Running Yosemite, my early 2008 iMac had been reduced to a crawl. It would take minutes to boot and even wake from sleep. Mail took forever to load. iPhoto took even longer. Every app spawned spinning beachballs that seemed to never go away. Streaming audio would too often just stop for no reason. My internet connection was irregular, frequently slowing and disconnecting. And then there were those times my machine would just freeze up and require a reboot.
Oh, and my optical drive was broken.
The fix: I took out the broken DVD drive and put a terabyte SSD in its place in the optical bay. I kept my original spinning drive and am now running the iMac with two drives, using the SSD as my boot drive and the original hard drive as extra storage.
Following ifixit's guide, I was able to finish this job in three hours. I assembled all my parts and tools in advance, took some breaks, kept meticulous track of the dozens of screws that come out of this machine (using ifixit's magnet project board), drew diagrams of screw placement, took lots of my own pictures, and stayed calm. Some plugs were a little tough to remove, some screws didn't align properly right away, and initially my machine wouldn't even restart, getting stuck in a boot loop--but I figured out solutions to all these little stumbling blocks (respectively by spudging carefully; unscrewing and trying again; and unplugging all my peripherals, booting to the original drive, resetting my startup drive to the SSD in OS X preferences, and restarting the machine. Good to go after that.)
My iMac is now better than new. It runs super fast, booting in seconds and waking from sleep instantly. Mail and iPhoto open and load in seconds, not minutes. The few spinning beachballs that I do see go away in seconds and don't stick around for hours anymore. Most surprisingly, my cable internet connection has gotten a lot faster and more stable with the SSD, now drawing a steady 120 mbps down when it used to just come down at a stuttery 15-50 mbps. And here I was blaming Comcast for that when my old spinning hard drive was the culprit all along....
The new SSD seems to have fixed every single thing that aggravated me about my old iMac.
Originally I thought this was the year I would finally get a new iMac. Then I started reading about people installing SSDs in their old machines, breathing new life into them. My old machine just felt like it was running slower and slower (although some routine disk repair had sped things up a bit). I wanted more speed, I realized, not an entirely new machine. So I bought all the parts for this fix and took the plunge into the hidden guts of my Apple computer (I have previously opened up and upgraded ram and even processors in my laptops so I am familiar with opening up computers, but I have never done a fix as involved as this one before).
For a long time I was leery of pulling the glass off of my iMac and doing this project, but that turns out to be one of the easiest steps of this fix (its really cool how the monitor glass attaches to the iMac, by the way).
You can do this fix if you are the one responsible for doing routine maintenance and troubleshooting on your Mac and if you have ever used a screwdriver to open up an electronic device before--especially a computer--to do an upgrade or your own fix. If you have never opened up an electronic device before and/or if you are unfamiliar with how to set up an iMac (as in basic stuff like knowing when and how to plug in cables and configure the boot drive in system preferences), then you shouldn't take this task on just yet.
However, if you are thinking about doing this and are in fact reading this right now, then I figure you are the kind of person who can swap out an optical drive for an SSD. It's a complicated but ultimately very straightforward process.
I do have some advice:
1. Draw a diagram of where all the screws go, especially in the case assembly; not all iMacs of this vintage have the same kinds of screws and it turned out that my machine used not two but three different lengths of screws just to hold the case together.
2. Take pictures of all parts both before you remove them and after you remove them. The pictures in the ifixit guide are good but it helps to have your own too. This came in especially handy when I had to reattach the heat sensor and foam to my SSD and I had forgotten where those parts initially sat on the old optical drive--fortunately I had a picture of that part before I had pried those pieces off it.
3. Get a bunch of little bowls and post-its or, better yet, use ifixit's magnetic project board to organize all your screws. There are a lot of them!
4. Read all the comments on the ifixit repair guide, especially when you get to removing the LCD panel. Don't pull the cable off the circuit board as suggested in the guide; do what the comments say and pull the plug off the back of the LCD panel--or just prop it up if possible or have someone hold it and work under it so you don't have to complete this tricky step at all.
5. Stay calm, take your time, and be meticulous. In some blogs I follow, I read that this fix took under an hour. It took me a lot longer, but that's because I took several breaks and documented my repair with my own diagrams and pictures. I found this fix to be a little tense and even sweaty, frankly, as it involves a lot of concentration and even a small degree of lifting (the iMac is not light)--I kept a towel handy so I didn't drip sweat onto a circuit board.
6. Make sure you have a magnetic-tipped screwdriver so you can retrieve the teeny little screws you will drop into the guts of the Mac. I dropped two :p .
7. Clean the LCD panel and glass (front and back) carefully because they will get covered with fingerprints and worse. I had to take the glass off my iMac after I had it all reassembled because I didn't clean the glass thoroughly the first time. It's funny how easy that felt after doing this fix.
To conclude my tale, I had saved up for a new iMac, but instead of buying the new 5K machine I chose to spend about $600 on parts to upgrade my old one and keep the rest of my money (and spend some of it on really nice headphones and a headphone amp, yes!...). I thought I wanted a Retina display but it turns out what I really wanted was an SSD, and now that I have that I plan to use this machine for as long as I can.
If you are even thinking about doing this fix then just go and do it. Don't wait any longer. And don't buy a new machine. You will be so happy with your old iMac once you get an SSD into it. Plus, this is probably the last time you will be able to do a hack like this on a Mac as the new ones don't let you swap out components like these old ones do.
8. Ha, one more piece of advice. Put 6 gigs of ram in your machine. Apple claims the early 2008 iMac can take only 4 gig of ram but it really can take 6. OWC sells an upgrade kit: put 4 gig in one slot and 2 in the other.