Saturday, May 16, 2015

LanceJ's Ultimate Mac Boot Stick

After a few years of fooling around, I decided to make up my own ultimate Mac Boot USB stick.

My goals:  When I administrate computers, I have most everything I need on a single boot device so I don't have to fool around downloading, installing, or searching.

My boot stick includes what I most frequently need.  It isn't that complicated, but it took a while to actually figure it all out.  Best of all, you can easily make your own!

Required Stuff:

I find a USB 3.0 "thumb drive" to be ideal.  These devices are inexpensive, portable, fast, and readily available.

What not to use:

  • Small thumb drives.  You may be able to get away with a 16 GB device, but anything less than that will limit your flexibility.
  • Hard disks or SSDs.  They're more expensive, bulky, and HD's are less reliable
  • SD Cards.  An SD card is an option, but the truth is that as of this writing, a standard USB 3.0 thumb drive is more universal.  
I use the following four partitions:
  1. Yosemite Installer (6.5 GB)
  2. Lion Installer (6.5 GB)  (for those older Macs!)
  3. Memtest Partition (50 MB)
  4. Installable Software Partition (Remaining Space)
For those very old Macs, I still carry a Leopard DVD.  Oh well, old school is old school!

iMac and MacBook Upgrade Tips

I'm the type that tries to get the most bang out of a computer - where many consider a 3 year old computer "end of life", I can easily double that lifespan.

A lot of people ask me what I've done for upgrades to the Macs I manage.  Here are some examples of what I did.

2009 MacBook (6 years old)
2009 MacBook Pro (6 years old)
  • 250 GB SSD (originally a traditional 250 GB drive) 
  • 4 GB of memory not upgraded.  I find 4 GB to be plenty powerful.
2010 MacBook (5 years old)
  • 250 GB SSD (originally a traditional 250 GB drive)
  • 8 GB memory (originally at 2 GB)
    • G.Skill DDR3 RAM 
    • Although 4 GB is powerful enough, I was upgrading it from 2 GB.  So using the principle of upgrading as few times as possible, I moved it to 8 GB.
2011 iMac (4 years old)
  • 8 GB memory (originally at 4 GB)
    • This iMac had two empty memory slots, so I was able to re-use the 4 GB pulled from my 2011 MacBook Pro to bring the iMac from 4 GB to 8 GB.
  • 4 TB Hybrid drive (originally a traditional 500 GB drive)
2011 MacBook Pro (4 years old)
  • 1 TB Hybrid Drive (originally a traditional 750 GB drive)
  • 8 GB memory (originally at 4 GB)
    • G.Skill DDR3 RAM

My Upgrade "Rules"

There are generally two components that I upgrade in an older computer:  Memory and Drive Storage.

  • Upgrade if memory is less than 4 GB
  • Do nothing if memory is at least 4 GB
Memory used to be very expensive, but now it is quite affordable.   DDR3 memory is about $8 per gigabyte.  If I encounter a computer with less then 4 GB, I generally upgrade to 8 gigabytes.  If a machine already has 4 GB I generally leave it alone.

I generally buy G.Skill memory because I have had good luck with it.

Hard Drive Storage
  • Upgrade if poor performance, and/or less than 50 GB of space available.
  • Do nothing if performance is good and there is at least 50 GB of available space.
Hard drives have more to do with performance than ever before.  All of the search engine indexing and visualization puts more demand on drive performance than ever before - and so a fast drive can make a real difference.

  • Typical Storage Needs:  I think most people would be best served by a 250 GB SSD drive, about $100.  SSDs are blazingly fast, but a bit more expensive on a per-GB basis (about 40¢ per GB)
  • Very Large Storage Needs: If you have an large storage need (multiple user accounts or tons of music, video, and photos), I'd go with a "hybrid" drive, which provides very good performance with a lot of storage for about $80.  This technology combines an old-school magnetic disk technology with a tiny SSD (about 8¢ per gigabyte).
I wouldn't go with a traditional disk unless you are happy with performance.  The price/performance differential, at 6¢ per gigabyte, isn't worth it.


I use the following tool set for my upgrades.  Having the right tools is key to success.  I would never use the wrong tool.
Why USB 3.0?  It true that few of the devices I work on use USB 3.0.  But soon they will all have USB 3.0, and USB 3.0 is much faster than USB 2.0.  Given the negligible price difference, I go with USB 3.

Wednesday, March 04, 2015

Easy 2011 iMac Memory and Hard Drive Upgrade

My iMac (2011, 21.5-inch model) was feeling down.  It was running out of disk space and everything was slowing down to a crawl.

So a few weeks ago I decided to upgrade my iMac with a larger hard drive and increased memory, restoring performance to be faster than ever.  It was far cheaper to upgrade my Mac, and it was much easier than I expected.

It took me about 30 minutes to do the upgrades.

Here are the specific parts I used for my upgrade:

Hard Drive

I went with this 4 TB Seagate drive for a few reasons:
  1. It's HUGE.  At 4 TB, it is eight times bigger than the stock 500 GB hard drive.
  2. It is affordable.  Per GB, it is far cheaper than any SSD.
  3. Being a "Hybrid" SSD/Hard drive device, it is FAST.  The modern OS really expects fast disk devices. This sped up my Mac a lot.
  4. It is a one-for-one replacement for the old device.  It easily fits inside the case.

Thermal Sensor

To upgrade the hard drive in a 2011 iMac, you need to add either a special temperature sensor or special software to make sure the fans run properly.  I went with the OWC thermal sensor hardware because it is priced somewhat similarly to a software solution, and it should be more reliable than software which can go out of date.


Memory is cheap, and the 2011 iMac has four (!) slots.  I added this inexpensive 4 GB of memory, and in doing so it brought my available RAM up to 8 GB - which is plenty for the average Mac user.  If you want to go nuts, bigger RAM chips are a possibility - according to Internet lore, you can add four 8GB SIMs to bring it to an unreasonable 32 GB.

Upgrade Instructions

For tools, all I needed was the following items
I used a few different instruction on-line to do this upgrade.  I won't repeat them blow-by-blow, but will just say that I had an easy and trouble-free time using the following directions:

iFixIt Hard Drive upgrade instructions
Excellent printable instructions for upgrading the hard drive, but doesn't cover the thermal sensor.

OWC Hard Drive upgrade video instructions
Video instructions.  Covers the 27" iMac, but it is very very similar to the 21.5"

iFixIt Memory upgrade instructions
Excellent printable instructions for upgrading the memory.

And there you have it!