Wednesday, April 22, 2009

Hackintosh: It's Alive!

This week I became the proud owner of a Hackintosh (aka Dell Mini9 running Mac OS X). I needed a new laptop, and have pretty much become a complete Mac convert over the past few years, so my options were limited. Either spend $1000 - $2500 for a MacBook, or spend a 1/10 of that on a homebrewed Hackintosh. For both the obvious reason of price, combined with the benefits of a small, light, fast (solid state storage) and long battery life, I went with the Hackintosh.

I was nervous for sure, but I knew a few people that had done it and said good things, so now I am paying it forward. Here's how I got a full-blow pseudo MacBook Air for under $200.

  1. Redeem some of my American Express points for a Dell gift certificate (they best you can generally do with Amex points is 1 penny/point and this fit that bill). 20,000 Amex points = $200 Dell gift certificate (that's the max allowable)
  2. Go to and order and customize your Dell Mini 9 - the most compatible netbook for running OS X (and all of the device drivers seem to work). You need to upgrade to 16GB SSD (at minimum). I also included the webcam upgrade (higher resolution) and Windows XP. The total came out to around $390 (with 2 day shipping). You could get cheaper if you went Linux instead of XP (since you are going to install OS X over it anyway, but I wasn't sure whether I was going to do this so got XP as the backup plan). Enter your gift certificate number and voila... now you are billed only $190.
  3. Wait for you Dell to arrive (mine took a couple of weeks - which they neglected to tell me until AFTER I paid extra for 2 day shipping). Boo Dell!
  4. Dig up (or buy) a larger USB flash drive to use for the install (at least 8GB but 16GB is probably better). I found a 16GB online for about $30.
  5. If you don't already have the RETAIL version of OS X (Leopard), you need to get it... the OEM version that ships with Macs won't work. I saw a special advertised the other day to MobileMe subscribers for $99. Luckily, I already had a copy so I didn't need to get another.
  6. While you are still waiting for you Dell to arrive, get your USB drive ready for the install. Basically, you create 2 partitions on the drive where you copy a bunch of bootloaders and small utilities needed for the install on the small partition, and a copy of the OS X disk ISO image (.dmg) to the large partition. One of the files requires a Windows machine to execute/copy to the USB drive, but you could use the Dell when it arrives (if you got XP on it) or it will also work with Windows running in Parallels or Fusion on a Mac. The detailed directions (and links to required files) can be found here: There are multiple methods to install, but the single USB drive method in "Section B (New)" is what I followed.
  7. Unfortunately, I made the mistake of not doing the "custom OS X install" (where I should have deselected all of the language packs, printer drivers, etc.) so that made my install take longer (over an hour) and eat up a lot of valuable storage space. So, now I had to uninstall all of the stuff I don't need to free up space (used a program called Monlingual).
  8. Otherwise, I followed those directions and everything worked great. There was one part that wasn't completely clear in Step 7 (how to boot from the smaller USB drive into the Dell's SSD after install - I ended up having to hit ESC and then type "80" to get that option).
  9. After I was done, everything worked out of the box except one minor issue with noisy sound output (sounded like some sort of interference). I read in one of the forums that if you encounter this just put the Dell into sleep mode and wake it back up. Sure enough, that did the trick. Everything worked right away... webcam, sound, trackpad, etc.
All-in-all, this seems like it is going to be a great travel machine for me. My only complaints with the hardware so far are that a) the vertical height of the screen is constraining... some windows are too tall to be able to get to the bottom of (e.g. system preferences) and it takes some finagling, and b) the keyboard takes some getting used to... the main keys are fine, but I am still having trouble finding some of the punctuation and secondary keys.

Now, my list of "must have apps" for your Hackintosh (after OS X install I only have a few gig of space left for apps).

  • SimplifyMedia - don't waste your limited space on music, just stream from your home library (I also put Playdar on this machine which can serve the same purpose, but that is still very alpha)
  • Firefox - I use a number of extensions that I really like (e.g. Delicious, Zemanta, etc) and have never gotten used to Safari
  • Skitch - I can't live without it, although I may see if Jing can replace it since it handles screencasts & image capture
  • Dropbox (or something similar) - online storage and syncing is a must for a small machine like this.
  • Tweetie or Nambu - Adobe Airs apps can be resource hogs, so I opted for a native Mac app instead.
  • Xslimmer - a small utility that will strip out all the bloat from other applications.)
  • OnyX - a utility that will help you tweak settings and manage resources
  • MobileMe Account - this makes things much easier when it comes to syncing everything between your machines. It also comes with iDisk remote storage/sync which could eliminate your need for Dropbox.
  • Skype - I forgot this at first. I actually prefer iChat/AIM for voice and video chats, but Skype is a must have if you do any international business.
I also put Microsoft Office on it for now, although I don't recommend it. I will probably start to use Google Docs more now for this, and other hosted apps for presentation creation, etc. Everything else you need comes with OS X (iTunes, iChat, Mail, Calendar, Address Book, etc.). That comes close to maxing out the on-board storage, but between the online storage solutions and the new 16GB USB drive I bought for the install process, I think I should be good to go.

Reblog this post [with Zemanta]

No comments: