May 05

The hard drives in the new 2018 Mac mini are PCIe which means they are very fast, but also expensive. Unlike previous models, you cannot upgrade the internal hard drive. It is soldered in. But thanks to the USB-C interface on the new Mac Mini, an external SSD drive is now a good option. I chose to buy the smaller (and cheaper) 250GB Mac Mini and supplement it with a 500GB external SSD drive.

USB-C Gen 2 can handle the speeds of most (but not all) SSD drives. So unless you want a very high-end solution, you’ll be fine using an external SSD over USB. An external SSD drive plugged in via USB-C will only be 1/5 the speed of the new internal PCIe drives, but it’s still fast. The external SSD drive on my new mac mini is faster than the internal non-PCIe SSD drive on my previous mac mini.

1. Buying a drive.

My first purchase was a Samsung S5. It’s fast, it’s USB-C Gen 2, and it’s cheap. But it caused a 30-second delay each time my mac booted up. Apparently, this is a common problem nnd Apple support were unable to help me resolve it.

The Samsung T5 is fast but has compatibility problems with Apple.

The drive I ended up using was the Seagate Fast SSD. It’s fast and works well. I purchased the 500GB version. I’ve already filled it up so end hindsight I publish should have gone for the 1 TB version but I was trying to save soem money.

I’ve had no problems with the Seagate Fast SSD.

2. What to put on it.

Now that you’ve connected your drive you need to choose which data to store on it. I used to recommend using your new SSD as the boot drive, but given that the internal SSD drive is now faster, you are better off booting off your internal drive and just putting some files on the external drive.

I kept OSX and my applications on my internal boot drive, as well as my users home folder. So my internal SSD drive looks like this:

  • Applications
  • Library
  • System
  • Users

I moved most the large folders from inside my Users folder onto my external SSD. I did not change my home folder to be the external SSD. I copied the files out of my home folder. I did al this when I was migrating the data accross form my old MAc because it did not all fit in my new Users folder.

Here’s what I moved to my new external SSD Drive:

  • Documents (from my user folder – 40GB)
  • Downloads (from my user folder – 5GB)
  • Mainstage Sounds (from System Folder – 60GB)
  • Movies (from my user folder – 10GB)
  • Music (from my user folder – 60GB)
  • Pictures (from my user folder including my photos library – 140GB)

When you move your Music, Pictures and MainStage files you need to tell iTunes, Apple Photos and Mainstage the new location.

For iTunes, firstly copy all your music files across to the new SSD. (users/yourname/music/iTunes) Then go to Preferences, Advanced, and find ‘iTunes Media folder location’. Click ‘Change’ and select the new folder.

For Photos you need to copy the folder called ‘Photo’s Library’ across, then restart the Photos App while holding the Option key. This gives you the option to select your new Photo library from the external SSD.

Hold down option while launching Photos t get this window.

Photos should open the newly copied library and you should be able to see your photos. If that is the case then go to preferences and select ‘use as System Photo Library’ to make this change permanent.

If you select ‘use as System Photo Library’ it will change your default Photos folder location.

There are some applications that will still want to use files from within your home folder on your internal SSD. That’s okay. I allow them to do that.

I find it helpful in my own mind to know which files are where so I have my documents, my music and my photos on my external SSD and I have everything else on my internal one.

But you can arrange them how you like.

5 Responses to “Adding an SSD to the new 2018 Mac Mini”

  1. Ross Smith says:

    Hello Wayne – This article answered a question I’ve had about buying a Mac mini and its small amount of internal storage. I chatted with Apple support yesterday. They only spoke in generalities, so I said goodbye once that became obvious. Instead of needing to go into an Apple store, I have the answer in your article!

    I am not sure I need the speed of an external SSD, however, I will price them now. We use a 2011 iMac for using the internet, viewing photos and also watching TV. Its display is going, its internal HD is failing, and I cannot find a good repair shop. Everything about the mini seems to fit EXCEPT it wasn’t obvious about the external drive.

    I found your website through a link to your comment on a monitor for the mini. That was interesting, but this article gave me what I really needed to know. Thank you.

    • Wayne says:

      Yes it will depend on what you want to store on it. If it’s just pictures or audio files or a time machine backup then a standard HD will be fine, if you are using it to store applications, or application data, or movies, or stuff that you access a lot, an SSD will be much faster.

    • Greg Netum says:

      Speed is nice… but capacity is too. The 2012 Mac Mini has a space for a second hard drive (I installed an SSD). The SSDs are cheap and the upgrade kit for the second drive is $8.

      It is so nice to have two drives in that machine. For the moment I’m using it to figure out if I should stick with Mojave (and El Capitan on my Mac Pro 1,1) for a few years… til long after the ARM/RISC transition is complete.

      But anyway is there a way to add the SSD inside the 2019 Mac Mini? That might sell me. Am leaning toward getting a Mac Pro 5,1 if various horsepower/speed needs increase.

  2. Greg says:

    Thank you for the clear description in this article! I’m in the situation of using a combination Mac Mini and external SSD.

    Would you have suggestions for back-up configuration and software? Of course, I’d like to back up both devices, but will I have to do it to two separate back-up drives or can I combine them in one … ?

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