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Is it possible to upgrade the processor in the Intel Mac mini models?
Officially, Apple does not intend for the processor in the Intel-based Mac mini models to be upgraded.
In fact, from the "Memory Specifications and Upgrades" document for the original Intel Mac mini on the Apple Support Site, Apple does not intend for users to even upgrade the RAM. Instead, the company warns that "additional memory should be installed by an Apple Retail Store or Apple Authorized Service Provider."
However, as initially provided by a photo from Nakfull Propaganda (no longer online), the CPU in the "Early 2006/Late 2006" Mac mini models is mounted on a ZIF socket, which makes upgrading the processor possible.
As mentioned on March 8, 2006, at least one user at XtremeSystems upgraded the processor in a Mac mini "Core Solo" 1.5 to a 2.16 GHz Intel Core Duo (T2600). At the time, it was mentioned that the swap was not particularly cost-effective, as based on a quick search, the 2.16 GHz Intel Core Duo (T2600) processor then cost roughly US$650-US$715. However, prices have subsequently fallen, and over time, the price of faster processors than the ones pre-installed inevitably will continue to drop.
On June 14, 2006, EveryMac.com reported that a user in the Taiwanese Oikos forums went a step further and installed an "engineering sample" of the then "next generation" 2.16 GHz Intel Core 2 Duo (T7400) processor.
It may be a bit challenging to pry the case open and remove the "innards", but switching processors in the "Early 2006/Late 2006 Core Solo/Duo" models is quite easy once the motherboard is accessed. An Italian Mac user even posted a helpful step-by-step guide to upgrading the processor.
On August 7, 2007, Apple introduced the "Mid-2007" Mac mini "Core 2 Duo" models -- the Mac mini "Core 2 Duo" 1.83 and the "Core 2 Duo" 2.0 -- where the company itself effectively just upgraded the processor in the previous models, and these too are socketed and can be upgraded the same way.
Unfortunately, as first noted by users following the "First Look" of the "Early 2009" Mac mini "Core 2 Duo" on the superb iFixit, and subsequently researched and confirmed by the reliable ArsTechnica, the processor in this revision is soldered and cannot be upgraded. After taking one apart, the always excellent MacminiColo reported that the "Late 2009" models internally are identical apart from faster processors and more preinstalled RAM.
It is no doubt a major disappointment to hacker types everywhere that the "Early 2009" and "Late 2009" Mac mini models have soldered processors.
Ultimately, it is quite possible to upgrade the processor in Intel-based Mac mini models released prior to the "Early 2009" line, but doing so is not recommended by Apple, in violation of the warranty, and consequently, is not endorsed or recommended by EveryMac.com.