Adding an SSD to an iMac? Or Replacing with Retina?

Our 21" iMac is about 5 years old.

It is, without question, the best computer that I have ever owned.

But it could be better.

Should I replace its HD with an SSD?

Or sell it and replace with a 27" Retina iMac? ...

Until this morning, I assumed that we'd be going the sell-and-upgrade route.

The iMac is notoriously difficult to upgrade.

You have to remove the screen in order to access the internal components.

And besides, a 1 TB SSD was going to cost too much.  Right?

Well, maybe not. This morning I read this article on 9to5Mac,

It looks tricky - don't get me wrong - but no more difficult, really, than replacing the HD in a Time Capsule.

(You have to worry about disconnecting delicate wires, and re-attaching heat sensors, and so forth.)

But the speed difference would be massive - as much as 500%.

And a 1 TB SSD, which would match what I currently have in the iMac, would run us about $400.


The iMac, in its current configuration, is still worth somewhere in the high three figures.

If the choice is between putting another $400-500 into our current iMac, or putting ~$1600 into a new iMac, it's a tougher call.

The new iMac would have a substantially better processor.

It would have a bigger screen.
And that screen would be Retina.
And it would have the new "razor thin" form factor".

But it wouldn't have a full-SSD hard drive. (Unless I chose to pay $650 for 1 TB. Yikes.)

Instead, it would have a Fusion Drive, in which the most-often used core functions are moved to a small SSD, while general file storage is handled by a 1 TB HDD. (I'd pay $150 to bump this up to 3 TB).

And in the typical configuration, my current iMac would have more RAM. I'm at 12 GB after an upgrade, but the base Retina iMac ships with 8 GB.

(Apple asks for $200 to bump the iMac up to 16 GB of RAM. That's an upgrade I can handle later.)

Bottom line - the 27" Retina screen is too exciting. I'm going to sell and upgrade. 

Ideally, I can sell the iMac to my parents, and STILL do the SSD upgrade later. That 9to5Mac article has me all fired up about opening up my iMac.

I'm going to wait a bit before making this change - there are enough projects in the works as it is, and this will definitely take a backseat to the Home NAS, which should happen this month.

But it will happen this year - I'll just wait until the next round of Mac announcements before jumping.


  1. I'm also agonizing over the right configuration for a RiMac. I think 3TB FD is the way to go but the idea of that spinning platter failing is killing me. I haven't read the guide you linked to but I have seen others describe the process to replace the hard drive and it makes me queasy. If I just worry about that when it actually fails in several years then I can either sell it and upgrade the whole machine or take the plunge into the case since it'll be out of warranty anyways. I really need the space but can't stomach paying as much as Apple charges for an SSD.

    1. At least you'll have (or should have) your time machine drive if and when the HDD half of the fusion drive fails. That's a pretty cheap fix.

      I'm with you, though - while I'd prefer a fully solid state drive, $650 extra is a bit steep.