One of the problems of the original Mac mini (2005, G4 PowerPC processor) is that it still uses 2.5 inch parallel ATA (PATA) drives. That is very unfortunate, especially since the Mac mini G4 came with drives of 40 to 80 GB capacity, which is not much compared to today’s standards (2015).
But, once you decide to upgrade, you face the current market situation, where IDE 44-pin 2.5 inch HDDs are much more expensive than regular 2.5 inch SATA HDDs or even 2.5 inch SATA SSDs!
The strategy, in theory…
So, a solution is to use an adapter to convert from 44-pin IDE to SATA. The problem: the Mac mini G4 doesn’t provide much space for additional adapters. Such an adapter would therefore have to be very small in dimensions. Another problem could be the height of the adapter and the resulting displacement of the 2.5 inch HDD or SSD. A show stopper would be if the adapter doesn’t fit in at all, because its connector is placed as such that the adapter is displaced in relation to the HDD/SSD, making it impossible to fit them both at the same time.
So I though that it might be a possible solution to install the SATA HDD/SSD turned by 180° with the connector towards the speaker in front. But how then connect the SATA connector of the HDD/SSD with the 44-pin IDE connector on the other side? The solution could have been quite simple: use a 44-pin ATA/IDE cable. A 2.5 inch drive is about 10cm long, so the cable would have to be a little longer. 15cm would do. So that is what I ordered.
- IDE 2.5 inch (44-pin) to SATA adapter, smallest possible size
- IDE/ATA 44-pin cable, around 15cm but at least 2cm
- 44-pin IDE/ATA gender switcher
And then I found that it still doesn’t fit!
The only real solution…
…will void the warranty of your SATA SSD.
I tried at least two different IDE/SATA adapters, which were presumably as small as they can be, with and without using an additional cable. With the 2.5 inch ATA cable (44-pin) it is even worse. Thinking about it, this was to be expected. But even with the smallest IDE/SATA adapter the place is too scarce for a standard size 2.5 inch HDD/SSD.
The only real solution was to get the SSD out of its 2.5 inch case. This voids the warranty of the SSD. Most SSDs however are very small on the inside, half of the size of the case, or even more than half, could be empty. Some very large capacity SSDs use more space inside the SSD case.
The solution to put a fast SSD into a Mac mini G4 is to remove it from its case and use the IDE/SATA adapter:
- IDE 2.5 inch (44-pin) to SATA adapter
- any 2.5 inch SATA SSD, but remove the circuit board holding the flash chips from the case
Again be warned that this will void the warranty of the SSD!
You have to be extremely careful to get the right adapter! Most adapters are for the other way around: to connect an existing IDE drive to a SATA connector on the mainboard. But we want it exact opposite, because the mainboard of the Mac Mini G4 still has a IDE interface and we want to connect a modern SATA drive to it!
One way to distinguish one from the other is to check if the SATA connector is male or female. Since the connector on the HDD/SDD is with the pins visible: if the adapter card has the same, it’s most likely the wrong adapter. This is the time to take a close look at Serial ATA (SATA)…
The IDE connector for the cable would have had to be male, not female. Since the cable is female, it would not have fit if the IDE connector on the adapter was also female! Parallel ATA (PATA) aka ATA aka IDE (the connectors on 3.5 inch cables look almost the same, so take them as a reference)…
This is what I got in particular:
- XRP 2.5″ 7+15P SATA SSD HDD Hard Drive to 2.5″ 44P IDE Compact Adapter Converter Horizontal Type
Whatever I am running on this/my Mac mini G4 1.5 GHz (Late 2005)—be it Mac OS X 10.2.8 (unsupported, runs with issues), 10.3.9 (only the original model, but once installed it also runs on the Late 2005 models), 10.4.11 or 10.5.8—the real culprit for not getting off the ground is the processor and the memory. The G4 7457 with its 1.5 GHz is actually a fast G4 model, but with only one core (some high end Power Macs used dual processors) and its bus with only 167 MHz is simply too slow to shift data around. Also the memory cannot be expanded beyond 1 GB, which is a pity. While the graphics card is very sufficient for Mac OS X 10.3 “Panther” and quite usable under Mac OS X 10.4 “Tiger”, when using Mac OS X 10.5 “Leopard” the Radeon 9200 AGP 4x additionally slows down the whole experience, as it doesn’t fully support Core Image.
With the SSD programs start tangibly faster and disk access in general feels quicker, still it is apparent that the whole system doesn’t provide a greater performance due to its real limiting components: 1) the processor and bus speeds and 2) the maximum supported memory and 3) the graphics card.
In general you can feel that the Mac mini G4 is actually using laptop technology (as opposed to the experience you get when using a Power Mac G4 Cube, which internally is a real desktop computer).
In the end, even with the limited gain in speed, using the IDE/SATA adapter plus SSD (removed from its case) is still the best HDD upgrade solution for a Mac mini G4, because it is nowadays cheaper than a 2.5 inch IDE HDD. And if you now think that using the adapter and an even cheaper SATA HDD would do as well, then you forgot about the limited space inside the Mac mini! Only the SSD can easily be removed from its case in order to fit. (I’ll just assume that a 1.8 inch SATA HDD will be as expensive as a 2.5 inch SSD… anyway, the SSD circuit board is so light in weight that no screws are required, which may not be true for a 1.8 inch HDD…)
I know that such an SSD upgrade has already been performed before, but this is my (extended) story of my little adventure, trying it myself. Maybe this story is of use for someone else too.