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Apple Desktops Discussion of Apple's desktop machines including Mac Pro, iMac, Power Mac, and mini

mini - DIY: Trick out your Intel Mini


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kaidomac

 
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Summary:
This guide shows you what and how to upgrade your base-model Mini Core Solo into a speed machine. Total cost is roughly $1,539 for everything.

Table of Contents:
Overview
Buy an Intel Mini
Upgrade your RAM
Upgrade your Hard Drive
Upgrade your Processor
Conclusion
Additional Notes

Overview:
This guide offers advice on what to buy and links on how to modify a base-model Intel Mini in order to turn it into a powerhouse. There are three components that will be upgraded: the RAM, the Hard Drive, and the Processor. These modifications require you to delve into the guts of your Intel Mini. If you are not comfortable with this, OWC offers a $99 installation service for everything but the processor upgrade.

Buy an Intel Mini:
As of March 9th, 2006 (the date this article was written), the Apple online store is offering the base Intel Mini for $599. The base model consists of a 1.5ghz Intel Core Solo processor, 512mb of 667mhz DDR2 SDRAm, a 60gb 5400rpm 2.5" SATA hard drive, a combo CD-RW/DVD-ROM drive, Airport (802.11g), and Bluetooth 2.0+EDR. The three main component upgrades they offer are the ram, the hard drive, and the optical drive. The maximum amount of ram the Intel Mini can handle is 2gb. Apple offers this upgrade for $300; it can be had for $229 elsewhere. The next upgrade is the hard drive. Apple offers up to a 120gb SATA hard drive, but all of the models are only 5400rpm. Since we want a 7200rpm hard drive for maximum speed, we will look elsewhere. Lastly, Apple offers a Superdrive upgrade over the combo drive, which gives you a dual-layer DVD burner instead of just a CD-RW/DVD-ROM. They offer this for only $50. The cheapest I have found a slimline slotload DVD burner is about $86 online (Pioneer DVR-K05L).

From the available choices, only the DVD burner upgrade is worth it for the purposes of this article. Apple pre-installs the drive for you and offers it for $36 cheaper than anywhere else. Selecting the Superdrive option changes the subtotal to $649. If you are a student, you can get this configuration with your discount for the slightly cheaper price of $624, saving you $25.

Upgrade your RAM:
The Intel Mini takes 667mhz DDR2 SDRAM sodimms (basically laptop-sized memory), up to 2gb (2 slots, up to 1gb each). Apple does recommend using matched pairs for best performance in the Intel based Mac mini. Apple offers the 2gb ram upgrade for $300 ($270 if you're a student), but we can do better than that. OWC offers a matched pair of 1gb sodimms for only $229, which is $70 cheaper than Apple offers them for. This will give you 2gb of Mini-compatible ram.

Visit OWC's website here. Click on Memory, select the Mac Mini on the right, then the Core Solo and click the "Show Upgrades" button (memory should be selected by default). There are plenty of options to choose from; their upgrades are not just limited to 2gb. Memory installation videos are available here on the bottom left in low, medium, and high quality versions.

Upgrade your Hard Drive:
The Intel Mini takes a 2.5" SATA hard drive internally, another laptop product. Apple offers internal drives anywhere from 60gb to 120gb. Unfortunately, Apple only offers 5400rpm models. Currently, the fastest laptop hard drives available are 7200rpm and can be had in up to 100gb capacities. 120gb 7200rpm 2.5" SATA drives are not available at the time of this writing. Also, 160gb drives are coming down the line, but again are not available at the time of writing (nor do we know for sure if the Mini can handle drives over 120gb).

There are currently two contendors for top-dog 2.5" 7200rpm hard drives: Hitachi and Seagate. OWC carries both brands. The Seagate model is $250 and the Hitachi comes in at $240, $10 less than the Seagate drive. Those prices are fairly competitive and you might as well order from OWC if you're going to get the ram from them, too. From my research, the Hitachi is a slightly better drive. Hitachi also offers their 2.5" 7200rpm SATA drive in 60, 80, and 100gb capacities. This is actually Hitachi's second-generation 7200rpm laptop drive, which should give them an edge over Seagate anyway. I would recommend going with the Hitachi 100gb 7200rpm 2.5" SATA hard drive if you want to upgrade the internal drive. Alternatively, you can go with an external Firewire hard drive and use that as the primary boot disk; more details are available at the end of this article in the "Additional Notes" section. Hard drive installation videos are available here on the bottom right in low, medium, and high quality versions.

Upgrade your Processor:
Apple currently offers the Intel Mini in 1.5ghz Core Solo and 1.66ghz Core Duo configurations. The good news is that these processors are upgradable. From my readings on the G4 Mini, the processor was soldered on, which prevented a user from going from a 1.25ghz G4 CPU to a 1.42ghz G4 CPU. Such is no longer the case with the Intel chip. Someone has already upgraded their Mini to a 2.16 Core Duo processor; read about it here. The link offers a variety of photos; no installation video is available as of yet.

Intel currently offers four Core Duo chips that I know of: 1.66ghz, 1.83ghz, 2.0ghz, and 2.16ghz. The first three are easily available and relatively cheap compared to the latter model, which currently runs about $700. You can snag the other three for much cheaper from Newegg. The 1.66ghz T2300 Core Duo is $248, the 1.83ghz T2400 Core Duo is $294, and the 2ghz T2500 Core Duo is $421. Personally, I think that the 2ghz T2500 is the way to go right now; it's a nice, round number and is nearly $300 less than the 2.16ghz T2600, which only offers an extra .16ghz of Core Duo performance. For $300 extra, it's just not worth it in my opinion. $700 can go a long way in another system like a MacBook Pro or even a PowerMac G5.

Although I recommend buying the cheaper 1.5ghz Core Solo Mini model, it may not be a bad idea to buy the 1.66ghz Core Duo model instead for resale of the chip later. The upgrade really only costs $100; Apple offers the basic Core Solo for $599 and the basic Core Duo for $799, but they throw in the $50 Superdrive and $50 upgraded 80gb hard drive in the basic Core Duo configuration. You'll probably have much better luck selling a 1.66ghz Core Duo on ebay than you will a 1.5ghz Core Solo, plus you'll have a larger hard drive if you decide to stick with it instead of upgrading the internal drive (or a larger internal backup drive if you choose to go with an external boot drive). Of course, you can always ebay the 80 gig drive or stick it in an external 2.5" case for backup, too.

Conclusion:
Upon completion of these upgrades, you will have a much more powerful Mini than even Apple's high-end offering for only $315 more than Apple sells their Mini Core Duo for. For $1,224, Apple gives you an Intel Mini with a 1.66ghz Intel Core Duo processor, 2gb ram, 120gb 5400rpm hard drive, and a Superdrive. For $1,539, you can build an Intel Mini with a 2ghz Intel Core Duo processor, 2gb ram, 100gb 7200rpm hard drive, and a Superdrive. The $315 gives you a boost in hard drive speed from 5400rpm to 7200rpm and an increase in processing speed from 1.66ghz (Core Duo) to 2.0ghz (Core Duo), as well as the pride of doing the mods yourself.

There are a few things you can do with the leftover parts. First, you can keep them. The processor won't do you much good unless you have another system to put it in, but may be nice to have on hand "just in case". The ram is in the same boat. The hard drive can be utilized in an external enclosure; just make sure you get an SATA enclosure, not an ATA enclosure. Alternatively, you can try to sell the hardware on ebay or a for sale/for trade forum. This will let you recoup some of the money you invested in the upgrades.

Regarding cost, I know that there is a lot of discussion between upgrading a Mini and just getting a nice iMac with an integrated screen. You can get a refurb 20" iMac for less than the cost of doing a total Mini upgrade as laid out in this article. Actually, that's what I did after I wrote an article on the G4 Mini. I ended up saving about $500 by buying a new iMac over an upgraded Mini (that included a screen and all the other peripherals too). However, you'll be hard-pressed to find a system as small and as cool as the Mini with a DVD burner, built-in wireless and Bluetooth, a 2ghz Core Duo processor, 2gb ram, and a 7200rpm hard drive for under $1600.

(see additional notes in the next post; it wouldn't fit all in one posting)
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kaidomac

 
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Additional Notes:
Unless you really want to keep everything in a nice, compact package inside the Mini, spending $240+ on the hard drive isn't the best way to go. There are good alternatives that won't ruin the Mini's aesthetics. For example, OWC offers the miniStack, which is a combination external hard drive/Firewire hub/USB hub that matches the Mini in size and looks and can be stacked underneath it. For $235, they offer a miniStack with a 320gb 7200rpm hard drive with an 8mb cache, effectively tripling the capacity of an internal 100gb 7200rpm 2.5" hard drive while keeping the speed and price. You can use this external drive as your boot drive by installing OS X on it. You can easily clone your internal drive to your external drive by using Carbon Copy Cloner, a free tool for backing up and cloning your hard drive. You can leave the internal hard drive as-is or reformat it for use as a backup/storage drive. If you have a basic Intel Mini, this gives you a nice 60 gigabytes of storage in addition to the 320gb primary drive. The miniStack is available in capacities up to 500gb; you can also add your own drive. More information is available from OWC here. There are some good articles on using an external Firewire hard drive as a boot drive for the Mini here and here, as well as a good discussion here. Google has links to a variety of articles on performance gains as well.

I previously wrote an article for my website entitled Souping up a Mini, which detailed the various upgrades available for the G4 Mini. At the end of the article are appendixes with links to lots of sites that you may find useful, including forums, parts/services retailers, and galleries for the Mini. For example, did you know that you can get your Mini professionally painted or buy a decal or skin to spice up your desktop with? You can even turn your Mini into a set-top box to play back DVDs, TV shows, and music across your network; check out my howto here.

I hope you enjoyed this article; feedback is always welcome!
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Fallooza

 
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did you actually write this? just wonderin.
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kaidomac

 
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Fallooza
did you actually write this? just wonderin.
Yes. I just haven't added it to my website yet. My G4 Mini upgrade guide is available here, though:

http://mini.wiredby.com
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novicew

 
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Wow. Very informative and resourceful article. You seems to have done a lot of research on this.

Well done!
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kaidomac

 
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Quote:
Originally Posted by novicew
Wow. Very informative and resourceful article. You seems to have done a lot of research on this.

Well done!
Thanks, hope you find it useful! It's basically just an extension of my G4 Mini upgrade guide. Either this month or next month I'll put the Intel Mini guide on my website and update both articles; there have been a ton of aftermarket products released as well as lots more technical information that I want to add to both of them. However, I have some other projects that I want to take care of before committing more time to either of these; I'll be sure to post links to the articles when I update them.
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kaidomac

 
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I will also add a step-by-step checklist for the upgrade procedures. Here's a rough draft if you're interested in doing the upgrades now:

1. Buy the following parts:
(1) $599 Mini Core Solo with $50 Superdrive upgrade (Total - $649)
(2) 2gb OWC ram (www.MacSales.com)
(3) 100gb 7200rpm SATA 2.5" Hitachi hard drive from OWC
(4) Intel T2500 2ghz Core Duo processor from Newegg
(5) 2.5" USB/Firewire SATAenclosure
2. Clone and format the hard drives:
(1) Put the Hitachi drive in the external case
(2) Format the Hitachi drive in OS X
(3) Use Carbon Copy Cloner (CCC) to clone the internal drive to the external drive
(4) Verify that the Hitachi will boot properly (boot from the Firewire enclosure)
(5) Install the Hitachi in the Mini and verify that it boots properly
(6) Put the stock internal 60gb drive into the external case
(7) Format the 60gb drive in the enclosure in OS X for storage/backup use
3. Install the RAM and run Rember to verify that the memory is good
4. Install the processor and run Xbench (or other stress-tester) to verify proper operation

That's a basic recipe for a pretty powerful Mini. Alternatively, you can use CCC to clone your internal hard drive to a dedicated external Firewire hard drive (such as the miniStack) to get increased capacity and performance, then use the internal drive for backup and storage.
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VakeJ

 
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This was a great article! If your upgrading the mini with a faster cpu, and internal hard drive (7200rpm), are there potential over-heating issues??

It's just a small case, I can see that being a potential issue.

vj
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kaidomac

 
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Quote:
Originally Posted by VakeJ
This was a great article! If your upgrading the mini with a faster cpu, and internal hard drive (7200rpm), are there potential over-heating issues??

It's just a small case, I can see that being a potential issue.

vj
You make a good point. I'd imagine there are, although I haven't read of any yet. I'll keep my eyes out as more people do these upgrades and report on them.
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kaidomac

 
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I've given some more thought to purchasing the base model. If you're willing to take a gamble initially, you may be able to make a small profit on parts to recoup the upgrade costs. Let's take a look at two model configurations:

$649 = Core Solo Mini with Superdrive
$849 = Core Duo Mini with Superdrive and 100gb hard drive

The difference between these models is $200. The extra $200 gives you (1) a 1.66ghz Core Duo Mini and (2) a 100gb 5400rpm SATA 2.5" hard drive, both of which are parts that will be good for resale. The current price for a 1.66ghz Core Duo chip is $245 (hah! Newegg has actually adjusted the price on the 1.66ghz Core Duo chip from $248 to $245 since I posted the original article this afternoon. $3 price drop, yay!). The average price for a 100gb 5400rpm 2.5" SATA hard drive is $175, although pricing varies a lot on these. Does anyone know what brand(s) of hard drive the Intel Mini uses?

Anyway, assuming you could sell the 1.66ghz Core Duo for $200 ($45 cheaper than new) and the 100gb 5400rpm SATA hard drive for $100 ($75 cheaper than new), that gives you $300, which is an instant $100 profit for you over the base Core Solo model. It's a gamble because you don't know exactly what you're going to get for them in the marketplace, but those are fair guesses. I'm sure that a lot of Core Solo Mini owners would be willing to shell out at least $150 for a 1.66ghz Core Duo processor, and the price of the hard drive could go for slightly more. This is also a good route to take if you're like me and don't have $1,500 to blow right away and would rather piecemeal it, buying one upgrade at a time.

Also keep in mind that instead of tricking out a Mini you could buy two bare-bones 2ghz Athlon X2 systems with 2gb ram each for the same price. But where's the fun in that?
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thadoggfather

 
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Might as well just get an iMac, but that's just my opinion
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kaidomac

 
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Quote:
Originally Posted by thadoggfather
Might as well just get an iMac, but that's just my opinion
Yeah, that's actually what I did when the G4 Minis were out, lol. However, it's not too bad comparatively; $1,599 gives you a 17" iMac with 2gb ram and a 1.83ghz Core Duo, while that same amount will give you a Mini with 2gb ram and a 2.0ghz Core Duo. The tradeoff is that you lose the screen and decent graphics card but gain the small size for your desk space. Plus, if you want to use an external monitor, it's nice just to have a box to plug it in instead of having something with a monitor already. I definately don't have desk space for a 17" iMac AND a seperate monitor. You can easily toss a 23" Apple display or 24" Dell LCD on your Mini and still have room on your desk. Plus there's the cool factor, having everything in that tiny little package
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VakeJ

 
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Also, keep in mind that you don't have to trick the mini out to the max.

You could opt for a 1GB, instead of 2GB
1.83ghz processor instead of the 2.0ghz

Simply purchase the 100GB hard drive from Apple, and use an external hard-drive with 7200rpms (I have the maxter one touch 300GB).

It may not be the "ultimate mini", but it would still be a kick A $ $ system :miner:

I'm sure you could do the suggested upgrades with a total cost around $1,000 (including mini). It would be just as much fun to upgrade....
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kaidomac

 
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Quote:
Originally Posted by VakeJ
Also, keep in mind that you don't have to trick the mini out to the max.

You could opt for a 1GB, instead of 2GB
1.83ghz processor instead of the 2.0ghz

Simply purchase the 100GB hard drive from Apple, and use an external hard-drive with 7200rpms (I have the maxter one touch 300GB).

It may not be the "ultimate mini", but it would still be a kick A $ $ system :miner:

I'm sure you could do the suggested upgrades with a total cost around $1,000 (including mini). It would be just as much fun to upgrade....
Yeah, definately. If I had money to burn, I'd do a Mini Core Solo with a Superdrive, a 400gb miniStack, 2gb ram, 2ghz Core Solo chip, and a 20" widescreen Dell LCD. I love Apple's industrial design look, but their 20" LCD is $800 and Dell's 20" LCD is $400. Automatic $400 savings. The 2.16ghz Core Duo is $661 while the 2ghz Core Duo is $417. $244 price difference. The 2ghz Core Duo is still about $100 more than the 1.83ghz Core Duo, but there's something about "2" that makes me feel good Also, the 400gb external drive is $100 cheaper than the 500gb drive and just seems like a better buy.

My next purchase will be a basic Intel Mini to replace my HT stuff on my TV. Then a MacBook Pro. Then I can consider tricking out a Mini. So maybe end of 2007? lol
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novicew

 
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I'm not sure this was mentioned somewhere else in the forum but I think it is worth having a look .
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