Last summer I acquired an Apple iMac 27" late 2009 model EMC 2309. It was being thrown out because it was no longer able to boot(would not pass the grey screen), and the owner decided to buy a newer one. The computer's death was not sudden, but rather became gradually worse over time, where more and more frequently the screen would suddenly go black, requiring reboot. However it was not until the previous owner tried to install High Sierra that the iMac died completely. I heard through the grapevine that this is a common problem with that vintage, and it was explained as the result of hardware failure in the graphics card, due to general old age...

I was not really satisfied with that explanation, and it didn't really seam right to me, so I decided to downgrade to Snow Leopard, and viola it booted and functioned normally. Since then I have upgraded to Mavericks and everything seems to be running fine. Safari is stuck on 7.0, but it turns out it will run Firefox 66.0, and many other apps that still support Mavericks.

I don't know what is more troubling, that someone would try to upgrade that old hardware to 10.13, or that the upgrade was done through the AppStore. What I am wondering is, since there is clearly nothing wrong with the hardware, why would Apple post an upgrade in the AppStore that will totally not work on your computer? Shouldn't there be some sort of supported-hardware list?

Is this something special to this model? This computer? I suspect it's a similar story for other ~10 year old Apples.

Things seam to be running smoothly now. Should I risk going up to Yosemite? Remember, it was not until Sierra that problems really started occurring. What features added in El Capitan and Sierra could be the cause of this problem?


I did some googling and found some similar reports that relate to my situation going back to 2012. Some of the older posts don't have clear solutions, or can be linked to loose connections: 2012-2018-macrumors: iMac screen goes black. must hard reboot. HELP

Here's another unsolved, although some later posters give strange solutions including ones involving a second monitor: 2014-2015-apple.com: iMac Screen Goes Black Without Reason

ifixit blames the LED driver board(this one also points to a possible graphics card issues): 2017-ifixit: Screen randomly goes black 27" iMac late 2009

Here are 2 more recent reports; oddly in both cases it appears that when the screen goes black, the iMac itself is still on, and can still be operated along with an external display. This is interesting because for the iMac in this question, the fans were noted to remain running after the screen went blank, although no external display was used to test:

2018-macobserver: iMac screen goes black.

2017-macworld: The case of the iMac screen that mysteriously blacks out

It seems plausible that these last 2 unsolved cases could be experiencing the same issue as my now rehabilitated iMac running Mavericks. I am not sure what OS they were running though, as neither says. By the dates of each post I suspect Sierra or newer.

quick release dates chart from wikipedia

Mac OS X            released
10.6 Snow Leopard   August 28, 2009
10.7 Lion           July 20, 2011
10.8 Mountain Lion  July 25, 2012
10.9 Mavericks      October 22, 2013
10.10 Yosemite      October 16, 2014
10.11 El Capitan    September 30, 2015
10.12 Sierra        September 20, 2016
10.13 High Sierra   September 25, 2017
10.14 Mojave        September 24, 2018
  • Your third paragraph is problematic. You're asserting as fact that Apple is offering non-working software. The fact it didn't work in your case (plus whatever the grapevine has to say) amounts to less than convincing proof this is actually the case. – Twisty Impersonator Apr 20 at 2:05
  • @TwistyImpersonator please review my addition. I agree that hearsay is insufficient, although I have tried to improve my question by citing some sources about the topic. – kipbits Apr 20 at 5:18
  • I had the problem return for the first time a couple days ago. It has been a little hotter in my place than usual, as I am having some trouble with my AC. I'm now suspecting a busted fan somewhere, although I am astonished it took it so long to resurface. I will have to look into this further... still on Mavericks. – kipbits Apr 26 at 19:41
  • I've had the problem show itself a couple more times in the past 2 weeks. It's funny that it's only happening again now, and it appears unrelated to my AC which is currently working(sort of). I've found a quick work around is to press control-shift-eject to put the displays to sleep and then a mouse-click to wake, and it works again! I've found the PRAM Battery Replacement Guide suggested by Tetsujin. I haven't tried it yet, although I will give it a try when I get a chance... – kipbits May 14 at 2:08
  • My AC is completely busted, I can't test this out until after i get it fixed. iMac continues to work, although screen goes blank under high loads. pointing toward busted fan? – kipbits May 19 at 14:03

"Should I risk it?" Yes.
The OS you are currently on is no longer secure. It's the equivalent of still running Windows Vista.
Though you will find newer OSes will tend to slow the machine down, as they are geared towards SSD rather than HD, there is nothing inherently unstable about running High Sierra on an 09 machine. I have one here, doing just fine.

You will get best mileage out of the machine by installing an SSD; other than that it should be fine & dandy on High Sierra.

The only way to not quite prove, but add weight to your theory would be to start from Snow Leopard, then jump via El Capitan [essential first step] to High Sierra, without installing any non-Apple software at all.
Then test.
Belt & braces would be to clone the boot partition at each step so you can go back over old territory should you find a 'sticking point'.

To eliminate it being a hardware fault, you should be able to find the Apple Hardware Test on disk two of the Snow Leopard CDs, iirc.
Note also that a flat PRAM battery can cause all kinds of random, seemingly unrelated issues. iFixit has repair & teardown guides.

  • I might try and test it out. I seam to remember a virus scan coming up positive during the troubleshooting process, although ultimately the problem was not fixed and I acquired the computer. Searching around online can be difficult to actually find consistent answers on this. I see the down-votes, but not close-vote; is superuser the right place for this kind of question? – kipbits Apr 20 at 15:34
  • Bold & unsupported sweeping statements like "why would Apple post an upgrade in the AppStore that will totally not work on your computer?" will attract down- & close-votes more than anything else. Presumably you have nuked & paved this machine to make it "yours" so any prior virus scan would be irrelevant. – Tetsujin Apr 20 at 15:38
  • i used drive genius 4, although I'd have to check my notes to se what it actually came up with. if your not going to close or edit I think you are misguided in your downvoting. I put some time into this. from my perspective it is very troubling... – kipbits Apr 20 at 15:55
  • Railing against close or down votes is a bit pointless - those people have been & gone; you are unlikely to see them return to change their minds - the anonymity of the interweb :\ – Tetsujin Apr 20 at 16:01
  • Alright, I went through my notes: this actually happened in March 2018. There was no virus; I had installed Malwarebytes prior to DriveGenius, and the virus scan showed a false positive related to RTProtectionDaemon. I still don't know why my iMac died, but it works now on Mavericks! I've sort of repurposed it at this point, and people like Firefox are nice enough to publish software support back that far. perhaps I will test it later further, although it requires doing some backups first. – kipbits Apr 21 at 22:05

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