What hard drive setup is best for a Mac Mini?

Hey Live Community,

I'm looking into purchasing a Mac Mini as my primary rig for creating music. Currently, I'm using a Windows setup on a desktop I built myself, but I'd like to move my work to a Mac system for CoreAudio, Unix capabilities, ability to use Apogee hardware, etc.

Currently, I've got three 500GB internal drives: One for the OS/Applications, one for sample libraries (Komplete 7, Ableton Suite Library, and some other stuff. Planning on having Komplete 8 Ultimate soon), and one for recording/projects. Since I can't fork the money over for a Mac Pro (never mind it's very overpriced for the hardware you're getting, even compared to a Mac Mini or iMac...), I'm wondering what's your opinion for the best setup I can do for external drives for a Mac Mini?

The Mac Mini has 4 USB 2.0 ports, 1 FW800 port (which I'd be using for my interface, but I can always daisy-chain the drives if I go for Firewire based external drives), and 1 Thunderbolt port (that I won't be using for a Mac monitor). I'm getting the 750GB 7500RPM internal drive.

The big parts of this question are:

  1. 1 External or 2 External drives? If I go for one drive, is it better to put the libraries on the external drive (recording to internal) or my projects on the external drive (recording to external) or both (recording and libs on external with internal only having apps)? 
  2. Any recommended drives? I know Glyph's great and all, but it's hard paying a lot of extra bones when it's just a Seagate drive underneath the hood and for a nice warranty (I'm good about making backups of my data). I'm not too worried about fan noise either, but if you have a good point for Glyph over one of the more conventional drives, particularly a specific model, I'm all ears.

Any suggestions and advice would be greatly appreciated. My technical knowledge is pretty deep, so feel free to explain to your technical heart's desire. Thanks!


theaeolianmachine 6 years ago | 0 comments

3 answers

  • juanlittledevil
    9 answers
    17 votes received
    2 votes

    If you plan on using lot of VST or AU plugins you might be outgrowing your mac mini very soon. Remember you are stuck with an i5 2.3 dual core which might be ok for small projects but you'll feel it if you use a lot of resource hungry plugins.

    If you are working with external gear IO will depend on the speed of your bus/hard drive. Slow drives will cause the system to wait for those transactions to finish and cause other system resources to wait for them thus bringing CPU utilization high. You can compensate for this by getting a small SSD drive or something to run use as a scratch disk.

    I have friends who run Ableton on older laptops with similar specs successfully after replacing their drives with SSD's. That being said remember this: "You get what you pay for". SSD drives are not cheap! Bottom line is what how you intend to use the system. I personally have a dual quad core i7 mac with 6GB ram, and I work with both soft and external gear. My system runs smooth as can be, but there are times when even my setup could use some more umph. That being said my secondary system is an old G5 which I stopped updating long ago. I have to say I'm perfectly capable of producing music on that system as well, but I know it's limitations. ;)

    6 years ago | 1 comment
  • CBEtsinger
    6 answers
    6 votes received
    1 vote

    Do you really want to keep the mac mini? I researched this to hell. The iMac would be a better unit. IF you must use the mini an ssd drive and maxed ram is all you can do. Like above if you load up your tracks you will find the limit for your machine quick. If you have the quad core imac you will have a little more headroom. (everyone should buy quad or more)

    Use an app called "blackmagic" on your mac or other macs and test the "read" "write" speed of your drives. I tested my SSD externals, usb 3.0 and even my SDHC cards before putting them in my gopro. You can google and find a few sites that people tried to find external drives.

    iMac users with SLOW hard drives (5400rpm) have installed external usb 3.0 drives installed their os on there an used the internal drive as the storage. They found the USB drives were faster than their internal drives for normal tasks. The external drives were SSD not rpm. A fusion drive should offer good improvements as well over the slower spinning internal drives. This was an option I found while researching external drives and ableton for my MBP

    3 years ago | 0 comments
  • CBEtsinger
    6 answers
    6 votes received
    1 vote

    I'll touch up on this post. 

    I have bought a 2015 Mac Mini. I do NOT recommend using it as your main DAW. $500 for a Mac Mini, would be MUCH MUCH MUCH better spent on a 5,1 Mac Pro tower for $800 on eBay. 

    I have followed others by using an external usb 3.0 adapter $29 from BestBuy, and a 250gb SSD drive. The speed is nearly double that from the Mac Mini out of the box for everything. Boot times, opening Ableton etc all happen about 2x faster. There are walkthroughs that allow you to upgrade the internal drive to an SSD also. Not worth the effort for the small return. 

    Older I7 Mini's sell for $900 or so, again thats not worth it. Google a Mac Pro 5,1. Its nearly as fast if not faster than the current entry level mac pro for $2500. 5,1 is a 12 core beast, supports 128GB of ram, multiple SSD upgrades. And even more upgrades for the future. Its the next Mac i'll be buying over my I7 MBPr. Even if that 5,1 fails its still cheaper to fix it or upgrade it than getting a new Mac Pro, and its still faster. 


    in the end... NO a Mac Mini isn't good for a main DAW unless you're using less than 8 channels, and one VST. If you're using more than that, you will not like its performance. 

    1 year ago | 0 comments

You need to be logged in, have a Live license, and have a username set in your account to be able to answer questions.

Answers is a new product and we'd like to hear your wishes, problems or ideas.