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Hardware

How to Upgrade the Hard Disc Drive in Your Mac mini

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In my last tutorial I showed you how to upgrade the RAM in your Mac mini. Whilst you have the lid off, or now that you know how to get into the machine, you might like to make another modification that will help extend the viable functional life of your Mac mini.

As shown previously, despite being – to all intents and purposes – sealed boxes, it is possible to upgrade these devices in order to further their useful lifespan. With a Core 2 Duo processor, upgrading the 80 or 120GB hard drive to, perhaps, a 500GB HDD brings the machine up to a more modern specification capable of housing large iTunes and iPhoto libraries.

In this tutorial, I’ll be showing you how to upgrade the hard disc drive (HDD) in your Mac mini. For the purposes of the tutorial, I’ll be using a Mac mini Core 2 Duo machine, model A1283.


Preparation

It is important that you prepare your workspace. If you have lots of clutter, it’ll be easier to lose things. Ensure that you have a clean, level and spacious work surface in order to conduct the upgrade.

Having good lighting, either natural or with a good desk lamp, is important, too. A small torch may also help.


What You’ll Need

Before you start, assemble the required items on your clear work area.

  • A Mac mini (I’m using an A1283 model)
  • A 2.5" SATA hard drive (of larger capacity than the one in your mac mini. I suggest 500GB or 1TB)
  • A 2.5" SATA hard drive caddy
  • A cloth
  • A Phillips no.00 screwdriver
  • A 2-inch putty knife
  • A spudger

It is recommended that you grind down the edge of the putty knife so that you create a bevelled edge. This makes it easier to pry the case apart without causing damage to the case itself.


Save Time: Clone Your HDD Before Upgrading

Before dismantling your Mac mini, I recommend investing a little time in cloning your existing, internal HDD to your new, larger capacity HDD.

By doing this, it means that you will be able to boot your Mac mini – with the new, larger capacity HDD – and be up and running immediately following the hardware upgrade.

To do this, you will need either Carbon Copy Cloner or SuperDuper! and a 2.5" SATA HDD Caddy. See our tutorial on using Carbon Copy Cloner.


How To Upgrade The Hard Drive

In order to upgrade the hard drive, of the Mac mini, I am going to remove the lid of the machine and then remove the internal frame (holding various components including the SuperDrive) so that I can gain access to the hard drive.

Step 1

Ensure that your Mac mini is unplugged and has cooled down if you have been using it recently.

Lay out your cloth on your work area, for protection, and place the Mac mini upside down on the cloth so that the grey, rubberised base is uppermost.

Mac mini
Prepare the Mac mini on your work area.

Step 2

Locate the (very small) gap between the aluminium outer casing and the white plastic of the base (adjacent to the vents around the edge)

Carefully insert the putty knife into the gap and push down until about 10mm of the blade is inserted and will go no further.

Gently pry the base, of the Mac mini, up and away from the top housing. You may need to repeat the prying motion in order to release the catches on the base that retain the top.

Opening your Mac mini
Using a putty knife, carefully pry the base apart from the lid.

Step 3

Repeat the same prying motion on the opposite side of the machine until the top housing is partly separated from the base.

Step 4

Invert the Mac mini such that the top of the machine is now uppermost. From the rear of the machine, where the connection ports are located, carefully pull the base and the top apart from each other using your fingers.

Separating the base and lid of the Mac mini
Separating the base and lid of the Mac mini

Step 5

Set the top of the Mac mini aside in a safe place and place the naked Mac mini on your work area, the correct way up, so that you can see the top of the superdrive.

Step 6

Orientate the machine so that the rear of the Mac mini (with the connection ports) is facing towards you. You will be able to see three antennas for Bluetooth and AirPort wireless functionality. There will be one (AirPort) on the left and two (Bluetooth) on the right.

Mac mini on the work area
Mac mini on the work area

Step 7

Tip: Exercise caution in removing these antennas from their mountings as carelessness will lead to broken components. If you exercise care then you will have no issues.

Starting with the AirPort antenna, on the left of the Mac mini, carefully squeeze the two outer retaining arms so that the antenna can be lifted from it’s post. Be careful as squeezing too hard will break the retaining arms. You want to be using just enough pressure so that the antenna can be released.

Tip: Bear in mind that when you come to replace the antenna, the two retaining arms will need to be gently squeezed towards each other in order to mount it properly.

Removing the AirPort antenna
Removing the AirPort antenna

Step 8

Moving to the right hand side of the Mac mini, the two Bluetooth antenna boards will just lift from the internal frame. To remove the boards, just pull them vertically, and carefully, away from the frame.

Tip: Be careful, there may be some resistance before the boards suddenly release. You need to gently pry them away without yanking them.

Remove the two Bluetooth antennae
Remove the two Bluetooth antennae

The antenna located towards the front of the Mac mini may have a wire secured with a small piece of black tape. Use a spudger to release the wire.

Tip: Don’t lose the springs underneath each antenna. You would be wise, at this point, to remove them and set them aside in a safe place.

Release the wire secured by tape
Release the wire secured by tape

Step 9

Between the rear of the SuperDrive and the rear of the Mac mini, locate a brown ribbon cable the terminates in a beige, plastic connector. Use the flat end of a spudger to pry this ribbon cable away from the circuit board.

Disconnect the ribbon connector
Disconnect the ribbon connector

Step 10

Looking down on the Mac mini, locate the for Phillips screws that secure the black internal frame to the base. The screw that is in the lower right corner (assuming the rear of the Mac mini, with the connection ports, is facing from you as you look at the machine) is recessed deeper into the frame. It is also a longer screw than the others.

Tip: You might find it useful to use a torch, for this part of the process, to help in locating the screws.

Unscrew the four screws and set aside in a safe place.

Step 11

Pick up the Mac mini so you can hold the base in one hand that the internal frame in the other and, starting at the rear edge, lift the internal frame away.

You need to lift this carefully whilst paying attention to the motherboard connector which will disconnect. As soon as this has disconnected, you can separate the two parts whilst being mindful of the dangling AirPort and Bluetooth antennas.

Carefully separate the Mac mini
Carefully separate the Mac mini

Step 12

Place the base of the Mac mini aside in a safe place and take hold of the black internal frame that contains the hard drive.

Some guides will recommend that you take the tip of a spudger and very gently pry the hard drive thermal sensor cable away from the interconnect board. I recommend that you do not do this. This component is extremely fragile and the plastic around the end of the cable is prone to break very easily. I speak from experience. Get it wrong and your Mac mini will run the fans at maximum speed. It’s quite loud!

Instead, use a spudger to disconnect the thermal sensor from the hard drive (it’s just held on with adhesive and can be pried off). Use the spudger to release the black tape that keeps the cable secured to the hard drive.

Carefully relocate the thermal sensor cable out of the way of the hard drive. By doing this, you are not having to disconnect the very fragile connector that connects the thermal sensor to the interconnect board.

Removing the thermal sensor from the hard drive
Removing the thermal sensor from the hard drive

Step 13

Remove the two (larger) Phillips screws that secure the internal hard drive to the underside of the internal frame.

Set the screws aside in a safe place.

Releasing the hard disc drive
Releasing the hard disc drive

Step 14

Remove the two (larger) Phillips screws that secure the side of the hard drive to the internal frame.

Set the screws aside in a safe place.

Releasing the hard disc drive
Releasing the hard disc drive

Step 15

Carefully slide the hard drive away from the connector and towards the end of the frame that houses the fan. This will disconnect the hard drive from the interconnect board.

Lift the hard drive, from the edge opposite the fan, and remove it from the internal frame.

The hard disc drive is now ready to be removed and a new one inserted
The hard disc drive is now ready to be removed and a new one inserted

Step 16

Transfer the two, small silver pads from the old hard drive to the same locations on the new hard drive. They are secured with adhesive, so carefully peel them off before pressing them into place, firmly, on the new hard drive. (You will see these pads at the top and bottom, left hand side corners of the old hard drive, pictured below.)

Insert your new hard drive and follow the instructions, in reverse, to reassemble your Mac mini, ensuring that no screws or other components are left over.

Old 120GB HDD (left), new 500GB HDD (right)
Old 120GB HDD (left), new 500GB HDD (right)

Check Your Working

Reboot your Mac mini and, if you followed the instructions in the tutorial, you should boot into OS X exactly as you did on your old, smaller capacity hard disc. The only difference will be that you have more hard drive space than was available before the upgrade.


Conclusion

In this tutorial, I showed you how to successfully upgrade your Mac mini to a hard drive of a larger capacity to increase the viable lifespan of your Mac mini. I also showed how to clone your hard drive so that you could be up and running immediately after performing the surgery on your Mac mini.

If you are really smart, you will have followed the instructions in the previous tutorial, How to Upgrade the Memory in Your Mac mini, and will have upgraded the memory and the hard drive at the same time. If you did, you get bonus points!

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