Installing 10.6.8 on a 2011 Mac Mini
A few months back, I saw that I was running out of space on my home theater Mac Mini. This was a 2007 Mac Mini with 2 GBs of RAM running 10.6.8, with a 1 TB drive that held media content and 2 TB backup drive connected via FireWire 400. I also noticed that it was struggling to play the latest HD movies from the iTunes Store.
This Mini also acted as my Tivo2Go server and DVD player, so I couldn’t just replace the Mini with an Apple TV and call it a day. So I pitched to my wife the idea of replacing the 2007 Mac Mini with a newer Mini and upgrading the storage with a 2 TB drive to hold media content and 4 TB backup drive connected via FireWire 800. To help future-proof it against future storage needs, I also wanted to get a Mini with Thunderbolt capability.
“Fine, but it needs to be able to run Front Row.”
That was a problem. The first Mini models to come with Thunderbolt were the 2011 Mac Minis. The 2011 Mac Minis were among the first Mac models that supported only 10.7.0 and higher. Front Row is noticeably absent in 10.7.0 and higher .
In short, I needed a 2011 Mac Mini to run Mac OS X 10.6.8.
After a bit of research and head-scratching, I was able to get both what I wanted and what my wife wanted. See below the jump for the details.
I did have one lucky break, in that the early 2011 MacBook Pros and the 2011 Mac Minis are almost identical hardware-wise. The early 2011 MacBook Pros ran 10.6.8 because they were released before 10.7.0′s release in July 2011, so (theoretically) the 2011 Mac Minis could as well.
When I researched the subject, I found a lot of people online trying to run 10.6.8 on 2011 Mac Minis with varying degrees of success. The most common issues were lower performance, video that displayed a very pinkish hue on the screen and Thunderbolt not working. However, I hit pay dirt when I came across this Apple discussion forum thread because someone in the thread named newfoundglory had not only figured out the necessary driver support; they had also been nice enough to package up the drivers into one installer package: the NFG Mac Mini 2011 installer
This installer package turned out to be the key. It installed the correct drivers to make Thunderbolt work, make the video work normally and installed the correct hardware profiles to allow the Mini’s hardware performance on Snow Leopard to be on-par with Lion.
With this driver package available, here’s how to install Mac OS X 10.6.8 on a 2011 Mac Mini.
1. Start the Mini in Target Disk Mode and attach it to a Mac that can itself run 10.6.8.
2. Erase the Mini’s boot drive.
3. Install Mac OS X 10.6.x onto the Mini’s boot drive via Target Disk Mode. (For this, I used the 10.6.7 install disks that came with my early 2011 MacBook Pro.)
4. Once the installation is finished, install the 10.6.8 v1.1 Combo Update onto the Mini’s boot drive via Target Disk Mode.
5. Once 10.6.8 is on the Mini’s boot drive, disconnect the Mini from the other Mac and boot the Mini from its own boot drive.
At this point, you’ll see the pink video output, Thunderbolt not work and everything else because the Mini doesn’t have the right 10.6.8 drivers for its hardware.
6. Install the NFG Mac Mini 2011 installer package and reboot.
This installer adds the needed driver support to the Mini, so you should see the pink video and other problems go away.
7. To be on the safe side, I reinstalled the 10.6.8 v1.1 Combo Update at this point and rebooted again. I’m not certain it was necessary, but it did not hurt.
8. Ran Software Update to get all available updates for 10.6.8.
Following Software Update’s final run of updates, I started working with the Mini and everything looked like it was working, including the all-important Front Row. Front Row was able to communicate with iTunes 11.x, so it looked like I was set until I attached an Apple USB SuperDrive and tried to play a movie DVD. No go; neither Front Row nor Apple’s DVD Player application recognized it as a valid DVD drive.
Why was this? After all, the 2011 Mini never came with an internal DVD player. This should have worked; except for the fact that the 2011 Mini was never supposed to run 10.6.8 either. All of the 2011 Macs that ran 10.6.8 were laptops that came with internal optical drives.
What fixed it was some additional driver modification. Using information found here on MacOSXHints, I edited /System/Library/Frameworks/DVDPlayback.framework/Versions/A/DVDPlayback with the 0xED hex editor. What I was doing was updating DVDPlayback‘s definition of an acceptable DVD player by finding the word Internal and replacing it with External, by searching for (hex) 496E7465726E616C and replacing with (hex) 45787465726E616C.
Once this part was complete, I restarted and put a movie into the DVD drive. Front Row accepted it and started playing the movie.
It’s now been a couple of days since getting all of this set up and so far, it’s been fairly trouble-free. Hopefully, this helps the next person who wants to get a similar setup going.