One of the Macs in our house is a late 2006 model Mac Mini (MacMini1.1 model MA206LL/A). The machine itself still works hapily with Mac OS X Leopard (10.6), but it only has 2Gb of memory and since its harddisk broke a while ago, it is working from an USB harddisk. All in all technically still OK, but terrible user experience as it is just slow.
Today I did some investigation on the Internet to see to what extend this old machine can still be upgraded and bumped into an interesting overview on xlr8yourmac.com. It turns out that the basics are quite good and with a few changes it can still be used for some time:
- CPU – currently a Core Duo that could be replaced with a Core 2 Duo
The Core Duo processor is a 32-bit one that does not support 64-bit OS X. Fortunately the processor is on a socket (and not soldered to the main board) and its pin layout is identical to Core 2 Duo models. This is also being discussed on Apple’s discussion forum (still exists so Apple is not stopping it) and according to posts on MacRumors.com others have done this successfully, so this is definitely something I will try. Guess what, there is even a step-by-step guide on iFixIT on how to do it!
- Memory – currently limited to 2GB but potentially could support 3Gb (of 2x 2Gb)
Memory is limited to 2Gb (2x 1Gb) with the Core Duo processor, but the Core 2 Duo can support up to 4Gb (2x 2Gb) of memory. Unfortunately the MacMini1.1 model firmware does not support it but it turns out to be possible to flash the firmware of a MacMini2.1 as the folks on the NetKas forum explain. The links to the firmware no longer worked, but I found them on a French Mac Forum thanks to this post. After this upgrade 3Gb can be used, which is still 50% more than the machine had.
There is a separate step-by-step guide on iFixIT for replacing the memory, but I don’t think I will need it as I will do it when I replace the CPU.
- Harddisk – currently broken 5400rpm 80Gb disk, replacing this with a 60Gb SSD harddisk is a no-brainer
Replacing a broken harddisk for an SSD disk is nothing fancy, though it is important to enable Trim support on OS X after replacing it when you use a non-Apple disk. For this I found the excellent tool Chameleon some time ago for my Macbook Pro.
Also for this step there is a step-by-step guide on iFixIT, that I won’t need either as I will install the new harddisk when I replace the CPU.
- Software – currently OS X Leopard (10.6) is the maximum
Replacing the Core Duo CPU for a Core 2 Duo would turn the MacMini1.1 effectively into a Macmini2.1, which is capable of running OS X Lion (10.7) according to discussions on Apple’s discussion forms. There is apparently only one hack needed (removal of a file on the installation media) to be able to perform a clean install according to a discussion on MacRumors.com.
As I am not that uncomfortable with opening my old Mac Mini (did it before when I added memory) and the other steps appear doable, I will give this a shot. I just ordered the components and plan to perform the upgrade next weekend (assuming all parts will be in).