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How do you upgrade the hard drive(s) in the Aluminum "Unibody" Mac mini models? What type of hard drive(s) do they support?
There are there different lines of Aluminum "Unibody" Mac mini systems -- the "Mid-2010," "Mid-2011," and "Late 2012" -- with notable differences in supported storage.
Photo Credit: Apple, Inc. (Non-Server Mid-2010 - Left, Mid-2011 & Late 2012 - Right)
If you're not sure which Aluminum Mac mini model you have, the optical drive equipped "Mid-2010" models should be easy to differentiate, but the models without optical drives are more of a challenge. As of the date last updated (see top), all of the subsequently introduced models without optical drives use the same storage, so the oddball where precise identification is most important is the "Mid-2010" Mac mini "Core 2 Duo" 2.66 (Server).
All Aluminum Mac mini models can be precisely identified by the Model Identifier in software or externally by EMC Number, and more details about specific identifiers are provided in EveryMac.com's extensive Mac Identification section.
To locate the model identifier in software, select "About This Mac" under the Apple Menu on your computer and click the "More Info..." button. If the Mac mini is running OS X 10.7 "Lion" or later, you will need to click the "System Report" button after clicking "More Info..." as well.
The EMC number is visible upon removing the bottom "spin off" panel to the right of the memory slots (when the ports are facing you). Accordingly, EveryMac.com has hand documented the model identifiers and EMC numbers unique to each series.
However, for the purpose of upgrading the storage, it is simplest to note that if the Aluminum Mac mini has an optical drive (CD/DVD slot), or it does not have an optical drive but has model identifier Macmini4,1 or EMC number 2364, you have a "Mid-2010" model, which use the same type of storage. If it is something else -- model identifier Macmini5,1, Macmini5,2, Macmini5,3, Macmini6,1, or Macmini6,2 or EMC number 2442 or 2570 -- you have a "Mid-2011" or "Late 2012" model, and these lines share the same storage with one another.
Storage Types, Dimensions & Requirements
Regular "Mid-2010" Aluminum "Unibody" Mac mini models, which have optical drives, support a single 2.5-inch, 9.5 mm tall, 3 Gb/s Serial ATA (SATA Revision 2.0) hard drive or SSD (or two storage drives if you remove the optical drive). The oddball Mac mini "Core 2 Duo" 2.66 Server (Mid-2010) supports two storage drives of the same type (and no optical drive).
All "Mid-2011" and "Late 2012" models hold two 2.5-inch storage drives with the same 9.5 mm height restriction, but have faster 6 Gb/s Serial ATA (SATA Revision 3.0) support.
For the non-server "Mid-2011" and "Late 2012" models, which only ship with one hard drive by default, a second hard drive or SSD is supported, but one has to purchase the cable needed to attach the drive to the board before installation is possible.
As first spotted by HardMac, a user from the MacRumors forums determined that the needed part is referred to as the "Bottom Hard Drive Flex Cable" (Apple Part Number 922-9560) and successfully installed a second drive. More recently, site sponsor Other World Computing offers a "Data Doubler" upgrade kit for the Aluminum Mac mini models that includes everything needed to perform this upgrade -- the cable, drive bracket, precisely sized screwdrivers and screws -- in one convenient package.
Hard Drive Upgrade Official Disclaimer & Cautions
To upgrade the memory in the Aluminum "Unibody" Mac mini models, Apple has made it quite easy and provides instructions. Replacing the hard drive or hard drives is a more complicated procedure and Apple does not support users performing this upgrade themselves.
In the User Guide, Apple formally states the following:
Except for memory, do not attempt to replace or repair any components inside your Mac mini. If your Mac mini needs service, consult the service and support information that came with your Mac mini for information about how to contact an Apple Authorized Service Provider or Apple for service.
If you install items other than memory, you risk damaging your equipment, and such damage isn't covered by the limited warranty on your Mac mini.
As Apple does not consider the hard drive to be a "customer installable part," EveryMac.com cannot recommend that users perform the upgrade themselves. Most likely should instead add a quick and easy external hard drive or alternately hire a professional. Given the small and densely packed nature of the Aluminum Mac mini models this certainly is not a good system to upgrade yourself without substantial experience upgrading the hard drive in similar systems.
Hard Drive Upgrade Instructions
However, for highly experienced users, upgrading the hard drive or hard drives -- or swapping in one or more SSDs -- is difficult, but feasible nevertheless.
These videos from OWC cover the procedure for the optical-drive equipped "Mid-2010" models and the optical drive-less "Mid-2010" Server, "Mid-2011," and "Late 2012" models, in a step-by-step fashion:
"Mid-2010" Mac mini (One Hard Drive, One Optical Drive)
"Mid-2010" Mac mini Server (Dual Hard Drives, No Optical Drive)
"Mid-2011" & "Late 2012" Mac mini (Dual Hard Drives, No Optical Drive)
It is hoped that by watching the videos you should be able to determine whether or not you feel comfortable performing the upgrade yourself or if you would rather hire a professional.
Mac mini Hard Drive or SSD Purchase & Professional Installation Options
In theory, just about any hard drive or SSD that meets the minimum requirements should work in the Mac mini. However, it always is best to buy from a trusted company with Mac knowledge for the most trouble-free experience.
In addition to the convenient hard drive upgrade kit for the Aluminum Mac mini models, Other World Computing sells compatible hard drives and an installation service. Mission Repair offers a professional Mac mini upgrade service for these models by mail with a 24-hour turnaround.
In Australia, site sponsor RamCity sells Mac mini compatible SSDs, in addition to memory, with fast, flat-rate shipping Australia-wide.
In Southeast Asia, site sponsor SimplyMac.sg sells Mac mini compatible storage, as well as memory, with free delivery -- and optional upgrade service -- in Singapore and flat rate shipping to Hong Kong, India, Indonesia, Malaysia, the Philippines, Thailand, Vietnam and South Korea.