Yen's Blog

Lens, Wheels, Skates, Keyboard

Mini Project: Adding a Second Hard Drive to the Mac Mini

I want to replace the DVR that I get from Verizon Fios. Besides the monthly cost, it’s an older unit that’s slow and has the capacity for no more than a handful 3-hour hockey games recorded in HD. That is plainly unacceptable, especially during the Stanley Cup Playoffs. For the HD tuner, I decided to go with the SiliconDust HD Homerun Prime. For the DVR, I’m going with a Mac Mini. I’m a recent Mac convert, having used exclusively PCs until now. Even though I enjoy assembling PCs, I’m at a point where I’d like stuff to just work. Even more so, I’m more and more a fan of the elegance and simplicity of OS X.

The Mac Mini is like a work of art. The model I have, however, has a drawback. While it is a level above the base model and comes with an Intel Core i7 processor, it has a rather sluggish 5400rpm hard drive. Since I plan on using it to watch live TV and record shows, I need more performance.

The server edition of the Mac Mini comes in the same case, but has 2 internal hard drives. It turns out that all Mac Minis (2012) have 2 hard drive slots. For my Mac Mini, the second slot sits empty. I want to add a Solid State Drive (SSD). The SSD will host OS X and the applications, while the other hard drive will host media. Getting to it in the cramped, tightly packed innards of the Mini seems like a daunting task. Fortunately OWC comes to the rescue by providing a prepackaged solution.

The OWC hard drive upgrade kit for the Mini (2011-2012) comes with a flex cable to connect the hard drive, screws and tools. The cost for the kit is only a few dollars more than what you’d have to spend to buy the flex cable separately.

I also got an SSD from OWC. OWC’s in-house brand, Mercury Electra, is highly rated and assembled in the USA. I always look for something that’s at least partially made in the USA whenever that’s an option, even if it costs more.

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The online video instructions are quite excellent. Even though the installation is rated as highly difficult, it’s actually quite straight-forward if you’ve ever assembled computers before. All that’s required are some nimble fingers to navigate the Mini’s delicate insides. Here’s the Mini without its parts. It seems to have been carved out of a solid block of aluminum!


The SSD fits snugly into a plastic cage. It would sit below the stock hard drive.


With the power supply bar slid into the right side of the case.


This is the logic board assembly. Isn’t it adorable?


The logic board slides into place through an opening in the back.


Now the old hard drive goes on top. The two tabs to its lower left are the SATA connection tabs. The old hard drive has two small plugs that inserts into two slots on the front of the case (top of picture). The AirPort antenna grate in turn screws into the drive. You can’t see the slots when inserting the drive back into the case. I didn’t seat the drive properly in my first attempt and couldn’t attach the antenna because the drive was misaligned. Turns out the slots are slightly elevated. I had to raise the hard drive slightly when inserting it.


The AirPort antenna grate goes over the top. The instructions plead with you not to overtighten the screws.


Finally the fan and the DIMMs.


After connecting the Mini to an Ethernet switch and booting into Recovery mode (by holding down Command-R when booting), I selected Internet Recovery and let it install OS X Mountain Lion over the wire. Minutes later, I was done. Did I mention I love Macs?