Though i already got the problem fixed, i thought it worth mentioning that i discovered what i consider to be an almost unforgivable flaw in the slim-body Mac Mini models:
If the internal 2.5" drive dies.... the machine wont boot... AT ALL.
About four days ago, i popped over to my media center Mini to watch a few TV shows id missed for the week, only to hear the dreaded "click, click, click" of a dead drive.
Ok, i thought, no big deal. I've got an external firewire enclosure sitting right here with nothing in it and a spare 120GB SATA drive that i (couldnt fit) didn't put into my new Gaming PC. Ill just put that in the enclosure, install OSX on it, and at least temporarily be back in business until i can find a place to get a cheap 2.5" drive.
Yeah, you'd think.
So i put the drive in the enclosure, hook it up, put my Mavericks USB stick into a free USB slot..... start up the machine, holding down Option to get to the boot selector...
nada. It just sits at a grey screen, with the dreaded "click, click, click" repeating over and over as it tries to boot from the internal drive.
That's right... if the drive is dead, it wont even let you boot into the boot selector, or force a boot from a CD with the "C" key (this being the Core 2 Duo version that still has the CD drive, i threw in my Snow Leopard install CD, which is what it was running originally anyway...) again, no dice.
Do a little research online...
turns out that's just how it is. Huge 80+ page thread on the Apple forums. If the internal drive dies in these Mini's.... you're pooched unless you remove and/or replace it.
I got it apart (which was easier than it looked on iFixIt) and took the drive out completely - and it immediately booted into the boot selector. One problem, though.... without the temperature sensors in the internal drive, the fan goes to max speed and stays there forever.
Fortunately, i was able to head down to a local "mom and pop" computer store and pick up a used 120GB 2.5" drive for 25$ to get things back on track.... but that's a SERIOUSLY bad design flaw, IMO.
Be warned, folks.