Swapping hard drives between mac mini and macbook

Discussion in 'Mac mini' started by wellsws, May 31, 2010.

  1. wellsws macrumors member

    Sep 26, 2006
    Seattle, Washington
    I just got a mac mini and was wondering if it's possible to just take the hard drive out of my macbook and install it in the mac mini and then boot up. Will it work? Or do I have to set it all up again? The reason I want to do this is because the mac mini has a 320 GB HD and my macbook 500GB, so I want the bigger drive in the mac mini. But, I don't have a "transitional" hard drive to throw everything onto before I wipe the macbook hard drive and install it in the mac mini. Help would be appreciated.

  2. Hellhammer Moderator


    Staff Member

    Dec 10, 2008
    It should work but you may have to reinstall the OS X (doesn't erase files)
  3. diazj3 macrumors 6502a

    Jan 19, 2008
    It will surely work, but in the long run it's recommended you install OS X in the machine you'll run it. While every installation of OS X is basically the same, it does contain certain files and firmware drivers specific to the hardware its running (such as fans, temperature sensors, motion sensors, etc).

    Now, to achieve this follow these steps... this is what I would do, since it's a good chance to do a clean start in both machines while preserving all your apps and other info. All you need is a Firewire 800 cable, and make sure all you personal files, applications and OS X do not go over 300GB total in the MacBook (having around 200GB free space in the 500GB drive).

    1. Exchange the drives and repair permissions in the 500GB drive in the Mac Mini (where I assume all your information is).
    2. Do a clean install of OS X in the (new/empty) 320 GB drive, now in the MacBook (using the MacBook Install disks that came with it).
    3. Use migration assistant (either during the OS install process or afterwards, using the firewire target disk connection) to copy all your files and programs into the 320GB MacBook. Repair permissions and make sure all your files are there, and that all of them aren't over 300GB. Some applications will require you put your serials in again. Afterwards, disconnect the firewire cable from both.
    4. Once both drives are the same (content-wise), do a clean reinstall of OS X in the 500GB Mac Mini (using the original Mac Mini Install disks)... this will erase all your info there. Again, now migrate your info from the 320GB MacBook into the original 500GB Mac Mini. Repair permissions in both of them again. I'd also use Onyx to run the maintenance scripts and clean all caches.
    5. Once you've made sure all your files are there too, you can delete files in either computer so each has only the files you need them to have. Personally, I'd wait a bit and separate the files into a "duplicated" folder in the 500GB Mac Mini until I've made sure the new 320GB disk in the MacBook functions OK (if a new drive is meant to fail, it will do so during the first weeks). Afterwards eliminate duplicates, or erase all files of your user account in either.

    The whole process will take you around 4 hours... but the beauty of it is that in both machines you'll enjoy fresh installs of OS X, will avoid missing any firmware issues, and will have all your keychain and apps the same way you are used to.

    Personally I don't like using the "archive and reinstall" feature as a permanent solution since (IMO) it's a waste of space in the long run. Also, another way to do this is by cloning one drive into the other while either machine is in Target Disk Mode... but still you'll have to migrate if you wish to have clean installations of OS in both... so I'd still go the migration route anyway.

    Let me know if you have any questions. Be careful while opening you mac mini, avoid affecting the warranty. I assume your MacBook is a recent model with a user exchangeable HD.

    Hope this helped.


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