Extend the life of your old iMac, MacBook, or Mac mini with Windows 10

Many Apple users keep their technology around for the long haul. What happens when it can no longer receive updates? Install Windows!

Note: While the guide below is updated as of early 2022, the technology world is ever changing. Please proceed at your own risk!

Continuing in the spirit of our previous how-to blog about converting old laptops to ChromeBooks, in this article, we will walk you through how to keep your old iMac, MacBook, Mac mini or almost any 64-bit Apple hardware in-use longer by installing Windows 10. There are a lot of changes within both the Mac and Windows world that will impact what these sorts of retrofits look like (including Apple’s M1 chip and Window 11 release) – as of early 2022, we predict the following steps will extend the life of old Apple hardware at least for a couple years. 

Why Windows?

Apple stops producing software updates for old computers when they hit a certain age, where they figure hardware it will no longer be able to keep up with providing a fast and quality user experience within their brand. This usually occurs when a new version of MacOS comes out, and the update is specifically excluded from older machines. There are methods of forcing software updates for older machines, but in our experience, this can have big impacts on performance. Once a machine can no longer receive updates, it’s time to shift to running Windows 10. In the mid-2000s, Apple started to use Intel-based hardware in their machines that allowed the installation of Windows on Mac devices. Apple also installed a native utility on their operating system called Boot Camp to make this very easy. So, on almost every Apple computer with an Intel chipset from 2006 to 2022, it is possible to install Windows using the method below (or very similar). We have experienced great results on a 2007 MacBook, 2008 iMac, and a 2011 Mac mini, to give you an idea of how old machines are when they are due for a retrofit.

Step 1 – Secure Data and Upgrade Hardware

First, ensure that any data you wish to keep on your computer is saved in a secure place. Almost every computer that goes through this process will need (or, it’s strongly recommended) a solid state hard drive upgrade. This means that the physical hard drive is being removed from your computer, this is an easy time to turn it into an external hard drive by putting it in a USB enclosure to easily be used later. Or, simply copy the needed files onto a USB flash drive for later access, or upload to DropBox.

Second, make sure your hardware is ready for this retrofit.  If your battery no longer holds charge, most older machines have batteries for sale on eBay or Amazon for very reasonable prices. This is also a good idea to install the maximum RAM installable for your machine, you can find out how much that is on EveryMac. You can find RAM for your machine generally for sale on eBay.

Third, we strongly recommend installing a Solid State Hard Drive, known as an SSD. These upgraded hard drives have no moving parts compared to what was originally installed (usually). They give massive performance gains and are probably the best upgrade available to older machines to keep them alive longer. We have used SSDs from PNY, Sandisk, Samsung, and others, and have had great experience overall. Click here for our Amazon Smile link to buy one today!

The installation process for an SSD is different depending on your Mac Model. Mac mini – you can spin off the bottom rubber for easy access to the internals. Most MacBooks and MacBook Pros have fairly easy access to the inside, just make sure you are using the correct screwdriver to open it up. Apple calls these “Pentalobe” screws.

In our example below, you can see the iMac is likely the most difficult model to upgrade the hard drive. This is not difficult – it does require patience. Here is the general procedure for our 2008 iMac. Yours may vary depending on the production year:

  1. Use a suction cup to carefully pull off the glass. Do not use a screwdriver to pry it off. It will damage the metal frame. You can use plastic tools with some effort as well. The glass is held in magnetically.
  2. Remove the screws on the outside of the metal frame. Note – that the screws along the bottom are longer.
  3. Carefully use plastic pry tools to pull the metal frame off from the bottom. Note the camera at the top of the computer has a wire attached to the frame. We recommend leaving this connected since there is usually enough slack in the wire to simply move the frame out of the way.
  4. Remove the screws holding the screen to the machine.
  5. Mark the wires on the right side of the machine that are connected to the screen with a sharpie so it’s easy to reconnect properly during re-assembly.
  6. There is enough clearance to pull the screen away from the top a couple inches to get access to the old hard drive. There is a plastic clip and some screws holding this in. Carefully remove the heat sensor from the old hard drive.
  7. We use 3M heat-resistant double sided sticky tape to mount the hard drive which has proved quite strong over time. There are various methods that can be used here. Since this hard drive does not have moving parts, and it’s smaller, much of the strucutre holding in the old hard drive won’t be needed.
  8. Before screwing everything back together, we advise booting the computer up to make sure the hard drive is recognized.

Our iMac internals – the red box above shows the hard drive that we removed, the plastic clip near the top of the box is what releases it. Yellow box on the right are the two wires that need to be removed to access this area.

Step 2 – Install MacOS (or update).

It is possible to install windows directly to your hard drive, but we advise using Boot Camp if possible because it more easily installs the required drivers. For very old machines that cannot run MacOS 10.11 (El Capitan), direct installation is best. Our iMac runs El Cap, so we installed that first.

Note: If you chose to keep your current hard drive that has macOS already installed on it, or if you cloned your hard drive using Disk Utility, upgrade your MacOS to the most recent version possible.

Starting with a fresh hard drive, newer Macs will allow you to use Internet Recovery to install the operating system via Wi-Fi by pressing and olding Command-R at startup. This generally will install the OS that came with the machine, so an update after installation may be needed.

If you are using a machine that is too old for Internet Recovery, you need to create install media on a USB drive following these steps. Boot to that USB stick by holding the Option key at startup.

After the operating system is installed and updated, we will use Boot Camp to install Windows.

Step 3 – Install Windows using Boot Camp

Open the applications folder, and then the utilities folder to find the Boot Camp program. If your computer is old enough, like our 2008 iMac, the only option noted is to install Windows 7. Please see this article for how to modify the plist to allow Windows 10 to be installed. We made a copy of the Boot Camp utility first before modifying just in case. Apple’s official support is for machines 2012-2015 and newer.

Add this point, you will want to grab a USB stick that is at least 8 GB to prepare the windows driver files. You will also want to have a separate USB stick with a Windows 10 ISO on it. We have a Windows 10 DVD so we used that instead. Make sure both available boxes are checked and then proceed. We made the MacOS partition as small as possible because we intended to not use it.

Note that the process of installing Windows support files on that USB stick takes a very long time in some cases. Please be patient. 

Your machine will restart when prompted, format and Windows on the BOOTCAMP partition. If your computer boots into MacOS, use the Option key to force boot onto the Windows 10 install media. The installation process is really straightforward. Make sure you have a valid Windows 10 license key that you can install during installation, or afterwards. Here are Apple’s official instructions for reference for installing Windows 10.

Image from Techrepublic.com 

Step 4 – Almost Done!

If you had to modify the plist within Boot Camp, it is possible that drivers were not fully installed on the Windows side. The USB stick that was created in Boot Camp also has all of the drivers needed for updating anything that isn’t working. Our sound wasn’t working with the native Windows driver, for example. We do note that even with the correct driver, our Wi-Fi would not connect with WPA3 wireless in our office. Older Wi-Fi security protocols allowed for connection, however. We bought a $15 USB Wi-Fi adapter to correct this problem.

Enjoy! Our 2008 iMac ended up at a local charter school after a story history with our family business, a couple local churches and then back in the office. This process took a couple hours, mostly worked in the background while I was texting other machines. With some patients and efforts, these older machines can have a new lease on life!