Part one in this series covered the failure of our iMac’s internal hard disk drive (HDD) and my investigation into the prospect of using a solid state drive (SSD) as a replacement. Well, we received the SSD and 3.5″ to 2.5″ drive bay adapter yesterday and got them installed last night. Everything worked out fine and the iMac is back up and running. As reported by other users of SSDs in their own systems, system start-up, application launching and desktop navigation performance dramatically improved with the replacement of the HDD with an SSD.
As mentioned in part one, we found several references for tearing down an aluminum iMac and replacing the HDD with an SSD:
Overall, the process was pretty easy. Just a bunch of screws and a handful of connectors to remove. We didn’t have a big problem with dust accumulating on the LCD or the back side of the glass panel, but we had to spot wipe both surfaces multiple times while reassembling the iMac.
We picked up a set of four 1.5″ or so diameter clear suction cups used to hang things on windows. You should be able to find these at most any hardware store. Given the size of the commercial glass handling suction cups used in the iFixIt teardown article, I was concerned about whether these small suction cups would have enough strength. In the end, there was no problem at all. The outer glass panel removed with much less effort than what we were expecting. See the iFixIt article for picture of removing the glass and LCD panels. Here’s what iMac looked like after both the outer glass panel and the LCD panel were removed. The old HDD is the black unit in the middle right of the picture.
Dust in the Wind
Since I’ve seen my share of insides of dusty old computers, I shouldn’t have been surprised by the modest amount of dust in the bottom portion of the three-year-old iMac. This was a good opportunity to vacuum out the junk.
The 3.5″ to 2.5″ drive bay adapter was a waste of $8 USD because the unit I bought ended up being too tall to fit properly inside the iMac. The rear of the LCD panel would not clear the top of the adapter. See the chrome u-shaped carrier under the 2.5″ SSD:
Additionally, as Jason points out in his post, the SATA cable isn’t long enough to reach a 2.5″ drive. Since the SSD doesn’t have any moving parts and weighs very little, I simply used several velcro squares at the rear of the SSD to attach it directly to the rear housing of the iMac. I am hoping heat within the housing won’t melt the velcro mounts, but even if it does, there’s no place for the SSD to go. If it was a laptop always on the go, I’d be more concerned about the security of the mounting approach.
The Return of Snow Leopard
After reassembling the iMac, we were ready to reinstall Mac OS X Snow Leopard. Why didn’t we just restore the drive using Time Machine? That would have been nice, but I hadn’t yet gotten around to setting Time Machine up on the iMac.
A heart stopping moment occurred at the outset of reinstalling Mac OS X. The SSD didn’t show up on the panel in which the Mac OS X installer asks where to install. Ugh.
The last thing I wanted to do at 10 PM on a Friday night was to go through the entire process again. Worst case, the SSD itself was bad or somehow incompatible with the Mac and I’d have to order a new one. Fortunately, it dawned on me that the raw SSD may have required some degree of initialization prior to the installer recognizing it as a compatible target. Sure enough, launching Disk Utility from the install DVD listed the SSD device. Once I used Disk Utility to create a partition on it, the installer recognized the SSD as a valid install target. Yippeeee!!!!
How does the system perform with the SSD? It’s noticeably faster than before: power-on to login prompt is now 20 seconds and most apps launch instantaneously. The system is not noise-free because the fans still operate, but it’s pretty quiet. The top rear portion of the iMac where the exhaust vent is located is warm to the touch, but it doesn’t seem as hot as it was previously.
After setting up our user accounts, installing key apps such as Firefox and Thunderbird and setting up the NFS mounts to our shares on the NAS server, I followed the Time Machine setup instructions to start backing up the iMac to our NAS server.
Next time we experience a major failure, the restoration of the OS, apps and user settings will be pretty easy. Of course, now that we’re using an SSD which doesn’t have any moving parts, we might not encounter that situation for quite some time. In the meantime, we can leverage Time Machine to restore individual files if and when we inadvertently delete some content.
Update: I recently validated that we’re able to restore our iMac’s internal SSD from the Time Machine backups housed on our NAS server.