How can I turn my external hard drive into the system / C drive on a Mac mini?

Ralph Sepulveda January 31, 2011
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Here’s my dilemma: the Mac mini I’m buying comes with (for me) a drive with inadequate storage (360 GB) and slowish speed (5400 rpm).

I would much prefer a drive with 500 GB to 1 TB capacity running @ 7200 rpm. However, replacing the internal drive on a Mac mini is an insanely and unconscionably complicated procedure, which I would rather avoid if possible.

It would be much easier to get an external with those specs. See what I mean?

  1. Aibek
    February 17, 2011 at 5:47 am

    Hey Ralph,

    Were you able to make use of the recommendations from Mike? Let us know.


  2. Mike
    January 31, 2011 at 11:48 pm

    You can go ahead without any fears!

    If it's an Intel Mac Mini you can boot from any USB, FW400 or FW800 drive.
    If it's an older Mac Mini with an PPC processor you'll have to use an external HDD with Firewire connection (FW400 or FW800).

    The Basic Process is as following:

    boot up from the Installation DVD:
    - Turn the Mac on
    - Insert the Installation DVD
    - press and hold C until your Mac start booting from the DVD

    at the Installation Screen after you have chosen the setup language:
    - click on Utilities in the top menu bar and select "Disk Utility"
    - select the external Hard Drive (it should be named like "500GB Seagate" or so)

    To use the entire Disk for your Mac OS X Installation
    - in the right window click on the "Partition" tab
    - at Volume Scheme select "1 Partition"
    - give it any name e.g. "Macintosh HD" and as Format select "Mac OS Extended (Journaled)
    - at the very bottom click on "Options..." and select the first "GUID Partition Table"
    - click on OK to close that window and at the bottom right click on "Partition"

    You will have one 500GB Partition.

    Now you can close the Disk Utility (cmd + q) and proceed with the installation.
    All you have to do is select the external HDD (distinguishable via the icon) as Installation Target.

    I also suggest to click on "Customize" before you hit the Install button. For example you can save hard drive space by installing only the Language and other things you need.

    If you are installating Snow Leopard (Mac OS X 10.6*) you won't need to install any of the printer drivers. All Printers that are supported will be recognized my Mac OS X and the latest driver automatically downloaded. You will also want to install Rosetta right away since sooner or later one program will ask for it.

    Since it seems like you want the maximum space for Mac OS X I left out dual-partition options and the possibility of using MBR and FAT32 for full Windows compatibility (neither effects the usage of Boot Camp or Virtualization).

    • Mike
      February 1, 2011 at 12:26 am

      I forgot to add...

      If your Mac already has Mac OS X Installed [which all new Mac's and most second hand Macs have] you should "wipe" the internal Hard Drive the same way you do with the external before Installation.
      Otherwise you might end up booting from the Internal drive without noticing.