How Do I Update an ancient Imac to be useful for modern internet stuff
July 14, 2017 9:02 AM   Subscribe

Got a free iMac 7.1 in really nice shape. Problem: I'm mostly Windows. Hope me update/upgrade for max performance/minimal hassle?

My nephews were recently gifted a really clean, nice looking iMac 7.1 running OS X version 10.5.8.
They want to use if for typical internet shenanigans and gaming, if possible.
What's my clearest upgrade path? Is there one? Or should I just Bootcamp it and run Windows?

Hardware specs:
Cor 2 duo, 2.4 GHz
L2: 4 MB
Mem: 4 GB

Is this thing worth saving, or will they inevitably be disappointed?

Their main use cases are internet (youtube, flash games) and Steam games (I already know that will be a disappointing area)

If it's not viable for those uses, what else can I tell them to do with it?
posted by cosmicbandito to Computers & Internet (10 answers total)
Steam won't be great, but it's good for internet. Since it's got a Core 2 Duo in it, it should update to the newest OSX (10.11) fine, and EveryMac backs me up on that. Exactly what model is it? Should be on the bottom of the stand or in the Apple Menu > About This Mac (Model starts with A, and if you also see an EMC number, that is handy as well).
posted by deezil at 9:23 AM on July 14, 2017

That's a machine from 2007. I would be concerned that its 10-year-old hard drive could keel over any time.

Flash is going to be grody; I have a spare 2009 with similar specs & an SSD upgrade and it stutters on 720p Flash video (although it's fine for video in VLC).

Gaming is going to be restricted to vintage titles (which could be cool).

Technically you COULD install a relatively new version of the OS so you can use a decent browser—up to 10.11.6, which is from last year—but the performance will be pretty lousy. Would they be interested in a tinkerer's OS like Elementary or some version of Ubuntu?
posted by bcwinters at 9:25 AM on July 14, 2017 [2 favorites]

followup: complete specs

Intro. August 7, 2007 Disc. April 28, 2008
Order MA878LL Model A1225 (EMC 2134)
Family Mid-2007 - 24" ID iMac7,1
Storage 320 GB HDD Optical 8X DL "SuperDrive"
posted by cosmicbandito at 9:27 AM on July 14, 2017

I think that this machine just predates the model that could be unofficially upgraded to 8 GB RAM after a firmware update. So you're stuck with 4 GB. Upgrading hard drives to SSDs in iMacs isn't trivial, so you're also likely stuck with a small mechanical HD.
posted by scruss at 9:48 AM on July 14, 2017

Oh, I was going to say that upgrading the HDD to an SSD isn't bad at all, and probably the biggest performance increase. You just need to pry a bit at the top of the screen then you can lift the screen out-- it's held on with magnets. After that, it's pretty simple. iFixit videos and walkthroughs are my favorite.

Same for RAM-- easy, even cheaper performance increase.
posted by supercres at 10:01 AM on July 14, 2017 [2 favorites]

I have this Mac, I'm typing this reply on it right now. Your nephews probably won't be super jazzed with it, but it's adequate for internetting and some lightweight gaming. Current 3D games are mostly out, though some will run acceptably with settings cranked down. A lot of non-AAA games actually run on it just fine, but you won't be playing like Doom 2017 or whatever is new this week.

The hard drive is likely to fail to some point. They always do, given enough time, and ten years is a lot. Whether its worth it to replace the drive on a free computer though… maybe just live with it for a while first. I've done it on mine, and I would not say that it's a trivial job. Not rocket science, exactly, but you're going to need an afternoon.
posted by rodlymight at 3:41 PM on July 14, 2017

I have your iMac's predecessor (the first Intel iMac) and I maintain it as a community Windows machine (it runs the stereo!), mostly because the monitor still looks great.

So a few things:

- You can only use Windows 7 32-bit, which is honestly getting a little old and insecure. I personally wouldn't let kids prowl the Web unsupervised with it.

- Speed is ok for basic web browsing or playing music. GPU is pretty lousy for anything other than super basic 3D or video decoding. Should be good enough for simpler indie games though.

- Looks and sounds great, because it's a frikkin' iMac.

- Replacing the HDD on your model is pretty big PITA because it's behind the screen. It's a PITA on *mine*, and mine doesn't have that lovely smudgable-on-both-sides glass plate in front. Fortunately you can use Target Disk Mode to access the drive, if you have to (and if you have another Mac with a Firewire port).

you're also likely stuck with a small mechanical HD

In my experience the drives in these things are full-size 3.5" ones. So you'd actually need some sort of mounting bracket, or some creative use of tape, to put an SSD in.
posted by neckro23 at 7:36 PM on July 14, 2017

OWC is a reliable vendor of upgrades. That link should be for your computer.

You can install a SSD with a adaptor, such as these.

Upgrade the RAM, and put in a SSD, and it will be pretty good. Not great, but pretty good. The SSD makes a huge difference in performance.
posted by blob at 8:30 PM on July 14, 2017

My similar era MacBook (not Pro, 5GB RAM, SSD, just built in graphics vs. iMac with a graphics card, same CPU) runs Windows 10 pretty ok. Drivers for certain things were a pain since Apple never officially supported 64-bit on these but should be less annoying with an iMac. (You don't need fancy drivers for laptop keyboard and touchpad, for instance.) I did this in the era of the free 7-to-10 upgrade offer so dunno how well it'll work with a modern Windows 10 installer, but the machine ran OK when I was using it all the time, mostly for internet surfing and light coding tasks. (No gaming though.) It's certainly miles better than being stuck with Snow Leopard, which is what mine caps out at.
posted by mrg at 12:20 PM on July 15, 2017

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