The time has finally come. After extending my 2011 iMac’s life years beyond its final end of life (i.e. the time when Apple stops shipping new macOS versions to support the hardware), it’s time to upgrade to a 2019 27’ iMac.
The problem, though, is that my OWC upgrades made my trusty ol’ iMac too good. With 3TB of SSD storage and 32GB of RAM, in terms of day-to-day memory, it’s better outfitted then every base-model iMac in Apple’s lineup.
I could upgrade, but upgrading directly from Apple is a fool’s bargain. Sure, it’s convenient, but you’ll end up paying $2,000 or more for storage and memory you could pick up for less than $1,000.
So obviously, taking the DIY upgrade route is the only way to ensure that you get a new iMac with the specs you need that doesn’t cost you as much as a used car.
But first you have to do a little bit of homework.
Use DaisyDisk To Clean Up Your Hard Drive
If you’re like me, you’ve filled your internal storage to the gills with everything from duplicates of family pictures and movies to the contents of old flash drives from gigs long past.
Before you transfer all that digital cruft over to a new computer, where it will continue to gather virtual dust bunnies, it’s time to cull the herd.
DaisyDisk is still my favorite disk management tool for macOS. You can quickly get a visual representation of what’s taking up room on your drives by clicking Scan and waiting a minute (or less).
The resulting map gives you an at-a-glance idea of where you can drill down and start setting files aside for deletion. Look for big segments and double click. Most likely your Users folder (it’s name is different for everyone) will be the one where most of your mothballed data is living.
I hit up the Documents folder first and found roughly 100GB of files that I could instantly send to the trash. What’s nice is that you don’t have to delete in batches. Just drag and drop to the Delete cache at the bottom of the interface. Then, when you’re done digging around for files, click the button and permanently delete all of them at once.
There’s going to be one space hog that you can’t get rid of, though, the Photo Library. For that, we need to get crafty.
Apple’s Sneaky Storage Upgrade Game
Apple has a clever game going on with their configurable systems. If you want an internal SSD larger than 1TB, you have to start with the top-of-the-line 3.7GHz model, costing $300 more than the mid-range 27-inch iMac that’s the usual sweet-spot. If you want more than 2TB, get ready to pay an extra $2,700 for an iMac Pro.
And that’s all before you upgrade the drive.
It costs between $700 to $1,000 to upgrade the 27-inch iMac from its base 1TB or 2TB Fusion Drive (which pairs a standard hard drive with a small SSD drive – they’re a somewhat flawed compromise of performance and cost) to a 1TB SSD drive (the minimum you need to truly be useful).
Want 2TB? Then you’ll need to dish out another $1,100 (on top of the $300 you’re paying for the top-tier iMac model).
Since there’s no option for 3TB, what if you want to go all the way to 4TB? Then you’d better have a beefy credit limit. On top of the extra $2,700 you’ll need to pay for the iMac Pro, you’ll have to pay an eye-watering $2,400 extra.
So for me to keep my 3TB of SSD storage, using Apple’s official internal upgrades, it’s going to cost me nearly $5,000 more than the mid-level iMac I’d budgeted for.
Which, frankly, is insane given there’s an option that will cost me 10 times less sitting in the Apple store already.
Upgrade #1: LaCie Mobile SSD
Here’s the thing that Apple won’t tell you when you’re specing out a new iMac – you don’t need a giant internal SSD drive.
For $449, the LaCie 2TB Mobile SSD drive is an external USB-C drive with more than enough space for all of your digital files. An Apple Store exclusive, it’s the only drive you should consider when looking to upgrade your iMac.
Because while you might need lots of space, you don’t need ridiculously speedy internal drives. Unless you’re editing large files, like video or graphics, you’re using a Lamborghini to deliver mail. Yes, it gets the job done, but there’s a lot of performance you’re just never going to use.
External drives like the LaCie Mobile SSD are perfect because they’re reliable, quiet, cool (literally and figuratively) and can last years longer than similarly-sized traditional hard drives (since they have no moving parts).
You’re going to want to hook up the drive to your Thunderbolt 3 or USB port and start copying over files right away, but if you want to use it as the home for your Photo Library, and you use iCloud, you’ll need to take an extra step first.
Reformat All the Things!
That’s right, the first thing you’re going to do with that shiny new hard drive is reformat it. Open Disk Utliity, erase your external LaCie drive, and reformat it as Mac OS Extended or AFPS (don’t use the case-sensitive options unless you know you need them). Otherwise, the Photos app can’t use it as the home for your system library.
So which do you pick? If you’re on a Mac that’s running El Capitan or earlier, then you can only choose Mac OS Extended. If you’ve at least made it to High Sierra (like me), then choose APFS. It’s an indexing option that’s made for solid state drives like the LaCie Mobile SSD.
Leap of Faith
Now comes the part where I tell you to blow away your Photo Library.
Not yet! Once the LaCie drive is ready, find your Photo Library in your user folder under Pictures. Copying it is as simple as dragging and dropping it from your internal drive to external storage.
You can do this next step on your new iMac or, if you’re like me and you want to use Photos while you wait for your new device to arrive, you can do this right away. To change the target of your Photos app, hold the Option key when you launch the app. Then select your recently-copied Photo Library on the external app.
The last step is to sync everything with iCloud Photos. Go to Settings > Preferences. Click the Use as System Photo Library button, then click the iCloud tab. Select that you want to sync your library with iCloud and that’s it! You can delete the old Photos Library off your iMac’s internal storage and get back some space!
Incidentally, if you’re holding on to an old iPhoto Library, you’ll want to move that to the external drive as well. You’re not using it for anything except a lingering sense of security and it takes up a lot of room. We’ll talk more about how to get your pictures out of it in a future article.
But What About Time Machine?
Now that you’ve successfully transferred your Photo Library, you’ll want to keep it doubly-safe in Time Machine. But Time Machine doesn’t work with external drives, right?
Wrong! In Time Machine Settings, click the Options button. You’ll see your LaCie drive listed in the exclusions list. Select it and click the minus button to remove it from the list. Counter-intuitive, I know, but now, when Time Machine runs its next backup, it will include the external drive as well.
Is That It?
There’s a lot more for us to get rid of and transfer to the new drive. But some of these things require commands that I only want to do once I get the new iMac. As long as you have under 1TB of files and applications on your internal drive, you’re ready.
I’ll be back next week to talk about the mind-numbingly bald-faced lie that is the Apple RAM upgrade.