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Hackintoshed: Life With My “MacBook Nano”

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After four months of lugging a Bluetooth keyboard and mouse along with the MacBook Pro — which, at 5.5lb, isn’t exactly light to begin with — I decided enough was enough. Since I’ve been wanting to ease some load off of my shoulder, and I couldn’t quite bring myself to buy the new 13-inch MacBook Pro, the time was right for me to consider a smaller and lighter alternative.

To be more specific, it was time to consider a “MacBook Nano.”

Opening Pandora’s Box

mac_intel_handshakeFour years ago, Apple (s aapl) announced a transition from powering its Macs with PowerPC processors to Intel (s intc) processors instead. The biggest ramification of such an architecture change was an obvious one: Mac OS X, previously written for the PowerPC platform, could then theoretically run on any Intel x86-based computer.

In the years after, enthusiasts have made much effort in making OS X run on generic PCs by hacking the various drivers — kernel extension, or kext files — so that the operating system can recognize hardware components beyond those used in Apple’s Macs. This has been achieved to varying degrees of success; due to the extremely wide range of configurations PCs ship in, some brands and models sporting certain hardware components run OS X better than others.

Do Your Homework First

To ensure you get the smoothest ‘Hackintosh’ experience possible, you have to first know which netbooks are the best ‘hackable’ candidates before you make a purchase. Currently, the netbooks most compatible for running OS X — when every component, from Wi-Fi to built-in audio, will be recognized by an OS X installation — are the following four:

  • Dell Mini 9 (everything works)
  • Vostro A90 (the OEM version of the Dell Mini 9)
  • HP Mini 1000 (everything works)
  • ASUS EeePC 1000H (everything works)

Close behind those four are the following models, of which OS X does not have the necessary kext for one particular component in each model. However, each of them can still be considered a suitable candidate for running OS X, depending on what you consider to be non-critical:

  • ASUS EeePC 901 (everything except sleep)
  • MSI Wind U100 (everything except audio input, though there’s been recent development in this area which may have solved this)
  • Lenovo IdeaPad S10 (everything except Ethernet)

You may have noticed that these are all older models. That’s the bad news. These models have already been superseded by newer models, and are therefore increasingly harder to find. But the good news is that most retailers are likely to have slashed prices in their bid to clear out existing stock precisely because they are older models.


Picking the Candidate

Last week, I marched into a local computer mall and found both a Lenovo IdeaPad S10 and a HP Mini 1000 sitting side-by-side in one store, going for $385 and $415, respectively. Talk about luck! Design-wise, I had eyes only for the IdeaPad S10 and the Mini 1000.

Its lower price aside, I picked the Lenovo IdeaPad S10 in the end, even though I knew the Ethernet port would not work (I don’t recall having used an Ethernet port in the past year). Not only was it cheaper, the IdeaPad S10 was better-spec’ed than the Mini 1000 in almost every aspect:

  • Memory: 2GB versus 1GB
  • Storage: 160GB versus 60GB
  • Battery: 6-cell (5.5 hours, 56 watt-hour) versus 3-cell (3 hours, 24.4 watt-hour)
  • Memory card reader: 4-in-1 (MMC/SD/Memory Stick/Memory Stick PRO) versus SD only

Lenovo_S10_Press_05The clincher, for me, is that the IdeaPad S10 has an ExpressCard/34 slot, with which I can use my 3G ExpressCard modem, and also a trackpad of which its buttons are positioned beneath it rather than to the left and right as it is on that of the Mini 1000.

(Note to Apple: If Lenovo can squeeze a 4-in-1 memory card reader and an ExpressCard/34 slot into a tiny sub-notebook, you can certainly do the same for the 13- and 15-inch MacBook Pros. Just admit already you simply don’t want to.)

I should note that the one very good thing going for the HP Mini 1000 is that it has a 92 percent keyboard (versus the 85 percent keyboard of the IdeaPad S10), an impressive feat of engineering considering the fact that the Mini 1000 is of about the same width as the Lenovo IdeaPad S10.

Installation is an Outpatient Day Op

mac_osx_leopardInstallation is a breeze. Enough effort by enthusiasts have been made that installing OS X on a PC is a quick weekend exercise.

While I will not detail how to ‘Hackintosh’ a netbook, there are essentially two ways to do so: by obtaining an installation disk image already hacked with the appropriate drivers (the easiest way to go), or by installing from the retail DVD and subsequently hacking the drivers (messier and not for the novice).

Since most netbooks do not have optical drives, I had to use an external DVD drive. After making sure the BIOS of the netbook has been set to boot first from an optical drive, I popped the OS X 10.5.4 Install DVD in, booted the S10 up and off went the installation.

Terminal WiFi Script

Upon first boot, I had to replace a kext file for the Wi-Fi in the IdeaPad S10 to work. Once that was up and running, all that was left to do was to replace a couple more kext files for functions such as system sleep, two-finger scrolling, internal audio input, ExpressCard, and display hot keys to work.

Kext Helper 0.7

Once I was sure I had all the components working, I did a Software Update to 10.5.8. Doing so killed the Wi-Fi, keyboard and trackpad, but a repeat of replacing kext files restored them to a working state.

Software Update 10.5.8

Overall Impressions


How does it fare? The ‘Hackintosh’ is more than capable of handling basic functionality well on a daily basis. Overall speed and performance of OS X on the IdeaPad S10, which is powered by the Intel Atom N270 1.66Ghz processor, is akin to that of an iBook PowerPC G4.

There is Always a “But”

The one glaring caveat to running OS X on a netbook is the lack of screen real estate. Most netbooks are equipped with either a 9- or 10-inch screen typically running a resolution of 1024 by 600. But the overall UI design of OS X is seemingly based on a minimum screen resolution of 1280 by 800, which is what the lowest-spec’ed Macs run at. This poses some usability issues when it comes to the window size of certain applications.

System Preferences, for example, opens a window longer than the screen resolution of the IdeaPad S10 can display.

Lenovo SysPrefs Before

As you can see in the screenshot above, anything beyond the first row of Preference Panes in the ‘Others’ section are obscured. The workaround to this is to click on any Preference Pane, and then click the ‘Reveal All’ buttons to go back. Doing that invokes a scroll bar within System Preferences, which you can then drag to reach the previously-obscured Panes.

Lenovo SysPrefs After

The other two issues I have with the IdeaPad S10 are the right-handside Shift key and the tiny trackpad.

But these are all small annoyances, really, not show-stoppers. While a 1024 by 600 screen resolution means I’d mostly be running one application fullscreen at a time, once I think of this limitation as a way to force me to focus on one task at a time, it’s not so bad. Plus, there’s always Megazoomer; fullscreen is just a Command+Enter keystroke away. And LazyMouse helps mitigate the problem of the tiny trackpad.

The Mac Netbook as the Middle Ground

Leopard 10.5.8 Intel Atom

I had, from the get-go, meant to use this ‘MacBook Nano’ of mine for only web browsing, email, simple image manipulation and writing.

Prior to getting the IdeaPad S10, there were days when I’d go out with only my iPhone 3G, knowing I can do all of the above with it. But there are times when I need to download, review, annotate and then resend certain types of documents neither iPhone OS nor a third-party iPhone app recognizes. Without a notebook with which to do that, I am pretty much stuck.

So, until Apple reinvents the sub-notebook with its fabled tablet, this ‘Hackintosh’ fills the gap between the times when I don’t need to lug around a workhorse like my MacBook Pro and when I need to do more than what my iPhone 3G lets me do.

“Mac or No Mac, There is No Try”

I’m sure I speak for many die-hard Mac users by saying that, being someone who cannot fathom using anything other than Mac OS X, and faced with a pressing need to have a lightweight portable, I’d rather use OS X on a netbook with all of the compromises it entails than to have to use Windows on the same netbook. To me, the Mac experience has always been more about software than hardware.

Small, Light, and It Runs OS X. What’s Not To Like?

Having used the S10 every day for a week now, taking it instead of my 15-inch MacBook Pro everywhere, I can say with certainly that my MacBook Pro will be relegated to my desk on most days, and that my preferred portable computer from hereon will be this ‘MacBook Nano’ of mine.


I can fish it out in places where opening a 15-inch notebook would be a clumsy thing to do; my tired shoulder has never felt better; I have desktop-class computing power everywhere I go, and can do far more than what I can with the iPhone. It is inexpensive, small, light, and it runs OS X.

What’s not to like, really?

45 Responses to “Hackintoshed: Life With My “MacBook Nano””

  1. Mathew Henshaw

    Just want to respond to the user who says he has problems with playing 720p mkv files, I am currently typing this comment while watching LOTR Return of the King – 720p mkv on a stock hardware 10.6.4 mini 10v.

  2. I did this last year to my S10…again a great windows netbook…but i was disappointed in the OSX install as I never got the cam or mic to work and w/o skype, really bummed…did anyone get these working to satisfactions?

  3. This post inspired me to get my lenovo s10 off of the shelf and try to breath new life into it. After a visit to Best Buy and my mac-owning friend’s house we did the hack in a few hours. Lenovo’s s10 message board’s have some awesome contributors that make this a pretty easy process.

    I am loving my new s10 macbook!

  4. nikolaus heger

    I don’t know why you’d want to take away the only day to day exercise that I still do, which is to carry my 17″ umbp in my backpack everywhere I go.

    That also works for biking – I was commuting by bike for about 3 or 4 months when I found that my back hurt (PowerBook at the time, plus lots of other stuff, which made for a pretty heavy backpack).

    Solution: Get an excellent backpack! I got a Boblbee, and poof, back problems were gone, even though I stuffed even more things in the Boblbee. These days, there are a few backpacks that work for every day laptop carrying – the key is that they need a support system that looks pretty much like the ones on professional hiking backpacks look.

    These days I have an Axio, which is a fine bag. Although if I biked every day I think the Boblbee would be better still.

    All in all I think Apple’s right to skip the netbook market. What they need urgently though would be a competitor to Acer timeline and similar class computers: Fast enough for day to day, 13″ and up HD display, _cheap_, and last 8 hours on battery. If I’d consider a hackintosh, then it would be a timeline.

  5. I “hackintoshed” my ASUS EeePC 1000HE this week using Snow Leopard and the NetBookInstaller application. After a few false starts, everything works. I had bought my 1000HE with the idea of running Mac OSX on it, but the wireless card was not supported until Snow Leopard. I had also upgraded to 2 gigs of RAM and a faster HD with 329 gigs. I am, frankly, amazed at how well this setup works. Video performance in iTunes is actually much better than under Windows XP or Windows 7, very smooth and no lagging. I bought and installed iLife and iWork ’09 and all of the apps work without a hitch that I can detect. Snow Leopard is estimating a little over 5 hours of runtime on the battery; I’ll have to try testing actual battery performance.

    With a compatible NetBook, this is a very useful hack. I’m even running XP using VMWare Fusion when I need Windows programs to run!

  6. digitalmandave

    I did this a little over a week ago with a Dell Mini 10v. It works really well with snow leopard 10.6.1. I upgraded the stock ram to 2 gigs added a wireless N card and a Kingston 128GB SSD every thing is quick and responsive.If you like to tinker like myself this makes a fun Saturday afternoon project and you’ve got a nice lightweight extremely portable Macnetbook!

  7. Thanks for the sober writeup on hackintoshing’s joys and challenges. A nit: A “show-stopper” is a good thing – a performance so good the show has to stop momentarily for the audience to finish its applause – not a bad thing. It’s not a synonym for “deal-breaker.”

    • Ok, cool. So it means good as well as bad. That’s entirely unambiguous. No confusion can happen there.

      It’s a reasonably good rule of thumb that if your idiom is *exactly* the opposite of what the dictionary says to just ask yourself if you’re using it wrongly. You don’t need to do what the dictionary says but, you know, just bear it in mind for the readers.

  8. The more and more I think about it, I’d rather get a cheap white/black Macbook off eBay. May be a bit more expensive but at least then you have a reliable native-Mac machine that can run Windows/Linux easily via Boot Camp or Virtualization rather than jumping through hoops with risky tutorials like the one above.

    You’d also have Firewire, a nicer keyboard and a bigger screen.

    But then again, I guess the tiny form factor of the netbook is what it’s all about.

    We’ll never be happy ;)

  9. I have never used a Mac before or os X for that matter so i would not know, but i am curious if its mostly about shedding some weight off your shoulders, is not the MacBook Air for that purpose?

    Or is it like that is more of a ‘costly’ full-fledged affair you would rather not get into (after having 1 MBP already)?

    • Clayton Lai

      The MacBook Air, light as it is, is thin but large, while netbooks are thick but small. I prefer the latter.

      And I find the lack of ports on the MacBook Air too much of a compromise for me to consider it a notebook for the road.

  10. This has been a temptation myself ever since the netbooks first started showing up but I hate to admit this but even though I am a die hard mac fan I don’t think I would have much of a problem with running Windows on the netbook. The primary thing I would be doing on the computer would be browsing the web, simple typing, email, and maybe playing music. With Safari, itunes, and google apps I think I would be able to deal with Windows.

  11. My Dell Mini 10v hackintosh laptop running Snow Leopard is a great joy to use. All hardware components; wifi adapter, BT, webcam, audio, mic, trackpad, sleep, ethernet, sd card reader, and external vga works with Mac OS X. What’s not to like? :)

    • Clayton Lai

      While I can get an external monitor working via VGA out, I’ve yet to figure out a way to mirror the display; doing so leaves me with a scrambled display on both my S10 and the external monitor.

      Does display mirroring work on your Dell Mini 10v?

    • I haven’t tried mirroring on an external monitor on the Mini 10v, but heard that it doesn’t work.

      The netbook-installer that I used to install my Mini 10v hackintosh comes with an option to install older display kext files to enable mirroring. I didn’t select that option.

  12. Welcome to the good life, Clayton!

    I’ve been enjoying my Dell mini 9 since last February (to a commenter: yes, it will last you longer than a month). I just gave a kicka$$ Keynote presentation today using my iPhone and my hackint0sh.

    I also needed a lightweight load for my back (I bike every day), so a ‘real’ mac was out of the question. As you correctly point out, it’s more about the OS than the hardware. I tend to agree with this. I am not very hardware loyal given that no hardware is perfect. OSX has a very nice user experience, so I tend to throw it on any PC system I can.

    My experience with the Dell 9 has been satisfactory. I program on it, watch movies, listen to music, run MATLAB and R code, update my website on the fly. Basically, I do everything on it that any other laptop would be good for. I am still using the STEC (factory) ssd, and find it just fine. I don’t feel like dishing out another $200-300 (price of another netbook) on a harddrive is a good investment. To each their own.

    If screen real-estate is the issue, plug it into an external monitor. Otherwise, you can also make things fit better by forcing your app to open at a higher resolution (google it or look it up on the mydellmini website).

    PS try PresentYourApps. It allows you to remove the top bar to increase screen real-estate. Also, many apps have the little button on the top-right corner to hide all the clutter. Use that!


    • More importantly, he’s gone from a external keyboard and mouse to little tiny ones. Isn’t that a problem? He obviously cared enough to bring big input devices (despite the shoulder and everything) for his 15″ laptop everywhere with him so why is the netbook even slightly acceptable for typing on and pointing at things with the trackpad?

  13. I’ve been reading up on Hackintoshing for months but have held back for the following reasons:

    1) User feedback – it’s very mixed
    2) Something better might come along just as I buy one
    3) I’d like to try myself. The specs and the screen real estate worry me slightly..

    Everyone says you get what you pay for, in my case nearly £300. I don’t want to buy something for £300 if it’s going to fail in a month or so’s time.

    The prospect of a mini Mac laptop that’s not my iPhone sounds awesome but it’s a daunting prospect nonetheless.

  14. ygallardo

    The problem is for install Leopard you have to choose a (hackintoch) distro but for install Snow Leopard (yes, work on hackeables netbooks) you only need a retail disk and an aplication called “NetbookInstaller”.
    I’m using Snow Leopard (10.6.1) in my HP Mini 1000 and it’s works fine for me.

  15. I’ve been hesitant to try out hackintoshing a netbook. For a few reasons. One being that I fear I’d screw it up royally (for instance, how did you fix the kext files when you killed the keyboard and trackpad?).
    The other is that I’ve not seen a netbook that looks cool/nice. But then again, I don’t think I ever thought of looking at Lenovo. Your Macbook Nano is quite the stunner, and makes me really want to try this.

  16. I’ve actually gone through a couple hackintosh computers – a Dell Mini 9, and also a MSI Wind U100.
    Both were fine for what they were – strangely – the Dell lacked some performance, which I found surprising because of the solid state hard drive – It was lagging playing music through iTunes. I sold it almost as soon as I discovered this.
    The MSI Wind was nicer, and seemed snappier and more useable than the Dell.

    Either way, I’ve moved on from both of these machines – waiting for a Macbook upgrade from apple, i’ll probably pull the trigger on when they refresh the line, if I dont like what I see, i’ll probably go for a 13″ MBP.

    Thanks for this article, its a nice review.. Any plans to put Snow Leopard on the Nano?

    • TheMacAdvocate

      Your stock Mini 9s come with horribly slow SSDs. IMO‚ you need to swap to make it usable and Runcore balances price/performance the best.

      My experience with the Mini 9 has been mixed. With the new SSD‚ it screams‚ but the keyboard is too cramped for my meathooks (and WTF with the ” key…arrgh!) and will has been relegated to “daytrip/airplace only” status.

  17. R4 card

    I could not agree with you more! Being a die hard mac user myself, I would be lieing if I said I didn’t feel a little bit guilty that I set up my own hp mini hackintosh system. But with the 2900 (Canadian dollars) I paid for my 17″ mbp I simply could not justify another 1600 for a 13″ mbp. And in all honesty Its rare that I need the full power of my mbp on the road, so doing my basic web editing and email replies, my hackintosh does the trick… And I couldn’t even wrap my mind around running windows on it when all of the software I use, I’ve been using on a mac for as long as I can remember.