Upcycling Mac Minis (Part 1)

I have a couple of old Mac Mini systems, in mostly working condition. By old though, I mean 2006 and 2007 era. The older one has a single core 32 bit CPU clocking in at a blistering 1.83 GHz, and a whole gigabyte of RAM. All of that backed with a 60GB HDD. The 2007 is a little better, boasting a 64 bit dual core CPU clocked at 2 GHz, 2GB of RAM and a 1 TB HDD (it also has a defective optical drive, which is more of a problem than it ought to be – thanks Apple). Neither are going to set any records, and, of course, neither are supported by Apple any longer – the 2006 can run Mac OS 10.6 (aka Snow Leopard), and the 2007 gets up to 10.7 (aka Lion).


One thing that struck me when I booted these up a few days ago to assess their current state was that they both worked surprisingly well. My current Mac Mini system, which I bought a few years back to replace one of these, struggles with 8 GB of memory. Somewhere in the last decade or so, Mac OS X has become pretty bloated it would seem.

Given that I wanted to keep using these though, I started looking for an alternative OS that I could boot onto them to maximize the limited resources they had. I also did a little research into possible, low cost, upgrades.

Upgrade Options

For the 2006, the upgrades are little limited. That said, unlike modern Apple systems, this era Mac was much more upgradeable. I discovered that I can upgrade the CPU on this system to be a 64 bit dual core, so I splashed $7 on eBay for a 2 GHz Core Duo (basically matching the 2007 system’s CPU).

The memory is also upgradeable to 2 GB (no cost, as I’m stealing it from the 2007 system), and I can swap the slow spinning disc for an inexpensive solid state drive too ($32 for a 240 GB SSD from Crucial).

For the 2007, I’m leaving the CPU as-is, but I splashed $22.50 on a 4GB memory upgrade, but apparently I will only get to use 3GB of it. I am also going to swap the 1 TB spinning disc for a 750 GB Crucial SSD that I already had and was not using. I am also replacing the optical drive (another $20 from eBay) because it seems that is the only way to install a new OS on these systems – Apple does not support booting from USB.

Parts are ordered, but several are coming from eBay or Amazon Marketplace sellers and are not due until the end of this week at the earliest.

Operating System

I want to switch these two boxes to a flavour of Linux, most likely a headless variant since I don’t plan to have a keyboard, mouse or monitor connected to these systems. I found resources online for installing Debian, and maybe Ubuntu (the latter is 64 bit however, and without a working optical drive I cannot test that yet).

I did manage to boot Debian 18.04 onto the 2006 box, and even get a working graphical desktop on there. Once I swap the drive to the new SSD, I will likely re-install as a headless OS with web and ssh servers.

In part 2, I will cover the hardware upgrades, then look at the software changes to the two systems in part 3.