Hackintosh Dell Mini 9 OS X: Is it Worth it?

68 Comments

With the help of a friend who already successfully completed the process, I managed to install OS X on my new Dell (s dell) Mini 9. This was my first and, hopefully, my last Dell purchase. Sorry, Apple (s aapl). I became too curious. Everyone appeared to love their hackintosh netbooks, so I decided to go for it.

For me, the Dell was the obvious choice for this project for a few reasons:

  1. Boing Boing has a chart that indicates which pieces of hardware work on netbooks with OS X installed.
  2. Gizmodo provides a thorough tutorial on how to set it all up.
  3. I heard there was an active and helpful forum.

Here are my specs:

  • Inspirion 910 Intel Atom Processor N270, 1.6Ghz, 533 Mhz 512k L2 Cache
  • Obsidian black color with gloss finish
  • 2GB DDR2 533 Mhz, 1 DIMM (purchased from Crucial.com)
  • 8.9-inch wide-screen WSVGA TL
  • Intel graphics media accelerator (GMA) 950
  • 32GB solid-state drive (my first SSD!)
  • Wireless 802.11g mini card
  • Integrated 1.3 megapixel webcam
  • 77WH 6-cell battery
  • Bluetooth 2.1 module via USB I/F

The 77WH 6-cell battery was purchased through eBay. It provides both amazing battery life, and it elevates the back of the Mini which gives the keyboard a comfortable slant. I only need to charge it every couple of days.

6 cell time left

Installing OS X took a couple hours, but that was mostly spent watching the screen. As soon as it was complete (Apple software updates, too), I installed Google (s goog) Gears and offline access for Google Apps (Gmail, Calendar, Reader, and Docs). Fortunately, there were no surprises with software downloads or installations. Airport works, and downloads are fast. When I turn off Airport, the Safari 4 beta has no issues switching to offline mode. When I turn it back on, changes sync back to Google. Success!

My goal was to build a browser-focused netbook that would primarily be disconnected from the Internet. The occasional synchronization would allow me to catch up on emails and write more posts for TheAppleBlog.

Now, for the verdict.

Don’t buy a Dell Mini 9 even if you want to use Windows (s msft) or Ubuntu. Although surprisingly useful and fun to show off (techie people will most likely be impressed when they see a real dock on a Dell), the keyboard is an absolute deal-breaker — OK, not just a deal-breaker, a nightmare. I constantly make typos. Using quotation marks, something I occasionally do while writing, is a challenging task considering the quotation key’s random placement near the space bar. Perhaps with more practice I will learn to be efficient with such a minuscule keyboard, but so far, it doesn’t appear that way.

This was a fun experiment (and an extremely expensive blog post). I feel like it bumped me up a notch or two in terms of Apple user cred. However, if you have the desire to go through with this, just keep in mind that it’s a toy and not a serious business tool.

My recommendation: Check out the HP (s hpq) Mini series since the keyboards are only 7 percent smaller than a full-size. Personally, I’d like to save up for a Macbook Air to experience the ultra-light, ultra-thin Apple. In fact, someone nearby has one on the train, and I’m jealous.

68 Comments

mike

A Samsung NC10 straddles the gap between the ultra-wee and the unbearably lumpy nicely.

I’ve got mine dual-booting between XP and OSX and it runs both like a dream (including TV shows in iTunes). Keyboard is a very useable scale and battery life is very good. the main thing is I won’t be needing a truss after lugging it to and fro from work every day.

My iBook has now officially retired.

Vince

Guys

Regarding the keyboard, seriously, if you are comfortable typing your way on the iphone and any other phones for that matter, the keyboard on the Mini 9 is already a luxury.

What do you think?

Anyway. Let’s see if OSX can be loaded on the Mini 10v.

Vince

Hi guys
I have done up my version of the tutorial base on my experience.
Here you go: http://www.squidoo.com/dellmini9_osX

I would also like to hear from all of you who had converted to OSX on the Dell mini if you would consider buying a Mac after playing around with the Mini OSX? Take the survey the site as well please.

Cheers!

Mark

cant say i agree with the review… c’mon, a small screen and keyboard is what you can expect before its even in your hands but the fact is it runs osx well with a runcore ssd. its not a full macbook but then again it doesnt come with a macbook price tag… if you lose it or its stolen on vacation, no big deal…mine was about $300 including the runcore ssd upgrade. i take my mini9 places i wouldnt take a more expensive notebook. using my mobile as a modem via bluetooth, its the ultimate low priced take anywhere netbook running leopard.

Steve Freeman

Agreed, it’s not a Mac, but it fulfils a need. Apple don’t make a laptop that I can even open when on the bus, or flying Economy.

There are some really bad things about the Dell (keyboard, dreadful power supply block in the UK). On the other hand, it’s cheap, about the size and weight of a large paperback, replaceable battery, more responsive wireless, solid state, etc, etc. It even works OK plugged into an external monitor and keyboard.

If Apple ever make something with a comparable form factor, I’d jump in a heartbeat–but they don’t.

What I do need to do is figure out the best way to sync to my main machine.

MattFM

So in short, this article is about the author not doing enough research before buying a computer. I’m writing this comment on a Dell Mini 9 and I haven’t made a single mistake. In fact, I bought mine to write a screenplay and find it suits my needs perfectly. I’ll installing Mac OSX on it at the weekend. While I except the keyboard is not right for your hands, you really should have read some reviews or played with one before diving in. I can’t see how you can legitimately discourage people from buying a Mini 9 just because you didn’t find out what the keyboard was like before buying it.

BitSpray

“…I am sorry Apple…” (snif, snif)

ohwhataFANBOUYyouare

prerna

I have hacked mac on to my HP mini and a few months back I also installed it on my acer laptop…It installed fine on my hp mini apart from few application earlier sound was not working …but after googling I found solution to that also.

dale

I bought a black mini 9, when Dell was having a “cheap-o” sale, for $199. Then bought a 32GB Runcore SSD for $120, and 2GB RAM for $27. Soon after, I used my family-size OS X Leopard to “hack” it to a MacMini (or whatever you want to call it). Aside from an occasional “hiccup”, which I also get on my bonafide desktop Mac, everything works smoothly. I use Photoshop, InDesign, iPhoto (not Garageband or iMovie — so what?). I can hookup in my coffeeshop free via wifi to the internet. I use it in my work, let alone as an enjoyable gadget! True, my fingers are perhaps a bit smaller than the average giant’s, but I have found that, once I got used to the eccentric layout of the keyboard, I have re-trained myself for when I use it. I still like my MacBook for its power, but I love my MacMini for its convenience. Give it a chance, David.

SH

A Hackintosh netbook is always going to be a compromise. I wanted mine as small as possible for casual and convenient road use. The 9″ Dell screen is FAR superior in color saturation and clarity to the washed out 10″ netbook screens that I’ve seen. Its keyboard could be better but one can adapt and as well achieve refined trackpad control with some practice and light fingers.

I got my Dell Mini 9 for a bargain $400 w/64gb SSD, 1.3mp webcam & BT built in, added $25 for 2gb ram. However, delivery took some 6 weeks. Consider 3 USB ports, video out, mike, speakers, gigabyte ethernet, SDHC card reader all built in and it’s a versatile compact road warrior. I’ve loaded Office 2008, CS3, Vectorworks etc. to read/edit files and all run passably fast w/upgraded ram. I’ve even tested both Parallels 3 and VMware 2 w/WinXP Pro SP3, Office XP and Project and synced my Win Mobile phones as well as run GPS over BT. My old MacLink Plus allows file compatibility throughout Mac/Windows history. I can Skype worldwide and watch video archives with much longer battery life than my maxed out MBP Pro 2.83 Apple special order. It is totally OSX compatible in every way. I don’t worry about dinging it or running excessive battery charge cycles, unlike my babied mint MBP. I intentionally configured my DM9 to be a veritable Swiss Army knife. It’s amazingly good for what it is (at $425) and I enjoy it far more than I ever thought I would.

IMHO those needing a washed out 10+ netbook screen inches running OSX might as well step up to MB Air or MB, as the form factors start to overlap with increased size/weight. I’m pretty demanding but the DM9 hack has met/exceeded my expectations as a fun toy/auxiliary instrument. Suitably configured (max ram and adequate SSD disk space for caching), the DM9 is adequately fast and a rock stable reasonable compromise in every respect. There are no sleep/wake issues–everything instantly powers up much better than my perpetually sleep troubled MBP Pro 2.83, and its wireless sensitivity is also much better. Battery life is exceptional and its screen superiority (brightness, sharpness, color saturation after calibration) readily outweighs keyboard size compromises vis a vis other netbooks.

My upgrade project will be to get a spare board and hack a 128 Runcore SSD, with (hopefully) a pin compatible Atom N280 processor, unless Dell solves that for me by upgrading the DM9 line. Of course Dell might kill the DM9 too and follow the (mistaken) industry trend to ever larger netbooks.

At 11-12″ don’t hack, go Mac. A Hackintosh is merely supplemental to a Mac.

gerald

I did the same mini 9 hack a few weeks ago to have a cheap, light on-the-road “Mac” (I have a MacBook Pro) and I love it (using it now). Yes, the keyboard is small and has a stupid apostrophe key placement, but that can be remapped and keys swapped. Yes, the screen is small, but you knew it was 8.9″, right? I’m forcing my self to use it more than I usually would to get use to the keyboard, which I am. Frankly, for the $375 it cost me total for the base machine on eBay and a 32GB SSD and 2GB RAM upgrade, it’s totally worth it! Being a pretty sturdy build (and being cheap to buy), I’m more comfortable taking it on the road. My wife liked it so much (I bought her one last week too. If and when Apple comes out with something comparable, I’ll buy that and the MacDell Mini 9s will go to the kids….

Jazzy

I had these small mini laptops computers. I have to say they are not comfortable. Screen and keyboard is to small. I end up selling and bought Dell 1525. I love it.

Apple I hope you will open your OS market to PC world. People care about design but they also care about price.

JT

I have pretty much the same build and software as covered in your review – I got the 16gb SSD. I find the apostrophe key to be the only disappointment with this machine. It does do 95% of what I want it to do .. and quite frankly 90% of office users would need. I’ve installed OpenOffice, Nambu, Adium, and Skype. Paired with a BT headset, It’s a portable office.

It has been said before – netbooks are meant to be your secondary laptop – set your expectations appropriately.

For those of you who say they can’t use the machine b/c of the misplaced key, give it some time and change your thinking. You don’t have to finish your work on a netbook, but you can sure start it. Leave the final copy/editing be to done on the big machine. For you coders out there (I like to consider myself as one) the apostrophe/double quote key misplacement will be difficult, but not impossible to live with.

David Klein

@Adam Jackson
Hmmmm. That Dell Mini 10 sounds like a good idea once it’s upgraded. I’ll keep that in mind.

Adam Jackson

I’m playing the waiting game.

Dell Mini 10 is a 92% keyboard which is close enough to be comfortable
It’s screen resolution is high enough to play 720P high def movies.
it’s screen is glossy
it’s thinner
only slightly heavier.
standard 120GB hard disk drive
1.2 megapixesl camera

The caveat?
Same Processor
max of 1gb of memory
GMA 900 GPU (worse than the mini 9)

I’m waiting for it to be upgraded to the NVIDIA chipset everyone is raving about and for the ram to be upgradeable to 2 gbs, also for it to get a 1.8ghz ATOM chip. Then I’ll upgrade and happily pay $550 dollars for it. the 9 is nice but too small (keyboard and screen).

Brian

Oh, and while the HP mini has a more standard keyboard layout, it is not as OS X friendly.

If you are looking for a hackintosh netbook with a better keyboard and slightly larger screen, watch the new Dell mini 10v (NOT the min1 10) this new Dell sports many of the same OS X-friendly innards, but has a more standard keyboard and a slightly larger screen.

It is expected that this will be the next big hackintosh netbook, due to its similarity to the 9. Check the above-linked Dell mini forums for news on the 10v.

Brian

I’ve noticed that hackintosh netbooks have fallen out of vogue lately, and I think it is a shame. Most of the complaints are things that one should have anticipated going in: smaller keyboard, smaller screen.

I think its ridiculous to compare a hackintosh netbook to a MacBook Air. I have a MacBook Pro I use at home, and a mini 9 w/ Leopard I use on the road. I knew coming in that the keyboard would be weird, but the size, convenience and price can’t be touched by anything from Apple.

When I think that I can take OS X on the road for me for less than a quarter the cost of my MacBook, I could care less if the keyboard was in Russian.

David Shin

Thanks for the review. I’ve been very interested in acquiring a netbook that will do Hackintosh, so Dell Mini 9 seems to be the most plausible. I used to own a Macbook Air and recently sold it off. The reason? It’s too weak to be a serious business tool (I do some coding with Eclipse, some photo touches, and occasional video rendering for work), and too big to be a travel companion (13″ screen space). I’m still in the hunt for a netbook so when I’m on the road, I can still blog (personal), upload photos, keep up with email and Facebook.

Ryan

I recently picked up a mini 9 and have to agree that it is primarily a novelty. It works fairly well for IM and light web browsing while my girlfriend is hogging our iMac.

As stated by others, I wouldn’t want to do any real work on it. I have used it for ghosting machines (via an external HDD) and light network troubleshooting. It works out well enough when I need to log into a switch.

John

I’ve got the identical specs, and I agree. I’m hardly using it despite how cool and fun this little project was because of the keyboard. I’m planning to sell it. An expensive experiment, but….. nah. not for me.

KenC

I just built a Hackintosh with a Dell Vostro, the business version of the Mini9. I’m typing on it right now. I hate the apostrophe key. It’s connected to a 22″ HP monitor, which makes it acceptable, but its screen is too small. 12″ would be ideal. Yes, I had a 12″ AluPB.

So, it’s fine as a travel laptop. I think I’ll eventually spring for a MBA, refurbed.

krye

I did this to my MSi WInd and I’ve never had a problem with the keyboard. It think it’s awesome. I do have to admit, that if I’m at work (surrounded by PCs) and I want to work on a little iPhone dev during lunch, I do plug my PC’s keyboard. monitor, and mouse into it. It’s the perfect dev machine on the go.

http://ryemac3.net/Home/Entries/2009/3/12_Hackintosh_in_the_House!.html

Alan Smith

I have the Dell Mini 9 (about $270 with 16 GB SSD and 16GB SD) 1 GB Ram, with Mac OS 10.5.7. Yes, the keyboard is small, but you CAN adjust after a few days. No, it is not 100% a Mac, but pretty close. the only Mac feature I do not (have (yet) is using the keyboard shortcuts for cut/copy/paste, get info., etc.

It is a great hackintosh. It is small, light weight, gets better wifi than my PowerBook or MacBook Pro. And plus, if something happens to it then there was no great initial expense.

It is not for everyone, just wish the reviewer were more open minded.

Jeremy

dude, use the alt key on the dell mini 9 as the command key. Then you can copy and paste. (so it’s alt c, alt v… etc)

Chris L

The Samsung NC-10 has a rocking keyboard. Best I’ve found in a netbook. No idea if it can run OSX though…

TravelGirl

LOVE my Samsung NC10 as well…2gb/160/6cell but you can’t run OS on it without major issues. Almost ready to sell it and get a dell to run OS

Lenovo hackintosh user

I don’t know how long you tried the keyboard for, but I was very frustrated when I first started using the keyboard on my Lenovo s10 Hackintosh (with a 10″ screen). However, within a few days, my accuracy and comfort with it increased quite a bit, and I have fairly large hands. Just took a bit more getting used to than other keyboards. Been using it for about a month now and I’m more satisfied with it now than at the start. I don’t have experience with the Dell Mini, though.

For me the big benefit of the netbook form factor is the overall small size, not just the the depth. I never “got” the MacBook Air — so long as it has a 13″ screen, I don’t care if it’s 1 mm tall since it will still take up a lot of table space due to the screen.

I have a 13″ MacBook and a 15″ MacBook Pro but I find I don’t use them as much anymore since it’s so easy to pack up the netbook with me and use it wherever I happen to be.

Tim Kilroy

I have an eeePC 901 (running Windows XP) and a Rev A Macbook Air (I bought a refurb). I have often thought about changing my eee to a Mac eee, but the keyboard is just a killer. Frankly, although I bought the eee to be my travel computer, it stays at home. The keys are just too small for me. I am terrible typist as it is, and the micro-keyboards on netbooks make them nearly unusable for me. So, I bought a refurb Air to be my travel machine (and it has become my primary machine.) My Air is light and and has a great keyboard, so my eee gets left at home. Though my kids just love the eee. The netbooks is perfectly sized for wee hands. I added a BT mouse and the kids now have their own computer to play on…it has saved my laptop a lot of wear and tear.

Michael Caputo

Wow – you took the words right out of my mouth.. I bought the identical machine as you last month… Hacked it to osx, installed 2gb ram, and had about a week honeymoon period with it, till I decided enough was enough. The keyboard was way too small for my short stubby fingers, and the layout was absolutely horrible.. I never really thought much of keyboard layout before until this machine.

In the end, i sold the Dell mini 9, and got a Macbook Air (like you describe). I’m MUCH happier with it.. And it seems to have much more horsepower than the Dell did (Core duo processor, i think).

I’d like to add, I don’t think the Dell Mini 9’s processor can handle OSX (even with the ram maxed to 2gb, like I did). It was just too sluggish, even having issues playing music over my network.

I woudln’t suggest a dell mini 9 to anyone.

InfoMofo

I found the dell mini 9 to be a fun little project, and I use the book as a portable network tablet. I am just using the default battery but I still get about 3 hours on it, so it’s definitely fine for watching videos on a plane or IMing. I would hate it if I had to type anything real on it or attempt to write code though, as the keyboard is godawful.

For just web browsing and IMming though, I think it’s one of the most fun and appropriate devices I’ve owned.

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