If you’re still rocking an older iMac but want to breathe some new life into it, replacing the traditional hard drive with a solid-state drive is a great way to do that.

Solid-state drives (SSDs) have a ton of advantages, including faster write and read speeds, which essentially means that your computer can boot up quicker and open applications much faster than before. There are still some things to be aware of with solid-state drives, but for the most part, they’re one of the best upgrades you can do to your computer by a long shot.

If you have an older iMac that was made before Apple started to glue everything together, then accessing the internal components is decently easy, albeit much more involved than a normal PC. Swapping out the hard drive, though, is a piece of cake, especially if you’ve already done it on other computers in the past.

RELATED: It's Time: Why You Need to Upgrade to an SSD Right Now

What You’ll Need

Before you begin, you’ll need a few tools that you might not already have.

  • Suction cups (iFixit sells a pair specifically for this kind of work)
  • A small Phillips-head screwdriver
  • A T6 Torx screwdriver
  • A T8 Torx screwdriver
  • A spudger (Again, iFixit sells these)
  • The solid-state drive of your choice
  • A 3.5″ to 2.5″ hard drive adapter (there are ton to choose from, but here’s a cheap one that will work fine)
  • Tweezers (Useful for when you accidentally drop screws in tight areas)

Depending on what year your iMac is from, you might need different sizes of Torx screwdrivers, which is why it’s probably a good idea just to get a small set of specialty precision bits. That way, you’ll have all the bits you need no matter what. For this how-to, I’m working on a 2008 iMac, and the specific tools listed above are the ones needed for this particular model, but it’s possible that yours might have different sizes of Torx screws. This page will help you find out what you need.

Step One: Disassemble Your iMac

Unplug everything from your iMac and lay the machine down on a flat surface with the screen pointing up.

On the bottom edge of the iMac, take your Phillips screwdriver and remove the lone screw, which will allow the memory access plate to come off. The screw won’t come all the way out, so just loosen it all the way and then pull the plate out.

Next, take your suction cups and place them in opposite corners of the screen. The glass is simply held on by magnets, so all you have to do is lift straight up and the glass panel will come right off.

Place the glass panel off to the side. If you’re worried about scratching it, place it on a soft surface away from the work area.

Next, there are twelve T8 Torx screws around the edge of the display that need removed. Be aware that the four screws along the bottom are longer than the rest, so make sure you put all of them back in the correct locations.

After you remove these screws, it’s time to remove the whole front bezel. The best way to do this is by starting in the upper corners. Place your thumb on the edge of the display and your fingers on the back side of the iMac. From there, push your thumb down as your pull up your fingers. This will loosen the bezel and you can begin to work your way down until the whole bezel lifts up. Do this very slowly and carefully, as there is a cable you’ll need to disconnect!

Before you completely remove the bezel, disconnect the microphone cable at the top.

Place the bezel off to the side, and you’ll now have access to the bottom portion of the internal components. Take this time to use some compressed air and clean out any dust if you want.

Next, remove the “LCD Temp” connector located just to the right of the left-hand side cooling fan.

After that, locate the connection for the display cable and remove the two T6 Torx screws on either side of the connector.

After that, pull up on the black tab to disconnect the display cable from the iMac’s logic board.

Now it’s time to remove the display unit. Unscrew the eight T8 Torx screws around the outer edge of the display. There are four screws on each side.

Next, from the left side, left up on the display unit and open it like a book, leaving the right-side portion resting on the iMac. Either have a friend hold it up like that or use a stick or something to prop it up.

This is because the display is still connected to the iMac via four inverter cables. Simply unplug these.

After that, you can completely remove the display unit and set it off to the side. This will finally get you access to the internal hard drive.

Step Two: Remove the Original Hard Drive

To begin removing the hard drive, you’ll first need to remove the temperature sensor that’s connected to the hard drive with adhesive, so remove the foam covering the sensor and then use your spudger to pry off the temperature sensor assembly from the hard drive’s surface.

You could unplug the temperature sensor from its connector, but there’s too great of a chance that you’ll reverse the connection or not plug it back in all the way, which will result in your iMac’s cooling fans running full blast all the time until you re-seat the connection.

The hard drive is held in place with a strong clip, and it takes a pretty good amount of force to remove it. You’ll need to push down and in on the clip to unseat it, then pull up and towards you to remove the hard drive.

Once the hard drive is out of its compartment, you’ll need to unplug the SATA data and power cables from the drive. Simply pull them out or use your spudger to carefully pry them off if you’re having difficulty.

Once the hard drive is completely removed, you’ll now need to transfer the locking tab portion over to the new SSD and attach it to the SSD adapter. The adapter is there is so that the 2.5″ SSD can properly fit into the 3.5″ hard drive bay in the iMac.

You’ll also need to remove the temperature sensor and the two pins on the other side of the original hard drive and move them to the SSD adapter as well.

Step Three: Install the SSD

You’re now ready to install the SSD into your iMac. Start by connecting the SATA data and power cables to the SSD.

Next, insert the pins into their respective ports on the iMac and then drop the rest of the SSD in. Lock it in place with the locking tab, making sure that it clicks into place.

Depending how the adapter mounts your SSD, the SATA cables may not be able to reach, which means you’re stuck. However, what you can do is simply get rid of the adapter and connect just the SSD, leaving it hanging freely. There are no moving parts and even without the adapter bracket, it will still stay snug inside once the iMac is reassembled.

Step Four: Reassemble Your iMac

Now that the SSD is in place and ready to go, it’s time to put everything back together. Luckily, reassembling it is the same as taking it apart, but in reverse.

Start by placing the display unit back on, making sure to rest the right edge on the iMac as you prop up the left side, since you’ll need to plug the inverter cables back in. The good news is that these inverter cables are interchangeable, so it doesn’t matter which of the two you plug into the connectors on both the top and bottom.

After you plug back in the inverter cables, you can mount the display unit back on the iMac and screw it all in. If it doesn’t sit flush, it’s likely the inverter cables getting in the way, so check to make sure they’re tucked in and out of the way.

Next, Plug the display cable back in and screw in the two T6 Torx screws.

Don’t forget about the LCD temperature sensor cable as well.

Place the bezel back on and remember to reconnect the microphone cable.

When placing the bezel back on, remember that the four screws along the bottom are longer than the rest.

Now it’s time to place the front glass panel back on, but before you do this, make sure there aren’t any fingerprints or dust on the display unit or on either side of the glass. It’s not a huge issue if you forget to do this, since you just need to get the suction cups back out, but it’s better to do it now while it’s still torn apart.

With the suction cups still on the glass panel, slowly place it on the screen until the magnets take over and lock it into place.

Remove the suction cups and you’re good to go! Place the iMac back on your desk, reconnect any cables and power it up. You’ll obviously need to format and install OS X, or restore from a cloned backup. We have a thorough guide that takes you through that process, but in quick terms, you’ll make a USB boot drive of OS X using DiskMaker X and then boot up your Mac while holding down the Alt key to bring up the installer. After you install OS X, be sure to enable TRIM for better performance.

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Craig Lloyd is a smarthome expert with nearly ten years of professional writing experience. His work has been published by iFixit, Lifehacker, Digital Trends, Slashgear, and GottaBeMobile.
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