How can I make a Thunderbolt or USB3 SSD a boot drive? Is it worth it?

Discussion in 'Mac mini' started by -A113-, Nov 23, 2015.

  1. -A113- macrumors newbie

    Nov 8, 2015
    We got my dad a base model (Cheapest) 2014 Mac mini for his birthday last March, but this thing is unbelievably slow, I'm pretty sure his old PC ran better. I was so disappointed when I first set it up over how slow it was going and was just hoping it was indexing or something.

    I barely have to use it but whenever I do, what should take 1 minute often takes 10 minutes. I'm not sure if my dad realises just how awful it is to use.

    I'm pretty sure it's the hard drive, since my 2011 MacBook Air has a slightly less powerful CPU and slower RAM (Still 4GB), yet definitely works a lot better, it has got to be the storage. I remember a few years ago a post from a guy showing his external SSD set up as a boot drive on his iMac, I can't really find any other info on it though. Wondering how this can be done? Does it work well? Are there any problems with things like sleep mode? Since USB3 drives tend to be cheaper, would it be better to go that route? And what happens with the built in hard drive, do you need to do anything special to make it act like a spare hard drive?

    Will this fix the performance woes, or was it an awful decision to buy this Mac mini?
  2. jbarley macrumors 68040


    Jul 1, 2006
    Vancouver Island
    A USB 3.0 dock and a USB 3.0 connecting cable is what you'd need, make sure the dock is USAP compatible.
    General consensus is though that the base model 2014 mini is a real dog and unfortunately the minimal memory supplied is not upgradable.
  3. JohnDS macrumors 65816

    Oct 25, 2015
    Have you run Verify Disk from Disk Utility to make sure that existing drive is not corrupted?
  4. donklaus macrumors member

    Mar 6, 2011
    This is a great adaptation, both in terms of a massive performance boost and an economical way to achieve a very usable system. My main machine for the past four years has been a 2011 Mini Server, my main desktop in our second house is a 2012 base Mini. Both use an external 256 GB SSD as the system/boot and applications drive. Each is attached to a
    Seagate STAE129 Drive Dock, which holds the bare SSD drive. The adapter connects to the Mini by a Thunderbolt cable. You can even enable TRIM (you can't with USB 3.0, unless El Capitan has made that possible). The adapter also features a pass-through Thunderbolt port, so you can still connect Thunderbolt peripherals or T-bolt-to-USB or other format adapters. This should give you performance very near to an MBA with a similar processor. Samsung EVOs and other brands are going for dirt cheap right now . Use the onboard HDD for media storage and documents.
  5. jbarley macrumors 68040


    Jul 1, 2006
    Vancouver Island
    It's a good thing the SSD drives are "dirt cheap", because the seagate dock you're suggesting is going to cost around a $150, whereas USB 3.0 enclosures with UASP support can be had for $12 and up.
  6. Celerondon macrumors 6502a


    Oct 17, 2013
    Southern Cal
    A USB 3.0 enclosure with UASP support will do the job for 10% to 20% of the cost of a Thunderbolt drive dock. For a single drive setup, there is little difference between the performance of the USB 3.0 and Thunderbolt interfaces.

    Here is one post about booting from an external drive:
  7. utazdevl macrumors regular


    Jul 18, 2008
    I run a 256GB thunderbolt external drive as the boot drive on my mid-2011 iMac and while is speeds up the boot time and application launch times on the machine, ultimately it is the processor and the RAM that effects the performance most. if you are getting a poor performance on the mini you might see a speed bump in some areas with a new external SSD, but you'll likely still lag in at least some other areas.
  8. JohnDS macrumors 65816

    Oct 25, 2015
    I think we are getting way ahead of ourselves here. The Mini should not be a slow as described. It is likely a software problem like a corrupt disk directory. This can be checked by running Verify Disk from Disk Utility. If it shows errors, then boot while holding down Command-R to access the recovery partition and run Repair Disk. This will likely fix the problem at no cost. Replacing the drive is overkill for the problem described and the use the Mini is to be put to.

    If Verify Disk gives the drive a clean bill of health, there are other diagnostics to try before turning to a hardware solution.

    For instance, does the computer run quicker after a safe boot (booting while holding down the shift key)? If that is the case, the problem is log on software installed by the previous user.

    I would highly recommend trying these steps before spending money. If there are still problems, report back here for more suggestions.
  9. Weaselboy Moderator


    Staff Member

    Jan 23, 2005
    The new Mini is not exactly a powerhouse, but no way should it be as slow as your are describing. Like JohnDS said, before you go spending money on upgrades you do not need, let's see if we can figure out what is wrong with the current setup, because something is definitely no right.

    Try the verify disk and safe boot JohnDS suggested and let us know what you find.

    Also, when this slowness is happening, open Activity Monitor and look in the CPU tab and sort by CPU% and tell us if anything is using a high percentage of CPU cycles.
  10. vkd macrumors 6502a


    Sep 10, 2012
    Thunderbolt is exceedingly cost-prohibitive and therefore not a valid option. USB3; perhaps.
  11. Fishrrman macrumors G5


    Feb 20, 2009

    There's nothing complicated about what you want to do.
    Simply stated, it's EASY.
    I've been booting and running my late 2012 Mini -exclusively- from a USB3 SDD going on three years now.
    It still runs as well today as it did the first day.

    Moving to an SSD will make a GREAT difference in performance speeds.
    You will notice it and your dad will notice it.

    There are several ways to do this:
    1. Buy a USB3 enclosure that supports UASP (USB attached SCSI protocol). Then buy a "bare" SSD of your choice and put it in.
    2. Buy a USB3/SATA docking station (also with UASP support). Just plug the drive into the SATA slot on the dock and use it that way.
    3. Buy a "prepackaged" SSD in a USB3 enclosure. Easiest of all.

    SATA SSD's are getting VERY affordable now. Over at, just today I saw a 120gb SSD for $35. You can typically find 240gb SSD's in the $60-70 range.

    I'm going to guess that this is all the space your dad will need.
    Remember, you can still use the internal drive for "media storage" (movies), etc.

    Just yesterday, I was looking at this:
    This comes in 120gb and 240gb sizes, and it might be "all you need".
    Take a little time and read the reviews.

    Once you have the drive of your choice (any of the options above), set it up this way:
    1. Connect to Mac
    2. Initialize using Disk Utility
    3. Use either CarbonCopyCloner or SuperDuper to "clone" the contents of the internal drive to the SSD.
    4. Go to System Preferences and use Startup Disk to set the SSD to be the boot drive.

    I would recommend CCC as the tool of choice because it will also clone over the recovery partition (SD can't do this).
    CCC is FREE to download, and it's FREE to use (fully-functional) for 30 days.

    Once the SSD is all set up, you can use the internal drive for additional storage.
    What I've done is to partition the internal drive:
    - first partition is a CCC clone of my boot SSD
    - other partition(s) are for specialized storage.
  12. JohnDS macrumors 65816

    Oct 25, 2015
    I appreciate all the enthusiasm for an SSD, but A113's dad is not likely a power user or a gamer and the Mac Mini, running properly, is probably all he needs. An SSD would be expensive overkill.

    In any case, before going that route, we need to find out why the Mini is so slow. If the problem is software, or other hardware (say, defective RAM), installing an SSD is not going to solve the problem.

    So, the first step is to diagnose the cause of the problem. Once the cause is found and fixed, A113 can then decide if the Mini is fast enough or needs an SSD.

    @A113: Try the suggestions in my earlier post and in Weaselboy's and please report back. If those suggestions do not fix the problem, then download and run the free EtreCheck: and post the results back here. That will help us diagnose the problem.
  13. -A113- thread starter macrumors newbie

    Nov 8, 2015
    Didn't realise all these replies were here, only received one email. Thanks a lot guys!

    Just tried that and everything came out fine. I also did a Blackmagic Disk Speed test and to me that doesn't look slow, but maybe too slow as a boot drive.

    Blackmagic Speed Test.png

    I'm sure it would be obvious by now if this would affect it, but the monitor is sitting on top of it. That could cause the whole thing to bend along with the hard drive, but I'm sure it'd be long gone by now.

    Mac mini Setup.jpg

    This was a brand new Mac mini, nothing was installed on it, even if it somehow was already used it was set up as new.

    Maybe I just have higher expectations. When I say 10 minutes to do something that should take 1 minute, I don't mean one operation takes 10 minutes, just overall whenever I want to do something I seem to spend 10 or 20 minutes when I'd expect it to be done in 1 minute. All of those bouncing icons and beachballs, with nothing running, yet my MacBook Air does none of this with older hardware - the only thing being faster is the storage.

    Thanks, so should the setup in my screenshot work fine? Someone else mentioned TRIM support, do Samsung drives have this built in? Also would it be possible to just set the SSD up as a boot drive then restore it using the Time Machine backup?

    Amazon SSD.png

    I don't think you need to be a power user/gamer for an SSD to be worth it, all that time not waiting for things to load and not dealing with beachballs is good enough, then you've got swap use slowing it down even further. It beachballs way too often. It did improve a bit with El Capitan, but still not enough.
  14. JohnDS macrumors 65816

    Oct 25, 2015
    Does anything show up in Activity Monitor when you are getting the beachballs?
    Also, can you post the EtreCheck results?
    You might also try running the Apple Diagnostics:…
  15. Weaselboy Moderator


    Staff Member

    Jan 23, 2005
    Can you be more specific here. What exactly do you do that causes bouncing icons? Do you mean for example with nothing running and you click to launch say Safari it bounces for a long long time before launching? How long?

    Did you try the safe mode boot JohnDS suggested?

    Again, something is wrong here and I hate to see you throwing money at it rather than get to the root of what the problem is.
  16. DesertSurfer macrumors 6502a


    Jun 15, 2014
    Between the Sonoran Desert and the Pacific Ocean
    Just for some context, before I replaced the original spinner in my 2011 MacBook Pro, I ran Blackmagic on it, and got write/read speeds of 38/45. Compared to that, your HDD looks pretty speedy. I was also getting some slowdown from swapping, so I went from 8 to 12 go and ended that problem. Maybe it's the swapping that's slowing you down.
  17. JohnDS macrumors 65816

    Oct 25, 2015
    I agree with Weaselboy.
    Please try the safe boot.
    Please try Running Apple Diagnostics.
    Please post the EtreCheck results so we can see if there is some rogue software causing the problem
    Please try keeping Activity Monitor open to see if some process is hogging your CPU cycles.
  18. -A113- thread starter macrumors newbie

    Nov 8, 2015
    I've done all of the checks you asked me to do, everything comes out fine, evidently I'm just impatient (It takes over 1 minute to load Word into a blank document). Safe Mode just took longer to boot, it has trouble loading the applications folder in the dock, and had some screen tearing with Activity Monitor. See the GIF (From Safe Mode) and a screenshot of the resolution.

    Application-open.gif Screen Resolution.png

    Etre Check was fine as well.

    EtreCheck version: 2.6.6 (226)
    Report generated 01/12/2015, 19:54
    Runtime 2:46
    Download EtreCheck from
    Click the [Click for support] links for help with non-Apple products.
    Click the [Click for details] links for more information about that line.
    Hardware Information: (What does this mean?)
        Mac mini (Late 2014)
        [Click for Technical Specifications]
        [Click for User Guide]
        Mac mini - model: Macmini7,1
        1 1.4 GHz Intel Core i5 CPU: 2-core
        4 GB RAM Not upgradeable
                BANK 0/DIMM0
                2 GB DDR3 1600 MHz ok
            BANK 1/DIMM0
                2 GB DDR3 1600 MHz ok
        Bluetooth: Good - Handoff/Airdrop2 supported
        Wireless: Unknown
    Video Information: (What does this mean?)
        Intel HD Graphics 5000
            HP S2031 1600 x 900 @ 60 Hz
    System Software: (What does this mean?)
        OS X El Capitan 10.11.1 (15B42) - Time since boot: less than an hour
    Disk Information: (What does this mean?)
        APPLE HDD HTS545050A7E362 disk0 : (500.11 GB) (Rotational)
            EFI (disk0s1) <not mounted> : 210 MB
            Recovery HD (disk0s3) <not mounted>  [Recovery]: 650 MB
            Macintosh HD (disk1) / : 498.89 GB (332.88 GB free)
                Core Storage: disk0s2 499.25 GB Online
    USB Information: (What does this mean?)
        Apple, Inc. IR Receiver
        Apple Inc. BRCM20702 Hub
            Apple Inc. Bluetooth USB Host Controller
        Apple, Inc. Keyboard Hub
            Apple Inc. Apple Keyboard
    Thunderbolt Information: (What does this mean?)
        Apple Inc. thunderbolt_bus
    Gatekeeper: (What does this mean?)
        Mac App Store and identified developers
    Launch Agents: (What does this mean?)
        [loaded]    de.devolo.networkservice.notify.plist [Click for support]
    Launch Daemons: (What does this mean?)
        [loaded]    com.adobe.fpsaud.plist [Click for support]
        [loaded] [Click for support]
        [running]    de.devolo.networkservice.plist [Click for support]
    User Login Items: (What does this mean?)
        iTunesHelper    Application  (/Applications/
        Canon IJ Network Scanner Selector2    Application Hidden (/Library/Printers/Canon/IJScanner/Utilities/Canon IJ Network Scanner
    Other Apps: (What does this mean?)
    Internet Plug-ins: (What does this mean?)
        SharePointBrowserPlugin: Version: 14.5.8 - SDK 10.6 [Click for support]
        FlashPlayer-10.6: Version: - SDK 10.6 [Click for support]
        QuickTime Plugin: Version: 7.7.3
        Flash Player: Version: - SDK 10.6 [Click for support]
        Default Browser: Version: 601 - SDK 10.11
    3rd Party Preference Panes: (What does this mean?)
        Flash Player  [Click for support]
    Time Machine: (What does this mean?)
        Mobile backups: OFF
        Auto backup: YES
        Volumes being backed up:
            Macintosh HD: Disk size: 498.89 GB Disk used: 166.01 GB
            Rich's Backup [Local]
            Total size: 1.00 TB
            Total number of backups: 58
            Oldest backup: 29/03/2015, 17:13
            Last backup: 01/12/2015, 19:20
            Size of backup disk: Adequate
                Backup size 1.00 TB > (Disk used 166.01 GB X 3)
    Top Processes by CPU: (What does this mean?)
            16%    DataDetectorsDynamicData
             8%    IMDPersistenceAgent
             6%    syncdefaultsd
             3%    WindowServer
    Top Processes by Memory: (What does this mean?)
        485 MB    kernel_task
        106 MB    ocspd
        82 MB
        82 MB    Safari
        74 MB    iconservicesagent(2)
    Virtual Memory Information: (What does this mean?)
        853 MB    Free RAM
        3.17 GB    Used RAM (1.85 GB Cached)
        0 B    Swap Used
    Diagnostics Information: (What does this mean?)
        Dec 1, 2015, 07:47:13 PM    Self test - passed
    I think it's a mix of me being impatient/having higher expectations, and Apple still shipping 5400rpm hard drives in 2015.
  19. Weaselboy Moderator


    Staff Member

    Jan 23, 2005
    The idea with the safe mode boot is it stops all these launch items from running and will tell us if that is the problem. Graphics will be a little slower in safe mode since that turns off graphics acceleration. But in safe mode with nothing running when you launch Word like you mentioned, is it any better?

    A couple suggestions. Do you have some kind of Devolo network adaptor present?

    Go to these two folders and drag the two devolo plist files off to the Desktop then restart and see if that helps. Sometimes these third party drivers can cause troubles.

    Also I see the process DataDetectorsDynamicData is taking up 16% CPU. That is not normal (assuming the machine has been running a few minutes) and it would normally consume close to 0% CPU. This is the Mac process that watch for dates in Mail app for example and tries to make format them for import to the calendar etc.
  20. JohnDS macrumors 65816

    Oct 25, 2015
    I don't think you are being impatient. The Mini should not be that slow.

    There is nothing in the EtreCheck that really jumps out at me other than the Devolo software. You might try uninstalling it, then physically disconnect from the network and reboot and see if the computer then runs faster.

    If that doesn't help, run the Apple Diagnostics as I earlier suggested. The Mini may still be under warranty and if there is a hardware problem you want to know about it before the warranty expires.
  21. boogiedout macrumors member

    Nov 6, 2014
    I'm looking at this same set up for my 2014 mini, 2.6 GHz Intel Core i5, 8gb ram. If I follow this video Can I then restore the mini from time machine onto the SSD?
  22. Weaselboy Moderator


    Staff Member

    Jan 23, 2005
    I did not watch the nine minute video, but yes you can option key boot to a local (not networked) Time Machine backup and restore from there.
  23. boogiedout macrumors member

    Nov 6, 2014

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