Adding an SSD to the new 2018 Mac Mini

The hard drives in the new 2018 Mac mini are PCIe which means they are , but also expensive. Unlike previous models, you cannot upgrade the internal hard drive. It is soldered in. But thanks to the USB-C interface on the new Mac Mini, an external SSD drive is now a good option. I chose to buy the smaller (and cheaper) 250GB Mac Mini and supplement it with a 500GB external SSD drive.

USB-C Gen 2 can handle the speeds of most (but not all) SSD drives. So unless you want a very high-end solution, you’ll be fine using an external SSD over USB. An external SSD drive plugged in via USB-C will only be 1/5 the speed of the new internal PCIe drives, but it’s still fast. The external SSD drive on my new mac mini is faster than the internal non-PCIe SSD drive on my previous mac mini.

1. Buying a drive.

My first purchase was a Samsung S5. It’s fast, it’s USB-C Gen 2, and it’s cheap. But it caused a 30-second delay each time my mac booted up. Apparently, this is a common problem Apple support unable to help me resolve it.

The Samsung T5 is fast but has compatibility problems with Apple.

The drive I ended up using was the Seagate Fast SSD. It’s fast and works well. I purchased the 500GB version. I’ve already filled it up so end hindsight I publish should have gone for the 1 TB version but I was trying to save money.

I’ve had no problems with the Seagate Fast SSD.

2. What to put on it.

Now that you’ve connected your drive you need to choose which data to store on it. I used to recommend using your new SSD as the boot drive, but given that the internal SSD drive is now faster, you are better off booting off your internal drive and just putting some files on the external drive.

I kept OSX and my applications on my internal boot drive, as well as my users home folder. So my internal SSD drive looks like this:

  • Applications
  • Library
  • System
  • Users

I moved most the large folders from inside my Users folder onto my external SSD. I did not change my home folder to be the external SSD. I copied the files out of my home folder. I did al this when I was migrating the data my old MAc because it did not all fit in my new Users folder.

Here’s what I moved to my new external SSD Drive:

  • Documents (from my user folder – 40GB)
  • Downloads (from my user folder – 5GB)
  • Mainstage Sounds (from System Folder – 60GB)
  • Movies (from my user folder – 10GB)
  • Music (from my user folder – 60GB)
  • Pictures (from my user folder including my photos library – 140GB)

When you move your Music, Pictures and MainStage files you need to tell iTunes, Apple Photos and Mainstage the new location.

For iTunes, firstly copy all your music files across to the new SSD. (users/yourname/music/iTunes) Then go to Preferences, Advanced, and find ‘iTunes Media folder location’. Click ‘Change’ and select the new folder.

For Photos you need to copy the folder called ‘Photo’s Library’ across, then restart the Photos App while holding the Option key. This gives you the option to select your new Photo library from the external SSD.

Hold down option while launching Photos t get this window.

Photos should open the newly copied library and you should be able to see your photos. If that is the case then go to preferences and select ‘use as System Photo Library’ to make this change permanent.

If you select ‘ as System Photo Library’ it will change your default Photos folder location.

There are some applications that will still want to use files from within your home folder on your internal SSD. That’s okay. I allow them to do that.

I find it helpful in my own mind to know which files are where so I have my documents, my music and my photos on my external SSD and I have everything else on my internal one.

But you can arrange them how you like.


20 responses to “Adding an SSD to the new 2018 Mac Mini”

  1. Ross Smith

    Hello Wayne – This article answered a question I’ve had about buying a Mac mini and its small amount of internal storage. I chatted with Apple support yesterday. They only spoke in generalities, so I said goodbye once that became obvious. Instead of needing to go into an Apple store, I have the answer in your article!

    I am not sure I need the speed of an external SSD, however, I will price them now. We use a 2011 iMac for using the internet, viewing photos and also watching TV. Its display is going, its internal HD is failing, and I cannot find a good repair shop. Everything about the mini seems to fit EXCEPT it wasn’t obvious about the external drive.

    I found your website through a link to your comment on a monitor for the mini. That was interesting, but this article gave me what I really needed to know. Thank you.

    1. Yes it will depend on what you want to store on it. If it’s just pictures or audio files or a time machine backup then a standard HD will be fine, if you are using it to store applications, or application data, or movies, or stuff that you access a lot, an SSD will be much faster.

    2. Greg Netum

      Speed is nice… but capacity is too. The 2012 Mac Mini has a space for a second hard drive (I installed an SSD). The SSDs are cheap and the upgrade kit for the second drive is $8.

      It is so nice to have two drives in that machine. For the moment I’m using it to figure out if I should stick with Mojave (and El Capitan on my Mac Pro 1,1) for a few years… til long after the ARM/RISC transition is complete.

      But anyway is there a way to add the SSD inside the 2019 Mac Mini? That might sell me. Am leaning toward getting a Mac Pro 5,1 if various horsepower/speed needs increase.

  2. Greg

    Thank you for the clear description in this article! I’m in the situation of using a combination Mac Mini and external SSD.

    Would you have suggestions for back-up configuration and software? Of course, I’d like to back up both devices, but will I have to do it to two separate back-up drives or can I combine them in one … ?

    1. Yes grab a 2TB or 4TB drive and you can time-machine both drives to it, or split it in 2 partitions and use CCC to back up each drive to it.

  3. Greg

    Wayne, I connected the Seagate Fast SSD to my Mac mini and found something worth mentioning. The Seagate drive came formatted in EX-FAT and had to be reformatted to Mac OS Extended before I could use it as the default location for Photos library, etc.

    1. Thanks Greg – you I should have mentioned this.

  4. PatrickSG

    Now-a-days (Feb 2020) price for PCIe SSDs came down quite a bit, one can built their very own high-speed, 3000-4000MB/s, Thunderbolt 3 external drive.
    PCIe SSD 1TB for $150 or less (500GB for $100 or less), and WAVLINK Thunderbolt 3 SSD Enclosure for around $80, so for $180/$230 you could get a 500GB or 1TB external drive running at 3000-4000MB/s Read/Write speed.

  5. Rafael

    Very useful. I also read somewhere another article about all the upgrades you can do to the mac mini 2012. Same recommandation you do, and of course the RAM upgrade (up to 16G).
    I will start with replacing the internal HD by a SSD. I’ll think later about adding an external SSD drive or adding a second internal SSD into the mac mini. I think one will need to unmount quite a few things from the mac mini chassis.
    Two questions:
    – For an external SSD drive: what connectivity would you recommend, USB, Thunderbolt or FireWire?
    – What do you think about replacing the HD for an SSD on a MacBook unibody late 2008 (yes !!! I still have one of this around and is working quite well, it is sometimes slow… but I only use it for very basic stuff)

    1. Good – USB
      Better – Thunderbolt 2 – the old Apple Display port adapter
      Best – thunderbolt 3 (USB-C)

      Firewire is a bit our of date now.

      Yes an SSD will really speed up the 2008 Macbook. Check out OWC for compatability.

  6. Felix

    Thank you for this very useful explanation! The one thing I do not understand is, why don’t you move the whole user folder to the ssd? I do not understand the difference between moving the folder and moving only the folders (documents, photos,…) inside the user folder.

    1. I used to have an article about moving the user folder to the external drive but it caused so many problems for people I removed it. Put simply, OSX does let you move the entire user folder but sometimes it doesn’t play nicely. You cannot boot without the user folder so it’s useful to have a minimal user folder on your internal SSD.

  7. Melchior-Christoph von Brincken

    I do not think, a Mac Mini with internal SSD, which is soldered in, is in anyway acceptable.
    I was in checking out online the Mac Mini 2018 / 2020, and I went for a 2012 Mac Mini with quad i7 16GB RAM, added a 4TB SSD and my 500GB systemdrive – updated to Catalina and I am a happy camper.
    My whole solution was below 1k and I would have bought the new Apple device – for way more money – were it not for the “we f*** our consumers” attitude of Apple, which the soldered SSD is displaying.

    1. Clementlyc

      Going for a 2012 model is much better so long as you do not need to copy large amount of content frequently to/from an external device and that you do not need 4K display. I think this is the reason why Apple soldered the SSD to the 2018 & 2020 models thus to prevent them from becoming another 2012 model in future!

  8. Alex

    Wayne, this is an incredibly helpful how-to on adding an external drive to a 2018 Mac mini! I purchased mine with a 128gb internal drive and am adding a 1TB external SSD. When you say you copied your Documents and Download folders to the external drive, do they come up in Finder by default, or do you have to navigate to your external drive to find those folders?

    1. If you go to Finder:Preferences from the Apple menu there’s an option”Show these items on ht desktop:” and you can turn on “External Disks” so that it shows your new Hard Disk on ht desktop next to your internal hard disk.

  9. Byrd

    Or you can use symlinks, to make the external folders in the home folder work as internal folders.

  10. Ed

    I was provided a 2018 MacMini by the VA. I have several disabilities, one being vision. The Macmini works for me because I have space for a 55 inch TLC TV with excellent quality. Ok, now the question. I want to go for using an external HD as my startup disk. How can I do this? I’ve tried several apporaches and they all were faced with Apple’s barrier of “Won’t work”.

  11. Mark Douthit

    Thanks for this very helpful post! So, after I copy the aforementioned folders to the external ssd, do I delete them from the internal drive? Seems scary, but maybe not since they are copied over to the new location. Thanks!

  12. HG Moses

    This article resolved some slow performance issues I was experiencing. I bought a Kingston XS2000 2TB High-Performance Portable SSD for $200. I’m actually amazed at how quickly files are copied when connected by Thunderbolt. My entire system works much faster. Thanks for this excellent tip!

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