Buying old imac without original disk good idea?

There are lots of old imac for sale… but many don’t come with the original dvd installation disk.

Im a PC person… so to me it doesn’t sound right not to have a recovery/installation disk of some sort.

Now i know that imac has a disk utility tool that you can access from a command key press… crontrol+somehting

But what if that utility fail to load? That the partition is corrupted/deleted or something… What if your hd die completely and need to be replaced ?what if you swap the hd for a ssd?

Do you need the original dvd installstion when buying an old imac?

Is it safe to buy an old imac without the original dvd installation?

What does “old” mean? :slight_smile:

Depending on its age, there is no DVD installation disk for the iMac.

You can always use macOS Recovery to download the OS directly from Apple:

If old means so old that there is no recovery option:

You can still buy Lion 10.7 or Mountain Lion 10.8 from Apple ($19.99):

So, the short answer is that you might be fine using recovery via the internet. If not, you can buy the OS from Apple if the iMac is capable of at least running Lion on it. If the iMac is even more older, you might wait for an answer of somebody, who collects old Macs. :slight_smile:

In addition to the useful comments from @Christian, you can always make a USB boot disk on a flask drive/thumb drive - there are instructions in how to do so on various sites - example here and many variations,. depending which version of OSX/MacOS you have.

Finally, for more peace of mind, invest in something like Carbon Copy Cloner or similar to keep backups and provide you with a bootable restore disk.

Hope that helps

Yes i am Error

I would define Old anything older than 2012 say between 2008-2013 atleast for PC mindset.

I just need an old imac strong enough to browse any youtube chan, not getting browsing error popup, and run games like Minecraft without lag.
Something still secured by apple (updated) not like windows XP /vista

Its for the kids in the living room… but i have no budget for a new model.
2010 ? 2011 ?
Oh yea, something i can open and change ram and hdd myself without special tools

On PC, we avoid using time recovery when we can as some viruses hide there and you don’t want to recover viruses… yea…windows mindset

Im asking cuz Ive never done a fresh install on an iMac with a new HD. on PC you need the original windows either DVD or USB. and you need it because of the serial number. How do you reinstall the whole thing on an iMac that has no original dvd/usb installation with serial ?

so its unsafe to use El captain, Sierra ? i really do not want anyone to hack into the imac to access my network.

High sierra is the minimum ?

I might offer the perspective this way.

==> When the system will be off-network, buy whatever best suits your cost / benefit ratio. When the system will be connected to a network, buy whatever is still currently supported with OS patches if not the most recent OS.

For perspective, we have WindowsXP systems running mission critical hardware rather well. They would be nearly if not identically impossible to update. They are running off-network. (And we keep rather tight control on what users can/cannot do on those systems).


Still i need to know if it is safe to buy an old imac that doesn’t have any dvd/usb installation.

I really need to know before getting one…i don’t want to end up with a brick on a desk only because you need a bootable dvd/usb with a matching serial key number to install an os on a freshly new hd/ssd

and yes, i’d prefer an iMac because i’ll put it in the living room… most generic monitors look ugly.

Yes it is safe. OS is installable over the internet or you can build a bootable USB. Apple does not offer DVD’s anymore.

If you are planning to update what you buy (ram and ssd), I would research on iFixit the steps necessary to necessary to upgrade an iMac. You would definitely want to buy an older model where the screen is held in place by magnets versus the new models with the glued on screens. With upgrading in mind, an iMac mini might be the smarter purchase.

i see but what if Apple don’t support the OS…

Lets presume i buy an old iMac that has El Captain or Sierra.

I wake up in the morning and the HD just died… doesn’t even boot into Utility disk. (i presume the utility disk is on a partition on the main hard drive. (but that hard drive is dead)

1 how do you get on the internet without utility disk ?
2 lets suppose i have a bootable USB that i made. will Apple allow me to download El Captain/Sierra ?
3 About about the serial ? aren’t license key supposed to be unique ? (like windows) ?
does it mean that i have 20 imac i can use the same bootable USB and install elcaptain/sierra on all 20 imac ?
Normaly if you have 20 PC you need to buy 20 licenses…

Yes, a property formatted hard disk will have a recovery partition on it that you can boot from. You got some good advice to purchase a copy of Carbon Copy Cloner and an external hard drive. This software will create an exact copy of your internal hard drive which is also bootable. So if your hard drive fails you can boot from the external and be up and running in no time while you plan out your internal hard drive replacement.

The boot from the Internet option is build into the hardware firmware, so it is not dependent on booting from your internal hard drive. Apple has excellent support articles to help you along. This one covers the Internet recovery

Apple has given their OS away for free for many years. They don’t have any licensing scheme or serial numbers like the Windows environment.

Apple also has excellent technical support (for free) at their genius bars in an Apple store. So if you live within driving distance, you could schedule an appointment and bring your iMac in and they would install an OS on a working internal hard drive for you at no cost. If the drive was bad, then they would give you an estimate on a repair.

If you buy a Mac, it comes with the OS. No questions asked. Your Mac is elligible to run Mac OS. That’s it. No strings attached. If you have a bootable USB installer or a DVD, you can install the OS on every Mac you own. And of course, you can restore MacOS like @rlamarch mentioned.

Forget about Microsoft’s licenses. There is nothing like that when it comes down to install MacOS. PCs are usually built by a manufacturer other than Microsoft and you have to license Windows from Microsoft to run it on the PC. Apple builds Macs and wants you to run MacOS on it. A Mac has MacOS on it. End of the story. :slight_smile: It is being preinstalled. It can be redownloaded. It can be reinstalled. If you show up with a Mac, you HAVE the license to run Mac OS. The only thing to keep in mind is that if a Mac is so old that it is being considered vintage or obsolete, Apple does not support the Mac any longer. They might help you in case of failure, but officially they are not obliged to do so.

My suggestion would be to buy a Mac that is able to run a version of MacOS that is still being updated.

I have to rain on this parade. MacOS is licensed. The original OS (the one that came with the system when new) is attached to the serial number. You can install that via the Internet and it simply checks the serial number of the machine. However upgrade OSes are tied to an Apple ID. In order to download or install you need to provide a valid Apple ID that was assigned to a system. While an individual can install Apple software on any number of systems they control, all of the software is assigned to a specific Apple ID and not to the computer. If you have multiple IDs, you must use the right one as well! I just came across this issue yesterday trying to erase and install an old macOS on an old Mac.

I also found a good discussion of this issue here:

I would expect if the Mac was properly prepared for sale (disconnect from iCloud, erase and reinstall the original OS to the point it asks for information, then it should be possible to assign the mac to a new Apple ID. That should allow getting OS updates and apps from the store.


If the machine was originally sold without an optical drive, then there must have been some other way of recovering / installing the OS - presumably over the network, and you should have no problem installing MacOS on such a machine, certainly as far back as Mavericks.

If the machine did have an optical drive, then an OS install disk will almost certainly be available from somewhere, but not from Apple!

However, that said I think your position is not entirely rational. On the one hand, you tell us that you want a machine to browse the internet. On the other you apparently want to buy a machine so old that Apple no longer support and provide security updates for the OS. And at the same time you are concerned about viruses infections. This is truly a PC mindset! :slight_smile:

If you are looking for a machine to surf the internet then you need something where you know the OS will continue to receive security patches or can be updated so that it will. If you want a Mac, then that means it must run High Sierra or later - and that will soon be Mojave as Apple’s release cycle inexorably moves on! This does not mean that you need ultra-modern hardware - I have a MacBook Air here from Mid-2012 that is happily running Mojave, and I’m pretty sure that I’ll be able to upgrade it to Catalina - but you need to carefully check any Mac significantly older than that against the Apple OS / Hardware compatibility lists.

Good hunting! :slight_smile:

I have supporting experience. I recently had to purchase Snow Leopard and Lion install disks for an iMac vintage from the days when the OS was not “free” and the original install disks had been “lost” (tossed in the trash).

Now that I have the installation, I can continue with the “free” updates (but in this case, the iMac is limited to 10.7)


Yes, you could buy a Snow Leopard disc from a store that works on any machine. However, the install media that came with the machine from the factory was tied to that specific machine.

It seems I am getting rid of the last XP PCs in the next months. :slight_smile:

Is it worth it to put $250 in a 2012 MBP for new battery, charger, add memory and a new SSD? I am on the fence… the machine still runs fine

I had a 13" 2011 MBP and did the same upgrades over it’s lifetime. I upgraded the RAM from 4gig to 8gig soon after buying it new. A couple of years latter I swapped on the 5200 hard drive for a 500gig SSD and put a new battery in it 3 years ago.

It is retired now and sitting in my closet. Three years ago my son was a senior in high school and I replace the battery and he used it for his senior year.

We moved on from it, my current laptop is a mid 2014 15" MBP with 16gig and 512 SSD. That machine is a workhorse and I can still see myself using it for a few more years.

The only Apple laptop that I would currently buy in the new 16" because of the keyboard issues in all of the other models.

When you say the machine still runs fine, I’m reading into that, that the machine still meets your needs. If so, a $250 investigate in the Apple hardware space is a small amount of money to spend. You will see a big performance improvement moving to the SSD. I guessing the upgrades will bring a little joy back into using the machine. Even if the upgrades only give you another year of use, it that time I think Apple will have a lot more options for new laptops with dependable keyboards.

If the laptop is really not meeting your needs anymore, if you don’t want to spend as much for the new 16", I’d look for a used 2015 to hold you over.

Edit: it looks like I hit the wrong reply button, tagging @Sharpie

If all your issues can be solved for $250 rather than $2500 for a new decent (namely 16") MBP, it seems like the choice is obvious!