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I have a 2010 Mac Mini with no DVD drive and a 5,400 RPM hard drive. Of late, it's begun to get quite sluggish, and I'm fairly sure it's the slow HDD that's to blame.

I took a look at the means of upgrading it, but since it involves practically taking the entire thing apart to get to the hard drive, I decided it wasn't something I wanted to do myself.

My first option is to simply do a complete format of the machine (I only really use it for Plex media streaming), and see if that helps speed it up. This hasn't been done in the few years I've owned the Mini, I've just always kept it updated, and I guess it may have become bloated (though there's not much installed on it).

My second option is to attempt to downgrade the Yosemite install that's currently on it back down to something older (and presumably quicker). I can probably go back as far as Lion/Mountain Lion if need be, combined with the full format. So basically revert to stock Lion, re-install Plex, and away I go.

So, a couple of questions:

  • In this situation, is a complete format / re-install of Yosemite likely to help? If so, will the recovery partition handle this?
  • If not, what's the best means of downgrading back to an older OS such as Lion, and if I do this, am I likely to see speed increases purely because the older OS's are less demanding? Can I make an installer on a USB stick, since my Mini has no disc drive?
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So I made a Mountain Lion boot stick, wiped it, reinstalled fresh, and it's blazing fast again. Either Yosemite / Mavericks beforehand had slowed it down, or the drive itself had just become very fragmented / clogged / heavy.

All good now, I'd forgotten how nippy the thing can be!

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If you're adept at such things, you could swap out the internal 54K RPM drive with a SSD, and put the 54K drive into an external enclosure for Plex data.

OWC* (Macsales.com) sells kits with an external enclosure, cable & instructions. It'll make the Mini as fast as heck. I did this for a friend of mine on a tight budget and she's very pleased.

An alternative is to swap the 54K drive with a 72K RPM, but the SSD prices are so low, its hard now to justify using a HD with moving parts.

*Disclaimer: I have no financial stake in OWC - I'm just a satisfied customer.

  • Mmm, see, I could open it up, but I'm trying to avoid needing to do that, and wondering whether I can get the 5,400 back to how it used to be when I bought the machine, either by wiping it or re-installing an older OS. I have an old 80gb SSD sitting around I can use, but I'd need to get some tools to pop the logic board out, etc. Want to try other options first. – Luke Oct 28 '14 at 8:15
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If you don't want to replace the drive (an SSD can make any computer seem much faster) then you could try defragging the drive. There are a number of utilities out there that defrag, however I remember hearing that Mac OS included an on the fly built in defragging service a few revisions back, making most defragging utilities a questionable investment.

That said your Mac may be suffering from a lot of installs/uninstalls. In other words the left behind cruft of previous installations that may still be having an effect on system performance.

Some of those are user specific and simply creating another user account might point out where the problem lies. Failing that checking for extra startup items or stuff left behind that doesn't show up in the startup items (~/Library/Startup Items and the one for the whole system) might point to some things that are still running that don't need to be. It requires a bit of sleuthing around in the filesystem but it might yield a thing or two.

The other thing it might be is that as you upgrade O/S versions they generally require more and more of the system (resources, drive access, RAM, etc.) and stepping back to an earlier version of the O/S might yield substantial performance increases.

Yes adding an SSD and/or more RAM would actually be the easiest route to go (check out iFixit for very good take apart instructions), if not the cheapest, as you are upgrading hardware to compensate for system slowness. But you can cheaply (at the expense of potentially a lot of your time) troubleshoot the slowness and/or back down to an earlier O/S and regain some of the snappiness you miss.

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