Graduate students don’t have money. They need computers. I started seeing netbooks everywhere I turned this year. Students had them in the classroom, and postdocs (on a same level of poverty as grad students, I think) started ordering them. The netbook is a ultra-petite laptop. More than a smartphone (minus the “-phone”), but still not quite a laptop. They usually lack, for example, optical disk drives. When I saw my first EeePC, I fell in love (just with the name), but knew I’d never buy one. First, I already have a small laptop (a venerable 12″ G4 PowerBook). Second, as I’ve discussed in the Humanities Dissertation Project, I use a Mac. And I use Mac-only software in my work (DevonThink Pro, Scrivener, etc.). A tiny netbook running Linux (or, worse, Windows) would be a toy. A luxury.
Then someone tripped over the power cord to my laptop (a cord already fraying), snapping the tip off and destroying the DC-in board on the laptop. Suddenly, I have no laptop. I started looking at the prices of the new 13″ MacBook Pro (the spiritual descendant of my laptop) and shook my head. There’s no way I need that much machine from my laptop. Then I started thinking about, maybe, a netbook. I could install Ubuntu (or whatever) on it, and just keep notes as text files that I later import into DTPro. Not elegant, but usable. Then a friend told me that, in fact, there’s a booming subculture of people getting OS X to run on those very netbooks! I had no idea!
So, $350 later, I had bought a Dell Mini 9. I upgraded the webcam and hard disk (to 16Gb solid-state). I picked the Mini 9 since I read that it was the most compatible with the Mac operating system, and, it was small and cheap.
Unfortunately, after the order was placed, I learned that Dell would wait until Aug 13th to ship it. So I started tinkering with my busted laptop at the office, seeing if it would make sense to fix it (so that then I’d maybe cancel the Dell order).
A new DC-in board costs about $80 for my PowerBook. And, luckily, the group that sells the card, iFixIt, also has extremely detailed instructions on how to put the replacement in. They label the process “difficult,” and that disheartened me for a day. Then I remembered that I get paid to fix computers. How could I give up? So I took apart the PowerBook to see if it was actually as hard as they said it would be. I can only say this: If you’ve never replaced any sort of motherboard, consider seriously if you really want to do this. Keeping track of screws is one thing. Unplugging connectors and, more dodgily, applying thermal grease, is another. If you have replaced a motherboard, then there’s nothing difficult about the procedure, though it is much lengthier than swapping out a Dell GX270 motherboard (something I’ve done many, many times).
My PowerBook in a hundred pieces on my desk, Dell ends up shipping the Mini 9 early, and it arrives on the same day (yesterday) as the replacement DC-in board. Suddenly, I have a dilemma. But the Mini 9 goes first.
Now, Gizmodo has linked to a means of running OS X on a Mini 9 using a version of the MSI Wind hackintosh installer. That’s definitely not the preferred means of doing the operation, but it remains very high on Google’s rankings. Not even looking to the legality of the situation (I think it’s illegal, since it uses a bootlegged version of the operating system), it doesn’t provide full functionality. The DellEFI method, however, does. And that’s the method I used.
All I needed was:
- My new Dell Mini 9
- A burned disk with the Dell MiniBoot burned onto it (.iso available with DellEFI instructions)
- An external DVD drive that connected via USB
- A retail (not bundled) copy of Mac OS X Leopard (This adds to the price of the “$350 Mac,” obviously)
- A USB key for the DellEFI application and 10.5.7 Combo Updater
Yes, in case it’s not clear, I used the Method 3 installation.
Mechdrew’s instructions are great, and the only slightly sketchy part was getting the “-x” boot flag in during step 10. It took me a few times to get it to work right, but I think I just didn’t fully pay attention to the instructions. But Mechdrew just built on the massive contributions by the MyDellMini forum, and it’s a great resource I look forward to mining in the future.
After about an hour or so, I had a Mini 9 running OSX! Next, I had enough hard drive space to install the above mentioned applications as well as my 2Gb Dropbox and Adium and Skitch and so on. And there’s still plenty of space left (more than 2Gb, I think!). Furthermore, I can augment the space on the Mini 9 with the SDHC card reader or USB keys or, even, external hard drives. In short, I’m kind of blown away by how much is packed into this teeny black box, even if it’s so tightly packed that the keyboard takes some getting used to. Now I’m going to see if the screenspace isn’t too small for me to use the computer to run Traktor Pro, but that’s a different life. Finally, I chose something orthogonally appropriate considering my upcoming move to France as a wallpaper.
So if you find yourself to be a poor graduate student who wants to continue enjoying the Mac lifestyle (or start enjoying it after years of dealing with Windows), the low entry price of the Mini 9 makes for a super tantalizing offer.
And as for the DC-in replacement, it took, and the PowerBook is back up and running fine. So, basically, everybody wins. Or, well, at least me.