Advanced Mac tinkering: performing a drive transplant on a 9-year-old machine

Friday’s work toolkit got a little weird. It included two suction cups, multiple sizes of Torx screwdriver bits, a pair of tweezers, a can of spray air, a microfiber cloth and a lot of patience.

Were Apple a company that updated its computers on a regular and predictable pattern, I would have replaced this desktop long ago. But first it spent years neglecting its desktops, then my laptop needed replacing first, and now the “new” iMac has gone almost a year without an update.

iMac SSD in placeInstead, two other things got me to upgrade my desktop the cheap but hard way. First my backup hard drive died without warning, then I noticed that an SSD upgrade kit was down to $200 and change at the longtime aftermarket-Mac-hardware vendor Other World Computing. That would be a cheap price for a vastly faster storage system, and anyway I couldn’t resist the challenge here. So I placed my order… and then waited two weeks as the Postal Service somehow lost and then recovered the package that it only had to run from the nearest UPS to our front porch.

In the meantime, I did a complete Time Machine backup on my new external drive, then used Shirt Pocket’s SuperDuper to put a bootable copy of the iMac’s entire drive on a second partition of that external volume. With those redundant backups done and my schedule somewhat clear Friday, it was time to risk breaking my desktop computer with the sort of involved tinkering I last seriously attempted around the turn of the century, when I owned a Mac clone in which almost everything inside was user-accessible.

Step one–as explained in a how-to video that would have been more effective as written instructions illustrated with animated GIFs–was to get the iMac’s LCD out of the way. I used the suction cups to lift the outer glass off the magnets holding it in place (you can imagine my relief at not having to battle with any glue), then removed eight Torx screws holding the LCD assembly, using the tweezers to ensure they wouldn’t get lost inside the iMac. I carefully tilted that out and held it away from the rest of the computer, then detached four ribbon cables from their sockets inside the computer–each time feeling a little like I was about to fail to defuse a bomb.

The next step was to extract the old hard drive. After removing another two screws and plucking out a further three cables, I just had to undo four other screws to get the hard drive out of its mounting bracket… which is when I realized that the second screwdriver included in OWC’s kit wasn’t the right size.

iMac LCD attachmentFortunately, the second neighbor I checked with had an extensive set of Torx screwdriver bits. After finding one properly sized to liberate the drive bracket, I used the spray air to knock nine years’ worth of dust out of the innards of the computer, then completed the drive transfer by securing the SSD to the bracket, connecting it to the original cables and fastening the new drive to the computer. I did the same routine with the LCD assembly, wiped it and the glass panel with the microfiber cloth, then finally clicked that outer glass back onto its magnets.

With the computer once again whole, I plugged it in, attached the backup drive, pressed the power button–and was delighted to see it boot properly off that external drive.

Installing macOS High Sierra from the backup drive to the SSD went remarkably fast; running a complete Time Machine restore of all my data and apps did not. But by the end of Friday, I had an old computer that no longer felt so old. And the pleasant sense that I haven’t completely lost my DIY-tech skills.

Updated 10/29/2018 to fix a couple of grammatical glitches.

15 thoughts on “Advanced Mac tinkering: performing a drive transplant on a 9-year-old machine

  1. Well done Rob – as i’ve told many people, switching from a mechanical HD to an SSD has much more dramatic effect than any RAM upgrade in the old days!

  2. Pingback: Weekly output: IoT security, Facebook privacy pop-up, L0pht hacker testimony, Tech Night Owl | Rob Pegoraro

  3. With the amount of work, and cash, I had to go through to get the display on my new Windows 10 box looking as nice as it did on my old Mac Mini… The Mini had an hd display, and I had to get a fast Radeon card and 4K UHD display to match the quality. OTOH, it boots to desktop in about 30 seconds rather than 5 minutes.

  4. Pingback: Weekly output: hard drive destruction, AI meets video (x2), fuel-cell Honda Clarity | Rob Pegoraro

  5. Pingback: Weekly output: dead hard drive, Mac Observer, Safari vs. Facebook Like and Share buttons, Twitter bots (x2) | Rob Pegoraro

  6. Pingback: Finally, an obvious upgrade from Apple | Rob Pegoraro

  7. Pingback: iTunes (2001-2019-ish) | Rob Pegoraro

  8. Pingback: Happy 10th birthday, iMac | Rob Pegoraro

  9. Pingback: My $5 solution to woeful webcams on my laptop and desktop | Rob Pegoraro

  10. Pingback: A mediocre experience with Apple’s Migration Assistant | Rob Pegoraro

  11. Pingback: Repairability FTW, or how I bought an old laptop some new life by replacing its battery | Rob Pegoraro

  12. Pingback: DIY Demo: Just How Easy Is It to Fix Your Phone’s Shattered Screen Yourself?

  13. Pingback: DIY Demo: Is it easy to fix your broken phone screen yourself?

  14. Pingback: DIY Show: How easy is it to fix your broken phone screen by yourself? – My Blog

  15. Pingback: How easy is it to fix your broken phone screen by yourself? – My Blog

What do you think?

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.