Using a Standard M.2 PCIe NVMe SSD in the 2014 Mini

Discussion in 'Mac mini' started by treekram, May 14, 2018.

  1. treekram macrumors 68000

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    #1
    In searching the web a month ago, I wasn't able to find articles on using a standard M.2 PCIe NVMe SSD in the 2014 Mini. I was going to order a Toshiba/OCZ RD400 for some yet-to-be-defined future use NOT in the 2014 Mini (it's a good PCIe SSD that Toshiba will be discontinuing and the 256GB model was available at a good price). Before it's used in it's ultimate destination, I decided to try it out in my 2014 Mini, trying out High Sierra for the first time, and share the results. I'm happy to say that it does work.

    There's a thread in the MacBook Pro forum on using standard PCIe SSD's in the 2013-2015 MBP's that will be referenced in this post - I'll refer to it as the "big thread":
    https://forums.macrumors.com/threads/upgrading-2013-2014-macbook-pro-ssd-to-m-2-nvme.2034976/

    Before proceeding, I should state that my opinion that I don't think a PCIe NVMe SSD in the Mac Mini is the preferable price/performance-wise choice for most people. On the Blackmagic benchmark, I get 688 MB/s write, 780 MB/s read (the one Blackmagic result I saw posted in this forum for the Apple 256GB PCIe SSD in the 2014 Mini was slightly, maybe 10MB/sec faster). The 2014 Mini has 2 PCIe lanes for it's SSD, the RD400 is a 4-lane SSD. So you're not getting the full performance capability of a PCIe x4 SSD. I also have a Crucial M500 (an older-model SSD) in this computer which has 414 MB/s write, 480 MB/s read. (I have thoughts on benchmarking at the bottom of the post.) The cost of the flex cable and adapter for me was $34. That's about half the current cost of a Crucial MX500 250GB SATA3 SSD. Probably any current 2.5" SATA drive will work in the 2014 Mini. However, if the 2014 Mini is like the 2013-2015 Macbook Pro, then there's a bit of uncertainty in just what PCIe SSD's and adapters will work. There are also OS and block-size considerations in using a PCIE SSD that isn't there for SATA3 SSD's. On the other hand, it is kind of geeky to do this so I won't begrudge people who do it for that reason.

    Selecting the Right SSD
    Before buying a PCIe SSD for the 2014 Mini, look at the big thread for the recommended SSD's. The Toshiba/OCZ RD400 (also known as the XG3), the one I tested, is one that's recommended. The Kingston KC1000 is also recommended. If you wish to get a different SSD than what's recommended in the big thread (with the risk involved), be sure to get a M.2 2280 (also referred to NGFF, 2280 is the size - 22mm x 80mm) PCIe NVMe (or AHCI) SSD. Do not get a SATA SSD, a M.2 2242 SSD or SSD's meant for the pre-2013 MBA. The SSD also has to be M-keyed. If you look at the SSD label-side up, with the connector towards the top, there should be one (and only one) notch in the series of connectors toward the right (you can image-search the Toshiba RD400 for what this looks like). SATA drives which use the M.2 connector will have two notches - these will not work.

    If you plan to use the SSD with Sierra, you need a SSD that uses a 4K block size. High Sierra can use 512-byte block size SSD's (more typical) or 4K SSD's. The RD400 comes with a 512-byte block size which can be re-formatted to 4K. The other Toshiba drives (XG4, XG5) should also be able to use 4K. The big thread also says the Kingston KC1000 and the WD Black can use 4K. If you get one of these drives and want to use the 4K block size, you need to find out if it comes standard with the 4K block size and how it can be reformatted if it isn't 4k. For the RD400, Toshiba/OCZ has a utility that requires the creation of a bootable Linux USB flash drive which contains their SSD utility software - I tested this and it works on the 2014 Mini. OS's before High Sierra will not see a 512-block size PCIe SSD so you can't use the HS installer running on an OS before HS. A 512-block size SSD is visible to a bootable High Sierra USB flash drive installer. I don't believe you can use non-Apple PCIe SSD's on El Capitan without installing a kernel extension - the big thread may have more information on this. The big thread SSD recommendations is based in large part on how well it performs in the 2015 MBP, which is x4. It may be that SSD's that are not recommended will work OK in the x2 Mini - but this is speculation on my part.

    The Adapter
    For those that are unaware, Apple uses a non-standard PCIe connector in the 2014 Mini which requires an adapter to work with standard PCIe SSD's. The most popular one seems to be the Sintech green "short" adapter available from Sintech directly at:
    http://eshop.sintech.cn/ngff-m2-pcie-ssd-card-as-2013-2014-2015-macbook-ssd-p-1139.html

    I bought mine from eBay - you can search for "Sintech M2 M-Key SSD as 2013-2014-2015 MACBOOK SSD" to find it. In the big thread, this doesn't work for all people. Some people in the big thread also needed to use Kapton tape (used as an electrical insulator). I did not have to use it.

    The Flex Cable
    Unless your Mini came with the Apple PCIe SSD, you will need to buy the flex cable. Search for "821-00010-A SSD PCIe flex cable" to find it. I bought this on eBay and all of the ones I saw from different sellers seemed to be the same cable.

    The Screw
    If you didn't get the 2014 Mini with the Apple PCIe SSD, you'll likely need a screw for the SSD. You can check your Mini to confirm this. If you look at the iFixit teardown:
    https://www.ifixit.com/Teardown/Mac+Mini+Late+2014+Teardown/30410
    you can see the screw in the step 9 of the teardown towards the left side of the picture. I was lucky in that I already had another computer which had an empty M.2 slot with a screw. You can search the web for "m.2 ssd screw" for places to buy the screw. The standard size seems to be "M2 x 3mm", but my screw was 4mm. I would suggest the 4mm size as there's enough room in the screw hole for 4mm to hold the SSD down properly. You should get a screw with a "wafer" head. You should not use the PCIe SSD without a proper screw. (If you're thinking about it, no, the screw used to mount 2.5" drives will not fit.)

    The Plate
    If you look at the iFixit teardown link, you'll see that there's a metal plate held down by two screws above the flex cable logic board connector. None of the flex cable kits had this plate and I did not use it so it doesn't appear to be necessary.

    Installation
    Look at the iFixit page for the PCIe SSD cable replacement:
    https://www.ifixit.com/Guide/Mac+Mini+Late+2014+PCIe+SSD+Cable+Replacement/32652

    Follow the steps 1-5 for removing the plastic cover and the antenna plate. In my opinion, removing the antenna cable is not necessary as long as you are careful in handling the antenna plate. Steps 10-17 cover removing the flex cable so should be used for reference, not actual installation steps. The flex cable has two holes on the side of the cable connecting the SSD. There are two pins on the surface of where the SSD will go that will match the two holes (take a look at steps 14-17). Keep the peel-off adhesive protector on and place the connector in place to get feel for how it will fit in the Mini. Notice in steps 13-17 that the cable has a slight bend in it. These show a bend down in the cable. I did a bend up. Although it appears in the pictures that a crease was made in the cable, I wouldn't crease the cable. It should be stiff enough to hold a bend without a crease. Once you're comfortable with how it's going to fit, you can remove the peel-off adhesive protector and place the cable in place. I attached the Sintech adapter to the flex cable before putting the cable in place. Attach the logic board connector - do not use too much force. Attach the SSD to the Sintech adapter and put the screw the in. For me, the SSD easily slid into the Sintech adapter.

    What I Have and Haven't Done
    The 2014 Mini is not my primary computer - it's mainly used as a DVR and for video transcoding. I also had to do some tests using the latest Xcode version (5GB download) which requires High Sierra. My Mini also has 50GB of audio samples used for music synthesizing. So I put a decent amount of data on the SSD. I've used the PCIe SSD in the Mini for about a week now without any disk-related issue. The PCIe SSD is located close to the WiFi antenna. I did not have any issues in this regard. This Mini uses WiFi for network connectivity and I spend more time screen-sharing to than actually working directly on the computer. I have not tested Bluetooth. In the big thread, people have issues with sleep and hibernation. I do not use either so I did not test this. I did not have the reboot problem mentioned in the big thread.

    A Note About Benchmarks
    Blackmagic is commonly used by end-users to measure the speed of their disks. It's a simple benchmark measuring a complex system. However, you'd be hard pressed to find somebody who runs and publishes comprehensive benchmarks doing a benchmark of a x4 PCIe SSD in a x2 system, much less the 2014 Mini. So in my opinion, having the Blackmagic benchmark results from the 2014 Mini, as limited as it is, is better than relying on the published benchmark results for a x4 PCIe drive run in a x4-capable system if you're trying to figure out how it will perform in a 2014 Mini.
     
  2. RyanXM macrumors regular

    RyanXM

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    #2
    I'm currently testing the 960 EVO and 970 EVO in a Mac mini as well. I can provide some additional information shortly on part numbers, etc that are needed.
     
  3. treekram thread starter macrumors 68000

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    #3
    I bought a Samsung 960 Evo (500GB) a year ago and it died during the OS install. One might say it's a chance occurrence but it turns out that this happened to a couple of reviewers, including anandtech.com. https://www.anandtech.com/show/10833/the-samsung-960-evo-1tb-review
    At the time, there were also several reviews on Amazon where this happened. Looking at the Amazon reviews, it seems that this would happen very early on and if you were past that initial break-in, it would be fine. So there were several early-death reviews but no reviews that I can recall saying it died after, say, 6 months. But I didn't want to bother with it happening again so I got a 960 Pro after returning the 960 Evo. The 960 Pro didn't have these early-death problems in either the Amazon or the published reviews. Hopefully, Samsung has fixed this issue with the 960 Evo. But, just in case, people should purchase it from retailers that have good return policies. (Unfortunately, it would be too much work for me to try my 960 Pro in the Mini and it's really overkill for the Mini anyway.)
     
  4. Mr_Brightside_@ macrumors 68030

    Mr_Brightside_@

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  5. RyanXM, May 14, 2018
    Last edited: May 20, 2018

    RyanXM macrumors regular

    RyanXM

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    #5
    My 960 EVO survived an install of 10.3.4 after installing 10.3.4 to a spinner to insure the EFI was completely up to date. I'm working on getting the 970 EVO installed and we shall see how that goes. Just interested in compatibility because the 860 EVO in a Fusion setup on the 2012 Mac mini DOES NOT work. It will not allow a fresh install or restore when configured in a Fusion HD setup. It is fine by itself, but something within CoreStorage and the Fusion HD setup, the 860 EVO just doesn't like. 850 EVO and 850 PRO are perfect.
     
  6. noodle654 macrumors 68020

    noodle654

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    #6
    I have a 500GB 970 EVO NVME with the Snitch adapter. Works great. Also have a second drive, 860 EVO 500GB. Both running great. I did the same thing in my nMP.
     
  7. uranium macrumors newbie

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    Oct 17, 2018
    #7
    I had a look at various adapters, including the one above. It looks to me that these adapters will ADD to the length of the SSD drive. Looking at the photos of how the whole assembly sits, did you have any problems/issues with SSD + adapter fitting exactly into the space provided? Is there some flexibility for adjustment there or not? Do you have a photo of how you fitted it all together that you can share?
    Thanks
     
  8. Kaida macrumors regular

    Kaida

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    #8
    I have tried a evo960 256gb on a mac mini 2014. High sierra installs ok but frequently hangs after initial setup. Maybe I will dust it out and try it with Mojave this weekend.
     
  9. RyanXM macrumors regular

    RyanXM

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    #9
    Did you first install High Sierra to an Apple SSD or HDD so that it could update the firmware? The firmware does not get updated when installing to a third party SSD.
     
  10. treekram thread starter macrumors 68000

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    #10
    I also thought that there could be an fit issue with the added adapter but it fit without a problem (this presumes the Sintech adapter I referenced in my original post). The form factor for these drives should be the same (as mentioned earlier, the "2280" refers to 22mm x 80mm). I have a lot going on at the moment so I don't know when I'll be able to get a picture but I'll try or hopefully somebody else can take one of their system.
     
  11. chriz74 macrumors member

    chriz74

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    #11
    What are read / write speeds on the 960 evo?
    --- Post Merged, Oct 21, 2018 ---
    What are read / write speeds on the 960 and 970 ?
     
  12. ChunkyCrown macrumors newbie

    ChunkyCrown

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    #12
    Can you recommend a cheap drive that will work with the adapter? The ones you recommended are difficult to source

    Really appreciate the thread! Helped me loads.
     
  13. treekram thread starter macrumors 68000

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    #13
    Sorry for the late response, as I mentioned in thread #10, there's a lot stuff going on for me at the moment. I would suggest the Samsung 970 Evo - right now at Amazon it's $88 (a good price) for 250GB (there's 2 listings, one at $88 the other at $170). The poster of #6 says that works in their Mini. SSD's, more so with the PCIe NVMe drives but also with the SATA drives, are seeing less 120GB SSD's available. The only econo model I see worth mentioning is a Kingston model (don't have the model #) which is $40 for 120GB - it says it's PCIe NVMe but it's notched differently - the connector looks more like SATA so I don't what's going on there or even if it fits properly. If the $88 for the Evo 970 is too much, I would suggest an external USB SSD. On Amazon, you can get the Crucial BX300 120GB (I think it's being phased out, I bought one a few months ago) for $34. You can put that in a USB enclosure. There's a BX500 120GB for $28 - it's been out for a couple months but I haven't seen detailed technical reviews. It looks like the BX500 doesn't have DRAM - that typically will have a significant effect on performance.
     
  14. ChunkyCrown macrumors newbie

    ChunkyCrown

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    #14
    That's brilliant advice, thank you.

    When reading the previous comments I was going to buy the KC1000, but if the Evo 970 will do the same job I will look at that.
    Both are the same price anyway.
     
  15. chriz74 macrumors member

    chriz74

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  16. Dr. Stealth, Oct 29, 2018
    Last edited: Nov 5, 2018

    Dr. Stealth macrumors 6502a

    Dr. Stealth

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    #16
    I upgraded my late 2014 over the weekend.

    970 EVO NVMe 1TB & 860 EVO SATA III 1TB

    The upgrade went flawlessly. I put a fresh install of Mojave on the 970 formatted to APFS.

    Speed of the 970 is only marginally faster than the stock Apple blade. But, 4 times the size.

    All in all very happy with the upgrade and results.

    Stock Apple M.2 256GB

    Apple-M.2.png

    970 EVO NVMe 1TB

    970 EVO.png

    860 EVO SATA III 1TB

    860 EVO.png
     
  17. Chrizx74 macrumors member

    Chrizx74

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    #17
    Reall
    This means it's not using the disk in pcie mode but in sata mode. That disk (the 970) with 2 pcie lanes should read and write at 1500 MB/s.

    P.S. do you see any NVME disk in your system profiler hardware, under NVMExpress?
     
  18. Dr. Stealth, Oct 29, 2018
    Last edited: Oct 29, 2018

    Dr. Stealth macrumors 6502a

    Dr. Stealth

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    #18
    Yes it's running in pcie mode. I didn't know you could even run a pcie blade in sata mode ?...

    I think it would only hit 1500 MB/s with PCIe 3.0 x2 not PCIe 2.0 x2.

    I have a 2010 Mac Pro that gets ~1500MB/s RW but on PCIe 2.0 x4

    NVMExpress.png

    I run the same 970 EVO but 2TB in a new PC build, PCIe 3.0 x4 and get this...

    970 EVO 2TB.PNG

    I found this on this forum which pretty much explains it. 800 MB/s Max For the Mini PCIe 2.0.

    I'm getting 727 Write & 774 Read which seems about right..

    *************************************************************
    Apple (Mac Mini) uses a PCIe 2.0 connection with a x2 link width, giving a total of 5 GT/s.

    PCIe 2.0 1x can handle 5 GT/s, and in System Information, the link speed is 5 GT/s. Since PCIe 2.0 requires 10 bits to encode 8 bits of data, 5 GT/s converted to Gbps (gigabits) would be 5*(8/10) = 6.25 Gbps. Divide by 8 to get GB/s = 0.78125 GB/s. Multiply by 1024 to get MB/s = 800 MB/s.

    So there you go.
    *************************************************************
     
  19. chriz74, Oct 29, 2018
    Last edited: Oct 29, 2018

    chriz74 macrumors member

    chriz74

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    #19
    It’s probably using pcie. However if I understand the data it’s at 5GT/s x2 and that should mean 1000MBs ( I think). You could try some tests other than black magic maybe.
    Basically it doesn’t make any sense to put an NVME in a Mac Mini.
     
  20. Dr. Stealth macrumors 6502a

    Dr. Stealth

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    #20
    Well it made sense to me because I only had the stock 256GB Apple M.2 SSD drive.

    I now have (2) 1TB SSD's. So basically 8x the storage space. And it's still very fast. Although, I have a Workstation for all my real work.
     
  21. chriz74 macrumors member

    chriz74

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    #21
    Yes, I mean speed wise. A normal 860 evo 1TB will get you the same space at 100 euros less and the speed is similar. Also you don’t have to buy the adapter.
     
  22. Dr. Stealth, Oct 30, 2018
    Last edited: Oct 30, 2018

    Dr. Stealth macrumors 6502a

    Dr. Stealth

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    #22
    I agree. I was thinking a little ahead. I'll probably get the new mini (or something else) which will use the 4 full lanes.
     
  23. Woohoo2002 macrumors newbie

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    #23
    How did you manage this? I’ve been wrestling with my Samsung 650 Pro trying to get Mojave to install, every time it fails. Any ideas?

    I’m usin* the standard SATA connector! Does an ssd have to be connected to the Pcie connector on the Mini for Mojave tomsee it?
     
  24. Dr. Stealth, Nov 5, 2018
    Last edited: Nov 5, 2018

    Dr. Stealth macrumors 6502a

    Dr. Stealth

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    #24
    Samsung 650 Pro ?? You sure about that. I can't find one reference on Google.

    SATA and NVMe are two different animals. If it's a standard 2.5" SATA SSD you only connect it to your SATA cable.

    1. First make sure what drive you have.

    2. Are you using a Mojave Installer thumb drive?

    3. Do you also have a PCIe M.2 SSD installed (Apple or Other Brand)?

    4. Do you see your disk listed in the Mojave installer window?

    5. You said it fails. Any more info? Fails immediately? Half way through the install? Any message?

    I think I can get you going with a little more info. Answer the above and we'll go from there...
     
  25. Woohoo2002 macrumors newbie

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    #25
    1. Your right, no such drive it’s an 850Pro

    2. I’ve been trying with either the recovery partition and internet recovery.

    3. I’m using the ssd as a replacement for the original hdd, it’s the only drive connected via the standard SATA connector. Just now I have nothing connected to the pcie connector (I doesn’t have the flex cable fitted! But I was considering it if needed).

    4. Yes the disc shows up and is formatted to APFS.

    5. It downloads the battery instal files which takes an age (I gues if. Download the install files and created a thumb drive it would start much quicker). I stumbled across an install log (can’t remeber how) where it documented what wa going on. It extracts the files prepares the install and then just before it starts the install it said something about querying the drive id, it gets no response. Tries a couple of time and the says can’t be installed on this drive? Thing is it was working - I had updated from previous os versions but it would periodically crash which was annoying so I thought I’d do a fresh install incase it was a corrupted file. Since then I can’t get it to take the install? I’m sure I once got it to take a restore from time machine but the random crashing was still there?

    Any help you can offer would be greatly appreciated. As an FYI the drive works fine with Snow Leopard (the only other os I tall I have) so I don’t know if it’s something to do with Mojave of the new APFS. Samsung say the drive is APFS compliant. I’m at a loss as to why this won’t work! And I hate being beaten.

    Cheers,
    Kenny
     

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