So, for the past few months, I’ve been having Bluetooth connection problems on my 2011 iMac, which given I use a Bluetooth keyboard and mouse is a bit of a problem.

It started with just a few disconnects and reconnects, which while a little annoying, wasn’t too much of a problem.  Everything reconnected after a few seconds, and I could simply carry on.  About a month ago they started to become more regular, and at the end of March, it was happening almost every day, sometimes more than once.  What made me start to look for a solution was when the Bluetooth adapter disapeared, with the old solution then being a reboot by connecting to the iMac using Screen Sharing on my MacBook.  Very frustrating and time-consuming.

When I started looking for solutions, there appeared to be some options although most of them had conflicting reviews as to whether they’d work or not.  As some background, my iMac is a late-2011 27″ base model with a 2.7GHz i5 processor.  I got it as a refurb from the Apple Store, and within the first month had removed the screen and installed a 512GB SSD and upgraded the 1TB HDD for a 2TB model.  I also upgraded the RAM from 8GB to 32GB, as at the time I was using VMware to run several virtual machines simultaneously.  Since moving all that across to my FreeNAS box, it’s pretty over-powered for its main use which is as a monitor for my FreeNAS box, browsing the internet, and downloading stuff from my WhatBox server.

There appeared to be three main options:

  1. Replace the onboard Bluetooth adapter like-for-like
  2. Replace the onboard Bluetooth adapter with a Bluetooth 4 card, although this also required an upgrade to the Airport card
  3. Use an external Bluetooth dongle

Getting a genuine replacement for option 1 looked like it was going to cost ~£75 with the added hassle of getting inside the machine to replace the card.  A new Airport card and Bluetooth adapter were almost double the cost, although did have the potential benefit of enabling some of the continuity functionality that isn’t available with Bluetooth 2.1.  Option 3 looked the cheapest and easiest (a dongle simply plugged in the back) although finding the right one was going to be the challenge.  

You can pick up a Bluetooth 4 USB dongle on Amazon for ~£5 although most looked like they wouldn;t work with a Mac.  After some Googling, it appeared 2-3 might, although again nothing definitive and lots of conflicting information to suggest they would and wouldn’t!  In the

In the end, I ordered an IOGear GBU521 from Amazon.  The IOGear website stated that this wasn’t compatible with a Mac, although there were enough suggestions on the web to suggest this wasn’t the case.  It’s one of the few Bluetooth USB adapters to use a Broadcom chip, which is the same as the one found in the iMac.

Anyway, in typical Amazon fashion, the dongle arrived the next day, and I plugged it in.  Other than a blue flashing led on the dongle, nothing in MacOS suggested this had been detected or was working.  A bit more Googling and I found a blog which described using Bluetooth Explorer to switch the adapter in use.  Bluetooth Explorer wasn’t installed on my MacOS install, but can be found on the Apple Developer website hidden away with the Xcode tools.  Installing this, and switching the active Bluetooth Adapter allowed me to discover and pair my keyboard and mouse and voila!  Bluetooth is now working without a single disconnect since installing the dongle.

The downside?  Well, the Bluetooth Explorer settings don’t withstand a reboot, so when I do restart the machine, I’ll need to go in and change the active adapter (it always defaults to the onboard one).  I guess if I opened things up and removed the onboard one, it might default to the dongle, but as the machine stays on 24×7 and I rarely need to reboot it, I’ll leave things as they are for now.  There may also be a way to enable some of the continuity functionality, although it doesn’t look straight forward and for now, it’s not something I have so am in no rush to try and get it working.  

Lets face it, my 2011 iMac is almost six years old, and while I don’t have any immediate plans to replace it, I suspect I will over the next few years so having a working Bluetooth adapter is pretty much all I needed to achive, which I have 🙂