Failing HD - Need Advice

I have a trusty 2012 MacMini that has faithfully served as our HTPC (media server) for several years. About a week ago it started randomly restarting with no evidence in the logs, etc. I have spent the last 3-4 days chasing down possible causes, etc but had not found anything. Prior experience with failing HD told me these random crashes etc are often hardware related. I ran DriveDX on the drive and sure enough - the HD is failing. No big deal - its the original HDD that came in the machine - its lived a good life and oddly enough I purchased a replacement SSD last week I just haven’t put it in yet.

Now the obvious workflow I would have here is just restore from my TimeMachine backup to the SSD, rip the mini open, replace the drive and off we go… BUT… I have some special circumstances and this is where I would like some advice.

When I first started using the MacMini - I installed one of the Mac OS X Server versions on it and used it for a few years, It was a bit more than we really needed in the house, so I ended up removing as much as possible of the Server artifacts from the MacMini so it would operate as a simple Mac OS X client. The server I was using was notoriously hard to remove all tidbits from what I read so I never messed with anything else. NOw I have the chance to start fresh and get rid of all those lingering tidbits, but I need advice. My thought is - do a clean install of macOS High Sierra on the new SSD and then use Migration Assistant to get everything transferred over. This has worked well in the past, but this particular machine has many custom items outside the User directories that I have compiled and installed for various reasons - think /usr/local/bin and/or homebrew, etc. These items are INTEGRAL to the operation of this HTPC.

So how do I migrate all my user files and all the custom binaries, etc to the cleanly installed SSD?

I recommend using a tool like Carbon Copy Cloner to simply image everything over to the new drive if you can. Least amount of fuss. I will state a disclaimer — it’s been a long time since I’ve had to do this, so I’m not certain if there are any issues with this method.

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While I generally lean towards nuke and pave in situations like this, I think what you describe here points pretty strongly towards copying/restoring your existing HD onto the new drive.

If he were keeping the old drive in the machine as a second disk, copying the data directly from the old drive to the new one using CCC would be a solid choice. Given that this drive is on it’s last legs, and he’s presumably going to want to remove it from the machine when he puts the new drive in, I think it makes more sense to restore from a backup.

Your disk is failing. You need to get it imaged NOW onto another drive before the inevitable happens. Blow the untidiness of the current installation, get it imaged and capable of running from the image so you can discard the failing disk before ir fails completely! You may want to do that onto a hard drive first, just to save worrying about SSDs until the imaging is complete!

Before buying an SSD, especially if you want to install it into you Mac mini, be sure it will work with your specific Mac hardware. only buy a respectable make, such as Crucial. Do not order until you have checked on the mfg’s website that this drive will work with this exact model and year (and preferably serial number) of your Mac.

Be aware that to the best of my knowledge you can only run an SSD in a caddy if you have USB-3 on your Mac. If you haven’t then things get a little more complicated. I am pretty sure that you Mac mini will only have USB-2. In this case, my remarks in the previous paragraph re SSD compatibility apply in spades!


Just to get the ball rolling - I did a clean install of macOS High Sierra onto the SSD in an external case, and am now in the process of migrating data from the latest Time Machine backup from that machine to the SSD. I figure that will at least get me up and running quickly and get the family back into Plex. I know I will be missing all the custom binaries and libraries I have built over the years but the more I thought about it the more I think it might just be a good idea to start fresh with those as well. Just means a few weeks of randomly running into things that are missing. I say this every time and never follow through - I wish I had documented all the things I built on. I really just wish there was an advanced mode migration assistant or even just a method of listing everything that needs to be built.

It is my intention to install the SSD into the MacMini. I have done a fair amount of research on the process and while it is a bit drawn out I think it is doable. I have done so many iMac SSD switches I feel pretty confident tackling the MacMini. The SSD is a Samsung EVO which is pretty much all I use internally on Macs.

Thanks for all the great suggestions.

I’ve swapped out the hard drive on a mini for an SSD. It’s time consuming, but not too difficult.

Any idea where I can find if my model is compatible with this Samsung EVO?

Yes it is compatible. I have upgraded many Mac Mini’s with SSD drives from Samsung, OWC and Sandisk. Don’t forget to max out the memory while you are at it.

Also, you can add a 2nd drive to the Mac Mini. Using the SSD to run the most apps and libraries you need most and a large HD for mass storage.

For critical installations, you can install two similar SSD’s and use CCC or SuperDuper schedule a clone of the main drive. If something goes’ wrong with the main drive you can quickly reboot using the Option key.

Thanks for the info. This is Mac mini (Mid 2011) Macmini5,2 Sounds like I might need to purchase a new HD cable and possibly a sled. Do you know if I need one or both of them?

Also I am happy to report - the server is back up and running off the new SSD in an external case. Not optimal, but good enough until I can spend the time to open it up and replace HD.

Here’s the process I followed:

  1. Clean install macOS High Sierra on APFS formatted SSD in an external drive.
  2. Boot from new external SSD and run MIgration Assistant (choosing defaults) using source as most recent TimeMachine backup.
  3. Carbon Copy Cloner from failing MacMini LIVE HD to SSD copying ONLY my /User directory.

Oddly enough - when I checked - everything in /usr/local/bin, homebrew, etc was restored as well. I didn’t think Migration Assistant touched any of that stuff but glad it did. Also, the reason I ran the 2nd restore from CCC was that I do a lot of work with VirtualMachines (docker mostly) and by default, those VM images which are pretty big don’t get backed up to TimeMachine - so I needed to grab them from the current LIVE MacMini HD.

Fired it up - and it’s like nothing ever happened. For years I never used Migration Assistant but every time I use it - it amazes me at its ability to get you back up and running in no time.

I would second carbon copy cloner to clone the drive.
Works for me all the time.

All done! Back up and running with nary a hiccup. Was actually easier than what I read and viewed online.

Well that didn’t last long. After about 4-5 hours - the MacMini spontaneously rebooted and continues on that schedule since. I have scoured the logs up and down and can find nothing. Other things I have tried:

  • Apple Hardware Test - ran several times, results are all good, no errors.
  • EtreCheck - no problems
  • Replaced RAM
  • SMC reset
  • PRAM reset
  • Safe Boot
  • Disconnected all peripherals (HD is only peripherl - it has no monitor)

I am stumped! Especially the fact there is no log of the issue anywhere.