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Friday, March 06, 2009, 08:00 am PT (11:00 am ET)

Mac mini: teardown, adding second hard drive, 1TB upgrade kit

Apple's new Mac mini can be taken apart in fifteen steps with an easy-to-follow, photo-rich instruction guide from a third-party solutions provider, which has also announced a do-it-yourself upgrade kit to replace the standard storage and optical drives with two 500 GB hard drives.

The Mac and iPod repair gurus at iFixit have taken their first look at the new Mac mini, and they've found it much easier to disassemble than the new iMac also introduced earlier this week.

Teardown and comparisons

The mini can be torn down with a Phillips #0 screwdriver and 1.5-inch thin putty knife. This week's refresh represents just the third significant architecture overhaul to the diminutive deskop, all three of which — PowerPC, Intel Core Duo, and Intel Core 2 Duo — can be seen stacked on top of one another in the photo below.

Mac mini


The top cover is removed with a careful prying motion to separate it from the bottom housing, and since there are no longer any cables attaching the two, it was easy to get out of the way before diving right into the components. Here, iFixit has just removed the top cover for a look at the undisturbed contents. Visible on the vertical edges are two antennas for the Broadcom AirPort wireless and a Bluetooth radio.

Mac mini


Later on in the process, iFixit spent a lot of time searching for the screws holding the internal frame to the bottom housing but finally was able to locate them to disassemble the top half of the mini. The technicians found their $599 mini shipped with a single 1GB memory chip, which had 128 MB allocated automatically to the NVIDIA 9400M graphics processor. When they tried installing a second chip in the machine, totaling 2GB, the 9400M automatically doubled the graphics memory to 256 MB.

Then, out came the AirPort/Bluetooth board, followed by the logic board. Here are all the components laid bare, and iFixit reports it was quite easy to put them all back together as well.

Mac mini


Full instructions, complete with helpful photographs of hard-to-find screws and cables circled, are available here.

Hard Drive Upgrade Kit

Wasting little time putting their newfound knowledge to work, the solutions provider discovered it's possible to remove the optical SuperDrive, swap out the original hard drive, and cram two 500GB models from Western Digital into the case for total storage of 1TB.

Technicians caution, however, that the challenge in making both drives fit snugly without being damaged when the machine is reassembled, combined with some necessary soldering, makes the installation "very difficult." That said, their step-by-step instructions — covering nine pages and 27 steps — do well to remove virtually all of the guesswork.

Mac mini


Mac mini


Once finished, Time Machine can back up to the internal drive with no hacking required, and a couple Terminal commands enable the MacBook Air's Remote Disc sharing feature should users ever need the use of an optical drive. You can also RAID the drives together to make a single 1TB disk instead of using Time Machine. All of these steps are explained in the guidelines, available here.

Mac mini


The upgrade kit, complete with two SATA hard drives, cables, and tools, is being sold for $249.95. Soldering supplies must be purchased separately.