Apr 24

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.

SSD Attached With Velcro

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.

Suction, Please

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.

LCD Panel Removed

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.

Mounting Tensions

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:

Drive Adapter Too Tall

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.

SSD Attached With Velcro

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.

No SSD? Uh oh.

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!!!!

Partitioning Using Disk Utility

SSD Recognized by Installer

Experience Matters

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.

Time Machine

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.

5 Responses to “SSD in an iMac (part two)”

  1. carlos says:

    do you know if it´s possible to install a similar SSD in an iMac (White) core 2 duo 2.0ghz 17″.

    i just know my mac have sata but no sata II connection .can i make use for ssd in this mac?

    • ckamps says:

      I don’t see any reason as to why it would not work. Even if you bought a SATA II SSD, it looks like the drive should be backward compatible with a SATA I controller. See here for more info on compatibility.

  2. Jamey says:

    Very helpful…I had the same problem after installing an Intel 120 GB SSD and my IMac did not recognize the drive until using disk utility and partitioning it (i used 1 partition)
    I am anxious to see its performance upgrade.

  3. Russell says:

    My iMac 27″ hard drive just crashed. It really sucks. I’d like to replace it with an SSD. I know your past is almost a year old. Are there any 500+ GB SSDs on the market that you’re aware of? Will any SSD work in an iMac? Or does it have to be a specific kind / brand? Thanks.

  4. Jon says:

    Thanks for posting this – I found it really useful when fitting an SSD into my own 2006 20″ iMac.

    I also struggled with the cable length, even though the bracket I used for the SSD was pretty flexible in terms of mounting points, and the drive connectors were really very close to where the old ones were. In the end I got it to connect, with a bit of brute force, although the power cable is still a bit wonky – it just won’t stretch, but stays in ok!

    The bracket I used was a plastic one from eBay:

    As I say, I was quite impressed with the mounting options it provided, and if need be you could cut it to size (but it fitted for me just fine).

    I’ve uploaded some pics of the drive in situ, in the hope that others might find them helpful:

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