Repurposing a giant desktop PC is often more trouble than it’s worth. But thanks to its compact size, Mac mini can easily replace a dedicated file server, emulation station, or smart TV interface. So instead of getting rid of your old Mac mini, repurpose it!
Keep in mind that Mac minis tend to last a lot longer than your average computer. Mac minis made in 2014 can run macOS Monterey, and 2018 models run macOS Ventura. Even if you decide not to repurpose your old Mac mini, there’s a good chance you (or someone else) can still use it as a desktop computer.
Turn your old Mac mini into a file server
Services like Dropbox and iCloud let you save and access files from any device. But what if you could create your own “cloud storage” solution and avoid the monthly fees? A NAS device would do the job for a few hundred bucks, but if you own an older Mac mini, you should try using that instead.
This process is surprisingly easy. All you need to do is enable File Sharing on your Mac mini: open System Settings, navigate to Sharing, and turn on File Sharing. From here, you can press the “+” button under the “Shared Files” table to add shareable folders. (Shared folders will appear in the “Network” section of the macOS Finder or Windows File Explorer. You can adjust your settings to prevent unauthorized users from accessing shared folders.)
Plus, you can use your old Mac mini for wireless Time Machine backup. Just right-click one of your Mac mini’s shared folders in the Sharing menu, select “Advanced” and click “Share as Time Machine Backup Destination.” It should show up as a backup disk in Time Machine settings on your other macOS devices.
If you want to access shared folders on a Mac mini outside of your home, you must enable remote login. Go back to the sharing settings and turn on the “Remote login” option. Then specify which users can remotely access your Mac mini. (You may need to enable “allow full disk access for remote users”, depending on your shared folder settings.)
Keep in mind that remote access can increase your vulnerability to ransomware and hacking attempts. Important files or documents need to be stored in multiple locations to ensure full redundancy – backups can fail!
Also, if you use your Mac mini as a file server, you must give it a wired Ethernet connection. That will provide much faster upload and download speeds than a Wi-Fi connection, especially if you’re accessing your Mac mini remotely.
Mac minis are perfect for Plex
If you’re interested in file servers, consider turning your Mac mini into a full-fledged media server. You can go the official route and enable the Media Sharing option in your Mac mini’s “Share” settings, but I suggest you install Plex instead.
Plex is a media server solution that allows you to create a custom streaming service. All you need to do is install Plex on your Mac mini; From there, the software will automatically organize your movies, TV shows, and music. This media can then be accessed from the Plex web interface or the Plex app, which is available on all smartphones, tablets, smart TVs, and streaming devices.
The Plex app looks like other streaming media apps, and can be accessed from outside your home (your friends or yourself) if you pay $5 a month for Plex Pass. (That said, I suggest trying the service’s free membership before unlocking additional features with Plex Pass.)
Be sure to follow the Plex installation instructions when setting everything up. This process is quite easy, but only if you follow the instructions. Note that DRM-protected media, including movies purchased from Apple, won’t work on Plex (unless you remove the DRM).
Turn that Mac into a Chromebook
If your old Mac is having trouble running macOS, you can always convert it to a Chrome OS machine. Chrome OS software is incredibly lightweight, which means it runs at high speed on “underpowered” machines. And thanks to Chrome OS Flex, running Chrome OS on a Mac has never been easier.
The Chrome OS Flex tool, developed by Google, only takes a few minutes to set up. All you need is a USB drive. Once you’re done, your Mac will be running a modified version of Chrome OS; it doesn’t support Android apps and it doesn’t support certain hardware components (particularly older stuff like disk drives). But otherwise, it’s the same experience you’d expect from a “real” Chromebook.
Of course, you can always install Linux on your old Mac mini. A good Linux distribution like Linux Mint or Ubuntu will do the job and offer wide compatibility for hardware and peripherals. Mint is the easier to use of these two options, but realistically, you should stick with Chrome OS Flex if you’re not an experienced computer user (or don’t have the time to troubleshoot Linux).
Use your old Mac mini to play
Believe it or not, but the Mac mini is a pretty solid gaming device. Your old Mac mini may not be able to run very demanding titles, but it’s good for older games, newer indie releases, and emulators. (This is especially true if you’ve upgraded to an Apple Silicon Mac, which can barely run any games.)
Your computer monitor most likely has an additional HDMI port, which you can use for your old Mac mini. You can also try connecting the old machine to a TV; if you go this route, consider using Steam’s Big Picture mode for a more TV-friendly experience.
Those who are interested in emulations should give Retroarch a try. It provides a streamlined (and TV-friendly) interface for all your emulation needs. That being said, Retroarch is just front-end software for its emulators, so you’ll still need to look around for a few things.
And a quick side note; the mac mini is excellent Minecraft server. Install the relevant Microsoft files and follow the official guide to set everything up.
Sell, donate or trade that old thing!
Can’t find a use for your old Mac mini? Well, you should get rid of it while it’s still useful. Consider donating it to a school or other facility – Apple has a recycling program, but I suggest looking into local donation programs that make a difference in your community. (Just google “local school donation” or similar search terms.)
Don’t want to donate? You can always stop by Apple’s Trade In program to save money on your next device. Apple won’t give you a lot of money for your old Mac mini, but it’s a quick and easy process.
If you’re not happy with Apple’s trade-in offers, you can always sell your Mac mini on eBay, Facebook Marketplace, or Craigslist. Just be sure to clean your Mac mini before you sell it, as this is the only way to protect your privacy. Y make sure your buyer can actually use the Mac.
Please note that you can also recycle your Mac mini. An electronics recycling facility or disposal facility is your best bet; you can find one in your area on Google. If you throw your old Mac mini into a regular old recycling bin, there’s a good chance it will end up in a landfill on the other side of the world.