Upgrading my mid 2011 iMac (27″) with an SSD

Back in early 2012 I banned the last PC from my home and bought an iMac:

Bildschirmfoto 2014-11-09 um 19.25.35

It had the fastest processor back then and I upgraded it to a total of 24GB of RAM (it was shipped with 2x2GB – I chose the minimum config because RAM is so much cheaper if you buy it from Amazon). The only thing I did not buy, was an SSD. The price would have been an additional €600 and that would have pushed it towards the €3000 barrier. Too much. So I ended up with a 2TB hard drive, spinning at 7200rpm.

The machine was (and still is!) powerful enough to do al the work I demand from it. But at some point I installed Windows 8 in a Virtual Machine (running Parallels 10 meanwhile) and the HDD became more and more of a bottleneck. If Mac OS wasn’t accessing the disk, Windows surely was. The rumbling sound of an HDD being accessed became my constant company.

So I thought about buying a new Mac – but what for? Just to get an SSD? I mean the new 5K iMac is great but mine is still powerful enough. Too much money. Next, I talked to Gravis about adding a Fusion Drive. They asked for €450; that would include a Samsung 840 Evo SSD with 250GB, installation, configuration, backup and restore of the current system. They also would allow me to keep the Superdrive. The SSD would be an additional device, hidden somewhere inside the iMac. When I saw the price for the SSD alone at Amazon I thought: €120 – can’t I just buy it there and install it myself? I started googling about installation guides and opinions about Fusion Drives vs. pure SSDs. Finally I decided:

  1. It cannot be too hard to install an SSD
  2. I do not want a Fusion Drive but rather put the OS on the SSD and large data (Aperture library e.g.) on the HDD for maximum performance.
  3. I can sacrifice my Superdrive

I want to share my experience because it is actually really easy to install an SSD into the mid 2011 iMac! If you have ever assembled together a PC, you will be able to do it, believe me! The whole procedure took me 40 minutes.

Please be aware that I won’t be responsible for any damage!

Preparation

My personal installation guide starts with the iMac’s front glass panel already removed. To do that, you will need some suction cups which you can get at Amazon for around €4.

Unplug the power and all USB cables!

Put the iMac on a flat surface, place one cup to the top left, the other top right and gently pull. The glass will come off. It is held in place by very strong magnets.

Many installation guides warn you about dust and fingerprints: to overcome the fingerprints problem, I used latex gloves. But the dust: I did not care. The iMac was full of dust inside and I had to clean the screen afterwards.

Required Tools

Besides the suction cups, this is all I used:

Required tools

Required tools

  • A pair of latex gloves to prevent finger prints (also helps with sensitive electric/electronic parts)
  • Torx T10 screwdriver
  • Torx T10 bit (or any other short Torx screwdriver)
  • Pocket lamp
  • Piece of plastic to hold the screen in position
  • Tweezers

Partially remove the screen

You will not need to remove the screen completely! The installation can be done with the screen in place.

Remove the eight screws that hold the screen in place (four on left and four on right side). When removing them, be careful with the magnets – the tweezers can help you here to grab the screws.

You can then flip the screen open a bit. Be careful to not lift it too high!

Lift the iMac Screen

Lift the iMac Screen

With the screen lifted a bit, find the V-Sync cable on the bottom right side. It is very short. Unplug it from the main board. It is a two-pin connector.

V-Sync Cable

V-Sync Cable

Now, you can lift the screen much further. There are still two cables attached to it. Be careful with them. If you can’t get the screen lifted high enough, remove some of the sticky tape that holds the cables in place. If lifted high enough (approximately 25cm), use some tool to hold the screen in place while you work or let somebody assist you.

Video Cable

Video Cable

The thinner cable is shorter. Be careful!

Video Cable 2

Video Cable 2

The next step is to remove the Superdrive. It is attached with four screws. The top right one is a bit bigger than the other three. In order to remove the top two screws, use the shorter screwdriver.

Also take off the temperature sensor (you can see it right next to the label on the Superdrive on the top picture). It is kind of hard to remove it. It is a taped and additionally glued to the Superdrive.

You can now remove the combined power/SATA plug and take the Superdrive out.

Remove Superdrive

Remove Superdrive

The new SSD will be installed in a caddy. You get these on Amazon for cheap money. The one I used cost €20 and is from “TheNatural 2020”. The caddy has exactly the same shape as the Superdrive.

SSD Caddy

SSD Caddy

Place the caddy in the iMac where the Superdrive was and put the screws back in. Don’t forget to attach the temperature sensor to the SSD!

The final steps

  • Remove dust! If you look at the picture, you can see how much dust there is in there! It might be a good idea to get some compressed air and carefully clean the Mac if you have it already open.
  • Put the screen back in place, reconnect the V-Sync cable.
  • Put the eight screws back in.
  • Remove dust from the screen and from the inside of the glass panel-
  • Put the glass panel back on.

Booting it up

The Mac should boot up normally from the HDD. You can use the Mac OS Disk Utility to clone the HDD over to the SSD.

Booting my machine into Mac OS Yosemite now takes ten (!!) seconds until I can see the login screen. From the point where I hit “return” after entering my password, it takes anther six (!!) seconds until Yosemite is fully usable with all drivers and apps loaded.

Running Windows 8 inside Parallels 10 is pure joy!

Go, build!

Samsung SSD Inside

Samsung SSD Inside

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One thought on “Upgrading my mid 2011 iMac (27″) with an SSD

  1. Thank you very much for this post. I had found a few pages with instructions, but all said that especially hairs or fingerprints were a big risk. With your article I decided to also do this myself now. And I like the idea to not replace the hard disk but to replace the superdrive. Not using that one too often and it is okay to use via USB. Martijn

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