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To set up a Mac and Mac OS to take advantage of SSD and external storage



Solid-state drives (SSDs) offer high speeds, but are still expensive, and your costs can skyrocket if you want to increase storage when you buy a Mac mini or an iMac. However, both Macs support high-performance USB 3 and Thunderbolt 3, and this helps offset the cost of more storage space.

As prices for high-performance SSD upgrades on the Mac mini and iMac come to a standstill, you get a more affordable external USB 3 or Thunderbolt 3 hard drive. To take full advantage of the speed of the SSD in the Mac mini or iMac, you can split your system and applications to one drive and your user files to another.

The two default configurations are available on a Mac mini. They ship with a 1

28 GB or 256 GB SSD that you use to store macOS. Then plug in a high-capacity external drive (SSD, hybrid, or even a fast hard drive) for your user files that would contain music and photos.

If you have an iMac, you have several options available depending on the model. For the two lower iMacs, choose a 1 TB Fusion drive ($ 100 upgrade) and keep user files there while using a low-capacity external SSD for your system. On the highest-level iMac, choose a 256 GB SDD (also only $ 100 more than the 1 TB Fusion drive) for the system and use a high capacity external drive for user files.

Check if options for external drives are available can vary by large factors. For a hard drive, try a 7200 RPM drive. USB 3.0 or 3.1 is fast enough for user files with a hard disk or hybrid drive, as well as for a system drive SSD.

How you start this split depends on where you begin:

  • If you are upgrading to a new Mac and you can not migrate the entire existing Mac to the system volume as described above:
  1. Laying On your new Mac, place a new account as a wildcard, which also acts as a wildcard backup administrator account in case the other drive experiences problems.
  2. Use the Migration Wizard to move everything from your old Mac, Time Machine backup, or clone to your new Mac except your user files. [19659009] When you're done, create a new account with the same name and information as the user account or accounts you want to host on the other higher-capacity drive.
  3. Copy your user directories to the other drive.
  4. Follow the instructions below to point your user's directory path to the other drive.
  • If you have a Mac and you want to move user files to a higher-capacity drive:
  1. Create a new administrator account on the drive where your system resides. This acts as an emergency account if something goes wrong with the other drive.
  2. Move your user directories to the other drive at the root level instead of being nested in a home folder. (You can do this simply by dragging and dropping.)
  3. Follow the instructions below to point your user's location to the other drive.

Reassembling user directories is easier than it seems. Apple advises against it, but it is not supported.

  1. Make sure you are booting to the boot volume that you want to use to hold your system.
  2. You must be logged in to an account other than the one (or ones) for which you want to re-view the home directory location.
  3. Open the Users and Groups preference pane.
  4. Click the lock icon and enter your administrator password.
  5. Right-click on the user You want to point to files on the other drive and select the Advanced option.
  6. Click the Select button next to the Home Directory box.
  7. Select the Director on the other drive and click Open.
  8. Click OK.
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    In the Advanced Options dialog box, you can Be careful not to accidentally make any further changes.

    Now log in to the user account you just created and make sure everything works as expected, start iTunes, start Photos, start Mail and review iCloud and other settings.

    For a less technical solution, you can use the settings in iTunes and Photos to just point those libraries to a separate drive, but I find that this is simpler

    This Mac 911 article is an answer to a question submitted by Macworld reader Dave.

    Ask Mac 911

    Us have compiled a list of questions we have asked Frequently Asked Questions with answers and links to columns: Read our Super FAQ to see if your question is covered. If not, we are always looking for new problems! Send an e-mail to mac911@macworld.com, including the screenshots and stating if your full name should be used. Each question is not answered, we do not respond to emails and can not give any direct troubleshooting advice.


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