Upgrading a Mac Mini

I have a late 2012 Mac Mini (Server edition) 2.3Ghz quad core I-7 with 2 hard drives, that I use primarily as my Plex server, though I keep my media on a Synology NAS. I bought it used and spent a coupe hundred dollars to upgrade the RAM from 8 GB to 16 GB. RAM upgrade was easy as the RAM on this model is easily accessible once you unscrew the bottom plate and the RAM upgrade definitely made a difference.

Over the years though. through OS upgrades, it has become progressively slower, to the point where actually using the Mac itself (instead of just running the server program) was painfully slow. Rebooting after updates or OS upgrades was a bit of a nail biting “will it reboot?”. So I decided that I needed to upgrade the internal 5400 RPM (root of the problem) spinning drive with an SSD. The price difference between a 512 GB and 1 TB SSD were minimal at this point, so even though I didn’t need the capacity on the internal drive (content is stored on my Synology), I went for the 1 TB drive. (Amazon Affiliate link)

I’d read enough about the construction of the Mini to know that although the RAM was easily accessible and replaceable, the rest of the components were not. I enlisted some help on this part and I’m ever so grateful for it, as it entailed completely disassembling the internals of the Mini to get to the drive to be replaced. Prior to all of this though, I cloned my hard drive with Carbon Copy Cloner. This was a process I did routinely. I cloned my drive to an external Seagate 1.5 TB spinning drive. I set up the cloning on a weekly schedule and didn’t worry about it, receiving an email from the program after the clone completed. I was going to use this clone to clone the old drive to the new SSD. We left the second internal drive in place (more on this later). The reason I wanted to restore from a. clone instead of doing a fresh install is that Plex keep a lot (like gigabytes worth) of thumbnails of the media in your library and I thought it would be easier to just restore from a clone than install the OS from scratch and reinstall the OS and all the other applications (which is what I did here.

So off I went to my tech support to replace the internal drive with my new SSD. IFixit is an invaluable guide to knowing how to take apart (and reassemble) this tightly engineered computer. It came apart fine, although you always wonder when doing so, will it go back together the same way. With a bit of work, it all came apart as expected and the old drive replaced with the new and reassembly was no worse than expected (which for me was a bit unnerving). Then we attached the backup clone drive and rebooted, went into System Preferences and chose the startup drive to be the clone. Time to reboot again.

The computer rebooted fine, though slowly because it was booting from an external drive connected through USB. We had not formatted the SSD so we had to format the SSD before we could “clone the clone”, then started Carbon Copy Cloner and started cloning the drive to the new SSD. This is when it became apparent that the cloning process was going to take forever, because the external drive was a 5400 RPM spinning drive too.

After a couple of hours and only about 20% progress, we decided I needed to take my Mac Mini back home and finish the cloning. Obviously, I was a bit nervous about stopping the clone midstream and wondering what would (or would not) happen when I rebooted, but it seemed the worst that might happen is that I’d have to start over. Once back home, I reconnected the backup clone drive to the Mini and rebooted. I restarted the Carbon Copy clone process, where I was cloning the backup drive to my SSD, restarted the clone and wondered if the computer would reboot to the SSD since the clone was interrupted the first time. The progress was extremely slow, just as before, so I left it to run overnight.

When we replaced the internal drive on the Mini, what we found is that we actually replaced the 2nd hard drive, not the boot drive. Now, initially I thought “Well cra%”, but actually this could be a good thing, since it still contains my OS and everything prior to the replacement, so in theory if all else failed, I could simply change the boot drive back to the original drive and I’d be back where I was (but without the SSD). Next morning, I changed the boot drive selection over to the SSD and rebooted, fingers crossed. It booted up just fine, everything. (including, but especially Plex) worked fine. I was relieved I didn’t need to start the clone over from scratch since it had been interrupted. I haven’t reformatted the old original boot drive yet, but when I need that storage, I will.

Some lessons learned though.

  • Backup critical data elsewhere. Well, critical data in this respect included the Plex database. I backed it up, but to the second internal drive (because it was faster). I should have backed it up to the Synology or another external drive that was easily accessible.

  • Test your clone before you need it. I hadn’t. I just assumed that because Carbon Copy Cloner and it completed successfully, it worked fine.
  • Test your clone before you need it. I hadn’t. I just assumed that because Carbon Copy Cloner aid it completed successfully, it worked fine.

  • Don’t use a 5400 RPM drive to clone your drive. It was so slow, I really don’t know how many hours it actually took to restore. So, I am buying an external SSD on Amazon.


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