It is now July 2019 and I have this Late-2009 iMac.

macOS High Sierra Version 10.13.6 iMac (27-inch, Late 2009) Processor: 3.06 GHz Intel Core 2 Duo Memory: 4 GB 1067 MHz DDR3 Graphics: ATI Radeon HD 4670 256

I can't use it anymore because it is super-super-slow. But I am considering upgrading it.

Will adding memory and replacing the HDD with an SSD turn this into an acceptably running machine? Or is the processor simply not up to it? 'It' being mostly email and browsing (and, eg, YouTube).

So what exactly are my upgrading option on this iMac?

  • I have a 2010 iMac with a 250 GB SSD and 16 GB of RAM. It has started beachballing a lot but mostly when i have several apps open at once. Other than that it runs fine and is not notably slow. It was the top end 27" option. I bought it new and have been using it ever since. I can run GeekBench if you'd like my numbers. – jmh Jul 21 '19 at 1:43
  • I am thinking about getting a new iMac because we can no longer update the system. I like to stay fairly current. – jmh Jul 21 '19 at 1:47

Whether it's 'worth it' will be up to you.

You can get 16GB RAM in there & you can swap the HD to an SSD.

The SSD will feel like day after night compared to an HD - especially as you're on an OS that is designed for SSD & almost forgets spinning rust ever played a part.

You will be bound to 10.13 so you might not need more RAM unless you’re sure you will run apps where the current amount is not enough.

Since SSD is a big speedup, more RAM will let it 'breathe' a lot better doing multiple tasks... like having more browser windows open. And you’ll likely want to use it more once it’s speedy.

It won't turn it into any kind of powerhouse compared to a 2015 MacBook even or any new portables, but inexpensive upgrades will make it all feel more relaxed.

Expect 4 to 8x speedup in system start time with an SSD that’s moderately priced.

  • 1
    Also, it is worth mentioning that you can't upgrade to the latest macOS version. The iMac, Late 2009 does not run Mojave. Maximum OS: macOS 10.13.6 – howdytom Jul 20 '19 at 14:56
  • Yup, it's definitely EOL, but it will get security updates for a couple of years yet. – Tetsujin Jul 20 '19 at 14:57
  • @Tetsujin Thought Apple only do security updates for this and the previous version. – Thorbjørn Ravn Andersen Jul 20 '19 at 20:44

Maxing out the RAM and replacing the HDD with an SSD will certainly bring improvements. According to EveryMac, it can run High Sierra 10.13.6. This may well be sufficient for web browsing and email.

However, once the OS becomes a few years old, you will start to run into compatibility problems. Also, the Core 2 Duo is a very old CPU technology, and it may struggle on complex webpages like Facebook.

You need to balance whether the cost of upgrading this is worth it for the couple? of years you'll get out of it before needing to invest in a new machine. Or you might still get something for it now on eBay, which you could put towards a newer Mac.

  • 1
    Your definition of "very old CPU technology" definitively is different than mine :-) Wanna chat about 6502 or 6800? – nohillside Jul 20 '19 at 15:09
  • @nohillside I used to write 6502 Assembler. I've done my time! – benwiggy Jul 20 '19 at 15:10
  • LOL. Wonder how well 70ies technology would handle modern web pages. Probably even just getting a TCP/IP stack going would prove quite a challenge. – nohillside Jul 20 '19 at 15:18
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    @nohillside have a look at retrocomputing.stackexchange.com – Thorbjørn Ravn Andersen Jul 20 '19 at 20:44
  • We had a Digital PDP in lab. To restart it you had to key in about 10 octal commands and then feed it a paper tape... – jmh Jul 21 '19 at 1:36

You’re more likely to benefit from extra RAM, and that model of iMac can take up to 16GB — 4GB is very low for modern MacOS versions. I am running a late 2009 i7 27” iMac, but I have 20GB of RAM and a hybrid drive in it.

  • 16GB according to Everymac - everymac.com/systems/apple/imac/specs/… - are you sure we're talking the same machine? – Tetsujin Jul 20 '19 at 14:54
  • According to Mactracker 32 GB Maximum Memory should be supported for the (27-inch, Late 2009 model. – howdytom Jul 20 '19 at 14:58
  • Mactracker also thinks it's a core i5 or i7... I think I'll continue to believe Everymac. – Tetsujin Jul 20 '19 at 15:00
  • Is it possible that the base model had Core 2 Duo with 16Gb limit, and the faster CPUs were i5 with a 32Gb limit? – benwiggy Jul 20 '19 at 15:03
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    @MikeScott Can you confirm that you have a Core 2 Duo processor in your machine? – Keep these mind Jul 20 '19 at 15:24

Hi I think you'll notice a HUGE difference if you put in an SDD and max out the memory. I did both to my machine and it was wonderful. I've also got a 2009 i-mac, 27 inch, but with 2.8 Ghz Intel Core i7. I upgraded mine with 32GB memory (a few websites said it was possible at it has worked well on my machine) and also replaced the optical drive with an SSD (the optical drive wasnt working well anymore). High-sierra was running well, but I couldn't use this operating system with dual screens so I went back to sierra. At any rate, it became super fast after these upgrades. I think your processor may not be upgradeable to 32gb but check that one out. I guess the days of this beast are numbered, in terms of OS upgrades, but it is still going relatively strong after 10 years, amazing really. Other issues I've had, which you may also have, or may encounter are the dodgy optical drive, the graphics card failing (fixed with the bake remedy) and recently the old HDD failing. Good luck.

  • Thank you, Marty. I did add more memory by now, tie-wrapped an external SSD to the back of the stand (probably quite a bit slower because old USB standard; but the costs of having one installed inside where prohibitive given that the thing can't be updated anymore), and installed a script to 'eject' the internal drive upon start-up (silence!). (The machine boots from the SSD on the back.) It is quite pleasant to work with. It still gets quite hot though on top. Your machine also gets hot on top? – Keep these mind Sep 17 '19 at 14:41

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