Replacing an iMac Hard Drive with an SSD

Back in the early days of AAAD, our late-2009 iMac was the center of our connected home. It held all of our photos, our iTunes library, and our documents. 

We replaced the late-2009 iMac with a 27" retina iMac a few years ago. My dad took the old iMac and used it in his office. 

Last week, he let me know that the iMac was having issues, and that he'd bring it to me to check it out.

It would only boot to the White Screen of Death.

No Apple logo, no cursor, no pinwheel... not even a bomb icon. 

I'd never repaired an iMac before. Was it worth trying to fix this one?

Repair vs. Trade-In

This was a pretty easy decision. The Official Apple Trade-In Value for a 2009-era iMac is $0. They'll recycle it for you, but that's it.

I had a pretty strong hunch that the internal hard drive had finally died. 

It was an old SATA drive, and after 11 years, that's the most likely point of failure. 

A 250 GB SSD with SATA connectors would cost $28.99 at Amazon.... Wait. $28.99? The price of SSDs has apparently dropped quite a bit. 

At that price, it seemed silly NOT to attempt the repair. 

Opening the iMac

iMacs have a reputation for being difficult to open. After all, the screen covers up all of the internal components. 

I'd assumed that the glass screen was glued down - but it's not, it's held in place with strong magnets.

Getting the glass screen off was simple - just pull the glass up a little but with your fingernails, slide a credit card in there, and pry it up. 

Then, you have to get past the actual LED screen. This involves removing a number of small screws - very straightforward. 

However... the screen is attached to the CPU in multiple places. Less than straightforward. Best practice would be to disconnect the LED screen entirely.... but the hard drive was right there..... I could probably do this without removing the screen.

I got a couple of pint paint cans to prop up the screen, and got to work.

Replacing the Hard Drive

The hard drive in a 2009-era iMac is held in place with a steel bracket across the top. Remove that bracket. 

It has a standard SATA connector - simply unplug the old drive and plug in the SSD.

There's one additional plug from the old drive, that will NOT fit into your SSD. That's the temperature/fan control. We'll get to that later. 

The SSD is much smaller than a 3.5" hard drive, and can't be held in place with the old bracket.
You can purchase a SSD iMac adapter bracket.... but you don't really have to.

Fortunately, it's tiny and weighs almost nothing. It can be secured in place with a piece of Velcro (available at Home Depot.)

NOTE - I forgot to format the SSD, which caused a ton of extra work at the end. When you're installing the SSD, make sure you've already formatted it. (ATFS format, GUID Partition Map scheme.)

Booting Up

I closed up the iMac, basically doing the disassembly steps in reverse, plugged in the iMac, and booted it up.

Nothing - obviously, there's no operating system. 

I tried to boot up in Recovery Mode (using a USB keyboard... the Magic Keyboard wasn't communicating with the iMac, because Bluetooth wasn't online in "White Screen of Death" mode.)


This SSD wasn't going to be able to download macOS. 

I was going to have to try to make a USB boot disk. 

Making a USB Boot Disk

But... it's still not that easy. This is an old Mac! It can't run Catalina. It can't run Mojave. Apple confirmed that High Sierra was the final supported OS for Late-2009 iMacs. 

Back to the Retina iMac, to make a High Sierra boot disk on a USB stick. 

I was able to download a copy of High Sierra from the macOS App Store, using a link I found here

Making a boot disk is a LITTLE tricky - it requires the use of Terminal and the Disk Utility - but the procedure is straightforward, and it's set out very well, right here.

Once I had my High Sierra USB drive ready to go, I plugged it into the 2009 iMac and tried to boot in Target Mode. 

After some trial and error, the High Sierra boot disk worked!

(Of course, the iMac couldn't see the SSD until I formatted and re-installed it.)

You Can Do This.  

For $30, we took a worthless iMac, and created.... well, an almost-worthless 11-year-old iMac with a low-res screen, but one that is running a little faster because it's an SSD now!

One final note - remember how we weren't able to connect that Temperature / Fan Control plug to the SSD? 

I just secured it inside the iMac when I closed it up, which means that the fan was running at 100% all the time. 

To get around that problem, download "SSD Fan Control", which will key the fan speed to the CPU usage.  It's a pretty seamless workaround. 

What's Next?

Our next "Mac Salvage" effort will be a 2011-era MacBook Pro, which had a swollen battery actually warp the case. 

The battery was removed and safely disposed - and who are we to let a crisis go to waste?

New battery, max out the RAM, swap the HDD for an SSD.... should be a pretty solid MacBook Pro! 

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