Upgrading the 2014 Mac mini to Solid State Storage

The late 2014 Mac mini, unlike all of the other Mac mini’s before it, features soldered on RAM as well as very difficult to access hard drive that is not intended to be user replaceable. Because of this, along with the lack of a quad core i7 option, have led people who wanted Mac minis to go for a used 2012 model. Since I purchased my Mac mini for work, I settled with a late 2014 because I wanted the warranty as well as the newer processor as well as longer support for macOS. I settled on the 2.6Ghz Core i5 with 16GB of RAM and the molasses slow 1TB 5400 RPM hard drive. Since I was spoiled by the performance of the PCIe SSD found in my late 2013 Retina MacBook Pro I didn’t know how slow macOS is on spinning media. It is *really* slow, to the point where my MacBook was a faster development machine. The whole point of buying the Mac mini was so that I didn’t have to dock in my MacBook Pro to my monitors and peripherals every time I needed to get work done. So after months of putting up with molasses slow disk reads and writes I decided to look into a SSD upgrade. After watching a few YouTube videos on replacing the internal HD I realized that not only is it excessively difficult for a hard drive replacement but that there are so many things I could end up breaking along the way. I need my mini for work and I was not so keen on opening up a new $800 computer. So I looked at external drives and saw USB was an option, however there were some drawbacks. USB 3.0 has a max throughput of 5.0Gbps and SATA is 6.0 so I wouldn’t be getting the full bandwidth. UASP compatible SATA to USB connectors promised almost full SATA like performance since it attaches USB over SCSI. This is also supposed to enable TRIM support but from what I read macOS does not allow TRIM over USB. So USB 3.0 was out, so what other high speed connection is there on the Mac mini. Thunderbolt of course! With a 20Gbps link speed, Thunderbolt 2 is still a very fast standard and provides more than enough head room for SATA. I finally came across the AKiTiO Thunder SATA Go, an external Thunderbolt dock that connects SATA to eSATA to Thunderbolt, negotiating a full 6Gbps link speed. Since this is basically like a direct SATA uplink TRIM is natively supported on SSDs. Sweet. Paired with a Samsung 1TB 850 EVO and you have an absolutely killer SSD upgrade for your Mac mini without even opening it up. This convenience does come at a cost however as the Thunder SATA Go is $95, a price you would not have to pay if you just upgraded the disk internally. I think it’s worth it though since I was able to get up and running in about 2 hours after cloning my hard drive to my SSD using SuperDuper!, setting it to my start up disk, and then erasing my spinning hard drive. I now have 1TB of super fast solid state storage and 1TB of bulk spinning storage which is more than I will ever need for a development machine but boy was it worth it. Boot time, app start up time, and overall system responsiveness have increased 10 fold. Feels like a different computer now, finally a true replacement for my MacBook Pro.

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