Monthly Archives: August 2007

Upgrading my Mac mini Core Solo to a Core 2 Duo

For almost 2.5 years, my main desktop computer has been a 20 inch iMac G5 (1.5Gb of RAM), running Mac OS X Tiger. It’s been a great machine, but for quite some time I’ve been struggling with its relatively slow CPU and the 20 inch screen.

I’ve been dreaming of a new Mac Pro with OS X Leopard, dual Harpertown processors (8 cores in total), and a 30 inch screen. No such beast has yet materialised, but I was starting to get desperate. Then I came up with a plan:

  • Remove my Mac mini from its home in the living room (to be temporarily replaced by a laptop)
  • Upgrade my Mac mini from a 1.5Ghz Core Solo, with 1Gb of RAM and a 60Gb disk, to a 1.83 Ghz Core 2 Duo, with 2Gb of RAM, and a 160Gb disk
  • Use the upgraded Mac mini as my new desktop (with my Dell 2405FPW monitor), and sell my old G5 iMac
  • Upgrade the Mac mini to Leopard on release
  • When Apple release a new machine that I want, return the Mac mini to my living room, with the benefit of its upgraded specification

So far the plan has worked out very well, and some interesting points emerged from the experience:

  • I opted to install the Intel T5600 processor. I wanted a Core 2 Duo as they are 64bit (unlike the Core Duos), and seem to perform significantly better than the old Core Duos. The T5600 supports Intel VT, unlike the slower T5500, and the only thing it misses is the slightly larger caches on the faster Core 2 Duo chips. Apparently this has a negligible effect on performance. Also, at 1.83GHz, I was comfortable that heat wouldn’t be an issue
  • Mac minis are not designed to be opened. It’s the most fiddly PC building job I’ve ever done; I managed to break a thin plastic cable clip, and didn’t manage to get things working again (with the aid of insulating tape) for several hours. I’m never opening the Mac mini again
  • The upgraded mini feels much quicker than my old G5 (it’s supposed to be twice as quick, but it feels like more than that). Even the GMA950 graphics card isn’t a problem for me. Expose runs beautifully, and that’s my main graphics heavy application. I no longer feel in a hurry to upgrade to a Mac Pro
  • The mini is super silent as a desktop. It can be heard, but only just
  • My Dell 24 inch screen is much nicer than the 20 inch screen on my old G5. Maybe I don’t need a 30 inch screen after all?
  • Two days before I rebuilt the mini (but after I’d ordered the parts), Apple upgraded the Mac mini to Core 2 Duos, with the lower specced machine using the same T5600 processor as I chose for my upgrade. So my machine is almost an official specification. And the entire cost of the upgrade (including £75 on eBay for the processor), was about the same as Apple would have charged to upgrade their new base Mac mini to 2Gb of RAM and a 160Gb hard disk (I went for a Hitachi disk, in case anyone is interested)
  • Being an Intel machine, I now had the option of running Windows in Boot Camp or virtualised. More on this in another post, but in brief, this is a killer feature for me
  • Moving your files and preferences to a new Mac is a much nicer experience than migrating between Windows PCs. Just copy across your home directory, and that’s pretty much it