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 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 on my new backup 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.

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Weekly output: TechShop, iPhone 5, WiFi routers, speed tests

Like last week, this week was cut up by travel–in this case, the Online News Association’s conference in San Francisco. (As in, the same city I went to last week for TechCrunch Disrupt.)

9/20/2012: TechShop: Laser Cutters For The People, Discovery News

My last stop before heading home from the Disrupt trip was a two-hour tour of this fascinating workshop–which itself followed a shorter stop when I was in the Bay Area in early June. There are a lot of interesting story angles to TechShop’s story (like the legality of cloning real-world objects using 3-D printing, something I discussed on a panel this summer) that I could only briefly mention in passing in this post. So I will have to find other uses for all the material in my notes.

Speaking of leaving things in one’s notebook, I had to update the post to correct a few errors I let escape into the copy. I hate it when that happens.

9/22/2012: IPhone 5 journal: So about that Maps app…, CNNMoney.com

Perhaps you, too, have heard that Apple began selling a new smartphone this week? My coverage of the new iPhone 5 kicked off with this first post in a series for CNNMoney.com; updates over the next few days will reflect my tests of its camera, performance, battery life and other issues. (I’ll also have a shorter writeup for Discovery.)

Note that this review didn’t involve the usual product loan. After getting the inconclusive responses to my review request from Apple PR that I’ve begun to expect, I bought a new iPhone 5 from a Verizon Wireless store in San Francisco. (Don’t buy a new iPhone on launch day from an Apple Store; the lines are vastly shorter at carriers’ retail outlets.) The downside is that I have to return the thing before VzW’s 14-day trial period ends, lest I get stuck with a two-year contract when I’m already under contract with another carrier; the upside is being able to go ahead and do my job as a reviewer. Which is, you know, kind of liberating.

9/23/2012: Tip: Reconnect your Wi-Fi and test its speed, USA Today

This Q&A item has more abbreviations than I usually want to inflict on readers, but it’s hard to discuss technical networking issues without throwing a few around. The balance of the column shares tips about third-party tools that can assess your Internet connection’s speed; some of that dates to last winter’s reporting on Sonic.net’s gigabit fiber-optic service.