Q&A: Mac mini as file server

Q I want to replace our ailing Mac Pro with a new Mac mini, to work as file server for our stack of five external Firewire 800 drives. How should I connect them to it?

A If you can get hold of a Late 2012 mini, the previous model, it still has a Firewire 800 port, making it ideal for this, provided it is kept cool.

You have two options for connecting the five drives: you could daisy-chain them, as you probably do at present, or buy a Firewire 800 hub to place them in as star configuration. For example Lindy’s 6-port hub would cost just over £50. However as they all go to the same single port on the mini, there should be little difference in performance.

If you prefer to buy a new Mac mini, the Late 2014 model does not have a FireWire port any more, but does have USB 3 and two Thunderbolt ports, which should be far quicker.

Using a USB to FireWire adaptor is a bit hit-or-miss, and may not prove suitable for your stack of drives. Apple offers a Thunderbolt to FireWire adaptor cable which would be a much better choice, and is still relatively cheap at around £24. Some Thunderbolt docks include FireWire ports, but are significantly more expensive, starting at around £180.

Another option worth thinking about would be to rehouse your existing hard drives in a Thunderbolt enclosure, which would be more expensive still, but greatly improve their performance. Assuming that the hard drives in those enclosures are over three years old, I would recommend that you think seriously about replacing the external drives with new, possibly in a Thunderbolt array such as a Promise.

Updated from the original, which was first published in MacUser volume 30 issue 6, 2014.