Optimal Mac Mini Storage Setup

Discussion in 'Mac mini' started by dukee101, Dec 26, 2012.

  1. dukee101, Dec 26, 2012
    Last edited: Dec 31, 2012

    macrumors member

    Jan 17, 2009
    I've decided to buy a 2012 Mac Mini and want the optimal storage configuration. I have about 360 GB of frequently accessed data and another 400 GB of infrequently accessed data (~760 GB total data). What's the best option?

    1. BTO Apple Fusion Drive (128 GB SSD + 1 TB 5400 RPM HDD)
    2. BTO Apple SSD + External HDD (256 GB SSD + USB 3 HDD)
    3. Custom SSD + HDD (512 GB SSD + 750 GB 7200 RPM HDD)
    4. Custom SSD + HDD w/ DIY Fusion (same as above w/ Fusion applied)

    Both of Apple's BTO options (1 TB Fusion and 256 GB SSD) are reasonable, but have drawbacks. Fusion means that a good chunk of data will not be accessed at raw SSD speeds. The BTO SSD requires data to be on an external, which can be cumbersome in day-to-day use.

    Then we arrive at the last two options, all of which require opening up the Mini and putting it back together again (using either the OWC or iFixIt kits); tedious to say the least. But the upshot is I can put in some really powerful storage components: big SSDs and fast HDDs that trump anything Apple offers BTO.


    Is Fusion still "SSD-like" when you load it up with almost 800 GB of data (including large iPhoto and iTunes libraries)?

    Is it relatively easy to do a DIY storage upgrade on these Minis?
  2. thread starter macrumors member

    Jan 17, 2009
  3. macrumors 68040

    Dec 17, 2009
    Seems most of your answers can be found by just searching. If you don't want to open your mini because it is "tedious" then go with a Fusion drive. Most "data storage" does not require super fast transfer rates (i.e. iphoto or itunes). As for the question about the 800GB storage, most likely your iphoto or itunes library will be on the mechanical drive and again you would be surprised how little it matters. SSD is needed especially in situations with lots of tiny files that a mechanical drive will spend a crap load of time seeking, whereas itunes and iphoto you are generally working with relatively large files that will be sequentially stored so it just doesn't matter.
  4. thread starter macrumors member

    Jan 17, 2009
    I appreciate the feedback but I disagree with your conclusion. I used to have my iPhoto libraries (160+ GB) on a mechanical disk and then I had the luxury of putting them on an SSD and the difference was day-and-night. Browsing the photos used to be really jerky and laggy. The SSD fixed all of that. It's been an unbelievable difference having almost all of my files on the SSD.

    When I access my iTunes library on the other hand, which has its database files stored on the SSD but all the media itself on a mechanical disk (400+ GB), it again lags and stutters. It's been my dream to put that remaining data on an SSD as well, but prices keep that from happening so soon.

    I just want to know whether Fusion has the ability to make the whole system feel SSD-like. All the benchmarks have been things like "transferring 88 GB to Fusion Drive." Those types of large transfers, for me at least, happen once a year or so, when I upgrade the entire system. What I really need to see is "accessing 100 GB Aperture library across 5 days" or some benchmark like that.
  5. macrumors 68030


    Sep 8, 2011
    Eureka Springs, Arkansas
    On a BTO Fusion your data writes will go to SSD first, at least up to a point (seems to be around 4GB in benchmarks) and then potentially from there out to disk in the background. Your most-accessed data will end up on the SSD portion automatically for fastest reads.

    A DIY "Fusion" or separate SSD + HDD will of course have some data on the spinning disk, and it'll perform like it's on a spinning disk. Once data is on HDD it stays there unless you move it, Fusion has a benefit in that area in terms of automated housekeeping & optimization.

    Of course like every other thread on this topic, the best solution for you comes down to a blend of what level of setup & ongoing data maintenance you're comfortable with - along with price & capacity considerations. I chose the BTO Fusion for simple setup & ongoing management, good performance, and adequate capacity for my needs. My iTunes library is about 350GB, but for my purposes it never ran badly on my 2007 Mini when iTunes was on a NAS (worst-case performance scenario) so yeah, I'm sure it's faster now but it's not like songs & videos play any faster than they did before - so I don't notice a real difference there.

    Overall day-to-day use for me is of course a heck of a lot snappier than the old Mini but how much of that is due to Fusion and how much due to C2D 1.83GHz 4GB RAM compared to i7 2.6GHz Quad Core with 16GB? Couldn't say.
  6. macrumors 6502

    Dec 9, 2012
    The fusion drive will not give the entire thing ssd performance all at once. If I use iTunes and iPhoto a lot it should learn to put at least a portion of the library on ssd, so I would expect a compromise in between hdd and ssd performance.

    The optimal solution is to put the frequently used data on a 512 ssd, but also the costliest.

    If u want relatively fast access to all 800 GB of data, I would consider doing a RAID0 configuration with a pair of internal hdd. The stock 2012 mini hdd is 100 MB/s transfer, so RAIDing could produce 200 MB/s transfer. It isn't ssd speed but it would be a noticeable improvement over ur single hdd experience. It is also an attractive option if ur library will be expanding. As always a backup plan is especially important working with RAID0 setup. If u do decide to open the mini, I suggest watching a tutorial several times so when u do it u know exactly what to do and u shouldn't have any issues.
  7. macrumors 6502

    Nov 10, 2006
    I'd suggest a 512GB Samsung 840 Pro SSD + OWC Data Doubler and using the 1TB drive for storage of your less used files. Of course if money is no object, and speed is what you're after, just get two 512GB Samsung 840 Pros and set them up as a RAID 0. That way you will have 1TB of ultra fast storage and the simplicity of the OS recognizing them as one striped array.
  8. thread starter macrumors member

    Jan 17, 2009
    @tejota1911: What did you think of the OWC Data Doubler install process? Were you afraid you'd irreparably damage your Mac Mini? I've done countless RAM and HDD/SSD/OptiBay upgrades to MacBooks but the Mini requires a full teardown to modify storage. What was your experience like? Would you recommend someone else do it?
  9. macrumors 6502

    Nov 10, 2006
    I did not find it very difficult. There are a number of YouTube videos detailing the process. OWC has there own video that is very good. They recently updated it for the 2012 model. The kit also includes a detailed installation guide. I had the OWC & ifixit videos pulled up on my iPad as I performed the install. My advice is to watch the videos a few times before you begin so that you have a good idea what you are doing. Then take your time and don't rush yourself. My experience consists of numerous custom PC builds, as well as, some MBP upgrades.
  10. macrumors 68020

    Jun 15, 2012
    I guess it depends whether cash is a factor/limitation, and whether you're confident disassembling and assembling the gubbins of a brand new Mac.

    I bought the Fusion Drive, and my data is well "over" the size of the SSD, but I can't tell which files are loading from the HDD and which aren't. The whole thing is seamless.
  11. macrumors 65816


    Jun 18, 2012
    I myself went for Apple's SSD (256GB) and the use of externals.
    (Apple's SSD because I got a 12% from them and I would've just saved €16 by installing one myself).

    What you can do then is get a cheaper SATA2 SSD and use it as another external for some extra data you need to access regularly.
    A MBP of mine broke some time ago so I took its SATA2 SSD and put it in a €14 USB 3.0 enclosure. (There are much better ones). I get write and read speeds of 180-200MB/s with Blackmagic Speedtest.

    It's not like the internal Mini SATA3 SSD (410-430MB/s) but still much more faster than any regular drive.
  12. macrumors 68040

    Dec 17, 2009
    First off, if you already have an opinion, then why bother to ask? Secondly, my wife has a 128GB SSD for her main drive and a 500GB mechanical drive for her second drive in her Macbook Pro. Her iPHoto library is well into 200GB and has no issues like you are seeing (and located on the Mechanical Drive). In my Mac Pro, I have a 240GB SSD and a 3TB mechanical drive with an iTunes library of music and videos of almost 2TB and all of my music and videos are on mechanical drives and I again do not see what you are seeing. Something sounds seriously wrong with your setup.

    As stated, Music, videos, and pictures are relatively large files that you generally copy once to a drive. This makes them relatively sequential which is what mechanical drives are still very good at. A modern Mechanical drive can generally read well over 100MB/s sequentially. That means you could buffer roughly 100 minutes of MP3's, 20 Pictures or 20+ minutes of Video EVERY second.

    If you look around these forums, the general recommendation is to do as above with large iPhoto and iTunes libraries. The reason is that with a good working hard drive/system with plenty of RAM you will not have issues because a modern mechanical hard drive works great for these situations and is still the best bang for your buck. This is exactly why the fusion drive was created by Apple.
  13. donlab, Dec 31, 2012
    Last edited: Dec 31, 2012

    macrumors regular

    Jun 3, 2004
    I just setup my DIY fusion drive this past weekend and I feel like it has made my mac "SSD-like". My wife and I each have over 200GB+ iphoto libraries and the machine feels faster than ever when scrolling through events and photo albums. The DIY kit from OWC was easy and offered clear instructions.

    I'm a storage engineer and I manage a EMC VMAX SAN which tiers data in 768K chunks between SATA / FC / EFD (enterprise flash). The major selling point of the VMAX was to focus on the 10% of hot data within an application and promote to EFD while leaving the rest in SATA or FC. We have seen significant performance improvements in an application while using very little amount of EFD. For example a 900GB oracle DB was recently migrated to the VMAX, we applied a very liberal FAST policy which allowed up to 30% of the DB to live in EFD while the rest can stay in FC. VMAX only moved 100GB to EFD (10%+) and the rest stayed in FC.

    I applied this logic to my own fusion drive setup and went with a smaller 120GB SSD to marry to 1TB drive. I'm just looking to capture the hot 10% of data I work with and store it on SSD while the cold data can stay in SATA.

    IMO, a 512GB SSD DIY fusion option seems excessive, you just have to trust the coreStorage algorithm.

    FUSION drive for me was a WOW moment and I welcome this innovation for the consumer.

    hope this helps.
  14. dukee101, Dec 31, 2012
    Last edited: Dec 31, 2012

    thread starter macrumors member

    Jan 17, 2009
    Thanks everyone for your feedback. It's been much appreciated.

    @donlab: Wow, couldn't ask for a better person to chime in here. You've really bolstered my faith in the tiering technique and I'm bullish on Fusion Drive now.

    @paulrbeers: Thanks for your input as well. It's very interesting to see that you and your wife have large media libraries on mechanical disks but don't experience the slowness I did when my media was on HDDs. This piece of info has also strengthened my faith in the Fusion Drive.

    I've decided to order the BTO 1 TB Fusion Drive.

    I've really researched the pros and cons of Fusion and actually think the pricing is reasonable.

    Think about it: If you wanted a decent 128 GB SSD, you'd have to pay ~$100 for it. Then you'd still have to order a "data doubler" (drive caddy) so that small SSD can live with a larger HDD, and that'll cost around $40-50. Then there's the labor of tearing down the Mac, modifying the storage, and then putting it back together. A repair shop would surely charge around at least ~$100 for that as well. So in the end, that totals up to pretty much what Apple is charging for the Fusion Drive. It's not exactly a rip-off.

    You could make the argument that Apple doesn't incur the same labor costs for drive upgrades because they've already got the machines open on the assembly line and their cost to add drives is nothing at that point. So then why don't they simply give us more options and make it easier on the consumer?

    A number of reasons might answer that. 1) Behavioral economics has shown that more options actually overwhelm and deter buyers than less options. It's counter-intuitive yet true. 2) It's always easier to manage supply chains with fewer SKUs and product variations. It's just a lot easier (and more profitable) to source a high quantity of a limited amount of parts and then manufacture, market, sell, and support those machines.

    Lastly, I'll still have the chance to experiment with Fusion and see how I like the performance across various data storage configurations. When I first buy and setup the Mac, I'll just load all my data on to the Fusion Drive. Then I'll live with it for a week or so and see how it is. If it's really SSD-like in most aspects, great! My work is done! I never needed a fancy 2 x 512 GB SSD RAID 0 setup! (That would be thrilling news since 512 SSD's are still ~$400 and I can't justify buying another one knowing they'll be ~$200 in a year.)

    If I notice that the Fusion Drive simply can't deliver the performance I'm used to with all my data on it, I can easily transfer some of my media to an external drive connected via USB 3 or Thunderbolt. If performance improves, great! That's the right configuration! If not, I can keep offloading media till performance is satisfactory.

    The beauty of these new Macs is that they let me plug in externals that I can custom-load with my own third-party HDDs and SSDs and still enjoy speeds that are nearly double that of internal SATA2 drives. USB 3 externals can deliver 180-200 MB/s (basically what 2nd-gen SSDs were offering in 2009-2010) and Thunderbolt can deliver 500-600 MB/s (which is awesome).

    This path also avoids tearing down the Mac Mini, which would have been do-able but annoying and risky. I don't want to deal with broken IR sensors, rattling screws, voided warranty, etc. I'm upset that Apple doesn't design these machines with user-upgradability in mind, but... it is what it is.
  15. macrumors regular

    Nov 26, 2009

    we chose the fusion option too for the iPhoto library.

    one external USB drive is the time machine backup and another external USB is the iTunes/movies drive.
  16. thread starter macrumors member

    Jan 17, 2009
    How's the Fusion working out for your iPhoto library? And how's the performance of your media coming off the USB drive? Is it USB 3? Is it faster than what you've previously experienced?

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