If You Have An Old Mac (iMac or MacBook), You May Want to Read This

The New, Old iMac

Recently, I was gifted an old computer.  With how fast technology moves, this may not sound like much of a gift, depending on how far down we go the sliding scale of “old”.  But this one has surprised me for two reasons, and a small upgrade I made tonight has made a huge difference.

The year was 2011, when my Dad celebrated a decade-wrapping birthday and treated himself to a new iMac for the first time.  I helped him pick it out, made sure he bought enough machine, but not too much.  The Magic Mouse was new and fancy, and the gesture-based Magic Trackpad seemed irresistible, what with all of the swiping and tapping.  He loved the machine.

Meanwhile, I stuck with Windows desktop and laptop computers.  If I’m honest, I think I went through two desktops and two laptops during the the seven year span.  Dad just kept the same iMac.  This year he upgraded, and offered me the old iMac to tinker with.

First of all, this is still a very nice machine.  Even at seven years old, the iMac design looks modern.  The keyboard and mouse feel fantastic.  Like the Apple phones, it feels like a premium product – hardware that is just a better fit and finish than the competition.  My first surprise was that I would be this impressed with such an “old” machine.

My second surprise was that this old iMac is able to run the latest OS and applications with seemingly no issues.  This means it integrates with my iPhone for handoffs of messages, phone calls, web pages, passwords, etc.

However, it was…slow.  Really slow.

I expected this, as this is an iMac from 2011 running an OS from 2018!  With a quad-core i5 processor, I was still not surprised as the chip is several generations old now.  The bad news, the surprisingly bad news, was that this machine came standard with 4GB of RAM, which was apparently “just fine” back then.

Thanks to various websites that catalogue the process (including Apple’s own), I found the adding more RAM to this particular iMac is super simple, and adding an Solid State Hard Drive (SSD) is worthwhile, but far less simple.

Now that I knew I could add RAM and an SSD to the machine, I started to weigh price versus performance.  Turns out the type of RAM that my iMac uses, DDR3, is very expensive.  Newer RAM is less expensive than this old stuff!  Given that, to get to 16GB of Memory I could also do the SSD upgrade at roughly the same cost.

However, I chose to dip my toes in to the upgrade pool and test the waters instead of diving in head-first.  I watched the performance hitches using the built-in “Activity Monitor” while performing my regular tasks.  I would look at CPU usage, Disk usage, and Memory usage, to try and see what my bottleneck was.

Turns out Apple has a rating for something called “Memory Pressure”, and mine was high and shifting from green to yellow, in what I assume is a stop-light system.  That means a high-yellow rating probably meant something bad!

Memory Pressure Description

In searching for the right Memory to buy, and especially how much, I found the same daunting options that snag people at the movie theater when buying popcorn.  The small sized popcorn isn’t quite enough, but already costs a lot.  The medium size is, like, a nickel more than small, and the large is only a dime more than that.  With those options, how can you choose anything but a large popcorn?

As a result, I was fighting between whether to go for 16GB or 32GB of Memory, and looking at well over $100-$200 to make it happen.  This seemed like a lot since I wasn’t sure the upgrade would help such an old machine.

Fighting for my budget and desire to find the most bang for my buck, I settled for the smallest addition that made sense.  In this case, that was two sticks of 2GB Memory made by Other World Computer (OWC), who apparently makes Mac-certified memory, among other Mac upgrade kits and services.  Turns out Amazon also carries OWC products, and while I didn’t get Prime Shipping, I did get free shipping and it arrived quickly.  This would double my Memory from 4GB to 8GB, and would hopefully solve my performance concerns.

Installation was easy, and Apple links to their upgrade instructions directly from their “About this Mac” main menu option.  After about 10 minutes, my new Memory was installed, and it’s like this old machine is new again.

I honestly did not expect performance to improve this much just moving from 4GB to 8GB of Memory.  Boot times were somehow cut in half, and apps load effortlessly.  I am running seven different applications right now and my “Memory Pressure” is green and low, just where I want it.

Mac OS Activity Monitor

For around $30, this “old” iMac is running like a new computer.  It snappier than my two year old Windows laptop, that’s for sure.  The SSD upgrade is still in my plan, but since I try to buy things I can afford (no using credit), I will have to wait for my Fun Money to grow for a bit.

If you have a new or old Mac and this post helped you decide to upgrade, please let me know.  More likely, if you are a Mac owner, you’ve already made this type of upgrade.  In that case, give me some tips in the comments on the best way to enjoy my “new” iMac!

Thanks for reading.



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