That Was an Expensive Mistake, Or How I Screwed Up and Got a New iMac
To be clear, getting the iMac wasn’t the mistake, it was how I came to NEED a new iMac.
In our family, we use our computers hard and we use them long. The iMac was 6+ years, the Macbook Air I’m typing this on is 5+ years, our iPad is probably about 4 years old, and my phone more than 3 1/2 years. We can get away with this because we use Apple products, which on average have a longer useful lifespan than other platforms. (Not looking to start a fight here, that’s just my and others’ experience talking.) And my computers aren’t just used for e-mail and word processing; video editing, gaming, semi-pro photography and more are all part of the game. So we ask our electronics to do a lot, and do it for a long time.
That said, over the last year as I’ve been debating whether the iMac needed an upgrade or a replacement, I kept coming back to the fact that with an upgrade, it could still be quite useful, and I try and hold out as long as possible on computer upgrades.
Not User Upgradeable My A**
The only Apple authorized upgrade to an iMac, or most MacOS products, is the RAM. That is not to say, however, that those with a certain willingness to take risks can’t perform more significant upgrades. In fact, I had had to do that already to this computer.
Several years ago the utility I run to keep me informed if my hard drive’s about to die informed me that my hard drive was about to die. After a little research I discovered that a number of iMac’s were covered under an upgrade program for having defective hard drive prone to dying early. However, while my drive met those requirements, my computer did not. Yet.
A quick trip to ifixit.com, however, made it clear that I could swap out the hard drive with a new one with only a certain amount of risk (it was rated as a medium difficulty upgrade, not hard). A little more research and I purchased the hard drive most likely to not give me trouble after the upgrade (heat sensor issues, Apple’s attempt to make the hard drive not user-upgradeable) as well as the needed tool kit.
With everything in place, I printed out the instructions, assembled everything I needed, and in less than an hour had done the deed: suction cupped off the front glass, lifted the monitor, disconnected the V-Sync cable, propped up the monitor instead of completely disconnecting it (contrary to the instructions but based on user comments), pulled the old drive, put in the new one and sealed everything back up.
Started up, restored from a Time Machine backup and was back in business in an afternoon.
So when it came time for the next upgrade, I was pretty confident I could do that too.
I Had a Need for Speed, and an SSD Seemed to Be the Answer
One of the tradeoffs buying a Mac, and an iMac in particular, is giving up upgradability to get a machine in a nice, well-designed package designed to last awhile. After the hard drive replacement, graphics performance not staying up to snuff was the major problem facing my iMac. There were an increasing number of games my old iMac couldn’t run, almost all due to the graphics card not meeting minimum specs. And as someone who writes for Mac gaming sites, that is an issue for me.
But still not a big enough problem, in my opinion, to justify an upgrade. And while the computer was clearly slowing down, speed was something I could do something about.
An SSD is a hard drive with no moving parts (like a flash drive, or the drives in your smart phones), which makes them much faster than traditional hard drives with spinning platters. The typical solution in my case is to add an SSD as a startup disk (they’re much more expensive in larger capacities, so it isn’t usually your only drive, unless you’re getting a laptop with an SSD, which is more common these days, especially with Apple), and that was my plan.
My Superdrive (CD/DVD player/burner) hadn’t been working for years, and ifixit had instructions for replacing this drive with an SSD. Many have done it, and by all accounts it makes a huge difference in computer speed, so I thought this would give me a couple more years of usefulness from the computer. I had been thinking about it for awhile, so when I saw OWC had a sale on both SSD’s and the caddy to put it in so it fits nice I decided it was time.
And Away We Go … Again
This was going to be a bit more intensive/dangerous process than the hard drive replacement, so I needed a time when I had, well, the time to do this. finally last week the time arrived, and I set out on what I expected would be another afternoon adventure.
Things went as smoothly as before: got the glass off, the monitor lifted, propped it open with DVD spindles as before, and removed the Superdrive, took it off the bracket, placed the SSD in its caddy, put it in the bracket, and went to reinstall.
Now, do you recall that line in bold and italics above about propping up the monitor instead of removing it? That’s important. There are several cables connecting the monitor to the motherboard, because an iMac is basically a very nice monitor connected to a motherboard. The instructions have to disconnect all these cables and take off the monitor, because if you mess up those cables, well …
And while the hard drive replacement went smoothly with the monitor propped up, the Superdrive sits further down the case, and the monitor wasn’t propped up quite enough, so I had to be holding it up further with one hand while unscrewing/screwing in the bracket with the other; those last two screws were just a little too far back otherwise.
And I was being careful because I knew, because ifixit told me so, that one of those cables was very delicate and important not to mess up.
Well, you’ve probably already guessed what happened.
One brief lapse of attention, and I heard a little ripping sound, not good when you’re working on the insides of a computer.
I could see immediately which cable I had ripped, and thought I had just pulled the cable out of its connection, and attempted to put it back without success. Eventually I stopped trying, finished the ssd install and sealed everything back up.
I knew this might be trouble, but hoped it was fixable, found an Apple authorized service provider, and took it in the next morning to be looked at.
And alas, I had actually pulled the cable housing off the motherboard, plug-in part of the cable still plugged in, and not fixable.
Ok, this is getting long, so I’ll wrap it up and continue this later. While I had picked a good time to do the upgrade, that’s partly because I had a video job that needs finishing and the speed was going to be helpful. So needless to say, the computer needed fast replacing.