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A New SSD Is The Cheap Upgrade Your Old Mac Mini Craves

Apple announced a new Mac Mini last week, for the first time in four years. It’s the first major redesign in seven. But all that new speed and power comes with a price: $800. Here dies the “inexpensive” Apple desktop.

If you’re still clinging on to your older Mac Mini for fear of your bank account balance, there’s a cheaper alternative: upgrade it. Mac Mini models rocking the Intel Core i5/i7 architecture are still getting OS updates, all the way to macOS Mojave. All of them use replaceable hard drives that you can upgrade to a cheap solid-state drive—and those drives are going very cheap right now. The 2011 and 2012 Mac Mini designs still support user-accessible RAM upgrades, too. Spend $50-$100 for some new hardware and a few hours of your time working on your machine, and it’ll feel like new again.

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To test this premise I busted open a 2012 Mac Mini, already sporting an acceptable 8GB of RAM but using a slow, laptop-grade 5400RPM hard drive. I swapped it out with a 500GB Samsung 840 SSD that I wasn’t using. I’ll admit: this is not an easy process, with a lot of tiny, tightly-designed pieces to break. If you wouldn’t be comfortable, say, popping open your newer smartphone to replace the battery, you might want a local repair shop to tackle this for you. And before you start, you’ll want to make a Mojave recovery disk, which is a bit tricky too.

But the results are impossible to deny. Booting up this particular Mac takes about four minutes on the hard drive, and about thirty seconds with the secondhand SSD. Read and write speeds have improved by a factor of five to ten. Programs load instantly. Even Chrome, notoriously pokey on macOS, feels more lively.

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For a $100 upgrade, it’s pretty fantastic. And the knowledge that $700 (at least) stayed in my pocket is immensely satisfying.

Again, this particular upgrade isn’t for the faint of heart: Apple doesn’t make it easy to upgrade Macs, and that’s the way they like it. You’ll also need to know how to make a bootable macOS disk drive (and maybe enable TRIM support for your SSD), things that are almost intentionally obtuse in macOS. But if you’re up for a little elbow grease and your Mac Mini is far past its warranty date anyway, it’s well worth the effort.

If you’d like to take on this task, figure out your specific model of Mac Mini, then go hunting on iFixIt for a guide specific to that model. You’ll want to follow the steps precisely—maybe even load up a video to follow along, too—and spring for the logic board removal tool if it’s necessary. After some very careful work and some very careful policing of all the tiny screws, you’ll be rewarded with a Mac Mini with years of snappy service left in it.

Michael Crider Michael Crider
Michael Crider has been writing about computers, phones, video games, and general nerdy things on the internet for ten years. He’s never happier than when he’s tinkering with his home-built desktop or soldering a new keyboard. Read Full Bio »