Running a Mac mini as a headless server

If the OP (Glenn) is still around…

I decided to bite the bullet and purchase the 2020 Mac mini M1 from Amazon on sale for about $585 and now I want to run my 2011 Mac Mini in the background as a headless server to access for File Sharing and Screen Sharing.

I ordered the Newer HDMI dongle from MacSales and it should arrive tomorrow.

Did you keep yours running 24/7, or is there a way to let it go to sleep and use the M1 Mac mini to somehow get it awake when needed?

Any other tips? Thanks!

The Newer HDMI dongle works great to make my 2011 Mac Mini a “headless” server and both file sharing and screen sharing are working. The new 2020 Mac Mini seems to be able to bring it out of sleep, too.

I am having a problem with “permissions” and it seems related to the fact that my file sharing name is the same on both computers. I will do more research on this later, but in the meantime using email and wetransfer gets my files from one computer to the other as needed.

I ran a headless 2014 Mac Mini for years w/ the same name on both (both in my case being a Mac Pro and the Mac Mini). Never had any issues. In my case, that name was also the first user created on both machines so perhaps its a user number issue rather than name?

And yes, HDMI dongles are a serious bang for the tiny bucks (mine was OWC).

Thank you: I have posted on the Apple Discussions board and hopefully will get some help there.

OWC is

Since nobody here posted a link to the product:

FWIW, my Mac (a 2018 mini) runs 24x7. I have it put the display to sleep when idle, but the computer itself never sleeps, because I frequently want to access it remotely (via screen sharing or an SSH login or file sharing).

Macs like this have pretty low power consumption, so I’m not concerned about leaving it on. According to the display on my UPS, My entire system (Mac, 24" LCD display, some hard drives and network gear) consumes 110-150W during normal operation.

When the display shuts off, power consumption drops to 50-70W, which is no big deal (remember again, that this includes my cable modem, router and Ethernet switch, which remain powered 24x7 even if the Mac is shut off, since they serve the entire house.)

Your M1 mini probably draws less power than my Core i7 mini, especially when idle.

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Actually it is my 2011 Mac Mini that I am now running as a headless server (note the topic) for use by my new M1 2020 Mac Mini, but the principles are the same.

To clarify, a fairly common problem involving the “same” user name on different machines is that the user numbers are different. The first user created under macOS is assigned 501, subsequent user numbers are incremented. So two otherwise identical user names could have different numbers depending on when they were created on the respective machines. Permissions tends to be more concerned with user numbers than names. I believe there are ways to reconcile this, but haven’t had to deal with it myself, sorry.

And just FTR, user number / user ID can be set in Sys Prefs > User & Groups > Account > Advanced Options… (via right click)

Apple has a big fat warning right up there at the top because, yes, you can screw up your install if you don’t know what you’re doing.

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Thank you for your tips:

The good news is from a reply on Apple Discussions, I was reminded to change permission on the headless server (in my case using Screen Sharing) and not to try to change permission through File Sharing on the M1.

I then removed my “duplicate name” User from Permissions (luckily, that User was not the main User on my 2011 Mac Mini), added “admin” with full “Read and Write” permission and Copied it to all enclosed folders, which took some time.

And that worked!

I now have access in File Sharing from my M1 Mac Mini to my library of files on my headless 2011 Mac Mini.

Next to work on:

Using the new Quicken to access the data file over File Sharing and

Updating Microsoft Office.

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Whoops! Moving too quickly… I’ve reset the title.

dOh! Nevertheless, my comment about power consumption still applies. I ran a 2011 Mini server (quad-core 2nd-gen i7 at 2GHz) equipped with two 750GB hard drives for a long time (from 2011 through 2020).

Power consumption on that Mac was similar to my 2018 mini. About 110-150W (including network gear and display) when actively in-use, and about 50-70W when idle and the display put to sleep.

As with my current mini, I was running an Apache web server (via Apple’s Server app - which had it as a supported feature at the time), along with DNS and DHCP servers (also via

Today, I’ve moved the DNS and DHCP servers to a Raspberry Pi, but my Mac still hosts Apache and works fine for the very light duty it sees in my home.

Have done this with a variety of mac minis as spare FileMaker Servers and found them quite useful for running scheduled downloads each night, running copies of databases to experiment with, etc.

With an SSD drive (or two) and HDMI dongle, I have kept them running for years with no sleep.

Every now and then have had to plugin in a display and keyboard to unlock, but not often.


Why is my headless 2011 Mac mini running hot?

The only app I keep running is iTunes, so that I can access my video library on my AppleTV box.

It has 16G RAM, so that should not be an issue.

Is there an app that will show what apps are running and what memory amounts they are using?

/Applications/Utilities/Activity Monitor

Under the memory tab, you want to see low memory pressure (towards the very bottom of the pane).
Under the CPU tab, sort by ‘% CPU’ decreasing and you’ll see processes at the top that are putting most load on your mini → that’s what creates heat. The chart at the bottom shows overall CPU load vs. time. The View menu will allow you to put that chart (“CPU History”) on the dock icon should you want to be able to see it at all times.

Are you sure it’s running hot? You might want to use an app that reports the values from your various temperature sensors. You may feel hot air even if the CPU cores are not close to overheating.

I use the free version of Macs Fan Control for this. If you don’t want to override macOS’s fan control settings, you can leave the fan speeds set to “automatic” and just use it to read the temperatures.

That having been said, if you’re not running any apps that are consuming a lot of CPU power, you may have an airflow problem. Consider using a can of compressed air to blow out the vent at the back of the computer. If doing so dislodges dust, that might solve your problem.

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Just to be clear, memory use isn’t what you need to be monitoring for a heat problem. The CPU is normally the major contributor with regard to heat. But since the idea of using Activity Monitor’s MEMORY PRESSURE gauge came up, it should stay in the green if everything is going well there. If it stays RED then you don’t have sufficient RAM for running apps.

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Thank you for all of these tips!

Using the Activity Monitor, I did notice that keeping Screen Sharing active was using quite a bit of CPU, so I now shut this down and only activate it when I need to see the screen.

This helps, but it is still strangely warm.

According to Mac Fan Control 150 F vs. 95 F for my M1 Mac mini.

I’ll try a can of compressed air next…

FYI, I finally broke down and tried one of the rechargeable blowers, and have been quite pleased. I’m done w/ cans. Arguably it’s not “quite” as powerful as a new can, but it is consistent and way better than a half-full can.

I have done multiple sessions of blowing off slides and scanning them w/o needing to recharge. I got an AFMAT. There are 1/2 dozen identical ones under different brands on Amazon.