So I’m writing this with my new $350 Hackintosh netbook.
I learned about Hackintoshing a few months ago, and was intrigued. I love the Mac OS, but there are things about Apple that seriously bother me. iTunes? Can’t stand it. The closed nature of the Mac platform? Not so much. You have to buy a $2600 Mac Pro just to get an expandable computer. And the prices generally. Lordy.
I tried using a Mac as my main computer for a few days and gave up. It is a lovely operating system and a MacBook Pro is a very nice laptop, but the cost – about 2X of the (more powerful) Lenovo – and inability to live “natively” on it (being a Windows guy in Real Life) caused me to give up on it.
But I liked the Mac experience. OSX is a terrific operating system. It’s so clean. It’s delightfully Unixy. I’ve owned several Macs back in the day, and it has always bothered me when I go to someone’s Mac and don’t remember how to use it.
And then there’s these nifty netbooks everyone is running around with now. The form factor is intriguing. Tiny, lightweight, cheap, and powerful enough for most day-to-day tasks.
I finally saw one in real life at Stack Overflow DevDays, and was convinced. It was a Dell Mini 9 – universally recognized as the easiest, most compatible Hackintosh platform (apparently the 10v is also a very good Hackintosh). It essentially runs OSX natively, right out of the box, and supports it almost completely. Dell no longer makes the Mini 9, but you can pick up a refurb unit cheap. I got mine for $220, with free shipping. I already had a copy of Snow Leopard from my aborted attempt at Mac Ownership. I dropped a 64 GB RunCore SSD into it and set about installing OSX on it.
It was completely painless. I followed these simple instructions and in about an hour had the thing up and running. The only thing that didn’t work correctly was Sleep and Hibernate (the computer would hang when you tried to put it to sleep) which was resolved by installing the free SmartSleep utility from Apple which fixed the Sleep but not the Hibernate problem.
The main complaint – common to any computer with this tiny form factor – is the usability of the keyboard. It is cramped, and the apostrophe / quote key is in a terrible location. However it is usable – I am able to type at about 80% of the rate I achieve on my Lenovo (which may have the perfect keyboard). Productive, but not enjoyable. If you are a serious touch-typist then you will have more problems. I am sort of a four-fingered typist so I think that I am probably more adaptable to this keyboard.
I have read a few people who say that they can type better on an iPhone than the keyboard on a Mini 9. That is balderdash. The Mini 9 does take some getting used to, but it’s a lot faster than typing with one or two fingers. Some people have swapped the keyboard for the Euro / US version which trades smaller keys for a better key layout. I think it comes down to one thing: if you’re writing code, or a novel, or any other large text that makes heavy use of apostrophes and / or quotes, then the Mini 9 is going to be pretty frustrating. Otherwise, you should be able to make it work for you.
On the good side, the screen is small (1024×600) but lovely. It is bright and white and sharp and very pleasant to look at. And with 2 GB of RAM and a 64 GB SSD the computer is quite fast. Totally inadequate for serious CPU work like A/V, but for 90% of what I use a computer for, it’s just great. It will play videos nicely, too – and they look terrific on the LCD. I/Os are good – ethernet, VGA, 3 USB, audio, and an SD slot. It is the perfect travel companion.
It is also silent – has no moving parts at all – and cool. The bottom warms up a little but doesn’t ever get anywhere near “hot”.
Dell sells the Mini 9 with Ubuntu. Ubuntu is a great little operating system, and is nicely configured to be netbook-friendly on the Mini 9 – but it doesn’t compare to OSX. OSX may be the perfect netbook OS. I haven’t yet installed iLife on this computer, but I can see it coming.
And finally, there’s the cool factor. You’re running the best consumer OS money can buy, on a small, quick, nifty, and very cheap piece of hardware. It’s Mac-cool without the Mac-cost.
If you want a Mac netbook, you have a choice. You can wait for Apple to make one, or you can just Hackintosh a Dell Mini 9 or 10v.