Category Archives: Computer Hardware

2011 Mac Mini Hard Drive Upgrade Video

We just upgraded a 2011 Apple Mac Mini to have an SSD, a second hard drive, and new RAM.

Video


Also available on YouTube in High Definition or Standard Definition.

Parts List

  • OCZ 120 GB Vertex 3 SATA III 6.0 Gb-s 2.5-Inch Solid State Drive VTX3-25SAT3-120G
  • Western Digital 1TB Blue WD10JPVT 5400RPM, 8 MB cache, 2.5 inch, 9.5MM height hard drive
  • Corsair 8 GB DDR3 Laptop Memory Kit CMSO8GX3M2A1333C9
  • Apple Mac Mini Model MC816LL/A 2.5 GHz Intel Core i5 dual-core processor, AMD Radeon HD 6630M graphics, 4GB RAM, 500GB hard drive
  • Cable: Apple Part 922-9560, also called “Apple Mac Mini Server (Mid 2010) Bottom Hard Drive Server Flex Cable” or “Hard Drive Flex Cable Bottom”. We used part number 1009005 at welovemacs.com. This is sold as a kit from ifixit.com.

Alternate Parts List

The OCZ Vertex 3 is the fastest consumer SSD at the moment. Other SSD’s that you might consider include:

The Western Digital Blue drive mentioned above is high capacity and quiet. For a faster spinning hard drive consider:

The dedicated graphics in the mid-tier Mac Mini make it worth it for me. But for the cheapest Mini, consider:

  • Apple Mac Mini MC815LL/A 2.3 GHz Intel Core i5 dual-core processor, integrated Intel HD Graphics 3000, 2GB RAM, 500GB hard drive

UPDATE: My video shows adding two 9.5MM height drives. I just upgraded another Mac Mini with a 9.5MM SSD and a 12.5MM standard hard drive. As with my first upgrade, the hard drive goes in the bottom slot (the side closest to the top of the case when upright). This does fit. But first you need to slide the logic board out slightly. Be sure to remove the IR port adapter before sliding out the logic board. The OWC video shows how to do this. I used a cut up coat hanger to insert into the logic board holes and slide it out.

First Boot

Starting with a blank hard drive is easy on the 2011 Mac Mini. Hold down Command-R to boot into Lion Recovery which allows you to format the drives and download Lion over the Internet.

TRIM Support in Lion

For optimal SSD performance, enable TRIM support within OS X Lion. Grant Pannell describes the terminal commands to enable TRIM.

Photos of Upgrade

Opened
Opened
Fan Removal
Fan Removal
WiFi Connection
WiFi Connection
Empty Hard Drive Bay
Empty Drive Bay
Original Hard Drive
Original Hard Drive
Drive Bay Side View 1
Drive Bay Side View 1
Drive Bay Side View 2
Drive Bay Side View 2
New Hard Drive & Cable
New Hard Drive & Cable
New Hard Drive Insertion
New Hard Drive Insertion
New SSD
New SSD
New SSD & Drive Cables Attached
New SSD & Drive Cables Attached
New RAM
New RAM
Attach Fan
Attach Fan

Accidentally put an SD card in the iMac’s DVD drive?

Apple usually puts a lot of thought into the design of their hardware.  However, the placement of the SD card slot right below the DVD drive has always escaped me.  I always suspected people are looking directly at their screen and put the card in the slot by feel.  As a result, it is probably all too common to accidentally put the card in the DVD drive which is right above it.  I recently saw this happen for the first time.

My first thought was to take apart the iMac including the DVD drive.  Unfortunately, this requires specialized tools and 1-2 hours of time.  I tried shaking it out (a scary thought with an expensive piece of hardware) but it didn’t budge because of the foam guards at the end.  Finally, I created a high tech tool just for the job.

This is a piece of cardboard cutout to have a little extension at the bottom.  I inserted this at the top of the drive and pushed as far back as possible.  I then slide it down and pulled it forward and the extension pushed the SD card right out.  This is a rather thin piece of cardboard which is probably necessary.  Be sure to be gentle as you don’t want to damage the DVD drive in any way.

Bamboo Stylus

Although the iPad is designed and best used as a finger input device, I occasionally switch to using a stylus, especially when drawing (see my beautiful artwork below). I’ve tried nearly all of the styluses out there and found the new Bamboo Stylus to be the best available so far. The reason is that others have a thicker pointing area that slides poorly and is less precise. The Bamboo Stylus has a smaller more precise tip (they claim 25% smaller than competitors) and feels solid and properly weighted. It is well made in Japan.

Combining the Bamboo Stylus with Sketchbook Pro for iPad ($4.99) makes a powerful drawing system. I prefer this to using a Wacom tablet for drawing since I can directly see what I’m doing under the stylus.

I’m waiting on the Cosmonaut Stylus (should be out in August) to see how its wide-grip compares. But at least until then, the Bamboo Stylus to be the best available so far. The reason is that others have a thicker pointing area that slides poorly and is less precise. The Bamboo Stylus is the best out there.

There is still the inherent downside that you can not rest your hand on the iPad since that will be seen as a touch input. But even with that nit, I enjoy using this stylus.

Test RAM on a Mac

If you have new RAM in your Mac or if you are trying to diagnose weird shutdowns and problems, you should consider testing your RAM. An easy way to do so is to follow these instructions from the command-tab article “How to Test RAM Under Mac OS X“.

  1. Download the memtest_422.zip file and install the program.
  2. Shut down and then restart the computer holding down Command and S keys.
  3. When at the prompt, type “memtest all 2” which will test all the memory twice.

This will take several hours to run but should diagnose the tricky problem of bad RAM.

New MacBook Air’s (Late 2010) Review and Benchmarks

It would be easy to dismiss the new MacBook Air as slow due to its apparently slow processor but if you did, you’d be wrong.

Offerings

The new Air comes in 4 base models.

$994 – 11.6″ 1.4GHz CPU 64GB storage

$1194 – 11.6″ 1.4GHz CPU 128GB storage

$1294 – 13.3″ 1.86GHz CPU 128GB storage

$1594 – 13.3″ 1.86GHz CPU 256GB storage

What’s so special about it?

The obvious impressive feature of the Air is the size being extremely thin and weighing 2.3 lbs (11.6″ model) or 2.9 lbs (13.3″ model). But what really makes it worth having is what’s under the hood. The CPU is not cutting edge, maxing out at just 2.13GHz. However, the graphics and hard drive are so much faster, this more than offsets the CPU for most users.

Graphics (GPU)

The 320M graphics are about 2-3Xs faster than the previous 9400M. Graphics performance is becoming more and more important since apps like iPhoto and the Mac OS itself do a lot of animation and tasks that can be run on the GPU. The latest version of Mac OS X actually has the ability to run tasks that would normally be on the CPU on the GPU instead. Programs do have to be developed for that but it is something Apple is heavily pushing developers to do.

Disk Storage

The hard drive actually isn’t a hard drive. It has flash storage, much like that found in the iPhone or iPad. Flash storage is typically significantly faster but also very expensive. The price points that Apple has been able to create with this kind of fast storage is quite impressive. Any task that involves the disk will be massively faster than any other MacBook Apple offers. This is perhaps the most impressive feature of the new Airs. There are various hard drive tasks but most will fall in the range of 2-6Xs faster than a hard drive found in other MacBooks.

Screen

These MacBook Air’s have a much higher ppi (pixels per inch) than the other MacBooks. The higher the ppi, the sharper things look. The 13.3″ Air actually has the same resolution as the 15.4″ MacBook Pro. That means if you had them side by side, they could show the exact same content on the screen at the same time though the Air’s would appear slightly smaller since the pixels are squeezed into a smaller screen.

One thing I immediately noticed on the screen was that it seemed to be less reflective than the other MacBook’s. This is a photo of the Air 13.3″ next to a MacBook Pro 15.4″ with the screens pointed at the same set of windows.

The screen is clearly less reflective. This may be because the Pro has that sheet of glass across the whole area and the Air does not. Whatever the reason, I far prefer a less reflective screen.

What is it no good at?

Multi-threaded CPU intensive tasks are definitely the biggest weak point. In this regard, the MacBook Pro i5 is about twice as fast. If you do a lot of this, you may not be satisfied with the Air. If you don’t know what multi-threading is, then this likely won’t be a problem for you. An example of this is making digital backups of your DVDs with Handbrake. Handbrake is multi-CPU optimized and will perform much better on any other Mac.

Flash storage is typically smaller. The $999 MacBook Air has just 64GB storage. The 11.6″ can have up to 128GB and the 13.3″ starts at 128GB and goes up to 256GB. If you don’t plan on storing lots of photos or movies, the 64GB or 128GB should not be a problem.

Real World

In informal real world feel tests, typical tasks like browsing, email and application startup don’t feel slow at all. Safari and Mail load on one bounce in the dock. iPhoto feels quite fast, probably because loading all those photos from the faster storage really helps. For typical day to day use of a normal user, this MacBook Air is not only decent, but it feels faster than others just because of the flash drive storage.

Benchmarks

We benchmarked the MacBook Air 13.3″ 2.13GHz Core 2 Duo which is the fastest model. The overall Xbench score was 180. In comparison, a previous generation MacBook Pro 15.4″ 2.66GHz Core 2 Duo gets about a 137 and current generation MacBook Pro i7 gets about 174. The Xbench overall score tries to take every type of performance into account. This doesn’t mean the Air is faster than an i7. At multi-threading, the i7 is more than twice as fast. But overall, the Air is competitive because of the big gains in disk speed and graphics. The Xbench disk score was 238 compared to other MacBooks which get around 55 at best. It is this disk score that really raises the overall score.

Xcode is a development program for creating software for the Mac or iOS.  I’ve heard a lot about how this Air still couldn’t possibly be used by developers.  Well, we tested a rather large project consisting of over 20K lines of code to compile and about 15MBs of resources (images and data files).  When building a project in Xcode, it has to do both file copying (disk intensive) and code compiling (CPU intensive).  Building this project took 15s on a quad core Mac Pro with software raid drives and 33s on a MacBook Pro 2.66GHz Core 2 Duo.  The 2.13GHz Air was able to do it in 24s, much faster than the MacBook Pro.  This was a surprise but shows just how the old hard drives cause a slowdown of all the tasks in building the project.

Conclusion

All previous MacBook Air’s were higher priced and underpowered. They had much slower CPUs even though they were the same clock speeds. They had either slow hard drives or insanely expensive SSDs (solid-state drives) and subpar graphics. Apple clearly worked hard to make a product that could truly be a potential system for almost anyone.

The 11.6″ MacBook Air should be an attractive option at less than $1,000.  If you want small, this is it.  It is just 1.4GHz but for most uses, this should be fast enough. The $1300 model is probably the best value, offering you enough storage with 128GB and a much faster CPU at 1.86GHz.