six colors

by Jason Snell & Dan Moren

Support this Site

Become a Six Colors subscriber and get access to an exclusive community, monthly newsletter, and subscriber-only podcast.

By Dan Moren

Another take on souping up a Mac mini server

Taking a cue from my fearless leader, Mr. Snell, I took the plunge and decided to upgrade my Mac mini server.

Since OS X 10.11.4 had rolled around, my mini—which hosts my photos, videos, and document storage, along with providing some server capabilities such as my VPN—had been running abysmally slow. The server’s connected to my TV in my living room, so I almost always access it via Screens, and even launching Safari seemed to be a thirty-seconds-or-more operation that meant doing something else while I waited for it to load.

That was a surprise, given that it was a late-2012 Mac Mini with a 2.3Ghz Core i7—no slouch, that!—running relatively few applications. I concluded two things were likely to be holding it back: a “mere” 4GB of RAM that, if not paltry, was no longer sufficient unto the day, and, more significantly, an aging 1TB hard drive.

So I followed Jason’s lead and picked up a 240GB SSD from OWC, then decided, what the heck, and splurged on upping the mini to its max of 16GB of RAM as well. I also ordered iFixit’s Mac mini Dual Drive Kit—as in Jason’s case, I wanted to supplement the internal drive, not replace it. (Since it’s a server that stores a lot of files, 240GB wasn’t going to be enough, and a 1TB SSD is a bit out of my price range.)

I posted the below picture while I was mid-surgery1, and got a lot of responses from those who had been contemplating a similar procedure. Bear in mind that adding a second drive is much more annoying than simply swapping the included drive, because the empty part of the bracket that holds the second drive is above the internal hard drive—when you flip the Mac mini over, since access is through the bottom, that means you have to remove everything else to get to the bracket.

Mac mini surgery

The surgery went more or less smoothly: I did not permanently destroy any of my cables, but I did end up with a few minor incidents that meant I had to back up and do certain steps over again. Most significantly, I failed to route two sets of cables accurately, which meant I had to remove components to fix the issue. The Mac mini is engineered to amazing tolerances—it’s a matter of a place for everything, and everything in its place. Put one piece back in wrong, and you’ll have trouble later on—possibly four or five steps down the road.2

RAM is much, much easier: you can upgrade it without removing anything beyond the Mac mini’s bottom cover, though I found at a couple places, it eased reassembly when I removed the old RAM chips. Of course, now I have a couple old RAM chips sitting around collecting dust. (They aren’t very good with salsa, either.)

Mac mini Drives

Once reassembled, I too followed the instructions to turn it into a homegrown Fusion Drive, then restored from my SuperDuper! backup overnight. And voila, it seems to be running once again, and just as speedy as I’d hoped.

Mac mini memory

This wasn’t the first time I’d taken apart a Mac mini—I’d disassembled this model’s predecessor a few times to change drives and RAM, and that was one of the old models that required a putty knife to open. By comparison, this was a breeze—if a breeze that required close attention to detail, and making sure that all the screws went in the right place. The result, though, is impossible to argue with: a Mac mini that’s far, far speedier than the day it was born.


  1. This was actually my second Mac surgery of the day. I also installed some adhesive foam in an old MacBook Air that my cousin has been using, because the battery connector keeps popping off. And apparently Apple has refused to keep fixing it.  ↩

  2. I confess, the metal antenna plate that goes over the hard drive did not want to fit precisely where it belonged, from which I conclude that the old drive isn’t seated exactly right. A little encouragement got it close enough for government work.  ↩

[If you appreciate articles like this one, help us continue doing Six Colors (and get some fun benefits) by becoming a Six Colors subscriber.]

[Dan Moren is a tech writer, novelist, podcaster, and the Official Dan of Six Colors. You can email him at dan@sixcolors.com or find him on Twitter at @dmoren.]