Upgrading memory on the Mac mini

Several months ago I bought a 2 GB RAM upgrade for my Mac mini. Admittedly it was a total impulse buy. I saw the price, thought it was a bargain, and snagged it. After the new memory arrived, I finally decided to look into how to install it. That may have been a mistake. It turns out there was no guidance from Apple for upgrading RAM in a Mac mini. The official position was to take it to an Apple Store, which would undoubtedly have cost much more than the memory. Unofficially, there was a tutorial available in the Mac Forums, but it looked complicated enough that I didn’t want to undertake the project until I was prepared to see it through. So, for all these months, the modules have been sitting idle on my kitchen counter.

About This Mac
About This Mac shows 2 GB memory after upgrade of Mac mini

This morning, for some reason, perhaps because of the heat, I decided to opt out of my usual hike and instead tackle the RAM upgrade. And so, for about an hour, my dining room was converted into a Mac mini operating room. As it turns out, the procedure wasn’t nearly as hard as it looked. The idea of prying open my beautiful Mac mini with a putty knife was rather frightening, since I thought I might crack the case. I did put a few small scratches on the plastic where I inserted the knife, but they were underneath the unit where nobody will see them. I was more concerned about hairline stress cracks on the exterior of the unit, but I performed every step deliberately, and there were no problems.

I followed the procedures in the Mac Forums tutorial quite closely. However, I did make a few observations for anyone thinking of trying this at home. Mostly, they involve gathering some additional tools:

  • Another computer. I cleared my dining room table to perform the operation, but I left enough room for my notebook computer. This allowed me to get a good view of the pictures in the tutorial, which came in handy several times.
  • The right screwdriver. The author of the tutorial refers several times to a medium Phillips screwdriver. I’m not sure what “medium” was compared to. After prying open the case, I realized that I didn’t have a Phillips screwdriver that was anywhere near small enough for the job, so I made an emergency run to Ace Hardware, where I bought a 2.5″ #0 Phillips screwdriver. It worked great for me.
  • Needle-nose pliers. I used needle-nose pliers at least a couple times to extract screws that ended up where they shouldn’t have. Without the pliers, I suppose I could have picked up the unit and shaken it until the screws fell out, but I prefer the precision approach whenever possible.
  • Magnetized screwdriver. For the same reason I needed the needle-nose pliers, a magnetized screwdriver was helpful for moving screws that ended up somewhere other than where I wanted them.
  • Flashlight. Even with an eight-bulb dining room light fixture over my head, getting light exactly where I wanted it was something of a chore. I used a Mini Maglite to focus light where I needed it, but any flashlight would be helpful.
  • Phone book. I followed the suggestion of one of the commenters of the tutorial and laid the top half of the Mac mini on a phone book so that I didn’t have to disconnect the ribbon cable between the two halves. I’m sure a book of any similar size would work, but the commenter suggested a phone book, and it turns out a new phone book arrived at my door this morning.
  • Canned air duster. Prying open the case left tiny specks of plastic dust in my operating area, and most likely some of that would end up inside the Mac mini without a shot of air. Not only that, but the unit had almost certainly accumulated some cat hair over the past six months, and since it’s unlikely I’ll ever open it again, I wanted to get it out now.
  • Kitchen shears. Like most RAM modules, the upgrade for the Mac mini came in plastic packaging that is impossible to open gracefully. The kitchen shears made the work somewhat more bearable.

One other observation: I would recommend heeding the advice of the commenter who suggested leaving the case off until the upgrade has been tested. When I hooked up the monitor and turned the unit on, it was a thrill to see 2 GB in the “About This Mac” box. However, if the upgrade had failed, it would have been traumatic to have to pry the case open a second time.

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