Apple's Yosemite Ate my 2011 Mac Mini - What to do?
October 17, 2014 2:47 PM   Subscribe

First, this is not a gigantic deal. I have all my data backed up via CrashPlan, I do most of my computing on a MBP Retina that's about 6 months old, and I've hardly used the Mini at all in that time. My question is what I can best do with the doorstop my Mac Mini now is.

To get things out the way:
- It's old so it isn't under warranty in any way (bought it in July of 2011).
- I have enough disposable income that I am willing to take it in for service, or donate it (if it can be used in its broken state)/trash it and possibly replace it.
- I have enough computing capital/resources/know-how that I'd be fine taking it apart for spare parts.
- For the life of me, if I ever got a system disk, I have no wherewithal to find it now (disastrous breakup, move across country shortly after acquiring it), and I think I probably don't. I think I remember not getting a system disk and probably not making a recovery disk.

- I think it would be cool to get the Mini back and even cooler to recover the Mini with data intact. It would be nice to have it back for two reasons:
  1) I use it to stream household music to the Sonos.
  2) I sometimes if rarely use it to run the server for Artemis Spaceship Bridge Simulator.
- I would be okay with throwing in the towel and cannibalizing its drive(s) and memory/CPU for spare parts. Not sure where I'd use its memory or CPU but if that's the most time/cost effective option, whatever.
- I would be okay with taking it in for service.
- I would be okay with buying spare parts to replace the likely dead hard drive and getting it back.
- I would be okay if this required me to buy a new copy of OSX in order to reinstall the OS.
- I would be okay donating the dead thing somewhere to someone who might be able to use it.
- I would be okay waiting to determine whether this is a widespread problem and seeing if Apple will repair it free, but I wouldn't want to hold my breath on that one.

- 2.0 GHz Quad Core Intel i7 CPU
- 8 GB RAM (2 x 4 GB 1333MHz DDR3 SDRAM)
- 2 x 750 7200 RPM SATA drives

Current situation:
- Did have Mavericks, now in a loop state trying to install Yosemite but with an apparently irreparable disk failure (boots into the System utility - running the Disk Utility allows me to verify - I get an error that Repair needs to be run but the Repair Disk button is greyed out and no other instructions are apparent - have run all other relevant diagnostics and they look fine, including the 2nd disk)

My questions and need for advice here mostly revolve around the culture of obtaining support for out of warranty and older Mac hardware and what my expectations should be/not be of Apple and/or other authorized repair houses.

- Am I missing some obvious way to kick this Yosemite upgrade into gear? Some widely known thing that apparently I don't know? I have a Superdrive, so I can use a USB-stick or Optical drive using trick if there is any way to do this.
- Does it seem like it would be worth it to pay the fee (telephone support is quoted at $19 for this machine's serial number) and take this to a local Apple store to try to get it to work?
- Since I rarely use it, should I just see if I can get the drives to work and dump/donate the rest somewhere?
- Should I just donate the whole broken thing somewhere?
- Am I missing anything obvious that I should be thinking about?

To be clear, I'm pretty geeky with PCs (In fact I'm paid to be a systems engineer with Windows operating systems) but switched to Apple products a few years ago for home. I'm used to this sort of upgrade-related Catch-22 for PCs but not so much for Apple products. I'd love some pointers on how to get past it or deal with it. And I'm not interested in philosophical discussion and answers like "Get a PC" or "Install UNIX" or what have you.

As always, thanks in advance for any advice, opinions or ideas!
posted by kalessin to Computers & Internet (21 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
If you have another working Mac, you can install a new hard drive in the mini and then install Yosemite from a USB drive
posted by Oktober at 3:03 PM on October 17, 2014 [1 favorite]

Have you tried starting up in recovery mode? It also has an 'internet recovery' option, you don't need a 'system disk' any more.
posted by derbs at 3:13 PM on October 17, 2014

You may not even need a new disk -- it's possible that the error is in the filesystem structure (i.e., a data problem and not a hardware failure), and Disk Utility is refusing to let you repair it because it's the boot drive. Try booting from a USB installer as Oktober mentions and then just wipe the disk and start fresh to see if you still get the error.
posted by McCoy Pauley at 3:16 PM on October 17, 2014 [3 favorites]

Quick updates:
I will need to figure out how to use Lifehacker's method in more detail, but I'd be cool with trying that. My MBP is already upgraded to Yosemite, and I'm afraid I've missed my chance to copy the installer. Thank you Oktober and McCoy Pauley.

Holding down Command-R per the KB article, thanks derbs, isn't working for me. I think the breakage mid-upgrade is preventing that option from working.

Is there anything I can/should do before wiping the disk? It's not that I'm afraid of losing the data, it's that Crashplan has 640 GB of backups for the computer/drives and it'll take a bit of time to get that back after erasing the drive.
posted by kalessin at 3:27 PM on October 17, 2014

Blimey, it must be pretty borked if recovery mode doesn't work. Have you tried holding the option/alt key down and then powering back up? See if it gives you the startup disks option? Also, you could try zapping the pram a few times (as in, let it chime 5 or 6 times rather than just once).

At this point though, I'd be tempted to pop the cover and disconnect the data cable to the dodgy HDD. They used to be relatively easy to open, although it's been a few years. It will hopefully then break the reboot cycle and let you start in recovery mode.

For the USB drive option, you can re-download the installer from the App Store app on to your MBP - I think it lets you do that from the Purchased tab.
posted by derbs at 3:50 PM on October 17, 2014

i don't think your hard drive is messed up, i think the install just borked it. it's happened to me before.

Did have Mavericks, now in a loop state trying to install Yosemite but with an apparently irreparable disk failure (boots into the System utility - running the Disk Utility allows me to verify - I get an error that Repair needs to be run but the Repair Disk button is greyed out and no other instructions are apparent - have run all other relevant diagnostics and they look fine, including the 2nd disk)

If you hold option at bootup, do you get the wifi selection menu at the bottom, or the option there for internet recovery under the selection of disks? You want to run that, then launch disk utility from within that. This will run disk utility from essentially a RAM disk and it wont give you any greyed out button guff about scanning local drives.

The only downside of this is that booting from internet recovery takes like, literally, 10-20 minutes since it has to download some large portion of the install disk right out of the gate to even boot.

The downside of this, is that if you don't want to format the disk(at least at first) you'll have to see if it's willing to install over your current install with the internet recovery, which will likely involve then booting to mavericks and redownloading yosemite, or use a second machine to make a USB key.

Is there anything I can/should do before wiping the disk?

Boot a linux live USB and run a SMART scan of the drive, assuming that the repair "succeeded" above but it died again trying to install, or otherwise gave you guff that was leading to the format and make a usb key stage of this operation. I'm not completely discounting the possibility of a drive failure here, it's just that i've seen the OSX installer create this sort of situation before. If someone asked me for an educated guess on what it is, i'd say it's a permissions fuckup.

I actually opened disk utility and ran a repair permissions the day before i installed mavericks on my macbook, probably subconsciously. That's the source of a lot of OSX screwups like this.

Also, to be clear, from your explanation i'm assuming yosemite installed halfway and now that it's failing it's booting up to a utility/install menu on your hard drive. If you're already doing the internet recovery, skip straight to the SMART scan and make a usb key with another system step.

If the SMART scan comes back clean, and it fucks up again, i just remembered i had fallen down this rabbit hole before on a different 2011 machine and it turned out to be a bad hard sata cable, since that's a weird custom apple part. After an entire evening of all the kings horses and all the kings men trying to resuscitate the thing, the genius bar swapped out the cable for free. So yea, if you get to that point and you're still stumped, have them look at it. The guy there didn't even look at the thing for 2 minutes before going "oh, another one of these? weird". It wasn't a mini, but i've heard of the cable going south on many not-mini macs(and plenty of PCs i've serviced)
posted by emptythought at 3:55 PM on October 17, 2014

Another update:
I will try the option key thing to see what happens and will report back.

emptythought, I thought I remembered going through a less deadlocked form of this upgrading this same machine to Mavericks too, but it was kind of during the horrible breakup so my memory for detail from that time is poor. I'm okay with trying your proposed process - if it takes time, that's fine. whatever. I'd like the machine to work but I've got no urgency about it.

I did run a "Verify Disk Permissions" op after the Yosemite install failure and that seemed to be successful on the System drive. I didn't do one before though, and there was a lot of output from the post crash run.

I'll try to be as clear as I can regarding the shell the Mini now boots into:
I downloaded Yosemite through the App store on the Mini itself and installed it. After the first reboot I saw the apple logo with the progress bar underneath it (dark logo on a light background, progress bar is dark blue, I think?). Then Install OSX shows up as a splash screen and then a progress bar shows 22 minutes remaining. Somewhere around 10 minutes, I get another big X on white that says that the install failed due to a disk error with a Retry button. The upper left of the menu bar identifies the process as "OS X Installer". I have the option to Restart to retry or to Shut Down. If I shut down and/or restart, I get the same logo with progress bar, then installer attempt, then failure. Under Utilities in OS X Installer I have the option of using the Disk Utility (which is what I've been doing to poke at it, run Verifications, etc.) as well as Terminal, System Information and Firmware Password Utility. I am assuming that this is running from the hard drive.

I AM currently able to download Yosemite on my MBP which I am doing. Also I was able to find DiskMakerX (per the Lifehacker article - it crashed but came up again at and am going to also pursue that. Will report back.

While Yosemite downloads again I will go run a quick errand at the local grocery store. Thanks all! I will report back with anything new, and will try all reasonable recommendations.
posted by kalessin at 4:11 PM on October 17, 2014

I get another big X on white that says that the install failed due to a disk error with a Retry button.

Ouch, this isn't what i suspected. I'd skip the rest of the stuff and do the linux USB and SMART test now, before i sunk any more time in to this.
posted by emptythought at 4:29 PM on October 17, 2014

Okay. Have made the 16 GB stick into a Yosemite installer. I have a cheapie 4 GB con swag stick I will make into the linux live USB. Will again report back.
posted by kalessin at 5:30 PM on October 17, 2014

Oh and the option/alt key hold-down is not working at this time. Will try it later - maybe with a plugin keyboard? My theory is that the wireless keyboard pairs after the keypress would do anything.
posted by kalessin at 5:30 PM on October 17, 2014

I have an Ubuntu for Mac Live USB key now but the Yosemite installer won't currently let me boot off of it. I'm assuming I need to get this opt/alt thing sorted out and am asking around with the geeks on my block (I live on the block that Mark Kos of Daily Kos lives, so I'm assuming there'll be help SOMEwhere) if anyone has a USB/wired Mac keyboard I can borrow.

Will report back after I have surmounted the keyboard problem. Worst case I'll have to buy/mail order one.
posted by kalessin at 6:05 PM on October 17, 2014

I managed to borrow a keyboard and boot from the Linux stick. Yay!

The S.M.A.R.T. self-test for the System disk FAILED.

The S.M.A.R.T. self-test for the second disk did not fail, but all the thresholds are shot and the type lists Old-Age and Pre-Fail.

So I think I'm looking at replacing both drives and restoring from backup (CrashPlan). Maybe I'll just turn it into an Apple-flavored for real file-server. I definitely know how to replace drives. I just need to order some new ones.

My only question is licensing of Yosemite. Do I contact Apple Support about that or is the Yosemite on my thumb drive going to license off my Apple ID or what? How does this actually work?
posted by kalessin at 6:30 PM on October 17, 2014

Replace those disks with SSDs!

You may be able to put them in external enclosures and recover files once you get the OS sorted.

When you put the blank replacement disks in, hold Option on boot with the Yosemite thumb drive connected and boot from it. Don't worry about the licensing - once you have the installer it doesn't phone home for additional license provisioning.
posted by tomierna at 6:47 PM on October 17, 2014

Oh, and you really, really want to follow the iFixit tutorial when taking apart a Mini. It's not hard, but it's not obvious either.
posted by tomierna at 6:49 PM on October 17, 2014

Seconding iFixit, seconding spending what, $80 on a known-good drive? Swap it in and install Mavericks/Yosemite from a USB drive.
posted by Wild_Eep at 6:59 PM on October 17, 2014

Sounds like a failed hard drive.
Not a big deal. You can do it yourself, have Apple do it or contact me. I just Maxed out my Mini by adding a 1Tb sdd drive to the existing 1Tb drive and upgraded the memory to 16GB :-)
posted by Mac-Expert at 10:19 PM on October 17, 2014

Good post, glad I'm holding off on my Yosemite upgrade. Somebody pointed me to this article about keeping the disk structure clean when I got my mac mini not too long ago.
posted by JohnL4 at 11:57 PM on October 17, 2014

I know this flies in the face of everyone's good advice, but I think that at this point, since upgrading/replacing hardware in the Mac Mini means using more expensive 2.5" media (for which the ROI in sheer storage capacity is much lower than for 3.5" media) and if I throw the towel in with the Mini the only real-computer thing I lose is the possibility of using it as an Artemis Spaceship Bridge Simulator server or other gaming server, I am going to find a good home for this broken-ass MIni (I will use a LiveCD/LiveUSB to wipe disks before sending it on) and replace the lost storage with an external drive, either a 4 TB or 6 TB USB 3.0 hooked up to one of my ReadyShare-supporting Netgear devices, or possibly even a RAID 5 enclosure with USB 3.0.

I know this sounds crazy, but if I get two drives and possibly OSX (I'm still giving Apple trouble over this to try to get a "real answer" even though I agree with and appreciate knowing tomierna's take that the Yosemite license doesn't phone home after you make it into a LiveUSB) to replace the failed and about to fail drives, that's about $150. And would give me back my 1.5TB +/- the OS.

If instead I go non-raid external USB 3.0 enclosure for/of 3.5" drives like the WD MyBook attached to my Netgear network router-turned-WAP, I can get 4 TB for $150. And I even have network sharing hardware that's not in the Bedroom so I don't have to worry too much about quietness of fan or enclosure.

If I upgraded the 2011 Mini to the max (Thanks Mac-Expert - 16 GB RAM and 2 1 TB SSD drives), it would cost (via, e.g. Crucial) $1100. If I just did the SSD drives, $940, if I did 1 TB SATA drives, more like $170-$200.

I think for my purposes since I don't really use the Mini as a computer much at all and primarily rely on it for file storage, just leveraging my Netgear network hardware for that with an external drive is more cost-effective for me going forward, especially when paired with CrashPlan for backups. And I will recommend iFixit for the guides to whomever its new owner is (thanks to the rest of you).

Anyway, thanks to everyone for all the useful advice and help troubleshooting and everything else. You've been great!
posted by kalessin at 11:59 AM on October 18, 2014

Another relevant update:
(1) For the life of me I couldn't figure out how to get the 4 TB External USB 3.0 HDD formatted within Ubuntu with a protocol that both Ubuntu and OS X Yosemite (let alone the FAT/journalling formats "supported" by my network hardware - more on that in (2) below). So in the end I am opting for formatting with a standard OS X Journalling FAT and keeping it OS X only for now. This allows me to boot with the Yosemite installing USB Key and use Disk Utility to format the drive and Terminal (and a bunch of cp commands) to copy the files that are recoverable from the semi-crashed drives in the Mini.
For what it's worth, the installer boot OS is okay. The biggest problem I have with it is that even during an active long-term (a few hours) copying session, the OS and the drive go idle after 20 minutes or so of inactivity on the desktop. So I have to do short-run copies or keep getting up to wake the thing up during the big copies. Still, it works and I've verified several times that my newer Mac can read these files.
FWIW2: I did try to install Yosemite on the Mini via this installer USB key that I made per the Lifehacker instructions. No dice. The boot drive of the Mini is well and truly borked and the data drive is just shortly behind it.

(2) My genius plan to attach the 4 TB drive to the networking hardware (either a Netgear R7000 or Netgear WNDR4500) ran up against the wall that is that neither of these pieces of networking hardware can handle a large-size copy operation. In both cases, something about their connection to the 4 TB enclosure or within their own hardware make a large-size copy operation flood the interfaces and eventually caused both of them to lock up. So I'm going back to the drawing board there.
I'm torn on whether I want to spend the $100 - $200 cheapie option to install new SATA drive(s) in the existing Mini or drop $500 or so on a new Mini (I hear the performance is grand). I will probably bias toward cheaping out though since as I already said, I don't really want/need another high performance rig.
posted by kalessin at 11:25 AM on October 21, 2014

This will probably be my last update unless something truly momentous happens.

I did a bit more research, etc., wrote an FB post about it (explaining why I'm knuckling under and repairing the mini despite my strong feelings about it - mostly a long screed against all these incompatible and conflicting format/protocol/etc specifications that we are doing as we move forward in tech space), and then bit the bullet and ordered the following:
- The iFixit Mac Mini Dual Hard Drive (tool) Kit
I already have the torxes somewhere but figured what the hell. You can also order without torx if you already have them. Primarily ordered for the U-shaped tool and the cable in case I bust up mine during the breakdown. To get to the second drive, you have to disassemble the thing entirely.
- A Crucial MX100 256 GB 2.5" SSD drive
This will be the new System drive. Before ordering, I checked physical dimensions and technical specs against drives listed as compatible by Apple and iFixit for my Mini model. Also note that at this time both the 256GB and the 512 GB drive seem to be in the sweet spot for GB per dollar spent. I figure since I plan to attach the 4 TB external drive to the rebuilt rig, I don't need to buy a larger system drive.
- A Toshiba 1 TB standard SATA drive
Note again that I did some research to make the specs match those listed by Apple and iFixit as compatible. I went for a 3 GB/s rate instead of the newer drives specced at 6 GB/s (SATA III). I also made sure of physical dimensions and after a little research also figured I didn't need to spend the money on the supposedly quicker SSD hybrid/spinny drives.

I chose Toshiba and Crucial because I've experienced a reasonably good track record with both brands. I also got a SquareTrade $5 2 year warranty on the Toshiba just to be safer about long-term viability.

And I plan to continue my Crashplan subscription since I take this equipment failure as a reminder to keep up with the backups, goddamn it.

Thanks again for everyone's help and advice!
posted by kalessin at 9:35 AM on October 27, 2014

Note that I did the replace and rebuild just perfectly yesteday. No problems recognizing, partitioning or formatting the drives. OS X Yosemite is installed and happily thrumming away and my various fileshares are back to normal.

Last thing left to do: Configure Crashplan on the newly rebuilt computer.
posted by kalessin at 12:14 PM on November 2, 2014

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