Repurposing a giant desktop PC is usually more trouble than it’s worth. But thanks to its compact size, the Mac mini can easily take the place of a dedicated file server, emulation station, or smart TV interface. So, instead of dumping your old Mac mini, repurpose it!
Note that Mac minis tend to last a lot longer than the average computer. Mac minis made in 2014 can run macOS Monterey, and models from 2018 work with macOS Ventura. Even if you decide not to repurpose your old Mac mini, there’s a decent chance that you (or someone else) can still use it as a desktop computer.
Services like Dropbox and iCloud allow you to save and access files from any device. But what if you could create your own “cloud storage” solution and avoid monthly fees? A NAS device would get the job done for a few hundred dollars, but if you own an old Mac mini, you should try using it instead.
This process is surprisingly easy. All you need to do is enable File Sharing on your Mac mini—open System Settings, navigate to Sharing, and turn on File Sharing. From here, you can press the “+” button under the “Shared Files” table to add shareable folders. (Shared folders will appear in the “Network” section of macOS’ Finder or Windows’ File Explorer. You can adjust your settings to prevent unauthorized users from accessing shared folders.)
Additionally, you can use your old Mac mini for wireless Time Machine backups. Simply right-click one of your Mac mini’s shared folders while in the Sharing menu, select “Advanced Options,” and click “Share as a Time Machine backup destination.” It should appear as a Backup Disk in the Time Machine settings on your other macOS devices.
If you want to access a Mac mini’s shared folders outside of your home, you need to enable Remote Login. Go back to your Sharing settings and turn on the “Remote Login” option. Then, specify which users can remotely access your Mac mini. (You may need to enable “allow full disk access for remote users,” depending on your shared folder settings.)
Note that remote access can increase your vulnerability to ransomware and hacking attempts. Important files or documents should be stored in multiple locations to ensure full redundancy—backups can break!
Also, if you use your Mac mini as a file server, you should give it a wired Ethernet connection. That’ll provide much faster upload and download speeds than a Wi-Fi connection, especially if you access the Mac mini remotely.
If you’re interested in file servers, consider turning your Mac mini into a fully-fledged media server. You could go down the official route and enable the Media Sharing option in your Mac mini’s “Sharing” settings, but I suggest installing Plex.
Plex is a media server solution that allows you to build a custom streaming service. All you need to do is install Plex on your Mac mini—from there, the software will automatically organize your movies, tv shows, and music. This media can then be accessed from the Plex web interface or the Plex app, which is available on all smartphones, tablets, smart TVs, and streaming sticks.
The Plex app feels similar to other media streaming apps, and it can be accessed outside of your home (by your friends or yourself) if you pay $5 a month for Plex Pass. (That said, I suggest testing the service’s free membership before unlocking additional features with Plex Pass.)
Make sure that you follow Plex’s installation instructions when setting everything up. This process is pretty easy, but only if you follow the instructions. Bear in mind that DRM-protected media, including movies purchased from Apple, don’t work in Plex (unless you remove the DRM).
If your old Mac has trouble running macOS, you could always turn it into a Chrome OS machine. The Chrome OS software is incredibly lightweight, meaning that it works at high speed on “underpowered” machines. And thanks to Chrome OS Flex, running Chrome OS on a Mac has never been easier.
The Chrome OS Flex tool, which is developed by Google, only takes a few minutes to set up. All you need is a USB drive. Once you’re done, your Mac will run a modified version of Chrome OS—it doesn’t support Android apps, and it isn’t compatible with certain hardware components (particularly older stuff, like disc drives). But otherwise, it’s the same experience you’d expect from a “real” Chromebook.
Of course, you could always install Linux on your old Mac mini. A good Linux distro like Linux Mint or Ubuntu will get the job done and offer wide compatibility for hardware and peripherals. Mint is the more user-friendly of these two options, but realistically, you should stick with Chrome OS Flex if you aren’t an experienced computer user (or don’t have the time to troubleshoot Linux).
Believe it or not, but the Mac mini is a pretty solid gaming device. Your old Mac mini probably can’t run any super-demanding titles, but it’s good for older games, newer indie releases, and emulators. (This is especially true if you’ve upgraded to an Apple Silicon Mac, which can hardly run any games.)
There’s a good chance that your computer monitor has an extra HDMI port, which you can use for your old Mac mini. You could also try hooking up the old machine to a TV—if you go down this route, consider using Steam’s Big Picture mode for a more TV-friendly experience.
Those who are interested in emulations should try Retroarch. It provides a streamlined (and TV-friendly) interface for all of your emulation needs. That said, Retroarch is just a front-end software for your emulators, so you’ll still need to hunt a few things down.
Can’t find a use for your old Mac mini? Well, you should get rid of it while it’s still useful. Consider donating it to a school or another facility—Apple has a recycling program, but I suggest looking for local donation programs that make meaningful change in your community. (Simply Google “local school donation” or similar search terms.)
Don’t want to donate? You could always go through Apple’s Trade In program to save money on your next device. Apple won’t give you a ton of money for your old Mac mini, but it’s a quick and easy process.
If you aren’t happy with Apple’s trade-in offers, you could always sell your Mac mini on eBay, Facebook Marketplace, or Craigslist. Just be sure to wipe your Mac mini before selling it, as this is the only way to protect your privacy and ensure that your buyer can actually use the Mac.
Note that you could also recycle your Mac mini. An electronics recycling facility or waste facility is your best bet—you can find one in your area on Google. If you just dump your old Mac mini in a regular old recycling bin, there’s a good chance that it’ll end up in some landfill halfway across the globe.