on 27 June 2014
I have a new iMac at home but stuck with Windows at work. I needed a cheap mac at work because I use apple's Pages, Numbers and a large iPhoto library. Perhaps like many of you, I hung on until the apple WDC in June to see if they were going to update the Mac Mini which of course they didn't do, ( much to the frustration of us devoted mac users ) so I bought this model and upgraded it myself with more RAM and an SSD
So ...... how much improvement can you make to this machine ?
First, the price. I picked mine up from Amazon a few weeks ago when the price dipped to £413 for a week or so, the price of this seems to move up and down a bit depending on stock I assume. In my opinion, £413 or even £450 is pretty good value for a computer bearing in mind the operating system is included, and so are many really excellent apps such as Pages, Numbers, Keynote and iPhoto, which I use all the time. If you havn't tried the latest version of Pages, yet, give it a whirl, its fantastic and very easy to produce some really professional looking documents and reports. iPhoto is also great, especially if you have an iPhone etc
Upgrading the Mac Mini
Current spec is a bit dated now, only a dual core processor, measly 4 GB of RAM, and a truly slow 5400 RPM hard drive. Hmmmmm this is a recipe for a fairly sluggish machine doing anything much more than browsing the internet, sending emails or basic office tasks, try manipulating a 15mb image in photoshop and the standard mac mini spec will dissapoint !
Upgrade the RAM
I replaced the 4 GB of standard RAM with 16 GB of Crucial Ram ( x 2 8 GB sticks ) around £100 either from Amazon or direct from Crucial. This the maximum you can put in a Mac Mini because it only has 2 slots. Took about 30 seconds to install and was recognised immediately on reboot, so an incredibly simple and worthwhile upgrade, particularly if you are working with images
Replace the stock spinning Hard Drive with an SSD
It really is astonishing the difference even a cheap SSD makes to the way any computer performs. It turned this standard Mac Mini from a low performance entry mac into a really very usable fast machine, that will rip through very intensive tasks now with ease, and files open instantly rather than waiting for the stock HD to spin up and look for the file
Fear not, installing an SSD into a Mac Mini is easy !
There are lots of SSD's to chose from, the Samsung ones get good reviews, but I went for one of the latest Crucial ones, a 256 GB one for £100 which has good reviews, and Crucial support is very good if you need it, you can actually speak to someone on the phone 24 / 7 quite easily !!
Crucial also have an excellent step by step guide on their website showing you how to get the old HD out and put the new one in. Be careful though, you do need a special tool to move the logic board slightly to get the drive out. I bought a cheap kit from Amazon for £7 which has the special tool, the right size Torx screw drivers, and a couple of plastic spudgers to gently lift up the various connectors. Basically, i followed the Crucial instructions ( would apply for any other make SSD ) and the whole exercise took about 15 minutes and was pretty straight forward
What happens when you switch on with a new SSD ?
Basically nothing !!! Of course you have no operating system on the SSD yet
Installing the OS onto the SSD
There are various ways of doing this, all of which I found a bit daunting, and thought I was going to come unstuck here, not being in any way an expert or "Geek" Creating USB Stick boot drives, recovery partitions, cloning drives etc was all a bit too much for me. Apple to the rescue though ! They have a great feature called Internet Recovery, which basically allows you to download and install the latest OS version of Mavericks directly onto the SSD. I used this feature and it worked perfectly, but you will need to use your Apple ID, but it is certainly the easiest way to do it, obviously you will need to connect the Mac Mini to the internet, cable or wireless is fine. A few points though, BE PATIENT, when you first switch on the Mac Mini with it's new SSD, it takes at least 10 minutes for, I guess a small script to run from the logic board to check out your new hard ware ( in my case, the RAM and SSD ) before the Internet Recovery instal instructions come up on your screen. Follow the instructions BUT, don't immediately select instal, because you need to format the SSD first which is also done from the recovery screen instructions. Check out [...] which shows you exactly what to do ............. it was easy. Complete download of Mavericks took about 20 minutes on a fibre broadband connection. Then just log into your apple account to download your apps and finish the set up etc
With 16 GB of RAM, and an SSD hard drive, my £413 Mac Mini has been transformed. Performance is now very close to my current model iMac 27 with a Quad Core I7 processor and an apple specced SSD. In my opinion, this proves that installing an SSD will transform any computer, much more so than trying to find the very latest processor, its an old spinning HD that is the bottle neck now in computers
A word of caution
I am not endorsing any of the products I chose to use, or giving advise or recommendations in this review, I am simply expressing the ease with which I personally found doing these upgrades were, for me. If you take the process step by step and follow the instructions that I did, then you should have no problems, I didn't, and everything is working perfectly
Enjoy your Mac Mini, a great little computer, made into a truly useable one for an extra £200 of upgrades and an hour or so of your time, what more can you ask for !