Workarounds (and their tradeoffs) for built-in storage constraints


Over the Thanksgiving 2023 vacation weekend, I made a decision to retire my trusty silver-color early-2015 13” MacBook Professional, which was nearing software-induced obsolescence, affected by a Bluetooth audio bug, and extra typically beginning to present its age performance- and other-wise. I changed it with a “house gray” shade scheme 2020 mannequin, nonetheless Intel x86-based, which I coated intimately in considered one of final month’s posts.

Over the following Christmas-to-New Yr’s week, as soon as once more profiting from vacation downtime, I made a decision to retire my equally long-in-use silver late-2014 Mac mini, too. Underlying motivations have been comparable; pending software-induced obsolescence, plus more and more difficult-to-overlook efficiency shortcomings (due in no small half to the system’s “Fusion” hybrid storage configuration). Pace limitations apart, the important thing benefit of this merged-technology method had been its cost-effective excessive capability: a 1 TByte HDD, seen and accessible to the person, behind-the-scenes mated by the working system to 128 GBytes of flash reminiscence “cache”.

Its successor was once more Intel-based (as with its laptop-transition precursor, the final of the x86 breed) and house gray in shade; a late-2018 Mac mini:

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This specific mannequin, versus its Apple Silicon successors, was notable (as I’ve talked about earlier than) for its comparative abundance of back-panel I/O ports:

And this particular one was particularly enticing in practically all respects (thereby rationalizing my mid-2023 buy of it from Woot!). It was model new, albeit not an AppleCare Guarantee candidate (as a substitute, I purchased a reasonable prolonged guarantee from Asurian through Woot! father or mother firm Amazon). It was solely $449 plus tax after reductions. It included the speediest-available Intel Core i7-8700B 6-core (bodily; 12-core digital through HyperThreading) 3.2 GHz CPU possibility, able to boost-clocking to 4.1 GHz. And it additionally got here with 32 GBytes of 2666 MHz DDR4 SDRAM which, being user-accessible SoDIMM-based (not like the soldered-down reminiscence in its predecessor), was replaceable and even additional upgradeable to 64 GBytes max.

Observe, nevertheless, my prior allusion to this new system not being enticing in all respects. It solely included a 128 GByte built-in SSD, to be exact. And, not like this method’s RAM (or the SSD within the late 2014 Mac mini predecessor, for that matter), its inside storage capability wasn’t user-upgradeable. I’d figured that much like my even earlier mid-2011 Mac mini mannequin, I might simply boot from a tethered exterior drive as a substitute, and which will nonetheless be true (on-line analysis is encouraging). Nonetheless, this time I made a decision to first attempt some choices I’d heard about for relocating parts of my app suite and different recordsdata whereas protecting the unique O/S construct inside and intact.

I’ve subsequently endured no scarcity of dead-end efforts courtesy of newest working system limitations coupled with purposes’ shortsightedness, together with experiments that functionally labored however ended up being too performance-sapping or too little capacity-freeing to be sensible. Nonetheless, after all of the gnashing of tooth, I’ve give you a mix of methods that may, I feel, ship a long-term usable configuration (then once more, I haven’t tried a serious working system replace but, so don’t maintain me to that prediction). I’ve realized so much alongside the way in which, which I hope is not going to solely be useful to different MacOS customers however, because of MacOS’s BSD Unix underpinnings, may be related to these of you operating Linux, Android, Chrome OS, and different PC and embedded Unix-based working programs.

Let’s start with a assessment of my chosen external-storage {hardware}. Initially, I believed I’d simply tether a Thunderbolt 3 exterior SSD (such because the 2TB Plugable drive that I picked up from B&H Picture Video on sale a 12 months in the past for $219) to the mac Mini, and that is still a possible possibility:

Nonetheless, I made a decision to “kill two birds with one stone” by beefing up the Mac mini’s growth capabilities within the course of. Particularly, I initially deliberate on going with considered one of Satechi’s aluminum stand and hubs. The baseline-feature set one which color-matches my Mac mini’s house gray scheme has loads of convenient-access front-panel connections, however that’s it:

Its “greater brother” moreover helps embedding a SATA (or, extra just lately, NVMe) M.2 format SSD, however connectivity is similar 5-or-more-recently-10 Gbps USB-C as earlier than (okay for tethering peripherals, not a lot for immediately operating apps from mass storage). Plus, it solely got here in a silver shade scheme (okay for Apple Silicon Mac minis, not a lot for x86-based ones):

So, what did I find yourself with? I share the next picture with no scarcity of chagrin:

Within the center is the Mac mini. Above it’s a Home windows Dev Equipment 2023, aka “Venture Volterra,” an Arm- (Qualcomm Snapdragon 8cx Gen 3, to be exact, two SoC steppings newer than the Gen 1 in my Floor Professional X) and Home windows 11-based mini PC, which I’ll say extra about in a future put up.

And on the backside of the stack is my exterior storage resolution—dual-storage, to be exact—an OWC MiniStack STX in its unique matte black shade scheme (it now is available in silver, too).

Does it color-match the Mac mini? No, even placing apart the glowing blue OWC-logo orb on the entrance panel. And talking of the entrance panel, are there any simply user-accessible growth capabilities? Once more, no. In reality, the one growth ports provided are three extra Thunderbolt 3 ones round again…the fourth there connects to the pc. However Thunderbolt 3’s 40 Gbps bandwidth is exactly what drove my choice to go along with the OWC MiniStack STX, aided by the truth that I’d discovered a gently used one on eBay at substantial low cost from MSRP.

Inside, I’ve put in a 2 TByte Samsung 980 Professional PCIe 4.0 NVMe SSD which I purchased for $165.59 used at Amazon Warehouse a 12 months in the past (these days, new ones promote for a similar value…sigh…):

alongside a 2 TByte Kingston 2.5” KC600 2.5” SATA SSD:

They seem as separate exterior drives on system bootup, and the efficiency outcomes are nothing to sneeze at. Right here’s the Samsung NVMe PCI 4.0 SSD (the enclosure’s interface to the SSD, by the way in which, is “solely” PCIe 3.0; it’s leaving storage efficiency potential “on the desk”):

and right here’s the Kingston, predictably a bit slower as a result of its SATA III interface and command set (subsequently rationalizing why I’ve targeted my implementation consideration on the Samsung thus far):

For comparability, right here’s the Mac mini’s inside SSD:

The Samsung holds its personal from a write efficiency standpoint however is greater than 3x slower on reads, rationalizing my technique to hold as a lot content material as doable on inside storage. To wit, how did I resolve to proceed, after rapidly realizing (mid-system setup) that I’d replenish the inner obtainable 128 GBytes properly previous to getting my full desired software suite put in?

(Abortive) Step 1: Transfer my complete person account to exterior storage

Quoting from the above linked article:

In UNIX working programs, person accounts are saved in particular person folders known as the person folder. Every person will get a single folder. The person folder shops all the recordsdata related to every person, and settings for every person. Every person folder often has the system title of the person. Since macOS relies on UNIX, customers are saved in an identical method. On the root stage of your Mac’s Startup Disk you’ll see a lot of OS-controlled folders, considered one of which is called Customers.

Transfer (copy first, then delete the unique afterwards) an account’s folder construction elsewhere (to exterior storage, on this case), then let the inspiration working system know what you’ve finished, and as my expertise exemplifies, you may unencumber numerous inside storage capability.

Take into account that whenever you relocate your person residence folder, it solely strikes the house folder – the remainder of the OS stays the place it was initially.

One different notice, which applies equally to different relocation stratagems I subsequently tried, and which maybe goes with out saying…however simply to cowl all of the bases:

Think about that whenever you transfer your private home folder to an exterior quantity, the connection to that quantity have to be completely dependable – which means each the drive and the cable connecting the drive to your Mac. It is because the house folder is an integral a part of macOS, and it expects to have the ability to entry recordsdata saved there immediately when wanted. If the connection isn’t completely dependable, and the amount containing the house folder disappears even for a second, unusual and undefined habits might end result. You might even lose information.

That every one being mentioned, every little thing labored nice (with the qualifier that preliminary system boot latency was noticeably slower than earlier than, albeit not egregiously so), till I observed one thing odd. Microsoft’s OneDrive shopper indicated that it has efficiently sync’d all of the cloud-resident info in my account, however though I might then see a neighborhood clone of the OneDrive listing construction, all the recordsdata themselves have been lacking, or at the very least invisible.

That is, it seems, a documented facet impact of Apple’s newest scheme for dealing with cloud storage companies. Exterior drives that self-identify as able to being “ejectable” can’t be used as OneDrive sync locations (except, maybe, you first boot the system from them…dunno). And the OneDrive sync vacation spot is mirrored throughout the person’s account listing construction. My preliminary response was “nice, I’ll bail on OneDrive”. It seems, nevertheless, that Dropbox (on which I’m rather more reliant) is, out of working system assist necessity, taking place the similar implementation-change path. Scratch that concept.

Step 2: Set up purposes to exterior storage

This one appears intuitively apparent, sure? Actuality proved rather more difficult and finally restricted in its effectiveness, nevertheless. Most purposes I wished to make use of that had standalone installers, it seems, didn’t even give me an possibility to put in anyplace however inside storage. And for those that did give me that install-redirect possibility…properly, please check out this Reddit thread I began and ultimately resolved, after which return to this writeup afterwards.

Wild, huh? That mentioned, many MacOS apps don’t have separate installer packages; you simply open a DMG (disk picture) file after which drag this system icon inside (behind which is the total program bundle) to the “Functions” folder or anyplace else you select. This led to my subsequent thought…

Step 3: Transfer already-installed purposes to exterior storage

As beforehand talked about, “hiding” behind an software’s icon is the complete bundle construction. Usually talking, you may simply transfer that bundle construction intact elsewhere (to exterior storage, for instance) and it’ll nonetheless run as earlier than. The issue, I discovered, comes whenever you subsequently attempt to replace such purposes, particularly the place a separate updater utility is concerned. Take Apple’s App Retailer, for instance. In the event you obtain and set up apps utilizing it (which is principally the one technique to accomplish this) however you then transfer these apps elsewhere, the App Retailer utility can not “discover” them for replace functions. The identical goes for Microsoft’s (sizeable, alas) Workplace suite. In these and different instances, ongoing use of inside storage is requisite. Conversely, apps with built-in replace services, corresponding to Mozilla’s Firefox and Thunderbird, or people who you replace by downloading and swapping in a brand new full-package model, improve nice post-move.

Step 4: Transfer information recordsdata, obtain archives, and many others. to exterior storage

I discussed earlier that Mozilla’s apps (for instance) are well-behaved from a relocation standpoint. I used to be particularly referring to the packages themselves. Each Firefox and Thunderbird additionally create person profiles, which by default are saved throughout the MacOS person account folder construction, and which may be fairly sizeable. My Firefox profile, for instance, is simply over 3 GBytes in measurement (together with the browser cache and different momentary recordsdata), whereas my Thunderbird profile is almost 9 GBytes (I’ve been utilizing this system for a very long time, and I additionally entry electronic mail through POP3—which downloads messages and related file attachments to my laptop—vs IMAP). Luckily, by tweaking the entries in each packages’ profiles.ini recordsdata, I’ve managed to redirect the profiles to exterior storage. Each packages now launch extra slowly than earlier than, as a result of aforementioned degraded exterior drive learn efficiency, however they then run seemingly as speedy as earlier than, because of the aforementioned comparable write efficiency. And on condition that they’re perpetually operating within the background as I take advantage of the pc, the launch-time delay is a one-time annoyance at every (uncommon) system reboot.

Equally, I’ve redirected my downloaded-files default (together with a sizeable archive of program installers) to exterior storage, together with an encrypted digital drive that’s obligatory for day-job functions. I discover, in instances like these, that creating an alias from the previous location to the brand new is an efficient reminder of what I’ve beforehand finished, if I subsequently discover myself scratching my head as a result of I can’t discover a specific file or folder.

The end result

By doing all of the above (steps 2-4, to be exact), I’ve relocated greater than 200 GBytes (~233 GBytes in the meanwhile, to be exact) of recordsdata to exterior storage, leaving me with practically 25% free in my inside storage (~28 GBytes in the meanwhile, to be exact). See what I meant after I earlier wrote that within the absence of relocation success, I’d “replenish the obtainable 128 GBytes properly previous to getting my full desired software suite put in”? I ought to make clear that “practically 25% free storage” remark, by the way in which…it was true till I acquired the intense thought to command-line set up just lately launched Wine 9, which restores MacOS compatibility (beforehand misplaced with the discharge of 64-bit-only MacOS 10.15 Catalina in October 2019)…which required that I first command-line set up the third-party Homebrew bundle supervisor…which additionally concerned command-line putting in the Xcode Command Line Instruments…all of which put in by default to inside storage, consuming up ~10 GBytes (I’ll ultimately reverse my steps and await a standalone, extra svelte bundle installer for Wine 9 to hopefully come).

Ideas on my experiments and their outcomes? Usefulness to different Unix-based programs? The rest you need to share? Let me know within the feedback!

—Brian Dipert is the Editor-in-Chief of the Edge AI and Imaginative and prescient Alliance, and a Senior Analyst at BDTI and Editor-in-Chief of InsideDSP, the corporate’s on-line publication.

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