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I would like to complete the initial setup of a Mac Mini (2015) without having to use an external monitor (or a mouse or keyboard).

I do have a MacBook Pro available in case this would help (and from which I would like to remotely setup the MacMini), but I thought that I would be able to just follow the procedure discussed by Apple here: https://support.apple.com/en-us/HT202542

Basically, that article says you should be able to see the Mac in your shared computers section and just start ScreenSharing. However, this doesn't work and I am suspecting it only worked for MacMini Server models back when they sold them. Today, Apple only sells a "Server.app" from the Mac App store and the "helpful" comments on that help desk article say:

Adopting Server app

On the server, open the Mac App Store. Sign in with your Apple ID. OS X Server should appear in your purchase history. This is for verification only. On your administrator computer, open the Mac App Store. Sign in with the same Apple ID as in step 2. Go to the Purchases tab and install OS X Server.

Well, that clearly requires a Monitor, right ?

Is there no way at all to setup a Mac Mini (with the help of just a MacBook Pro)?

Current state: I can see the MacMini on the network - well I can PING it and confirmed the MAC Address - so I know its on the network, but I can't SSH or VNC into it ...

Ideas:

Target Disk Mode (TDM): With the help of a keyboard I might be able to start the Mac Mini in TDM and somehow install whatever I want on it. I don't exactly see this solving my problem, though - unless I could do this from another Mac Mini. A MacBook Pro OS X installation will look different to the one performed through a Mac Mini, I believe, but please correct me if I'm wrong.

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I contacted the Apple Support Hotline and got the expected answer: setting up a Mac Mini without an external monitor is not possible (unless you happen to know and correctly perform the exact order of keystrokes necessary to complete the setup with an attached keyboard).

This actually got me thinking: What if I could attach a pre-programmed keyboard that delivers the required input timed appropriately to the required wait-times, etc and generate a universal "Mac setup adapter"? I could imagine the "Teensyduino" being the prefect fit for this job. Unfortunately, though, I don't have one of those lying around at the moment, but it would be worth considering if one really had to do a larger scale setup of such machines.

Solution: In contrast to my initial concerns about using Target Disk Mode, apparently people have previously had success installing OS X onto another computer in this way. There are two different approaches here:

  • We can try to re-install OS X (onto the Mac Mini in TDM from the MBP), which in my view is not a very good solution.
  • We can run the initial setup only by booting into the Mac Mini OS X partition from the MBP (by starting the Mac Mini in TDM).

The secondary option appeals to me, but either solution does require a Thunderbolt (or FireWire) cable. The process would look something like this:

  1. Shut down MBP and Mac Mini.
  2. Start Mac Mini in TDM and connect the cable to the MBP.
  3. Start the MBP while holding the OPTION key to select the Mac Mini hard drive as the boot partition.
  4. Complete the initial setup and activate any remote access features you want.
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  • This is brilliant, but have you verified that it actually works? You'd be setting things up for the MBP hardware, and not the Mac mini hardware, even though you're using the disk on the mini. That makes me wonder if everything works perfectly.
    – iconoclast
    Commented Jul 21, 2020 at 21:23
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    As this is a fairly old answer, let me first say that Apple is about to retire the "Target Disk Mode". It's a fair question, but I believe the installation of macOS isn't really hardware specific. During boot time the system will initialize the relevant drivers, which should be available in the OS. I believe I have previously booted into an iMac drive from a laptop via Target Disk mode if I remember correctly - so not exactly the same, but pretty close and comparable.
    – Chris
    Commented Jul 30, 2020 at 6:39
  • Comming to think of it I believe I actually have installed macOS from a laptop onto an iMac drive via Target Disk Mode as well. The goal at the time was to get around the installer check for hardware compatibility. Apple regularly retires older models and won't allow you to install the latest OS. I wanted to see if it would still boot, though. I can't remember which macOS version that was right now, but my old iMac was able to boot into that "unsupported" version. I think it was around the time when the switch from 32-bit to 64-bit happened and they didn't want to update the old GPU drivers.
    – Chris
    Commented Jul 30, 2020 at 6:44

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