How to Upgrade Your Apple Mac Mini

by Reads (16,924)

The Mac Mini is by far the most affordable Mac Apple makes, and it’s the choice for a lot of people who want to play around with OS X without spending a lot of money. At its entry-level $599 price, however, it only comes with one gigabyte of RAM and a 120GB hard drive. We’ll show you how to open up the Mini and add a performance boost to the littlest Mac ever.

Note: This will void your warranty. We are not responsible for any damage or loss incurred as a result of following these directions.

Our Mac Mini is from the early 2009 refresh, though much of the guide will be applicable to older models.  This Mini has the following specifications:

  • Processor: Intel Core 2 Duo P7350 @ 2.0GHz (3MB L2 cache) 
  • Memory: 1GB DDR3 SDRAM @ 1066MHz 
  • Hard drive: 120GB SATA @ 5400RPM 
  • Optical drive: DVD+/-RW SuperDrive 
  • Sound: Integrated audio 
  • Video card: NVIDIA GeForce 9400M integrated graphics with 128MB shared memory 
  • Networking: Gigabit Ethernet 
  • Wireless networking: 802.11a/b/g/draft-n, Bluetooth 2.1 + EDR 
  • Operating system: OS X 10.5.6 Leopard 
  • Power supply: 110 watt external

You’re going to need a couple of specialized tools to gain access to the internals of the Mac Mini; Apple has constructed the Mini without any external screws or opening methods.  The Mini is held in place by a series of plastic clips from the inside, and the only way to open the system is by bending those clips back a little bit.  To do so, you’ll need to have some sort of very flat, flexible tool; we used a one and a half inch flexible putty knife, available from any Home Depot or equivalent tool store. You’ll also need a nice, but small, Philips screwdriver and a plastic spudger.

Set the Mini upside-down on a soft surface.  Take the putty knife and gently insert it on a side (not the front or back) between the aluminum and white plastic.  Do this gently; if there’s too much resistance, the putty knife may be too thick, and forcing it can damage either the aluminum or plastic.  Drive the knife down an inch or so, then carefully bend it backwards, applying pressure on the plastic clips.  You might need to wiggle it slightly as you work; eventually you’ll get one side of the Mini to pop up. You’ll see a gap left over once you pull the putty knife out.  Next, repeat the procedure on the opposite side of the computer, until that side pops out as well.

At this point, the shell is no longer attached to the computer’s internals.  Tug on the rear of the machine, slowly lifting the Mini out of its shell.  Set the computer on its rubber foot.  The orange boards are the various wireless antennas; the two small ones will lift off of their anchor.  The large one has two black plastic columns supporting it; squeeze them together gently until you can lift the antenna off. Remove any black tape holding the wires to the computer, taking care not to rip the wires off. 

There are four black screws holding the optical drive and hard drive to the bottom of the case; unscrew them and remove the middle unit from the computer.  Unplug the copper-colored plug from one side as you remove this section.  On top of this section is the optical drive; on the bottom is the hard drive.  Both drives are held in place with silver mounting screws.  Before you remove them, however, you’ll notice wires stretching across the hard drive, attaching the drive’s thermal sensor to the computer.  Gently scrape this off with a fingernail or screwdriver, but be careful, since it isn’t terribly sturdy.

Once these wires are removed, unscrew the two screws holding the small circuit board to the drives.  This board replace traditional SATA cables on the new Minis.  Remove the black tape holding the board on and pop it off of the drive tray.  Next, take out the mounting screws for the optical drive and lift it out of the tray.  Flip the hard drive over and remove its mounting screws; now the hard drive can be taken out.  Put in the new hard drive or SSD with its bottom facing up and replace the mounting screws.  Once secure, carefully reroute the sensor cables and reaffix the sensor to the back of the drive.  Flip it over and reverse the extraction procedure for the optical drive. Set it into place and return the drive’s mounting screws.  Plug the circuit board back into both drives and replace the screws and tape.  

Set the drive tray aside and take a look at the Mac Mini’s motherboard.  The RAM slots are located toward the right front of the computer; our Mac Mini had one slot with a single gig of RAM as well as an empty slot.  To replace the RAM, tug on the metal clips to the side, until the RAM pops up slightly; at this point you can remove it.  Insert the new RAM into the slot; it’ll take a little more pressure than you realize to insert it fully.  Press the module down until it clicks; the clamps on the side will keep it held down.

Now that you’ve installed the new components, it’s time to put the Mini back together.  Take the drive tray and line it up with the bottom of the computer; the side with the circuit board should be facing the rear of the machine. Push the tray onto the computer, being careful with the wires that connect the various antennas to the computer. As the tray goes down, the circuit board will be plugged into a slot on the motherboard; check from the side to make sure the plug actually goes in. Once everything is settled, put the four screws back in, one in each corner. Replace the wireless antennas to their original posts; you might need to wiggle the double posts on the largest antenna to snap it back into place.

Push the top of the case back on, with the cutout of the case obviously going over the connections in the rear.  Be careful that no wires are sticking out of the case.  You’ll feel the plastic clips snap back into place; press down firmly to make sure everything is secure. Boot the Mac Mini up; if everything was done correctly, you can now enjoy your increased performance.  If you have any questions on this, be sure to check out our forums.

Here’s a look at a few of the benchmarks of the Mini, comparing the specs pre- and post-upgrade.

Artificial benchmark results

System PCMark05 3DMark06 PCMark Vantage Idle Power Draw
2009 Mac Mini, 1GB RAM, 120GB 5400RPM HDD 4593 1552 2647 15W
2009 Mac Mini, 3GB RAM, 128GB OCZ Summit SSD 7111 1922 5219 11W

HDTune results:

2009 Mac Mini pre-upgrade

2009 Mac Mini post-upgrade

The latter specs are better across the board; surprisingly, even the 3D-heavy benchmark went up, in part likely due to the increased RAM available.  As the integrated graphics are drawing on system RAM for memory, every little bit can help.  This is especially true since with 1GB of DDR3 RAM, the system limits the GeForce 9400 GPU from sharing more than 128MB of RAM.  With the additional memory, that limit is raised to 256MB.  The old hard drive especially is certainly no match for an SSD, though that’s obvious.  Before the upgrades, the Mac Mini could feel sluggish at times, especially when launching applications.  After, however, all of that is gone, thanks both to the SSD and the increased RAM available.

New Specifications

  • Processor: Intel Core 2 Duo P7350 @ 2.0GHz (3MB L2 cache) 
  • Memory: 3GB DDR3 SDRAM @ 1066MHz 
  • Hard drive: 128GB OCZ Summit SSD with Barefoot Indilinx Controller
  • Optical drive: DVD+/-RW SuperDrive 
  • Sound: Integrated audio 
  • Video card: NVIDIA GeForce 9400M integrated graphics with 256MB shared memory 
  • Networking: Gigabit Ethernet 
  • Wireless networking: 802.11a/b/g/draft-n, Bluetooth 2.1 + EDR 
  • Operating system: OS X 10.5.6 Leopard 
  • Power supply: 110 watt external


Now, we replaced the hard drive in our Mac Mini with a Summit SSD that just arrived from the awesome folks at OCZ. It may not be worthwhile to use such a high-performance drive in the Mac Mini because of the relative costs, though it certainly makes it speedy. Since Apple ships the low-end Mini with a relatively small and slow 120GB hard drive, upgrading to something like a 500GB 2.5-inch drive could really make the Mini a worthwhile Media server. For more intricate mods, the optical drive could be replaced with another 500GB hard drive, or something even more exotic.   

While this may seem fairly complex, if you take your time and go slowly, it really isn’t too difficult.  Considering how much upgrades from Cupertino can cost, it can certainly be worth it.



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