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Sunday, September 06, 2009

How to: Upgrade Mac Mini Hard Drive to a 320GB 7200RPM Replacement

At this point, it feels like I've upgraded most of the Mac Mini that I purchased back in January of this year from my local Apple Store at the Thousand Oaks Mall. In each case, the upgrades that I performed made a dramatic difference in the overall performance and usability of my Mac Mini. I first started with the RAM memory upgrade back in April and the results were tremendous. While the Operating System only used 3GB of the RAM, the 4GB memory upgrade from 1GB upgrade was worth every penny in terms of increased peformance.

This time, the Hard Drive was the target of my performance upgrade. As I mentioned earlier this week, I was really looking forward to both the Snow Leopard upgrade and the new 320GB 7200-RPM SATA Drive. The hard drive came from Amazon quicker than the Snow Leopard upgrade that took Apple 4 days to get out the door. (Had I known that, I would have just driven to the Apple Store)

I could not wait to do the upgrade, especially since my Mac Mini was feeling pretty sluggish in iPhoto creating some picture books with 130+ 12 megapixel photos. All of which appeared to be I/O related rather than memory or CPU. In addition, with less than 5GB remaining and still needing to put together the video from our Balloon Ride in Spain -- I needed more space on the Mac.

So, why upgrade the hard drive?

For me, two reasons. Capacity and Performance. The Mac Mini 80GB version ships with a no-surprise-here 80GB Hitachi Travelstar 5K250 80 model which is a SATA-150, 5400RPM, and 8MB cache 2.5"-sized notebook hard drive. Decent performance yes, but when you need high I/O during video or picture can feel pretty sluggish. Plus, very quickly you can eat up that 80GB of hard drive space. For my choice, I picked the 320GB 7200-RPM SATA Drive from Western Digital. The Scorpio Black drive include a SATA-II at 3GB/s with 7200RPM and 16MB cache is a much better performing option -- and only $78 at Amazon (link here) is a much better deal than what you might find at Fry's ($99 when I visited) -- no tax and free shipping in most cases.

But whichever drive you choose, make sure it is a notebook drive, and a 2.5" form factor. If not, it will not work and unfortunately, you'll be disappointed and have to return it.

Now with the reason and the drive in hand it's time to get started. The process for me was two steps, 1. Clone the hard drive, and 2. Open up the Mac Mini and replace it.

First for cloning the hard drive. In the end, this was much easier than I had initially anticipated. There's a great software out there called SuperDuper! than enables you to make a clone of your Mac OS X (Snow Leopard compatible!) for free for life. All I needed in my case, was an 2.5" Hard Drive enclosure with USB connecitivty which was only $14 at Fry's. I plugged in the new 320GB 7200RPM drive fired up the software, and hoped for the best after selecting some key options including setting the new hard drive as the startup disk.

Upgrade Mac Mini to a 7200 RPM 320GB Hard Drive drive clone replacement

67GB, 750,000 files, and 2 hours later, the drive cloning was successfully completed. Now it was time to swap out the hard drives inside the Mac Mini. I've included one of the videos I used to initally learn how to take the Mac Mini apart below. You can replace your hard drive in less than 15 minutes!

My key tips based on experience:
1. Spattula works better than a putty knife to release the case.
2. Magnetic screwdrivers are helpful here because of the location of the 4 screws needed to release the bottom of the case.
3. Don't forget about the fan sensor cable, it is easy to overlook.
4. 4 additional screws hold the hard drive in, it can be a little tricky to connect the new drive.
5. Carefully remove the plastic / foam padding from the old drive, it should still stick fine to the new drive.

Once I finished the replacement of the drive, I was ready to go. I turned on the Mac Mini and there was the famous start-up sound. A couple of minutes later, I was loaded into the Operating System and ready to go. At first, I was alarmed that the date set back to 2001 -- but then realized that the PRAM battery likely reset due to the amount of time the Mac Mini was unplugged. From there everything loaded up and ran perfectly, with a lot more usable space available on the hard drive.

When I went into applications like iPhoto and iMovie, the difference was clearly visibly when watching Activity Monitor as well as the general response time. Now peaking at 30MB/s the data was really flying off the hard drive quickly and time to render and update pictues and videos were more seamless and a lot quicker.

Definitlely an upgrade well worth the time and enegery in terms of the performance upgrade. Highly recommended.

The only difficult I found was that my networked version of Time Machine backup (well documented here) was having problems connecting to the old sparse-bundle file.

Time Machine had a problem with the network backup after the hard drive upgrade/replacement, but I fixed it.

With my old hard drive in hand, I did not have much hesitation to replace the sparse bundle backup image with the empty copy I kept. Once I did that, and restarted Time Machine -- it backed up the full 67GB in a matter of a couple of hours and Time Machine has been running smoothly ever since.

Overall, an extremely successful upgrade with unexpected ease given the quality with which SuperDuper! cloned the hard drive and made it easy to upgrade. Now I just have to wait for the Snow Leopard upgrade to get here. Hopefully, that will provide some additional boost!


Kent said...

Thank you for this tutorial! My Mini hard drive is starting to log errors, and I didn't know how to transfer the OS. I'll now try SuperDuper!.

BTW: Why did you upgrade to 320G, when 1TB drives are available?

Ken Hanscom said...

Hi Kent.

Good question. For me, it was more about solving speed and getting a 7200 RPM drive than it was about pure space. I saw 500GB and 1TB drives in the notebook size, but only available in 5500 RPM. Frankly, the speed difference is so noticeable between 5500 and 7200 I definitely don't miss the additional space given my NAS.


Anonymous said...

Hi Ken,

Thanks for the tutorial. I just got myself a 320GB 7200RPM Hitachi HDD and hope to replace my stock HDD with this one. However, I have read people concern about heat buildup as the HDD does get really hot. I currently have the faster drive in my OWC firewire external case and the heat sink feels really hot when the HDD has been running for a while. Whats your thought on the heat issue? Is it a major problem on the mac mini?

Thanks. Alex

Ken Hanscom said...

Hi Alex,

I have not had any issues with heat build-up on the Mac Mini with the 7200-rpm drives and had not seen the similar concern. I've had some times where I've been crunching it pretty good while processing videos and it seems like I would have experienced something by now. Admittedly I have not opened the case and felt it...but even with my original 5500-rpm being used as a backup right now in a external case gets pretty warm.


Anonymous said...


I have a Mac Mini 2006 version (CORE SOLO) with 2GB RAM and 60 GB HDD. I am using Tiger 10.4.11 OSX.

Is it worth upgrading the HDD to 320 GB in this computer from stock HDD? or, should I think about buying another computer?


Ken Hanscom said...

Hi Mayank.

It really depends on what your needs are. If you're relatively happy with your Core Solo and just want a little more performaance and space...for the price, you can't beat the hard drive upgrade! However, if you have much more aspirational goals, it may be time to do a full computer upgrade.


ShoeBucket said...


Thanks for this tutorial; it's one of the clearest I've read. I'm about to upgrade the disk in my 2009 Intel Mac Mini to a new Toshiba MK5055GSX (500GB 5400RPM 8MB), and I was wondering if you had run across any resources in the meantime to help with the Time Machine sparsebundle issue, or if that would impact a Time Machine volume on an attached external drive?


Ben (Lenny) Wells said...

Brilliant tutorial, cheers Ken.

I've now upgraded my HDD but I'm now unable to partition it. This was the main reason for upgrading from my original 60gb drive as there wasnt enough space for bootcamp.

In Boot Camp Assistant I get "The startup disk cannot be partioned or restored to a single partition."

Any ideas on what I can do about this? :/

Cheers for getting me this far anyway.


Ken Hanscom said...

Hey Lenny...

Just checking with you on the process. Did you partition and format the hard drive before you did the upgrade? Meaning it was cloned?

I unfortunately have not used bootcamp yet...

But, do you have the right partition scheme? If not, you may want to check this poast:


Ben (Lenny) Wells said...

Thanks for the reply Ken. After many hours I have now got my Mac Mini running with a Vista bootcamp drive.

I formatted the new drive and cloned it but Boot Camp Assistant didn't like the Partion Map Scheme. Eventually after several reformats I worked out it needed to be set to GUID Partition Table.

Everything went smoothly after that. Well, mostly. After all that it turns out the Mac Minis really arent built to run FPS games. Counterstrike runs at about 15FPS. Maybe even worse! Bugger.

Cheers again for the useful blog post. Bookmarked for future reference ;)

Rob said...

superduper does not seem to be free. what did you mean by " for free for life" did you mean after you buy it? i see there is a evaluation copy for 30 minutes but you said it took 2 hours.

DrPeanut said...

Great article.

What do you think about the new "mac mini server"? It has two 500GB disks which you can either mirror or strip.

I wonder which is faster, striped 500GB disks, or a single 320GB 7200RPM disk?

Here are directions for setting up RAID 1 mirroring on a Mac Mini. You could just as easily configure RAID 0.

Grant said...

Thanks for the info. The video is a bit fast for me but it,s useful information.
Now, I, not sure about my MacMini here.
Model Name: Mac mini
Model Identifier: PowerMac10,2
Processor Name: PowerPC G4 (1.5)
Processor Speed: 1.5 GHz
Number Of CPUs: 1
L2 Cache (per CPU): 512 KB
Memory: 1 GB
Bus Speed: 167 MHz
Boot ROM Version: 4.9.4f1

I assume it is a "Single core"? Right?
It says 1Gb memory, Can I upgrade to 4Gb?
And is it useful to upgrade to 500Gb Technically wise? (using in my bedroom as a spare Mac and files backup)

Is this possible?
Appreciate your reply.

Anonymous said...

Super easy! I was able to follow this walkthrough and have a working upgrade in about an hour. One hitch: I wasn't able to get the top left screw in because I didn't have magnetic tools. Oh well.