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Upgrading the RAM and hard drive on the Mac Mini 3,1

A quick note: There are plenty of guides out there about taking apart your Mac Mini in order to install/upgrade the RAM, and swap out the hard drive with another. This is meant to be a supplement to those guides, because you’ll notice that the most recent Mac Mini’s (as of this date), are slightly different in a couple areas.

The RAM/HD upgrade was done on the following system:
-Mac Mini 3,1 (MC238LL/A)
-2.26 Ghz Intel Core 2 Duo
-2 GB 1067Mhz DDR3 (upgraded to 4 GB)
-160 GB 5400 RPM DRIVE (upgraded to 500GB Seagate 7200RPM drive)
-nVidia GeForce 9400M video

Note #1: This is laptop DDR3 RAM. You can’t use desktop DDR3. There are 2 memory slots, and each is occupied by a 1GB stick by default. I used some “Lexar” brand stuff from Best Buy (two 2GB sticks). Also note that it’s a 2.5″ laptop hard drive – you can’t use the big clunker from your desktop!

Note #2: If you break something, your warranty’s void. Do it at your own risk.

Note #3: You may want to keep the original components around in case you have to send it in for warranty work and they decide to send you a replacement rather than repair it.

Let’s get started…

Opening the Mini is the same as every other guide. You can use a thin putty knife (or a metal spatula/flipper that you’d use while cooking) and work your way around gently prying around the bottom until the case comes apart. You’re basically pushing the “middle” inwards so that the clips give way. I didn’t want to break anything, so I was pretty careful mindlessly (but gently) working away at it for about half an hour while I was on the phone – it eventually came.

Once it’s open, there’s an orange ribbon at the back. It has a clip that pops off from the main middle section with your nail.

there are 4 screws to disconnect the main piece containing the DVD drive and hard drive. To get at one of them, you’ll need to pinch 2 clips holding an AirPort antenna in order to disconnect it. Again, covered in other guides. You’ll notice 1 screw is longer than the others – KEEP NOTE OF WHERE IT WENT FOR REINSTALLATION (it’s not in the more obvious choice if you were guessing when reinstalling).

Here’s where things differ. You may read about the need to disconnect a battery connector. I didn’t – the battery was “part” of the bottom circuit/mother board.

However, once you’ve removed the 4 screws and start pulling out the drive tray, at least 1 of the AirPort connectors (1 of the 2 on the left side) is going to pop off of the circuit board inside. It just clips on/off, but note the location when it does.

There’s no way to avoid that connector coming off. The wire’s tight. When reassembling, it’s tricky to get it back. You’ll want something like a popsicle stick to position and push it back into place on the chip. You’ll understand when you’re putting it together.

One of the other connectors will come off as well, although it won’t be right away. Fortunately, you can put it back on later by hand – the wire’s long enough that there’s ample room.

The final (3rd) AirPort connector wont be as big a deal, because you’ve unclipped the AirPort antenna associated with it.

Note that you can try simply disconnecting all 3 AirPort antennas so that none of the wires pop off. It might make it easier, although 2 don’t have “clips”, so I’m not sure how they’d come off.

In any case, once that drive tray’s out, you’ll see the RAM. Same instructions as the other guides – pull the clips to the sides, and each chip will pop up at an angle – you then pull/slide it out diagonally. The new chips go in the same way the old ones came out. Make sure they’re in all the way.

The hard drive’s not quite as easy – first, there’s a thermal sensor. It’s either double-sided-taped (or glued) to the hard drive. Gently pry it off with your fingernail. Then remove the black tape holding the wire.

Next, it’s 4 screws – 2 at the sides, 2 at the bottom. Now you’ve got to get the hard drive to slide out from the connector – don’t push it down, or you’re likely to snap the connector. You want to use whatever you can to slide it out from the connector. I used a tiny screwdriver pushing it gently from the connector-side in a small gap near the front of they bay. Once it’s out from the connector, you should be able to get it out at an angle.

For the new drive, you’ll have to put it in at an angle, then line it up with the connector (probably in an upside-down position), and slide it in. Slip in a couple screws to keep it from sliding back out (or putting pressure on the connector), and once the screws are in a little, you should be able to move the whole thing around and get the rest of the screws in nice and snug. Push the thermal sensor back on in a similar position – it’s generally got enough sticky-ness left to hold, but if it doesn’t you might want to try some dual-sided tape, or tape the thing in place. Tape the wire back in place.

Now you’ve just got to get everything back together.

If your AirPort wires came off the main circuit board, you’ll want to pop them in place as you start getting the assembly positioned into place. Remember, one is a big pain, and you’ll want a popsicle stick (or something else non-sharp) to position it and pop it into place. I used a screwdriver, but I also knew that 1 slip would turn the Mini into a doorstop. Use something wood or plastic and take your time – when it’s lined up, you can definitely snap it back into place.

Use a magnetic screwdriver for the 4 screws – if you don’t have one, grab a big bingo magnet or fridge magnet and stick it on the side of a regular screwdriver to turn it into a magnetic one. It’s the only way to line up the screws which are recessed in plastic. Again, remember to put the longer one in the original position – otherwise you’ll find that one of your screws never tightens.

Once it’s all tightened up and you’re sure no screws are loose, connect the orange ribbon again, pop the AirPort antenna into place, put the cover back on and start it up.

You’ll need your installation DVD to install to the new hard drive.

Finally, images of the Mini with the case off:

The orange ribbon. Use your finger nail to gently disconnect the yellowish connector from the circuit board.
The light blue wire you see starts at the AirPort antenna and ends at a circuit board. It will disconnect when you lift the assembly off, and will be a pain to reconnect. Use a popsicle stick or some other non-sharp object to pop it back into place when reassembling.
This is the AirPort antenna that blocks access to a screw. Beneath it are 2 black clips you can pinch to remove the antenna.
  • Robert

    The sensor cable disconnected from the interconnect board (on the drive carrier) and I can’t figure out how to re-attach it. Any clue? Now, the fan runs full blast all of the time.

    Thanks.