Buying a new computer can be a major investment and more so if you need to customize the configuration to meet your specific requirements. For instance, someone who uses a computer primarily for e-mail, surfing the web and streaming content will not need all the “bells and whistles” that a graphic designer or video editor may need. That said, when budgets are tight, you’ll need to find ways to maximize the life of your computer while being able to work efficiently.
A few years ago, I had a similar situation dealing with an Apple 27-inch Mid-2011 iMac. The iMac was originally configured with a 3.4GHz Quad-Core Intel Core i7 Processor, 16GB of RAM, 1TB 7200RPM hard drive and an AMD Radeon HD 6970M graphics card with 1GB of memory. At the time, this accomplished what it was intended for. However, over time it began to run slow. Formatting the hard drive and performing a clean installation of macOS (OS X at the time) did not resolve the performance issues.
One obvious course of action would be replacing the hard drive with a solid state drive (SSD). Of course, opening an iMac and replacing a standard hard drive with a solid state drive is no easy task and having it done by an authorized Apple Service Provider wouldn’t be cheap. So, what to do?
Well, the iMac did have four USB 2.0 ports, a FireWire 800 port and two Thunderbolt ports so I was already thinking about using an external bootable drive as a workaround in lieu of replacing the internal hard drive. After doing some research, I opted to go with the Transcend 512GB Thunderbolt solid state drive. I had found several cases where this drive had been implemented and worked well as an external boot drive on an iMac. I’ll include a link to the Transcend 512GB Thunderbolt SSD at the end of this post.
I also did some additional research on the RAM limitations for the Mid-2011 iMac. While Apple’s technical specifications list a maximum of 16GB of RAM, I did check the OWC website and found that the Mid-2011 iMac did support up to 32GB of RAM. While 16GB of RAM would likely suffice, the cost of an additional 16GB of RAM wasn’t too expensive. If the external bootable SSD worked and brought new life to this Mid-2011 iMac, the additional RAM would be well worth it. I’ll include links to OWC compatible memory modules at the end of this post.
Since the original internal hard drive was recently reformatted with a clean install of OS X and all applications, it didn’t make a lot of sense to go through this exercise again unless absolutely necessary. So, the solution was to clone the internal hard drive onto the new Transcend 512GB Thunderbolt solid state drive and then boot from the new SSD. This required the use of Carbon Copy Cloner to create a bootable clone of the internal drive. Back then, there was a free version of Carbon Copy Cloner. Today, you can still get a 30-day trial before you need to pay for the software which should be fine to create a one-off bootable clone of your internal hard drive to an external SSD.
The result . . .
It all worked out well. The drive cloning worked perfectly. The iMac was able to boot from the external solid state drive and gained a huge performance boost over the standard internal hard drive. Note: I left the internal hard drive intact as a backup. The additional RAM gave it a beneficial boost to support newer memory intensive applications. There was one small issue. You could restart the iMac without an issue but if you shut down the iMac and then started it up, the iMac would defaultly boot to the internal drive instead of the external SSD as the SSD would not yet be powered up at initial startup. The way around this would be to hold down the Option key on startup to get boot options, power cycle the external SSD so that the external SSD would be an available boot device then select it as the startup disk. Of course, this would be tedious to do on a daily basis, so the simpler workaround was to restart the iMac under normal conditions and only shutdown when needed. It was a small price to pay to bring new life to the Mid-2011 iMac.
While the Mid-2011 iMac is not supported by macOS Mojave, you can still use it with macOS High Sierra. Eventually, this iMac will be retired but for now, it’s gotten a few extra years of life for a fraction of the cost of a new iMac.
Transcend 512GB Thunderbolt Solid State Drive StoreJet 500 for Mac (TS512GSJM500) - https://amzn.to/2Eu6fYm
OWC 16GB (2x 8GB) 1333MHz PC3-10600 DDR3 SO-DIMM 204-Pin Memory Upgrade Kit (OWC1333DDR3S16P) - https://amzn.to/2XoGLD0
OWC 32GB (4 x 8GB) 1333MHz 204-Pin DDR3 SO-DIMM Memory Upgrade Kit (OWC1333DDR3S32S) - https://amzn.to/2ErZB4L