Upgrading the Mac mini

So I had this pefectly good Mac mini and now it needed $200 worth of beefing up with 1GB of RAM (which is the maximum it can take), AirPort and Bluetooth. The Intel Mac mini uses SO-DIMM (small outline) memory as opposed to the G4 Mac mini's full-size DIMM and it has two slots instead of one, so its limit is 2GB as opposed to my mini's 1GB. All Macs except the Mac Pro and Xserve now use SO-DIMM RAM (correct me if I'm wrong) and I wish I knew if there was any performance difference between SO-DIMMs and DIMMs. Anyway, RAM is a whole other discussion unto itself.

Upgrading the Mac mini, which is the crux of this article, should be established as the de-facto test for virility in my opinion. How far can you toss a caber? I don't know. How many beers can you drink before throwing up? I honestly don't care. How many Mac minis can you add an Airport+Bluetooth module to? Now that's something I want to know. A while ago I was commenting to a group of people about how the Power Mac G4 was legendary in the way that was trivial to add or replace practically any component of the machine because the thing would basically just open up in front of you and upgrading it was easy in same the way that getting-out-from-the-seventy-fifth-floor-of-
a-burning-building-into-which-an-airplane-has-collided is not. The Mac mini, however, does not meet this standard.

First of all, there's a whole procedure involved in just getting the case open. This case is, simply speaking, not supposed to be opened… ever. I reminisce about the days when Apple used to pride itself in making desktops that were dead easy to upgrade. Those days refers to 2001 and those desktops were the Power Mac G4 and the G4 Cube. Not so anymore. The Mac mini case is like the iPod case except in the fact that it's harder to open. There are basically no screws holding the thing shut… it just snaps shut like an iPod and is seemingly impossible to open. However, like the iPod, you can insert a putty knife into the teensy-weensy gap between the base and the rest of the case and after fiddling around for about an hour or so you can get the case open. Of course, every time you open the case in this manner, unless you're using some Apple-provided tools (which, if you don't happen to work for Apple, you're not), your Mac mini's bottom loses some plastic. Now, you could take this in a positive light if you're an optimist and say that your computer just became a little lighter, but I am not that kind of optimist, or, when it comes to that, any kind of optimist at all. I despise this, and this is why I just used my mini without its case once I opened it up, while waiting for the the AirPort+Bluetooth and RAM modules to arrive.

Installing anything into this computer (except for the RAM, which, incidentally, is a piece of cake) is a torture that is only slightly less pain-inducing than burning to a death… slowly… over a period of five thousand years. It's not the number of screws that's baffling but the way the goddamn thing is held together. It's obviously a product of immensely creative engineering, seeing how they managed to fit a computer into a size this small; however, it also means that this thing is highly compressed on the inside and is stacked more tightly than a line of people waiting for free pizza. The screw sockets are buried inside 1cm deep screw channels and so the screwdriver I borrowed from a friend of mine didn't work because it was simply too thick to fit inside. I actually had to buy a new screwdriver to lift the internal frame up. Once you manage to do that however, things start looking a little better… until you realize that you have to fuse the Mac mini with its casing again.

Closing up the Mac mini was seriously frightening. First of all, it took me three attempts to get the case to close correctly and between those attempts I had to reopen the case using a knife and the mini lost a bit of plastic and became a bit more deformed every time. That was just depressing. The most irritating part while closing is that 95% of the mini closed properly most of the times I tried to close it but this 1mm of the casing in the backside remained propped up and it was this that basically drove me to the verge of insanity. On top of all this, while closing, the mini makes these horrible plastic-breaking-like sounds which are simply quite unnerving. Once it was closed though, I was probably the most relieved person in the world for the next five minutes, until, of course, I booted the computer up and realized that I didn't install the "mezzanine" card properly and there was no AirPort or Bluetooth. Back to step 1 and repeat… ARGH! God, I honestly felt like shooting someone right then.

Anyway, now that my ordeal is finally at an end, I have decided that I am going to drop my plans to install a faster hard drive in the mini because I, for the love of my happiness, do not ever wish to see the insides of that computer ever again!

PS1: Please don't tell me all that about the Mac mini's not being supposed to be user-upgradeable and how Apple offers free installation for the Airport+Bluetooth module as well as RAM (if you buy it from Apple), etc. I have my reasons and they are valid. I am a huge Mac evangelist myself and I only write this so that someone who can do something about this might read this and the Mac mini might become a tad better.

PS2: I know that I didn't mention the iMac G5 as an excellent user-serviceable machine and that's mostly because Apple took that feature out in 2005 with the excuse of making the thing half an inch thinner at the edges. Totally not worth it, bad decision, &c. 

Comments (3) Posted on at  

  • » By now 2GB DDR1-DIMMS are available, and I can confirm that the PPC Mac mini is upgradable to 2GB now.
  • » Not quite sure why you had so much trouble opening the Mac Mini. Two putty knives and about 15 seconds worth of prying get it open nice and easy. You're right about shaving off some plastic, but being on the bottom of the machine, it's not that big of a deal...
  • » Two putty knives are lying about in just every regular place of inhabitation, eh? I had to use a Swiss Army Knife and it wasn't very gentle. I do not work at a computer store.