A Memory Upgrade For My Mac Mini

Upgrading / Installing Mac Mini Memory - Article ThumbnailFor years I worked in tech support. I was “that guy” who fixed problems with Macintosh and Windows computers — web servers too. That’s why I enjoyed the challenge of upgrading and installing memory into my Mac Mini desktop. I’ve seen a lot of different computers, but this was the most difficult RAM installation that I’ve attempted. While most modern computers have made it easier to upgrade the hardware, the Mac Mini is a step backwards. That little box is tricky!

It could be argued that the Mac Mini is a descendant of the G4 Cube. That box was a dream to open. You just pushed the bottom handle and then pulled it open. It was like grabbing the reactor core from a sci-fi mainframe, as if cool mist would shoot out from the sides. The G4 Cube was a delight to upgrade. It’s simply not that way with the Mac Mini. To complete this upgrade, I had to get a little barbaric.

Only days before upgrading the RAM in my Mac Mini, I was spackling holes in walls and ceilings with this puddy knife.

When I was little, I used to take apart my toys. I would get frustrated with the toys that didn’t have regular screws. It was as if they didn’t want little kids playing with the innards. I got a similar feeling with the Mac Mini. It’s as if Apple doesn’t want you upgrading the RAM. Flipping over the Mac Mini reveals no apparent entry points. But unfortunately, 1 GB of RAM is simply not enough memory for all of the programs I run.

When the Mac Mini doesn’t have enough RAM to access open applications, it writes virtual memory to the hard drive. Since the hard drive cannot read or write faster than RAM, programs tend to slow down when virtual memory is in use. All that reading and writing puts more strain on the hard drive. To increase the lifespan and performance of my Mac Mini, I had to open the case and upgrade the RAM.

Getting inside is the hardest part. I carefully wedged a puddy knife between the plastic and the metal. This seam is the key. The plastic is holding onto the metal. I used the knife to pry it open. I was careful not to damage the plastic or case itself. I placed the Mac Mini on a blanket to prevent scratching the top of the case. I tried to open the box evenly, but it was not easy. Often, the box would just snap shut again. The Mac Mini puts up a good fight.

Unless the goal is to ruin wiring, you should remove the connector before removing the hard drive.

Once the case is open, the challenge continues. The hard drive is covering the RAM slots. The hard drive doesn’t remove easily either. I had to remove all the metal and wiring in the way first. I only needed two tools for opening up my Mac Mini. I had to use a tiny screw driver to remove the four screws.

There was a significant amount of stress while working on this project. I didn’t want to break my primary computer. It’s still amazing to me, how such a little box is so important for my work. While removing the hard drive, the sound of scraping metal and plastic made me nervous. Yet, that’s just how it is with the Mac Mini. The hard drive doesn’t just slide in, like with a modern desktop. I had to fidget with it first.

My 2009 model of the Mac Mini has two RAM slots for DDR3 RAM.

The two RAM slots rested underneath the hard drive. With the slots exposed, I could upgrade the RAM. I had to remove the existing 1 GB of RAM and then I installed 4 GB of RAM, 2 GB for each slot. The trick is to be gentile but firm. I had to slide the RAM all the way into the slot. The slot is tight, so I had to make sure that the RAM was pushed all the way in. I realize that my article is starting to read like a metaphor for sex, but that’s basically how to describe it. If I didn’t put the RAM in correctly, it wouldn’t work. I didn’t want to close the box only to reopen it again. Also, I didn’t want to damage my Mac Mini. The more I was fussing with the hardware, the greater chance there was of breaking something accidentally. Macs are not cheap. I was working very carefully.

I loaded up the Activity Monitor to see 4 GB of RAM in action.

Even though I was careful, there’s still a sense of anxiety when reassembling the Mac Mini and then turning it back on. I was pleased when I heard that signature Mac start-up sound. There were no sad Mac icons, no black screens, just the typical start-up sequence. I thought I heard something funny with the fan, but it quieted down right away. Just to be sure things were working properly, I launched the “About This Mac” window. My 2 GHz Intel Core 2 Duo was sporting 4 GB of 1067 MHZ DDR3 RAM. Right away I could feel the benefit of this added power. Programs were launching quicker and the hard drive wasn’t working as hard. My computer felt new — better than new. I don’t know why Apple charged $599 for the Mac Mini, but only gave it the bare minimum of memory. RAM is fairly cheap, but not having enough can seriously hinder performance.

I’m glad that I upgraded the memory in my Mac Mini. It was a fun experience. Plus, making my computer more functional computer should make me more productive.