Old Mac Mini as Server for New M1 MBA

I recently bought an M1 MacBook Air. It replaced a 2014 MacMini, which started to have a LOT of problems. That had replaced a 2011 MacMini, which I retired because it was stuck at High Sierra. Some time ago, I was thinking about using the 2011 Mini as a server (it was the model that was advertised as a “server”, I suspect mainly because it has 2 internal drive bays), but got sidetracked. Now I’d like to try it again, but I know next to nothing about setting up servers. That’s where I could use your help.

I don’t have a need to go farther than to have it work with my MBA. Nobody else on my network needs access to anything. I have several external USB drives that I would like to have connected to the server so I could get access to them from the MBA. I have a 500GB SSD connected to the MBA via a USB-C port, and that’s where the CCC backup goes to, along with Dropbox and OneDrive. I have a USB-C hub that includes an ethernet port. I also use BackBlaze for my backup service.

Most of the web info I’ve seen shows the server connected to the router via ethernet. I assume that’s only necessary if you want to allow access to the server for other users. So, I have 3 questions:

  1. Can I (should I) do this with an ethernet connection directly from the Mini to the MBA and use the Mini’s wifi for connection to the Internet (mainly for BackBlaze and the few updates that are still coming for High Sierra)?

  2. What are the necessary apps to keep/get if I want to clean out the Mini of all the unnecessary buildup (will probably do a nuke and pave)?

  3. What is the process I need to use to get this going?

Thanks, as always, for the help.

Well, that’s how a “server” is usually thought of: a network-accessible machine that “serves” something. If you just want it for one machine then I think another USB drive is more appropriate.

One great use for a spare Mini is as a Time Machine server. Have you considered that?

I use a 2012 Mini as a backup and media server. It’s connected via Ethernet to my main router. Our computers backup to it using CCC and those copies are backed up offsite to BackBlaze. I have a 2 drive OWC enclosure with 2 4tb drives, one for backups and one for media.

If nobody lose will use the server, you would be better served by selling the Mini and buying an enclosure for your new iMac.

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I’ve used a mini as a Server since 2010. Latest versions of the Server app are useless, but for just using as a file server it will be OK. See my long story here https://almy.us/server.html Looking at your questions:

  1. The mini should be connected by Ethernet to your router. That way you can just stick it and any external drives in the corner and your MBA will be fully cordless. Take a look at my network configuration at the end of the link, above.
  2. There are no necessary apps for the server, but you should consider backing it up. I back up my computers to the server mini and then the server mini to Backblaze.
  3. You will want an HDMI Dummy plug for the mini so you can run it “headless” using Screen Sharing from your MBA. The mini doesn’t need a keyboard or mouse after initial setup.
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I bought a couple of 2014 Mac mini to do lite server duties as well. I haven’t set one up fully but one thing you might be get some good functionality from is setting it up as a Content Caching Server.

This will cache iOS and Mac updates and more so that you’re not re-downloading the same content over and over. It’s build natively into the more recent versions of OS X. Check it out here.

I agree with @glenthompson, @tomalmy, and @hmurchison, these are all good uses for a server. Your proposal, unless I have misunderstood it, merely keeps an aging machine in the mix, with all the associated maintenance tasks and headaches.

Thanks for the replies.

Maybe I’m misusing the term “server” for what I want to do.

As I said, I have several USB drives with data on them that I’d like to be able to access from the MBA (and backup with BackBlaze). The MBA gets temperamental with anything more than 2 devices plugged into the USB-C hub (even though it has 3 ports). I confess that the hub is not top-of-the-line, by any means. However, it does well with an ethernet LAN, an HDMI, and one USB drive.

So, my thought (and this is more or less stream-of-consciousness) is to plug all the external USB drives into the Mini (possibly using a hub) and get access to them from the MBA through the Mini. The Mini could then handle the backup to BackBlaze for the drives that are attached since it would be running all the time, whereas the MBA is my computer for both home and office and gets moved frequently. I could even do a 2nd Carbon Copy Cloner backup to a drive on the Mini (possibly one of the 2 internal drives) so that it would also get a cloud backup.

That’s also why I thought using an ethernet cable between the two might be more efficient.

Does that clarify anything or does it muddy the waters?

This, I believe, is pretty close to what @tomalmy does, and it should work fine.

Yep! Works great and is a handy way to handle using Backblaze.

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