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Despite iFixit scoring the recent Retina MacBook Pro models 2/10 for repairability, the new Mac Mini managed an 8/10. This tiny-but-powerful computer has always offered a way to make future upgrades possible, housed in an easy-to-access case, with upgradable parts that aren’t permanently soldered into the system.

While Apple provides a convenience when you choose to upgrade specs through them before you even get your Mac Mini, you’ll be paying heavily for that convenience. If you’d like to save some money and are willing to put in a bit of effort, it’s actually a good idea to go with lower specs and then upgrade yourself.

If you’ve just picked up a Mac Mini, here are some tips on what to upgrade and how to do it.

How Can You Upgrade?

First off, a Mac Mini is similar in concept to a laptop. It has an access panel so that you can get to the upgradable parts, but it isn’t as flexible as a full PC desktop. Long story short, this means that there are only two parts you can easily upgrade: the RAM (memory) and the hard drive.

Some users have had success replacing Mac Mini processors and power supplies, but these are complex operations that we won’t be covering today (both are considered “difficult” by iFixit standards).

What RAM Should You Get?

The easiest way to determine what RAM you need is by clicking the Apple in the top left corner of your screen, choosing About This Mac, and then clicking on More Info. Finally, click on the Memory tab.

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This will show you how much memory is currently installed, how many slots your Mac has (filled and empty), and the type of RAM that it takes (most likely 1333 or 1600 MHz).

Since the Mid-2010 model, the Mac Mini supports up to 16GB of RAM instead of the previous 8GB, so you can divide that number by the amount of slots to find out how big each individual RAM stick can be at most.

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When shopping for RAM, brand is something to consider just like you would for a PC system – some are known for their quality, others aren’t. Two brands that I’ve heard the most good things about are Crucial and Corsair, so I’d recommend to go for either of those if you aren’t sure.

Getting RAM for your Mac Mini is pretty easy. Most online retailers such as NewEgg have subcategories specifically for RAM compatible with Macs, just make sure to read the item descriptions for known compatibility. Most manufacturers also have websites for helping you choose the right RAM for your Mac, like this one from Crucial and this from Corsair.

You could also get the RAM directly from Apple, but that will cost you a lot of money – 16GB from Apple costs $400! On the other hand, getting 16GB of RAM from Crucial via NewEgg will cost you just $162. Getting second-hand RAM for Macs is also possible on websites like eBay, but you won’t be completely assured that there’s nothing wrong with the product you’re buying.

Upgrading the RAM

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If you have a mid-2010 model or newer of the Mac Mini, upgrading the RAM is very simple. In fact, Apple even gives instructions on how to do this yourself rather than directing you to an Apple Authorized Service Provider, as it does for all models prior to the mid-2010 model.

If you’re using an older model of the Mac Mini, you’re going to have a much harder time. You could just go to a Service Provider and have them do it for you, but that’ll cost money. You could also do it yourself, but not only will it be much harder to do, but it’ll also void your warranty which won’t happen if you go to the Service Provider.

That being said, the process of getting into those Mac Minis is tricky, so it’s best explained by this video:

Choosing A Hard Drive

There are a few things you need to keep in mind when shopping for a hard drive for your Mac Mini. To fit correctly, the hard drive needs to be 2.5 inches in length and 9.5mm in thickness.

It doesn’t matter whether the hard drive is a traditional one or a solid state drive (although I’d certainly recommend an SSD Should You Get A Solid State Drive (SSD)? [Opinion] Should You Get A Solid State Drive (SSD)? [Opinion] If you've kept up with some of the latest news about new computer parts, you may have heard about SSDs, or solid state drives. They are designed to replace your clunky, slow hard drive and... Read More ) as long as it uses a SATA connection.

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Besides these requirements, you’re free to pick whichever hard drive you want. Just be sure that you’ll be able to clone the hard drive’s contents over to your new hard drive, or have a method of reinstalling OS X How To Reinstall Mac OS X For A Fast, Squeaky-Clean Mac How To Reinstall Mac OS X For A Fast, Squeaky-Clean Mac Just like Windows, prolonged use of a Mac slows down the operating system. When you've been hoarding data and applications for over a year, the difference in performance starts to show. It just doesn't run... Read More and restoring your personal data at hand.

Upgrading the Hard Drive

If you have an older model (pre-Mid 2010) and paid attention to the above video, you’ll have noticed that when you removed the optical drive from the rest of the system and placed it aside, the other side of that hunk of electronics holds the hard drive. It’s held in place by four screws – taking those away lets you replace the hard drive easily.

If you have the Mid 2010 model or newer, you’ll still have to work towards reaching the hard drive — it’s certainly not as easy as reaching the RAM. For this, you’ll definitely want to follow iFixit’s guide to replacing the hard drive, which includes lots of pictures.

Conclusion

Hopefully these instructions have given you a good idea of what it takes to perform upgrades on various Mac Mini models. Upgrading the RAM on the Mid 2010 or newer models is very simple to do, but the older models make it harder, and replacing the hard drive can be tough for all models (but possible).

It’s always easier to go have a professional take care of your upgrades as it’ll also keep your warranty intact, or to just order your computer with the specifications you want ahead of time if you have the money to do so.

Of course, you can also try to speed up your Mac without spending money How To Speed Up Your Mac Computer Without Spending Cash How To Speed Up Your Mac Computer Without Spending Cash Read More  or upgrading the operating system OS X Mavericks is Free: Here's How To Get It & Why You Want It OS X Mavericks is Free: Here's How To Get It & Why You Want It Apple really outdid itself this time. The words "software sells hardware" never rung more true, and now that OS X Mavericks is free to all, isn't it about time you got on-board? Read More if you haven’t already. Also, if you don’t mind these kinds of upgrades, you may be able to save some money by buying a refurbished Mac Buying A Refurbished Mac? Here’s What You Need To Know Buying A Refurbished Mac? Here’s What You Need To Know No one wants to lay down a wad of cash for a dinged-up, battered second-hand computer - here’s what you need to know on your search for a pristine, but affordable, refurb. Read More .

How well have your Mac Mini upgrades gone? Is there anything fellow readers should be especially cautious of? Let us know in the comments!

Image Credit: Julien Houbrechts Via Flickr, Nicholas Erwin

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