Introduction

Upgrading a Non-SSD Late 2014 Mac Mini to Fusion Drive. Today I have a little treat for you and hopefully, it will save you a little money in the process, although to be honest if you bought the Hard Disk version of the Late 2014 Mac Mini, you will probably be thinking that the little powerhouse is not really that great. To be honest I thought the same and wanted to save the additional £80 for the bottom of the range fusion drive, this was a mistake a big mistake that didn’t quite pass the GAT as it was bought to replace her ageing Windows-based computer, that was nagging to upgrade to Windows 10, when upgraded Sarah really didn’t like the interface it was slow and really not user friendly, and I reverted it back to windows 7 to get the cycle of wanting to be upgraded to windows 10.

As she already had an iMac that I had bought her second hand earlier in the year I thought I would surprise her and get her a 2014 Mac Mini but I didn’t want to go to the expense of having it full SSD and didn’t like the fusion drive idea due to the SSD being only 32Gb in size unlike the older late 2012 model that was a 128Gb drive. So I went ahead and specified the 8Gb of RAM and left the hard drive to be the 5200RPM spinner that is basically the bottom end of the scale. After a short time, it was apparent that the spinner alone with El Capitan wasn’t going to cut it and so I set about looking at how we could upgrade the Mini to the SSD version but with the twist of using a higher capacity drive than the standard fusion drive.

I must also give a shout out to ITMad who supplied me with the SSD, I got the first one wrong (my fault), but these guys were understanding and had very good communications and we got the right part in the end. I can’t actually sing the praises of them any higher and if you would like components for any Apple project then have a look on ITMad’s eBay Page.

Background

Ok we all know the Mac Mini, its been around since 2006, it started out as a cheap way to migrate over to the Mac system without the higher price tag of the higher-end models, it comes as a base unit only, with no screen or peripherals. It was intended that you had your own windows keyboard and mouse as well as the screen (they even provided HDMI to DVI adapter) so that you could use what you already had and then in time buy the keyboard, Mouse and Monitor from Apple at a later stage.

All well and good so far, it used laptop components and you could upgrade the RAM rather easily and the Hard Drive with some degree of complexity up until the late 2012 model, the iServer of mine is an i7 2.3Ghz Quad-Core, that was specced with 4Gb of RAM and a 1Tb drive, I ordered the iFixit kit for the second hard disk and 16Gb of RAM, then set about ordering the SSD’s 2x 1TB mSATA SSD’s for data and my virtual lab, I then also added a Crucial SSD 512 for the OS and applications to run from total cost of that upgrade was around £1000 but had over 2.5Tb’s of SSD’s and could have been 3Tb of SSD storage (still no one has ever created a 2Tb SSD) in comparison the 1.12Tb fusion drive would have cost me £700 and still used a 2.5” 128Gb SSD, whilst good its still using the 5200RPM drive that Apple seems to use in all the range.

Ok so that’s the older models background, the new range from Late 2014, yep the 2014 Mac Mini didn’t get a full overhaul for over two years. Unfortunately, the overhaul came with Apple’s insistence with proprietary screws, soldered on RAM (so what you specify is what you get for life) as well as the new PCIe SSD costing an arm and a leg for full SSD systems but a measly £80 for a fusion drive that they cut down as well. Add to this propriety screws to keep the hobbyist out, making it difficult to upgrade but not impossible.

If you had the tools and knowhow, you could, in theory, open it up and if you had the pure SSD only version add in a second Hard Disk using the iFixit second drive kit from the 2012 Model. The hard part comes when you want to add an SSD when you have only Specified the Hard drive only, yes you can add one but normally only the 2.5” SSD, but you wouldn’t normally be able to upgrade to the PCIe SSD and you would lose the second hard drive as well, Apple has been slightly sneaky in this respect, from experience the room inside the Mac Mini to have retained the Second Hard Disk as well as provided the slot for the PCIe SSD (for sure it would have been tighter but still enough room for good airflow for cooling purposes).

On the upshot of this is that the PCIe SSD has a really high throughput that is not limited to the SATA throttle. In terms of outright speed, the PCIe SSD will top out at 1600 Megabytes per second, whereas my 2Tb Raid 0 array topped out at 600Meg per second due to the SATA port being limited to the 2 channels and PCIe being limited to 8 channels of data.

So what is required for the PCIe SSD project?

So like me, you have bought the non-SSD, non Fusion drive of the late 2014 Mac Mini, and its frustrating the hell out of you waiting for applications and the OS to load, as well as the waiting you do whilst it saves your files. As of today (March 9th 2016) I have google searched and looked for a way that you could do this, Its true that iFixit has a teardown found here, and I can find other posts along the same theme but none to say how you would go about upgrading a non PCIe SSD to a PCIe SSD.

The teardown does show you how to take the 2014 Mac Mini to bits and put it back together but at this point we are only looking to the parts that you will require to make this project a success, Apple being apple do not provide the PCIe cable and Socket to be able to just add a PCIe SSD so the first thing you will need is that component and it will take you some time to look out for it on eBay, I have listed this and a list of part numbers for SSD’s below as well as a pricing guide so that you can make up your own mind as to which size SSD you want.

PCIe SSD Cable and Socket

  • Mac Mini Late 2014 PCIe SSD connector flex cable/cradle – Part 076-00040
    • you can pick these up fairly cheaply and range in price from £30 – £40 plus shipping (generally around £15 for shipping as they are based in the USA)

Compatible SSD’s

Below I have listed the PCIe SSD’s that are comparable with the 2014 Mac Mini generally speaking all PCIe SSD’s from apple in the 128Gb, 256Gb, 512Gb and 1Tb Drives are compatible from the 2014, 2015 models of other apple devices however its best to check with multiple sources or ask the seller if he believes its compatible. I spoke with the seller on Ebay about the one that I bought and he didn’t believe it was and had two versions of the same item, one was for the older style PCIe connector and I ordered that (again because it was cheap, can you see the theme here).

It wasn’t the right version and had to go back and the more expensive one had to be bought from the same seller, I have updated him on the compatibility and will be sending him the link to this blog post. but anyway here is a list of the known PCIe SSD’s that will work with this project and will stop any compatibility issues and the dreaded fan maxing out issue.

  • 128GB Apple SSD  – Sandisk 655-1837C (if you can get the Samsung version all the better)
    • these can be picked up for around £115 to £140 + shipping, the good news is that a lot of Macbook, Macbook Airs (from 2013) and Macbook Pro 2015’s have this drive in it and so you can usually get it with free shipping.
  • 256Gb Apple SSD – Samsung MZ-JPU256T
    • these can be picked up for around £170 to £190. Again have been used in the 2013 Macbook Airs and 2015 Macbook Pro’s
  • 512Gb Apple SSD – unable to find a relevant part number or any for sale 🙁
    • I haven’t actually been able to find this anywhere for sale however Apple do put them in the laptops as per above
  • 1Tb Apple SSD – Samsung MZ-KPU1T0T/0A6
    • now these are really expensive and can only be found in great numbers from the USA, the price ranges from £500 to £1000 + shipping, if you want the ultimate power house plus storage my advice would be very patient with looking for this one (or of you have money to burn find one and buy it)

Make sure that you only buy an Apple version of the PCIe SSD, this is due to the fact that Apple and Samsung have worked together (yes they do work nicely together when not suing each other over mobile phone designs) and produced custom firmware so that the OS and other hardware components can tell if you are using a fake, if it detects a fake then the fans will spin at max speed and the total number of lanes will be restricted as well as the overall speed of the SSD. if you need advice, before purchasing drop me a link to the sale to my email address, I will check it out and advise on if it is compatible or not free of charge.

Tools required

You didn’t think you wouldn’t need any special tools did you? Personally I have the iFixit kit from the 2012 Mac mini second HDD kit but I still required an extra tool that I was able to pick up relatively cheaply to be able to actually get into the Mac mini Apple have now decided to make the screws smaller and have added a security peg to the centre of the star bit. I have seen people who have files this peg down and used a normal TR6 star bit, but for an extra £3 (£8ish with next day shipping) is it really worth that effort?. Personally, I am glad I purchased my T6s bit as I had to open the Mac Mini up twice due to ordering the wrong SSD. the other tools that you will require are as follows

  • Plastic Opening Tools
  • TR6 Torx Security Screwdriver
  • T5 Torx Screwdriver
  • T9 Torx Screwdriver

if you already have the iFixit kit then you should only really need to be concerned about the TR6 Torx Security Screwdriver. I bought mine from an online tool centre called Rowland tools who can be found here. Technically you can get away without using the opening tools kit as I personally used a thin ruler top pop the bottom off and the other tools should be any self respecting IT technicians tool box already.

Installing the SSD

Still with me? Good, back in the good old days of 2012 when the Mac Mini had upgradeable RAM they produced the bottom of the mac mini with a twist off plastic plate so that you could without tools upgrade the RAM, jump to 2014 and all of a sudden the thumb indents are gone and they have made it a pop off system to basically scare of any amateur upgraders, plus without upgradeable RAM why would you need to be in the system in the first place?

As only Apple technicians (geniuses as they like to be referred to) can technically swap out the storage if something were to go wrong. But we are in this blog disprove that little myth. In this section I will show you hoot open your Mac Mini and install the SSD Storage as well as show you a few tips to put it back together again, if your wanting to install a secondary SSD into the 2.5″ bay then I would suggest that you follow the iFixit post on how to do this as I am really only going to show you the PCIe install the lazy mans way.

NOTE:- Please back up your computer to a suitable media such as external hard disk or TimeCapsule device, make sure everything is current and if possible take two backups just in case. performing the actions beyond this point has the ability to wipe your drive and you will not be able to get the information back without expensive recovery options. That being said at this point we won’t be touching the data but in the setup phase we will be and so its a good point just to backup now whilst the computer is still functional.

  • Get your mac mini and lay it upside down on something soft (I used my mousepad)
    IMG_3233
  • Using something slim and blunt insert it into the gap between the plastic bottom and the aluminium case, became full with this step as you really don’t want to mark the surfaced of the Mac Mini. using a little force this should just pop off to reveal the now full size antenna plate for the Airport Extreme and Bluetooth card
    IMG_3235
  • Ok this is where you will need your TR6 Security Hex Key
    IMG_3244
  • slowly but surely remove the Peg screws but leave the others in place for the moment, a little tip for when it comes to putting it all back together again is to mark these screw holes with a permanent marker, this just helps with getting the orientation correct.
    IMG_3284
  • now remove the remaining 3 TR6 screws. and lift the antenna plate CAREFULLY as it is attached to the PCIe Airport card on the logic board, rather than removing the cable from the airport card you have enough space to work on what we are working on, so just carefully move the antenna plate to one side (at this point take a couple of moment out to admire the simplicity and workmanship of the apple designers optional step but I do it every time I open a new Mac).
    IMG_3245
  • How cool is that we are now at the point when we can install the PCIe flex cable and SSD, so get your cable and SSD ready but make sure you keep it on the anti static bag until you are ready to fit them
    IMG_3232
  • the first thing we need to do is to locate the pegs for the Socket to sit in. To start with I would keep the cover on the sticky on just to do a dry fit, once you are comfortable in its fitting then remove the backing from the sticky pad and locate snugly, at the other end of the flex cable, press the socket home gently to avoid breaking the socket on the board or flex cable, you will feel a slight click as it locates its home position.
    IMG_3247
  • Install the provided cover on the logic board and screw down with the provided T6 screws (I didn’t get a shot of this 🙁 )
  • now insert your SSD into the new socket and screw into place with the T6 screw (again no shot of this either… I am slipping)
  • Sit back and admire your handy work, then work on the reversal of the removal process to put it back together

Ok so we have the PCIe flex cable installed and the PCIe SSD of your choosing installed, that wasn’t so bad was it?. Unless you are replacing the Hard Drive as well its a pretty straight forward install for the hardware, as you have probably guessed I sourced all my bits from Ebay but other outlets and auction sites are available.

Now that we have got the SSD installed the next section is going to set this up to work for you, it does get rather involved and you do have to use the terminal commands. obviously, this is for a system with data already on it and if you wish to create the fusion drive or keep the two separate drives its really up to you. personally if you have the 1Tb model SSD and a 2Tb HDD then you may want to create a 3Tb Fusion drive or keep the 1Tb SSD for the OS and applications and the 2Tb drive for stuff you really don’t want fast access to, again personal preference, but I am going to show you how to create the Fusion drive as this is what I have done for Sarah’s Mac Mini owing to the size of the drives. It was also a really good learning tool for me as well as I have only used macs where the drives were not fusion drives.

Setting up Fusion Drive when upgrading a Mac with SSD and HDD

Ok so now your new shiny SSD is in place and you are about to go turn on the Mac Mini, but before you do you need to think about how you are going to use this new drive, in essence, you have two options, if you have the 256 or higher drive you could use this new drive as the OS and applications drive and just store your files and documents on the HDD which will give you a very fast computer or you can create a fusion drive.

Personally, I have only ever saw the need for a fusion drive with Sarah’s Mac Mini (the one that we are discussing in this post) the reason I thought the fusion drive was useful in this case was because I built it with the 128Gb SSD and she had the 512Gb HDD already. checking the usage of the drive at the time Sarah had two virtual PC’s and was using 189GB of space, her Virtual’s alone took up 100Gb the rest was organic data, OS files and applications. Wit the way that the fusion drive works it will put all the OS and application files on the fast storage for you and all the slower or less active files on the HDD automatically. With Sarah not being a technically minded as myself (I really hope she agree’s with that comment) and not wanting to have to show her and remind her how and where to save items, I decided that the Fusion drive was the way forward as its an automatic process and all Sarah will see is the single drive and not have to worry about how to use her system, basically keeping the Apple mantra of Simple, Stylish and Functional.

Ok so we know we want a fusion drive for simplicity but if your computer didn’t come with the fusion and have El Capitan then you are going to have a few issues due to Apple removing the options to create the fusion drive using the GUI but they have left all the options in place using the terminal commands, yes the terminal is a very scary place to be and it being the terminal assumes you know what you are doing, so I would suggest writing out what the command is (or printing this page) and then double check and triple checking before pressing the enter key (basically the computer believe everything you tell it to do and will not ask for permission to do it as, all the permission it needs is a press of the enter key).

All being said like I said its pretty easy to get your head around and with this guide, I will walk you through it. As I have said in other posts don’t just take my word for it with the commands, double check them with another source and learn about the commands you are about to commit, as not everyone out on the internet is wanting to help you and they are out just to upset you for their own pleasure, that being said I get far more satisfaction from helping people learn Unix and Linux as well as Windows users, mainly helping with the Linux and Unix issues and helping them understand the terminal is very, very satisfying as the more people migrate to Mac and other Linux operating systems the more the market share of Windows falls. Not that I have a particular issue with Microsoft products, its just Windows 10 and the way they are basically pushing this on its customers really does grind my gears, free or not the forcible installation of any software or OS onto a users machine is basically a virus in my book (although Apple are allowed to get away with this and the U2 Album as I actually did like the album).

NOTE:- Please back up your computer to a suitable media such as external hard disk or TimeCapsule device, make sure everything is current and if possible take two backups just in case. All actions beyond this point will wipe your existing data for which you will not be able to get back without very expensive data recovery. I say this with respect but all commands from this point WILL delete your data for which I and Ghouletech Ltd take no responsibility for you

Ok so we have the obligatory warning that all your data will be lost out of the way so we can proceed on how to create the Fusion Drive, when you add an SSD to a Non SSD Mac you are basically going to follow the same basic steps as if you have owned the Fusion drive model but for some reason you had to replace either the SSD or HDD, and so had to break the Fusion Drive, If we look at it in Matrimonial terms its basically we are about to Marry the two drives to each other after they have been Divorced once before. This section is being split into three parts as you will need a bootable USB drive with the latest install of El Capitan installed and I also have to assume that you have never restarted a Mac into the recovery console or from a USB drive (or in Target Disk mode before (a new world of pain)).

Creating the USB boot media

I am about to show you all how to make a bootable version of El Capitan (or Mavericks/Yosemite) the steps are pretty much identical, to be fair to make it all graphical and lovely some nice people have made a utility called Diskmaker X 5, which works rather well if you really, really don’t want to make the media yourself. What you will need for this section is below. Personally, I would I have a couple of these on me and in my toolkit as you never know when you will need a bootable OSX build ( also have bootable build disks for all windows versions as well but thats a whole load of other fun for you in later blogs).

  • An 8Gb or larger USB pen Drive.
    • With the cheapness of USB drives at the moment, an 8 or 16Gb won’t cost you more that £5.
  • A Fresh download of El Capitan from the App store on or a couple of days before you do this project as this will ensure you have the most recent revision of the OS.
    • Mavericks or Yosemite work as well but if you have El Capitan already then use the version you will eventually be restoring. The App store has all your previous OS purchases that you can re-download at any time any that you skipped or never installed you will either have to have a good friend with a copy or your out of luck I’m afraid.
  • An Apple computer that is up and running.
    • Obviously, you will need the OS to be up and running so that you can download and make this USB disk.
  • This guide
    • or any of the guides that are out on the internet that will show you how to make a boot disk, but like I said check the source and commands with another source.

If you need to, then print this page for your reference, however, if you forget to print this, then if you use the option to use online help from the recovery, you can then browse back to this page using safari.

On with the media build. as this is all in terminal and GUI you should be ok at creating the media, honest. Here is what you need to do:

  • Connect the USB drive to your Mac.
  • Using Disk Utility, format the USB drive as Mac OS Extended (Journaled), and name it OSXElCapitan.
    • This can be done from the Erase tab within the app; make sure that there are no multiple partitions (turn to the Partition tab to verify and correct this)
  • Open Terminal (it is found in the same folder as the Disk Utility app).
  • Use (paste) the following command:
    • sudo /Applications/Install\ OS\ X\ El\ Capitan.app/Contents/Resources/createinstallmedia –volume /Volumes/OSXElCapitan –applicationpath /Applications/Install\ OS\ X\ El\ Capitan.app –nointeraction.
  • Type in your user password, when required, to start the process.

Based on my experience, this is the best method of creating a bootable OS X 10.11 El Capitan USB drive. It delivers consistent results every time, and does not cause any issues.

Because it is barebones, the tool does not provide any indication as to how much time is left until the process completes. It usually takes around half an hour in my case, but this depends on the speed of the USB drive as the faster it is the sooner this step is over and you can relax the scary terminal has been conquered time for a welcome drink before you go off and do the scary stuff with the Hardware and come back nice and relaxed to pursue the more daunting tasks yet to come.

Booting a Mac from a USB drive

Now that you have a bootable OS X 10.11 El Capitan USB drive, you should know how to install the operating system on your Mac.

  • Restart the Mac or power it on with the USB Drive inserted into a USB port on the back of your Mac
  • As soon as you hear the chime from the speak, press the Option key,
  • choose to boot from this USB drive. If you have a really quick internet connection you technically could boot from the Internet but its much quicker from the USB drive
  • Wait for a few minutes, as its booting from a USB drive it will take longer to boot, but eventually, the install or recovery screen will appear

Creating the Fusion Drive

Ok so now you should be sat at the recovery console, and you don’t seem to have many options here and it really doesn’t look like you have the Terminal available, the first warning that I have to state is that this option will remove the recovery partition from your computer unless you use the exact version of OSX that your machine shipped with, so if your machine shipped with Yosemite and you are using the El Capitan OSX version to install a fresh copy then unfortunately you will lose the recovery partition (so no more CMR+R) if you are going to be installing a fresh copy of OSX, however if you are going to be restoring your disk fro time machine then you will have the recovery partition restored as well.

I will assume that you have taken all my advice so far and have a valid backup (I assume no responsibility for your loss of data I have warned you twice already about how you are going to lose it). Obviously this comes down to your personal preference, If your computer is full of clutter or out dated no longer apps it can be a good idea to re-install the latest OSX Clean and then restore your files from the times capsule backup from the migrate your computer wizard (yep that little box that annoys you when you have a new Mac is actually really useful and can essentially clone your Mac settings from one computer to another using TimeMachine backups).

The first thing that you will need to do is to remove all and format all the partitions on the SSD and HDD drives, you can do this with the Disk utility option as you would any other drive because you have booted from the USB drive this is an available option, if you booted into the recovery partition you would not be able to remove the partitions on the original OS drive (because your using it).

To remove the partitions on the drive you can either at this stage use disk util or use the terminal. I would say at this point keep it simple and use the GUI, format the drive as “Mac OS Extended (Journaled)”. once you have done this close down Disk Util and it should return you to the options menu of the recovery drive. This next bit is Terminal only as Apple removed the creation of a fusion drive from the GUI (annoying but then technically if you bought your mac with a fusion drive you should never need to use this utility). to build the fusion drive you will need to do the following.

  • Open the terminal from the top menu bar under “Utilities” this will give you the Terminal window.
  • At the Terminal Window, you will need to know which devices you want to put into matrimonial harmony.
    • as a stab in the dark, these will be Dev 0 as the SSD and Dev 1 as the HDD as we no longer have Optical drives
    • just to check run this command distil list make a note of the drives and the sizes
  • now we are going to destroy the portions on the drive using the following command
    • diskutil cs deleteVolume < insert fusion logical volume ID here >
    • replace the Device ID with the device ID of the drive so Dev 0 or Dev 1 and do both drives (but not the SSD unless you hate life at this point)
  • OK so no partitions on either the HDD or SSD now :), lets press on and get the Fusion drive setup.
  • The next command you will need the two Device names from above, as you have already found this out and deleted the Drives you should know these
    • diskutil cs createLVG “Fusion Drive” /dev/disk0 /dev/disk1
      • To break this down the “diskutil” part is basically disk utility
      • The “cs” part  stands for Core Storage, basically the physical drives inside the Mac
      • The createLVG is basically creating the Logical Volume Group, this lets the cat out the bag its basically software RAID
      • The “Fusion Drive” is going to be the name of the Volume you can change this to whatever you want it to be so long as you keep the quotes
      • /dev/disk0 and /dev/disk1 are the two physical drives
  • So thats it, you currently have a Mac Mini (or other Mac computer) with a fusion drive. all you need to do now is restore or reinstall OSX
  • To reinstall/restore, you will need to reboot the Mac and boot again to the USB device.
    • If you are restoring follow the time machine option
    • if you are doing a fresh install follow the install OSX option
  • Once you have installed of reinstalled OSX reboot your Mac without the USB disk connected and all should boot from the new Fusion drive.
  • As soon as everything has been confirmed to work (well at least to the logon screen) go for a nice hot cup of tea, coffee or something stronger as well as a celebratory cake.

Ok so you now have a fusion drive and its all booting fine and dandy, what you will notice is that for the first couple of hours (or a couple of days depending on the amount of data) it will run like a dog, my advice is to leave the machine on over night to let the Fusion Drive index and sort itself out. Thats it not only have you installed a PCIe SSD into a non SSD 2014 Mac Mini, you have created a Fusion Drive.

A word from Sarah

At this point, I want to hand over the blog to Sarah so that she can add her comments and thoughts on having a non SSD Mac Mini and how the new Fusion Drive setup works for her in regards to the speed increase that she has experienced. So over to the boss.

The Mac mini and 27″ monitor is my ‘office computer’, it’s the main computer that customers see. I needed it to be fast and reliable, which isn’t what it always was. Often making excuses as to why I couldn’t check a booking and going back to old fashioned pen and paper. Since Seb installed our state of the art network and all of the above, I can now say it is fault-free.

It looks the business and performs without fail now. So for £115 my office computer – the Mac mini is a fast and reliable machine and works like a Mac should. People often make comments, but I think that’s more to do with the big monitor. If I wanted I could have 4 windows open and work efficiently from all of them. However as this Blog is about upgrading the Mac mini, as a summary I can say that Seb has done what has never been documented on the internet before or at least he can’t find anything, in fact, we have seen it said that it could not be done. I’m as happy as a happy person eating Reeces donuts on a summers day.