in relatively small portions to a thumb drive and then saving to an external hdd via macbook for now.

I have a few other questions about this situation and the suggestions made so far:

1. What is a reasonable life expectancy for an imac like I have specified here? Is this issue likely just the result of the machine getting old? In general I would consider myself a pretty responsible user. I am not a computer wizard but it is difficult to imagine what I could have done to cause this other than close to ten years of regular usage.

2. Based on what I have described (and further research seems to support this), is this likely just a hardware issue - specifically the fusion drive? If so, why did it not register on an apple diagnostics test?

3. Can a hardware issue like this result in corruption to software/ directory/ files? or is it purely a physical issue? everything I have moved so far seems fine.

4. If indeed it is the fusion drive that is the issue, I like the idea of using the rest of the imac hardware to boot via external ssd. Is there much likelihood that any other hardware has become problematic here and is there a way to detect it? I didn't realize you could boot a mac from an external hd. I have started to research this but if you have any other tips or documentation on best practices for this, please let me know. Is it possible to boot to bootcamp/ windows using this setup?

5. Lastly, this might sound a bit weird but I thought I would throw it out there: a few months ago I bought a brand new apple wireless keyboard for this imac. It said the system requirements (os) were one release past the one I have on this machine. I set it up and it registered right away on bluetooth. I just had to remap a couple of the F keys and the battery level didn't show in bluetooth preferences. Is it possible that this newer, supposedly incompatible hardware somehow conflicted with this imac, causign the issues I am experiencing?

Thanks again for helping me out with this.

Ben.
Had this same issue myself and since I am not confident at opening up the iMac to replace the HDD, I opted for the LaCie Thunderbolt 2 external SSD.

Now the 2013 27" iMac is running like a champ and has been excellent boot up times, app access, minimal spinning beach balls.

Booting off the external TB drive is amazing!
Kept the internal drive for any old docs,files,folders,etc...

I also used the 1TB SSD TB for my Mac Mini i7 server (now retired)....

I have a bunch of these 1TB SSD TB2 drives in my closet....
IMG_6035.jpg
 

imac_ben

macrumors newbie
Original poster
Mar 14, 2022
9
1
okay, so I got an external ssd (samsung T5 1tb). I have been looking around at various tutorials and discussions about running this imac from the external, but I don't quite get it. I am hoping someone can clarify the process or point me to a tutorial that corresponds with my situation. I want to install the same version of El Capitan I am running now. please keep i mind I am currently working off my fully functional macbook pro to do this maneuver so I don't need to use the imac to download the installer, etc.

is this the correct workflow:
- erase and format the T5 ssd
- load the el cap installer onto it
- boot up the imac holding option, select the T5
- then install el cap to the T5

or do i need to just format the T5 and load the installer onto a separate thumb drive to install onto the T5?

sorry if I am over complicating this. and thanks again for the great responses. I have some other questions about what has been said, but I want to sort out this installation to the ssd first.
 

imac_ben

macrumors newbie
Original poster
Mar 14, 2022
9
1
Yes, separate bootable USB drive that contains El Cap is needed.

Boot from the USB bootable drive, select your T5 external, wipe and format, and load the OS as if you are doing a clean install.
https://support.apple.com/en-us/HT201372
okay, so do I need to do any kind of formatting to the T5 first? or does that happen at the "wipe and format" step? will it automatically select the correct format or do I need to choose one?
 

Macky-Mac

macrumors 68040
May 18, 2004
3,573
2,629
okay, so do I need to do any kind of formatting to the T5 first? or does that happen at the "wipe and format" step? will it automatically select the correct format or do I need to choose one?

I'm currently running my 2013 iMac using an external T5 after having the internal drive start to fail.

In my case, I was able to successfully clone the failing drive to the T5. It took about 9 hours for around 700GB of content. So far I haven't encountered any problems with corrupted files. The good thing about cloning is that you'll have all your current files and programs on the T5 once you're done.

The T5 you bought will have been formatted to a Windows format so the first thing to do is to reformat it using disk utility, and then install (either by cloning or a fresh install) the MacOS on the T5. Once that's done, then you can restart and boot to the T5.

Get it done and you'll be delighted by how much faster the iMac runs.
 
  • Like
Reactions: imac_ben

imac_ben

macrumors newbie
Original poster
Mar 14, 2022
9
1
thank you for the quick replies yesterday. I successfully formatted the T5, set up a bootable thumb drive, and installed the OS on the T5. So far it seems to work very well, though I haven't used it too intensively yet. I must say, a clean install is a bit of a shock. It has been a while for me. I will get it dialed in though, I'm sure. I would like to have tried cloning it, but the transfer speeds off the old hd were excessively slow, and who knows what might be corrupted under the hood at this point.

Also, as Fishrrman suggested, on the new installation I have access to my internal mac hd and bootcamp volume. so i guess as long as that doesn't completely die in there, I can retrieve the remainder of my files.

I have a couple other questions if anyone cares to continue indulging this with me:

1. Are there any potential complications booting to the internal hd if I want to check settings on apps, etc.? If that drive fails completely while I am in there, is there any chance it will disrupt my new installation on the ssd or anything else?

2. Fishrrman, I am curious about potentially utilizing the ssd component of the fusion drive to run bootcamp. from the standard finder interface these two components read as one. how involved would it be to dissect the fusion drive? can you suggest a workflow or software to get in there? or will it require taking apart the machine physically?

3. Regarding my earlier post about my keyboard:

5. Lastly, this might sound a bit weird but I thought I would throw it out there: a few months ago I bought a brand new apple wireless keyboard for this imac. It said the system requirements (os) were one release past the one I have on this machine. I set it up and it registered right away on bluetooth. I just had to remap a couple of the F keys and the battery level didn't show in bluetooth preferences. Is it possible that this newer, supposedly incompatible hardware somehow conflicted with this imac, causign the issues I am experiencing?
I think Nguyen Duc Hieu misunderstood. The keyboard works perfectly fine on El Capitan other than the battery indicator. My concern was regarding internal system conflicts. Is it possible that the using this keyboard will somehow disrupt the OS? Could it have contributed to the failure of the internal hd I am experiencing? Or should I just keep using it if it works? forgive me if these are silly questions. I don't know too much about this stuff.

4. I haven't given much thought to upgrading my OS in a long time. El Capitan has been working well for me for quite a while. I scan my system with MacScan regularly, keep interent data clean, etc. Now that this has happened I am going to research and save money toward getting an entirely new mac with current OS. For now I would rather not change OS. Are there any greater ramifications to running an older OS that I should be aware of?
 
  • Like
Reactions: Nguyen Duc Hieu
Register on MacRumors! This sidebar will go away, and you'll see fewer ads.