Upgrade or replace the hard drive in a Mac Mini

Has your Mac Mini hard drive filled to capacity or burnt out? There's no need to buy a new computer, simply swap out the old drive for a new one.

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The Mac Mini is like Apple's forgotten stepchild. Since it first debuted in 2005, the small computer has only seen one major redesign in 2010, and is often left out of the company's dazzling press events. In fact, the latest model hasn't even been updated to include Intel's newer and more efficient Haswell processors, despite the iMac, Macbook Air, and Macbook Pro receiving updates.

Given that Apple doesn't give Mac Mini owners many reasons to upgrade, there are a still a good amount of happy customers using older models. We were one of them, but wouldn't you know it, the hard drive in our 2009 Mac Mini has taken its last breath. There isn't a real need to upgrade, though. Rather than spending $600 on a newer model, you can swap out your full or faulty hard drive for a newer and faster one. Here's what you need to know:

Note: This how-to guide is for Mac Mini models from 2005 through 2009. Apple redesigned the Mac Mini line in 2010 to include a removable cover that gives users quick and easy access to the hard drive and memory.

Tools

You will need a putty knife or small paint scraper to remove the Mac Mini's casing, a Phillips head #2 screwdriver, a pair of tweezers, and either a replacement 2.5-inch solid-state drive or a hard drive with a height of no more than 9.5mm. Pre-2010 Mac Mini models support a single Serial ATA drive with speeds of 3 GB/s. I also recommend picking up a can of compressed air to clean out the dust that has built up throughout the years.

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Your current drive (if it's still functional) can be backed up using a program like Apple's Time Machine or the free utility SuperDuper.

Method

The cover on the Mac Mini is held in place with small clips that must be dislodged with the putty knife. Gently shimmy the knife in between the base of the Mac Mini and the case. Bend the knife away from you as you slowly work your way around all fours edges of the device. You will hear a faint pop as the clips become dislodged, at which point the cover can be lifted off.

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Next, you have to remove the three antennas. The two smaller ones on the left simply lift out, while larger one on the right must be squeezed from the bottom. Under each antenna are springs -- don't lose these as they are required when reassembling the device. For now, place them aside.

The hard drive is located on back of the CD drive. Unscrew the four screws that hold the CD drive into place and detach the ribbon cable on the top of the drive. Make sure you are removing the screws that connect the drive to the case and not the ones on the actually CD drive. The hard drive is on the back of the CD drive. It's held in with four screws, two on the top and two on the side. There is a temperature sensor on the top of the drive and a wire running down the left side. Gently lift the sensor, move the wire to the side, slide the drive up slightly, and remove it using the tweezers.

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There are two anti-static cushions on the back of the hard drive, peel both of these cushions off of the old drive and place them onto your new one, which you can then slide into the slot. Replace the four screws to secure the drive and reattach the temperature sensor -- it should have enough adhesive left on it to stick.

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With the hard drive in place, it's now time to place the CD drive back into the Mac Mini. Use the four screws to secure the drive in place and reattach the ribbon cable. Then, take the three springs you removed earlier and place them back onto their corresponding antenna posts, followed by the antennas themselves.

You may want to test the drive by plugging in the power and turning the computer on before replacing the case. While this is an optional step, it will make things easier in case you have to reinstall the drive. If it's working properly (or if you trust your handiwork), simply place the case on the Mac Mini and push down evenly along the edges to lock it in.

About the author

Dan Graziano is an associate editor for CNET How To. His work has appeared on BGR, Fox News, Fox Business, and Yahoo News, among other publications. When he isn't tinkering with the latest gadgets and gizmos, he can be found enjoying the sights and sounds of New York City.

 

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