Mac mini hard drive and RAM upgrade

Last month I gave our Mac mini a $10 internet speed boost by running CAT-5e through the attic and down a couple walls. Other than upgrading the RAM in my first iBook some seven years ago and the time I tore apart my terminal iMac just to see how it worked, I’ve never really tinkered with the guts of a Mac.

I’ve long since wanted to upgrade the Mac mini’s RAM and hard drive but I’ve been hesitant because 1) the small form factor and 2) it’s a Mac (despite knowing that any computer’s hardware is just hardware that I’m intimately familiar with).

After procrastinating for the better part of a year, I finally decided to upgrade the mini. I used Crucial’s Mac System Scanner to determine what kind of RAM limitations I had, and which RAM to purchase, and to find out what dimension SATA drive I needed to get.

My Mac mini was the early-2009 Intel based model and would support up to 2GB of RAM and a recommended 5400 RPM SATA drive no taller than 9mm to allow for airflow. I found 2 1GB sticks of RAM for $39 and a 500GB drive for $55. This was an upgrade from 1GB RAM and a 120GB hard drive. I wanted to go for a 1TB or larger drive, but I couldn’t find one at 9mm in height.

I did lots of research on how to upgrade a Mac mini and even though I have over 15 years experience in building PCs from the ground up, I was still a little intimidated and wanted to make sure I knew exactly what I was getting myself into. The best how-to article I found was “Maximizing your Mac mini” on After reading that article, I was ready. But first, I needed to clone the Mac mini’s existing hard drive onto the new 500GB hard drive. I found “How (and why) to clone your Mac hard drive” on and began cloning the Mac mini’s drive.

Thankfully I already had my handy USB 2.0 universal drive adapter, so I hooked up the new 500GB drive to the Mac mini as an external drive. Next I fired up Carbon Copy Cloner and after a couple clicks, I was making an exact, bootable clone of my existing Mac mini’s hard drive. This was new territory for me because in the past, whenever I upgraded the hard drive on a newly-built PC, I had a new PC, but I still had to install Windows, all of my programs, drivers, settings, etc. etc. The upgrade would be the easy part — the installations and getting system settings to where I wanted them to be was the painstaking and consuming part. When cloning the Mac drive, there’s nothing else that needs to be done – everything is exactly as it was on the old drive — right down to the desktop wallpaper and screensaver. It was a pain-free process to the point that I thought I had to be doing something wrong as nothing can be this simple when it comes to a hard drive upgrade. I was wrong… it’s that easy!

I had to let Carbon Copy Cloner run overnight as I had over 100GB of data to clone. I woke up early the next morning, and just to make sure my new drive was cloned and bootable, I restarted the mini while holding the option key and selected the new drive from which to boot. I clicked around for 10 minutes just to make sure everything was working okay. Everything checked out okay. I had an exact, bootable clone on my new drive! I then re-read Macworld’s instructions on how to upgrade, and then I took the Mac mini out to my work bench in the garage, sat it atop a microfiber cloth and started prying and unscrewing screws. The actual upgrade was insanely simple and not worth my procrastination. I hooked the mini to it’s power source, the TV, ethernet and USB cables, clicked the power button and it booted up perfectly. I checked to make sure the RAM and new hard drive registered. Everything checked out!

The only caveat was that I noticed the cooling fan was running continuously after the upgrade. I tried resetting the Power Management Unit and that didn’t do the trick. As a last resort, I disconnected the mini and took it apart again to find that I had neglected to reseat the fan controller when I was putting the mini back together. After reconnecting the mini, the fan stayed quiet and I had a newly upgraded Mac mini.

2 Replies to “Mac mini hard drive and RAM upgrade”

  1. So the folks who talk about it being easy to work on a Mac really aren’t kidding, huh? Sounds like a great experience. And, now you have a mini on steroids.

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