Using External Thunderbolt SSD to Speed Up Mid-2011 27" iMac

Started Mar 20, 2014 | Discussions
Who 1 Regular Member • Posts: 113
Using External Thunderbolt SSD to Speed Up Mid-2011 27" iMac
2

Hi Everyone,

I just thought I would share my recent experience with updating my mid-2011 27" model iMac with an external Thunderbolt SSD drive to avoid the cost and hassle of installing an SSD drive internally.

I've had issues for ages with my iMac being slow always accompanied by excessive hard disk read/write noises. My local Apple dealer suggested installing more RAM (I have 8GB and I am by no means a 'power user') and installing an internal SSD or upgrading the computer. After hours and hours of searching the 'net for the best solution, I stumbled on a number of blogs & websites that wrote about their experience with using an external Thunderbolt drive on iMacs the same vintage as my own. I found that Lacie offers a 120GB SSD Thunderbolt drive for $199 CDN and thought I had nothing to lose since this alternative, if it worked, would be FAR cheaper than the alternatives offered to me by my local Apple dealer.

It took a number of hours to set everything up. I began by backing up my internal 1TB hard disk, plugged in the external SSD, formatted it, installed OS X Mavericks on it and used Migration Assistant to transfer all of my software to it. Then, I formatted the internal 1TB drive and partitioned it: the first small partition is a clone of the now bootable eternal SSD in case of emergencies and the second, larger partition (120GB & 880GB respectively) now contains my Home folder with my music,movies,photos settings etc. I then cloned the larger partition to an external WD 1TB My Book drive. Lastly, I enable TRIM support for the external drive by using some Terminal commands.

The results: the difference in performance is difficult for me to believe. Applications launch instantly, my boot time is 10-15 seconds, opening files, Finder windows etc. is many, many times faster than my old setup. The difference is astonishing and has given my computer new life. It was difficult for me to think two things: that the internal HD was such a terrible bottle neck in the system and that the Thunderbolt interface could provide such amazing throughput. In hindsight, I suppose the hard disk is the computer equivalent of a vinyl turntable. Yes, it operates at orders of magnitude faster than a turn table but RAM (SSD's) operates at orders of magnitude faster than the spinning platters of the hard disk.

If I had it to do over, had I known the results would be so spectacular, I would have purchased a larger SSD: either a larger Lacie external drive or bought the Seagate Thunderbolt cradle and added a 480GB drive to that. My setup took a performance hit when I moved my Home folder from the new Thunderbolt SSD boot disk to the internal HD but I didn't have any choice given the size restrictions. I didn't run benchmarking before and after. I care more for real world performance but others online have done proper benchmarking and report similar results.

I offer this experience in the spirit of sharing my successful upgrade with others that may have a similar setup to my own and could potentially benefit from a similar upgrade.

Best wishes to all,

Dave

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Dave

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LouCioccio
LouCioccio Senior Member • Posts: 2,223
Re: Using External Thunderbolt SSD to Speed Up Mid-2011 27" iMac

My upgrade was a little different but similar. I updated my Mac Pro 2006 "road apple" with a modified boot EFI that thunk 64 bit to 32 bit calls and am running Maverick. I installed a Kingston 240GB SSD in drive bay 4 and used CCC to clone the drive from (boot up 1TB but had less than 200GB on it) to the SSD drive.

Now this old dinosaur boots about similar time 15 sec to log on screen. Those SSD drive are dropping in price I think the 500GB can be had for under 400$US. I will wait till fall (pun intended) to install a much larger one.

I did make the drive leaner getting unnecessary files off that aren't needed and linked them to other drives.

Ciao,

Lou Cioccio

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cplittleton
cplittleton Regular Member • Posts: 401
Re: Using External Thunderbolt SSD to Speed Up Mid-2011 27" iMac

Who 1 wrote:

Hi Everyone,

I just thought I would share my recent experience with updating my mid-2011 27" model iMac with an external Thunderbolt SSD drive to avoid the cost and hassle of installing an SSD drive internally.

I've had issues for ages with my iMac being slow always accompanied by excessive hard disk read/write noises. My local Apple dealer suggested installing more RAM (I have 8GB and I am by no means a 'power user') and installing an internal SSD or upgrading the computer.

I recently went up to 20GB RAM in my 2011 iMac. I am not a power user, but love to listen to music (iTunes) while I work in LR. Between the two programs and base system stuff, Activity Monitor reports ~11GB-~12GB of RAM in use under my normal operating conditions. Spend some time looking at Activity Monitor and see how much RAM your system is using and what it is swapping out to disk. You might achieve some small gains going from 8GB to 16GB, and this upgrade should be cheap at Crucial - my 16GB RAM purchase was under $200 USD.

After hours and hours of searching the 'net for the best solution, I stumbled on a number of blogs & websites that wrote about their experience with using an external Thunderbolt drive on iMacs the same vintage as my own. I found that Lacie offers a 120GB SSD Thunderbolt drive for $199 CDN and thought I had nothing to lose since this alternative, if it worked, would be FAR cheaper than the alternatives offered to me by my local Apple dealer.

I have considered this but have not pulled the trigger.  How concerned are you about the stability/reliability of the external SSD to iMac cable connection for your boot disk?  I have accidentally nudged my Time Machine USB cable out of it's port a few times while plugging in / unplugging other USB devices.  I have been fortunate that Time Machine has not been accessing the disk when I have done this.  I moved some USB cables around to minimize my risk, but I'm still on the fence about having my boot disk 'outside' the computer where it can be unplugged accidentally during day-to-day operations.

It took a number of hours to set everything up. I began by backing up my internal 1TB hard disk, plugged in the external SSD, formatted it, installed OS X Mavericks on it and used Migration Assistant to transfer all of my software to it. Then, I formatted the internal 1TB drive and partitioned it: the first small partition is a clone of the now bootable eternal SSD in case of emergencies and the second, larger partition (120GB & 880GB respectively) now contains my Home folder with my music,movies,photos settings etc. I then cloned the larger partition to an external WD 1TB My Book drive. Lastly, I enable TRIM support for the external drive by using some Terminal commands.

If I go forward, I may PM you about a few steps above if I can't find details ion the web.  It sounds somewhat time-consuming, but not all that difficult.

Thanks for posting.

CPLittleton

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(unknown member) Veteran Member • Posts: 3,985
Re: Using External Thunderbolt SSD to Speed Up Mid-2011 27" iMac

cplittleton wrote:

How concerned are you about the stability/reliability of the external SSD to iMac cable connection for your boot disk?  I moved some USB cables around to minimize my risk, but I'm still on the fence about having my boot disk 'outside' the computer where it can be unplugged accidentally during day-to-day operations.

CPLittleton

I was initially not very enthusiastic about having the boot disk in an external enclosure.  Aside from the issues you mentioned it sorta goes against the concept of an all-in-one system like an iMac.

While the installation pictured uses the Thunderbolt ports it serves to illustrate the possibilities.  It's out of the way and not very likely to get accidentally unplugged.

In this system, the OEM internal drive is identical to the external boot drive with the exception of a Windows installation.  Should there be a difficulty with the external SSD you could simply unplug it and reboot with no down time.

With a Samsung 840 this is the benchmark.  The External SSD and OEM Hitachi are the ones you want to compare.

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cplittleton
cplittleton Regular Member • Posts: 401
Re: Using External Thunderbolt SSD to Speed Up Mid-2011 27" iMac

Nice 'clutter' solution, and it certainly minimizes cable risks.

The benchmarks also help; looks like I may have to go with this solution.

CPLittleton

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OP Who 1 Regular Member • Posts: 113
Re: Using External Thunderbolt SSD to Speed Up Mid-2011 27" iMac

Hi cplittleton,

I suppose there is always a risk with a cable but I rest the drive under the monitor on the curved stand  well behind the computer. I don't think I could knock it accidentally unless I was working with the USB ports which are next to the thunderbolt. It could happen, I won't deny it.

It was time communing but well worth it. Most of the time was waiting for backups and cloning of drives to complete. You can always do other things while this is happening.

Could luck and pm me anytime if I can help.

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Dave

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Velectro New Member • Posts: 1
Re: Using External Thunderbolt SSD to Speed Up Mid-2011 27" iMac

Who 1 wrote:

Then, I formatted the internal 1TB drive and partitioned it: the first small partition is a clone of the now bootable eternal SSD in case of emergencies and the second, larger partition (120GB & 880GB respectively) now contains my Home folder with my music,movies,photos settings etc. I then cloned the larger partition to an external WD 1TB My Book drive. L

I really like set up you suggest, one more question how you cloned bootable external SSD in the smaller partition of 1 TB MAC drive?

And how you cloned the larger partition to an external 1 TB drive? In this case you mean just clone once or sync the tow drive?

Regards,

Velectro

OP Who 1 Regular Member • Posts: 113
Re: Using External Thunderbolt SSD to Speed Up Mid-2011 27" iMac

Velectro wrote:

Who 1 wrote:

Then, I formatted the internal 1TB drive and partitioned it: the first small partition is a clone of the now bootable eternal SSD in case of emergencies and the second, larger partition (120GB & 880GB respectively) now contains my Home folder with my music,movies,photos settings etc. I then cloned the larger partition to an external WD 1TB My Book drive. L

I really like set up you suggest, one more question how you cloned bootable external SSD in the smaller partition of 1 TB MAC drive?

And how you cloned the larger partition to an external 1 TB drive? In this case you mean just clone once or sync the tow drive?

Regards,

Velectro

Hi,

I used Carbon Copy Cloner to do the cloning. I just used Time Machine to copy the large partition on the internal HD to the external HD.

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Dave

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c lewis New Member • Posts: 1
Re: Using External Thunderbolt SSD to Speed Up Mid-2011 27" iMac

I have a mid 2011 iMac, 3.1 GHz Intel Core i5 with 16 GB 1333 MHz DDR3, and an AMD Radeo HD 6970 1024 MB.  I am running Yosemite and am up to date on upgrades.

Boot times take forever and the machine is just seeming slow.  Rather than splurge another couple of grand for a  new one, what would you suggest I do. I need lots of memory as I store photography, presentations, etc.

I can probably do the install of the external hard drives but need more direction on what is best.

THanks!!

OP Who 1 Regular Member • Posts: 113
Re: Using External Thunderbolt SSD to Speed Up Mid-2011 27" iMac

c lewis wrote:

I have a mid 2011 iMac, 3.1 GHz Intel Core i5 with 16 GB 1333 MHz DDR3, and an AMD Radeo HD 6970 1024 MB.  I am running Yosemite and am up to date on upgrades.

Boot times take forever and the machine is just seeming slow.  Rather than splurge another couple of grand for a  new one, what would you suggest I do. I need lots of memory as I store photography, presentations, etc.

I can probably do the install of the external hard drives but need more direction on what is best.

THanks!!

It sounds as though you are in a similar position to what mine was. I only have 8GB of RAM. I guessed that the RAM was not the source of the bottleneck causing the machine to underperform and given the performing increase that I saw after making a Thunderbolt drive the boot drive, I think the guess was a decent one. It is certainly worth the effort to try so long as you have the time to invest. I noticed that Lacie has discontinued their small external SSD drives such as the 128GB one that I purchased last year but I noticed on B&H that someone else is making the same product now. You can purchase a larger one depending on your needs.

I am now interested in having my photos stored on external hard drives connected through Thunderbolt. This is possible but only with an external Thunderbolt drive enclosure with two ports to allow my small SSD boot drive to connect to the second port. There are only 2 such drives at B&H with reasonable price points: an OWC (2 bay, $250) and an Akito (4 bay, $350). This set up would allow me to move images directly from SD/CF cards to the external drives, edit them in the same location with access times as fast as an internal HDD.

I never turn off my computer so I only notice things like boot times when an OS update requires that I reboot. If I don't select "Open previously opened applications" then the boot times are very fast but if I do select that option then boot times are much slower but once booted the machine operates extremely fast, much, much faster then using the internal HDD to boot from and store the OS and all applications.

Dave

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Dave

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jorgebaires New Member • Posts: 1
Re: Using External Thunderbolt SSD to Speed Up Mid-2011 27" iMac
1

Hi Everyone,

I want to specially thank Dave for his so smart advice.

I have a Late 2013 iMac that, thanks to its so slow hard disk, normally takes more than 4 minutes to boot. Thanks to Dave´s suggestion I purchased a 1Tb Trascend external SSD with Thunderbold interfase. The result: my iMac takes now 20 seconds booting, applications opens instantly . . . I have a superfast new iMac!

Best regards for all,

Jorge

bent christian Senior Member • Posts: 1,663
Re: Using External Thunderbolt SSD to Speed Up Mid-2011 27" iMac

I used to be a big proponent of booting via USB 3...that is until I took a chance buying a Monster Digital Overdrive SSD . Forget the Transcend StoreJet 500. I use one at work. The controller is garbage. The MD Overdive is is the cheapest, fastest bus-powered thunderbolt I have found. I don't know why these are not more popular. Write speeds are only slightly less that USB 3, read speeds are at internal SATA III speeds. This what matters for booting. Solid metal casing. Nice vent holes all around the drive to reduce heat. And TRIM support! These seem to be discontinued by the manufacturer. Get one before they disappear.

OP Who 1 Regular Member • Posts: 113
Re: Using External Thunderbolt SSD to Speed Up Mid-2011 27" iMac

Hi Jorge:

I only just saw this post in my old thread. I live on a small farm and spring is really busy. I'm so glad that you were able to breathe new life in to your old iMac. Its great to know that the post helped someone else. Thanks for taking the time to post your experience. I really appreciate it.

Dave

jorgebaires wrote:

Hi Everyone,

I want to specially thank Dave for his so smart advice.

I have a Late 2013 iMac that, thanks to its so slow hard disk, normally takes more than 4 minutes to boot. Thanks to Dave´s suggestion I purchased a 1Tb Trascend external SSD with Thunderbold interfase. The result: my iMac takes now 20 seconds booting, applications opens instantly . . . I have a superfast new iMac!

Best regards for all,

Jorge

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Dave

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Rick Baumhauer
Rick Baumhauer Regular Member • Posts: 389
Re: Using External Thunderbolt SSD to Speed Up Mid-2011 27" iMac

Seconded - either I or my sister found the Monster SSD when she was looking for a way to upgrade her older iMac instead of buying a new one, and it worked so well, I had my wife buy one for her late-2012 21.5". The Fusion Drive she has works better than a plain "spinner", but the SSD is fast for all of her data, and will let her buy a cheaper iMac when she gets around to upgrading, since she won't have to buy the pricey Apple SSD upgrade.

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