macZilla Core i5 Mac mini gets an SSD drive upgrade, the operation was a success

Posted by Paul Braren on Jan 22 2013 in
  • Apple
  • Mac
  • OSX
  • A family member's Core i5 Mac Mini 2011 started life with 4GB of RAM, a 500GB traditional (slow, 5400) hard drive, and respectable discreet graphics. A very efficient and cool little beast. It fit the bill, fairly cheap, rather portable, and runs OS X and Windows very nicely, without putting out a lot of heat. Important, given it'll spend its days in close quarters.

    But macZilla needed a little love and attention. So on March 19th 2012, it got a boost to its memory, CPU, disk, and gained a second disk, all stuffed into its tiny body. OS X was Carbon Copy Cloner'd onto the 750GB Momentus XT Hybrid, and Windows 8 installed on the Corsair Force GT 120GB SSD. Dual boot, works great, with slick UEFI interface. The Windows 8 drive can even be run as a VM from OS X, using VMware Fusion. Nice! Details explained at “macZilla” Core i5 Mac mini: more RAM + hybrid drive + SSD drive = completely successful surgery for fast Windows 7 VM that dual boots too!

    But time wore on, and free space on the 128GB SSD grew very small. You know how that goes. Luckily, prices also fell on the 256GB SSDs. So when the time came this month to double the capacity of the SSD, we went with the current king of the hill, the Samsung Electronics 840 Pro 256GB SSD MZ-7PD256BW. It is clearly beloved by the reviewers. Here's one example, and another. In the end, this upgrade was a success, with the usual bumps in the road that revealed some interesting findings.

    1) Flash firmware on the Samsung 840 Pro

    Using my tZilla Lenovo W520 laptop running Windows 8, and my handy eSATAp cable, this was easy, just used the Samsung SSD Magician 3.2 from October 31, 2012, and the firmware 1.0 to go with it, for this one fix:

    Improved 'dirty drive' write performance.

    This flashing took seconds, and completed uneventfully, prompting me to shut down and powered off for it to take effect. I powered up again, and took a quick look at Device Manager, which proved the firmware "took".

    2) Clone from 128GB SSD to 256GB SSD?

    Nevermind, how about a restore from the home server instead...

    Couldn't use EaseUS Todo Backup or Acronis True Image 2012 bootable CDs to clone the Windows 8 that lived on the Corsair 120GB Force GT SSD. Why? Well, it couldn't even see the new drive to clone to, despite me setting it as MBR and partitioning it as one NTFS drive. This was likely something about the Linux-based boot media flat out not recognizing the device, on a hardware level. I even tried 2 different SATA to USB 2.0 adapters, including the INEO USB 2.0 to SATA adapter. Neither worked. So in the end, we cared more about getting this done than figuring out boot media. So we just went with restoring from the last daily backup from my Windows Server 2012 Essentials (Release Candidate). Worked nicely, albeit slowly, with the restore of 100GB taking ~4 hours. We went with the faster-than-USB 2.0 SATA2 compatible eSATAp cable. Didn't bother testing a USB 3.0 to SATA adapter, since in general, USB 3.0 is not seen by cloning boot media. Come to think of it, the WinPE based Windows Server 2012 Essentials restore CDs might support USB 3.0, I'll need to try that sometime.


    3) Open up the Mac Mini, remove the old drive

    You'll note we were using the iFixit Pro Tech Tookit. You see, we didn't have the have the actual Mac Mini Dual Hard Drive Kit handy to eject the motherboard. An uh oh moment. So we got creative, and used some Estes model rocket keys instead. It all worked out quite nicely, following along with the iFixit's excellent Installing Mac Mini Mid 2011 Dual Hard Drive Kit instructions displayed on a nearby iPad.

    see the patient on the operating table, with iPad and iFixit instructions nearby
    you can see the underside of the Corsair SSD in the view of Mac Mini with bottom lid off
    out with the old [SSD removed], bottom drive bay now empty
    Estes Model Rocket launch keys double as nice mobo eject tool

    4) Replace with new drive, reassemble

    rubber bumpers help add height to the 7mm SSD
    yeah, it’s skinny
    in with the new Samsung Pro 840 256GB SSD, ready to close the lid and boot er up!

    5) Test

    Mac Mini booted right up, just by hitting option as the display signal brings monitor to grey background, and choosing Windows. Then we verified that SATA3 6Gb/sec speed was seen on the Mac Mini, indeed, CrystalDiskInfo says SATA/600.

    Crystal Disk Info showing SATA 600

    But for some mysterious reason not yet identified, I'm getting a bit lower-than-expected throughput during ATTO Disk Benchmark tests, seen below. Not as low as SATA2 (capped around 200MB/sec), but still, not quite the 480-520MB/sec I was expecting to see at least somewhere along the curve, at any Queue Depth.

    2011 Mac Mini running Windows 8, running ATTO against Samsung 840 Pro 256GB drive

    I'll admit that ATTO isn't the best benchmark for SSDs around. But we simply ran out of time to spend on this, with macZilla now far from home again, doing it's daily differential backups over VPN.

    Of course, that solid performing Corsair drive hand-me-down will find new home in the extended family's arsenal of laptops, or in vZilla, soon enough. Reduce/reuse/recycle, through simple re-purposing. I'll probably wipe it with PARTED Magic first though, to make sure I'll see factory fresh speeds.

    Jan 22 2015 Update:

    See also How to use PARTED Magic’s Secure Erase to restore performance of your home lab’s abused SSDs