Buying a new Mac computer can be an expensive affair. However, if you have an old Mac Mini lying around like we do, you can easily upgrade it to run like a new computer. Here we show you how to upgrade a 2011 Mac Mini for use in the current year.
What do you need
You will need the following items for this project:
1. Prepare the Mac Mini
Turn the Mac Mini over so that the open and closed dots are facing you. Turn the black base counterclockwise to unlock the base and gently lift the base to release it from the device.
2. Remove the wireless shroud
Using the T8 Torx screwdriver bit, unscrew the screws from the wireless shroud. Gently start removing the shroud until you see where the wire connects to the logic board. Gently loosen the connection wire to disengage the wireless shroud.
3. Remove the fan
Using the T5 Torx screwdriver bit, unscrew the 3 screws connecting the fan to the device and start removing the fan until you can reach the place where the fan connects to the board mother. Remove the connector from the motherboard and remove the fan completely. Using the same screwdriver bit, remove the screws holding the black piece that was next to the fan and remove that piece for easier access.
4. Remove the motherboard
To remove the motherboard, you must first pull it out half an inch. If you’re having trouble, you can use any small screwdriver you might have in two screw holes to pry it off. From there, disconnect any connections still present on the motherboard, which at this point should only be the hard drive SATA cable and the power supply.
From now on, my photos will no longer be a direct reflection. I rebuilt first to make sure my methods would work, and when I reopened my device my fan screw was removed and currently cannot be removed. Let that be a word of warning, be very careful with Torx screws not to strip them, as they tend to do so.
5. Remove the old hard drive
Place a credit card or a small nylon tool under the hard drive to pry it up and remove it entirely. Register the SATA cable for use with the new hard drive.
6. Remove / replace RAM
Pull lightly on the metal tabs on the sides of the ram to unlock the old RAM boards. Pull them out to a 45-degree angle and carefully remove the boards from their support. Place the new ones at a similar angle, then gently push them flat until you hear the planks click into place. If you encounter resistance, pull on the metal tabs to clear the path. After that, you can completely remove the motherboard.
7. Remove the plastic from the hard drive
There is a piece of plastic that guides around the power supply, motherboard, and hard drive. It is connected to the back of the power supply, furthest from where you have placed the device. To remove it, since the power supply is grounded on this model, you need to gently wiggle the plastic to release it. You can then remove it completely.
8. Install the new hard drive
Connect the SATA cable to the new hard drive. Using the T5 screwdriver bit, remove the screws from the side of the old hard drive. By guiding the new hard drive through the plastic insert, you can screw the hard drive into place using the same screws you just used. The new SATA cable kit will also have rubber inserts. Put them through the plastic before inserting the screws. You can guide the plastic to where you pulled it, putting the connection back in place.
9. Install the new SSD
Connect the new SATA cable from the hard drive kit (make sure you are using the one that faces up when placed in the Mac Mini). Gently lay the SSD on the new hard drive and slide it out until it clicks into place.
10. Connect the hard drive, SSD and other connections to the motherboard
Slide the motherboard into the Mac Mini case. Once it’s about a half inch, plug the power supply back into the motherboard. Once it is connected, slide the motherboard all the way. Connect the 2 SATA cables to the motherboard. (The cables took some work to fit perfectly, so make sure you have patience. It’s totally worth it!)
11. Reconnect the fan
Put the black piece back in place and screw it down. Connect the fan cable to the motherboard, then replace the fan. Replace the screws and secure them.
12. Reconnect the wireless fairing
Connect the wire from the wireless adapter to the motherboard in the only spot left in this area. Replace the wireless shroud and tighten the final screws. Replace the base and turn it clockwise to secure it in place. You are done with the hardware part!
13. Enter Internet recovery mode
The next thing to do when you start your Mac for the first time is to keep the Order, Option, and R keys at the same time once you hear the Mac startup chime. This puts the machine into Internet recovery mode.
14. Reformat hard drive and SSD
Go to “Disk Utility” to erase and format the new hard drive and SSD to reformat to “Mac OS Extended (Journal)”.
When finished, return to the main screen.
15. Reinstall MacOS
My computer came with Mountain Lion, so the operating system installed automatically. This process takes about 30 minutes, so find something to do while you wait.
16. Install Mac High Sierra (latest supported for this model of Mac mini)
This part was frustrating because Safari did not support any website. You can use this link to drive you to High Sierra on the App Store. Click to download / install and wait about another 30 minutes.
At this point, you are done! You can now enjoy an upgraded Mac Mini at a fraction of the cost of a new one. If, after all, your Mac Mini refuses to start, you can check out some of the fixes here.
Image Credit: “Mac Mini 2.5 GHz 2011 14-5-2019”
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