Upgrading/replacing early 2008 iMac

Discussion in 'Buying Tips and Advice' started by macstatic, Feb 16, 2018.

  1. macstatic macrumors 65816


    Oct 21, 2005
    My wife is complaining about the OSX "spinning beachball" on her early 2008 iMac (2.4GHz curo 2 duo, 20" screen) which appears quite often and we're thinking it might be time to upgrade or replace it with something else. She uses it for "regular" stuff -email and web for the most part, but for the latter she ends up with many tabs.

    I suppose the beachball-spinning is because of lacking RAM and the hard drive acting as virtual memory, so the big question is if upgrading from the current 4GB to the maximum of 6GB will make much of a difference, or not, and if the added outlay will rather justify a new Mac instead ("new" also meaning a second hand model)?

    Here are the specs of her machine:

    early 2008 iMac (A1124) 20" 2.4GHz core 2 duo
    4 GB RAM (PC2-6400 DDR2)
    500 GB internal hard drive
  2. Fishrrman macrumors Pentium


    Feb 20, 2009
    You didn't tell us which OS is on your wife's iMac, and that's the most important thing of all.

    If it's any version of the OS from Mavericks or later, the reason that it's running slow is simple -- it has a platter-based hard drive inside.
    Newer versions of the OS run like molasses on older Macs with platter-based hard drives.

    THAT's "the source of your problem".
    Adding RAM -WILL NOT- "fix it".
    Only a faster drive will.
    Or... a new (or at least newer) Mac.

    It -IS- time to "think about replacing it with something else".
    The 2017 iMacs are very nice.
    Or... for a little less... an Apple-refurbished 2015 iMac.

    DO NOT buy ANY new Mac (any kind of Mac) UNLESS it has an SSD inside it.
    For a new iMac, it will cost $100 more (256gb SSD) or $300 more (512gb SSD).
    (all shouting intentional).

    Also important to know:
    You generally cannot walk into a store and walk out with an iMac with an SSD inside.
    These have to be ordered through Apple's "build-to-order" program on their web page.
    A little more effort and time, but it will be worth it.

    If you need more storage later on, you can always add an external USB3 drive.
  3. macstatic thread starter macrumors 65816


    Oct 21, 2005
    I knew I had forgotten something :D
    It's running OSX 10.9.5 Mavericks, so then what is likely the cause for the slow speed?

    If it won't make much difference upgrading the 4GB RAM to 6GB (or it's too costly compared to getting another Mac) we were wondering if a Mac Mini might be a better investment than an iMac. Especially a used one. The new iMacs are getting thinner and thinner, causing thermal problems and shorter lives. And if the screen dies it's not really worth replacing, so a Mac Mini with a separate display might not be such a bad idea, right?

    As for SSDs -these are still quite expensive for large drives. I have two small SSD drives in my Mac pro (one for apps/OSX, another for cache and Lightroom catalogs). For file storage I have a normal spinning hard drive. Didn't some Mac Mini machines come with two drive slots so that an SSD + a hard drive be installed? I think Apple might still be in a "non upgradeable" position whereas they've allow user-upgrade options in the past.
  4. Mr_Brightside_@ macrumors 68030


    Sep 23, 2005
    The 21" Retina 4K Display 3.4GHz Processor 1TB Storage MNE02LL/A has Fusion, which is an option and would be stocked in store. All 27" come with Fusion standard.

    @ OP: https://support.apple.com/en-ca/HT202574

    We use the same model in my office, also with 4 GB. It's running 10.11.6 really well. I put in an SSD last summer, it's not a hugely difficult upgrade and the benefits are substantial. It's in use daily by a colleague for email, browsing, Office suite, and FileMaker Pro, and shows no signs of slowing.
    --- Post Merged, Feb 16, 2018 ---
    2012 minis have two SATA slots. 2014 have one SATA and one PCIE connector on the board. You would need to source the cable ($20) and a compatible PCIE SSD. I've done this and it's also an easy upgrade. Alternatively, a 2014 mini with Fusion would have both installed.
  5. bkaus macrumors regular

    Sep 26, 2014
    An SSD would be a huge help. I put one in my mac mini and it went from unusable to just fine (for generic use).

    I'm trying to hold off a year and see what new processors come up, specifically dealing with the recent cache snooping security bugs.
    --- Post Merged, Feb 16, 2018 ---
    YES to this!
  6. kschendel macrumors 6502a

    Dec 9, 2014
    Yes to memory and SSD, but especially the SSD. I upgraded our early 2009 iMac to 8 Gb RAM and swapped the original hard drive for an SSD (a Mushkin Reactor), hoping to get another year out of it. That was two years ago and we still feel no burning need to replace it. It's used for email, web, occasional documents, occasional light photo editing.

    If you decide to swap in an SSD, you don't need to get a top of the line model. Pretty much any SATA SSD designed in the last 3 years will work fine and will blow away your HDD (which is old, and may be starting to fail).
  7. ApfelKuchen macrumors 68030

    Aug 28, 2012
    Between the coasts
    I have the same iMac. I've ruled out upgrading to an SSD because it has some other, permanent disadvantages that simply make it not worthwhile to me:

    1) It'll run a maximum of El Capitan (10.11.6)
    2) Maximum 6 GB RAM (I'm running 5 GB - a new 4 GB stick plus one of the original 1 GB sticks - the price of upgrading the 1 GB stick to a 2 GB stick doesn't seem worthwhile for the sake of a single GB gain)
    3) It doesn't support Internet Recovery. So, if you have a problem requiring Recovery and you can't boot to the internal Recovery partition (say, a HDD failure), you'd better have either a thumb drive with a bootable installer, or another Mac that you can use for booting to Target Disk Mode, or a still-working internal SuperDrive and an OS X Snow Leopard install DVD.
    4) Has a core duo, which is way too slow for modern software
    5) It doesn't support newer Bluetooth versions

    Altogether, by the time I open the thing up, migrate drive contents to the new drive, etc., even $150 (250 GB SSD plus additional RAM) seems like too much to spend.
  8. macstatic, Feb 17, 2018
    Last edited: Feb 17, 2018

    macstatic thread starter macrumors 65816


    Oct 21, 2005
    ApfelKuchen: your findings are what I suspected. Thanks for the thorough explanation. Also considering the (CCFL) backlight of her iMac screen is getting dimmer and will eventually fail is yet another reason not to upgrade it (I've tried replacing a failed CCFL backlight in a Powerbook some years ago, which involved disassembly of the LCD unit itself! needless to say it was very hard and not meant for replacing, and the end result wasn't very good).

    Mr_Brightside_@: Those PCIe based SSDs aren't as common as regular 2.5" SSDs, are they? And based on what I've found out, none of the 2014 Mac Mini models allow user-upgradeable RAM, so the late 2012 models might be a better solution if we want to save some money? I assume the 2014 Minis are faster, but with user-upgradeable RAM, the ability to install two 2.5" drives (i.e. one SSD for OSX and apps, and a regular 2.5" hard drive for files) and both newer interface connectors (USB-3 and Thunderbolt) as well as Firewire 800 (allows her external 2.5" Time Machine backup G-drive to be attached) might make this the overall best Mac Mini to get.

    Opinions on this?
    Would it be noticeably more responsive than her early 2008 iMac, and would one with 4GB suffice for "everyday use"?

    PS: I suppose a late 2011 Mac Mini would be similar in performance/upgradeability but miss out on USB3?

    She already has an Apple extended USB keyboard and mouse and could continue to use those, but obviously a new display is needed. She doesn't need one with a video camera built-in (an iPad takes care of that in case of video converencing needs) but one nice thing about the iMac is the relatively good built-in speakers. Are there any stand-alone monitors with something similar in terms of audio?
  9. kschendel macrumors 6502a

    Dec 9, 2014
    I think you would be asking for trouble with only 4 Gb, no matter what the rest of the machine looks like. I'd strongly suggest 8 Gb as a minimum. With an SSD, you might get by with 4 with just an occasional slowdown, but applications tend to use more memory with newer versions, not less.
  10. macstatic, Feb 17, 2018
    Last edited: Feb 18, 2018

    macstatic thread starter macrumors 65816


    Oct 21, 2005
    I understand.
    I see that in order to upgrade from 4GB (2x 2GB memory modules) to 8GB you need to replace them both with 2x 4GB modules, and likewise when going to 16GB you need to replace whatever you have with 2x 8GB memory modules.
    Many used Minis are sold with their base memory configurations, so would it be an idea to go for a full 16GB from the beginning, or would that be overkill for normal use, whereas 8GB would suffice?

    Regarding the OS version: I've stuck with OSX 10.9.5 Mavericks (in my Mac Pro and Macbook Pro as well as my wife's iMac) for a variety of reasons -not mainly because it makes the computer less responsive (or so i've read) but also because of losing out on many of the features which made OSX a "serious" OS whereas later versions are seemingly "dumbed down" as more of a consumer OS. But then again, for "everyday use" (email, web etc.); would a user benefit more from say the latest OSX (i.e. security updates) or would installing for instance Mavericks on a late-2012 Mac Mini make it snappier and generally more enjoyable to use?
    --- Post Merged, Feb 17, 2018 ---
    Oh, I just came across a used mid-2011 Mac Mini (2.3GHz Intel Core i5/8GB RAM/500GB HDD) for a good price.
    Of course we'll be missing out on USB 3 (which the 2012 models have), but what might be a concern is the HD3000 graphic processor as opposed to the HD4000 in the 2012 models but otherwise I believe the rest is more or less the same (user-upgradeable memory (which might not be needed with its 8GB) and the room for two 2.5" SATA drives).

    Would the above be a good choice, or would we be much better off waiting for a mid-2012? They seem to cost quite a bit more, but what people want for them might not reflect what they are able to sell them for ;)
  11. macstatic thread starter macrumors 65816


    Oct 21, 2005
    We've just arranged to pick up a used Mac Mini (late 2012) i5 2.5GHz with the standard 4GB RAM/500GB hard drive later today!
    I figure that should be a nice upgrade from my wife's 2008 Core 2 duo based iMac, and by adding an SSD and more memory it should run along pretty much faster I suppose, without the dreaded beachball.
    I have a couple of questions in regards to the above:

    1) I see there's dedicated "Mac memory" as well as just plain vanilla DDR3 memory chips from companies such as Crucial (I undertand Crucial and Kingston are two of the generally most trusted quality brands when it comes to memory).
    Is this just a marketing ploy, for hooking in those gullible and ignorant Mac users out there, or are there actual differences meaning that we should go for the more expensive "Mac memory" chips?

    2) What's considered a good, but not too expensive SSD these days?
    As with my own Mac Pro (128GB Samsung 830 SSD) I think it'll be fine for her to use an SSD for just OSX and apps while the hard drive is used for file storage and everything else. Here are a few (brand name) models I found within that size:

    Kingston SSDNow A400 (120GB)
    Sandisk SSD Plus G27 (120GB)
    Western Digital green PC (120GB)
    Kingston SSDnow UV400 (120GB)
    Toshiba Q300 (120GB)
    Kingston HyperX Fury (120GB)
    OCZ Vertex (120GB)
    Plextor PX-128S3C (128GB)
    Intel 545 (128GB)
    Corsair Force LE200 (120GB)
    Sandisk X400 (128GB)
    Sandisk SSD plus G25 (120GB)

    Which ones are worth looking into (or to stay away from)?
  12. kschendel macrumors 6502a

    Dec 9, 2014
    As long as you get the right memory from a reputable vendor I think you will be OK. https://support.apple.com/en-us/HT202593 has the specs you need.

    I'll add another option to you list, which is Mushkin. Almost anything with a reasonably recent controller (let's say not much more than 2-3 years) will almost certainly work well, and a lot of the older ones will be fine for most uses.
  13. Fishrrman, Mar 3, 2018
    Last edited: Mar 3, 2018

    Fishrrman macrumors Pentium


    Feb 20, 2009
    OP wrote:
    "We've just arranged to pick up a used Mac Mini (late 2012) i5 2.5GHz with the standard 4GB RAM/500GB hard drive later today!"

    The 2012 Mini is a good choice.
    I bought a 2012 Mini in January 2013 and it's still "my main machine".

    My advice:
    DO NOT open the Mini to install an SSD inside.
    The process is delicate, and the Mac Mini forum here at Macrumors has had many posts from Mini owners who thought they could open it and swap the drives, tried to do it, and then... broke something inside.

    Better solution:
    Buy an EXTERNAL USB3 SSD (like the Samsung t5) or buy a "bare" SSD and a USB3 enclosure (or dock).
    Then, plug it in, set it up to be the boot drive, and run that way.

    I've been doing exactly this for more than 5 years now (since the first day I unpacked the Mini and turned it on). It still runs great.

    If you follow my advice, you'll see read speeds of about 430mbps and writes around 300-340mbps (depends on the SSD).
    That's pretty close to what you'll get with an internally-installed drive, with none of the risk.

    It's up to you.
    But again, the fastest, easiest and safest way to "get more speed" is to boot from USB3.
  14. shutterfreak macrumors newbie


    Nov 28, 2018
    Getting back to the OP's question: it's not that difficult to replace the original HDD with an SSD in the early 2008 Core 2 duo iMac. The disk performance alone will already contribute a lot to the responsiveness (write speed x 3, read speed x 4 as compared to the built-in drive). A 500GB SSD costs less than $100 nowadays.
    The only tools you'll need, are 2 heavy-duty suction cups to safely disengage the front glass from the body (it is held in place by magnets, so pulling it out doesn't require a lot of force - just make sure to lift it without pivoting it (there are guide pins along the contour of the glass to help reposition it afterwards). Also, you'll need some miniature Torx screw bits (T6 and T8 IIRC).
    Once the iMac is open, you may also want to remove the accumulated dust. Mine had a lot of dust bunnies in the bottom. I vacuumed them with a soft brush (at lowest power) and in a couple seconds I had a clean iMac).
    You'll need to buy a 3.5" to 2.5" adapter, easiest is one which replicates the 3.5" drive connector-wise (e.g. the Sabrent model BK-PCBS). Otherwise you'll either require replacing the SATA cables or you'll have an unbmountable bracket (e.g. https://www.amazon.de/dp/B01LC1H00I/ - you can't attach the screws to the sides of this adapter frame)
    Upgrading the memory is straightforward. I went from 2GB (2x 1GB) to 6GB (4GB + 2GB) for less than $30.
    You'll be able to upgrade to El Capitan but not any further (unless you use an OS patcher, but then you'll lose support for WiFi and/or Bluetooth).
    Of course, after these upgrades, the new bottleneck is the Intel Core 2 Duo CPU which appears to be custom-made for Apple: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_Intel_Core_2_microprocessors#"Penryn"_(Apple_iMac_specific,_45_nm)
    Upgrading the CPU is a bit harder, but it's feasible if you're a bit skilled. The instructions for the early 2008 iMac can be found on iFixit.

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