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Wednesday, October 28, 2009

Hackintosh a Dell Mini 10v Into the Ultimate Snow Leopard Netbook

Here's the pitch: a 10-inch, almost-pocketable computer running Snow Leopard, the latest, greatest version of OS X. It costs just $300. Sound good? Here's how to make your own.

Why You Should Do This

Last time we threw together a guide like this, things were different. Snow Leopard was but a glint in Steve Jobs' eye, and in terms of hardware, the Mini 9 was the best thing going—it was pretty much the only netbook you could guarantee would work perfectly. Not to mention the hackintosh process was much, much more complicated. And riskier! And yet, despite all this, it was easy to recommend loading a Mini up with OS X, because to put it bluntly, the results were fantastic.

But the Mini 9 was a bit too small for regular use, and even if it's still pretty easy to buy one, it's not officially part of Dell's product line anymore. Fast forward to now: the Mini 10v is a (quite similar) replacement for the 9, with a slightly larger screen, 160GB HDD standard, and 1GB or RAM. Most importantly, the keyboard is a bit larger, and the price is wonderfully low: $300 for a netbook that's completely ready for hackintoshing. Or to put it another way, the 10v is a $300 Apple netbook.

And it isn't just the hardware that's changed, it's the software. Snow Leopard is fast—faster than 10.5—and its new interface features, like Dock Expose, make using OS X on a netbook even easier. Finder is faster, Quicktime has a new interface. It's a pretty big upgrade from Leopard, is what I'm trying to say.

And installation tools have grown up too. Netbook hackintoshing used to be an all-day process, with external optical drives, Terminal commands, and numerous terrifying driver tweaks. Today, there are simple software utilities to take care of all this for you. So let's recap: Since 2008, the hardware has gotten cheaper and better, OS X more mature, and the installation process much simpler. Oh yeah, and Snow Leopard retail costs $30. (Though strict moralists should note that this is intended to be an upgrade.) There's never been a better time to hackintosh—not by a long shot.

That said, one thing hasn't changed. TERMINAL > SUDO REWRITE DISCLAIMER:

Even though we're using a standard retail-purchased copy of OS X, the disclaimer: Apple does not like Hackintoshing. It violates the OS X EULA, and probably won't make the Dell folks too happy either, should you need to return your hacked Mini 9 for service. So, as always, proceed at your own risk.

And of course, this tutorial messes with some pretty core components of your netbook, which means there's a real, if small, risk of brickage. Proceed at your own risk, again. Anyway.

What You'll Need

Dell Mini 10v. The stock version, at $300, works perfectly. [Note: I'm getting a lot of questions about this, so just to be clear: This has to be a 10v, not a regular Mini 10. Lots of netbooks can be hackintoshed, but the Mini 10 has an incompatible graphics card/chipset. Sorry!]

• BIOS version lower than A06 (A05, A04, A03 all work fine)

Downgrade instructions are available here, though they require a Windows PC for creating a bootable DOS flash drive. There are a lot of scary acronyms here, but don't worry—it's no more than a few minutes of work.

• Retail copy of OS X 10.6 (NOT an OEM copy that comes with a new Mac). An ISO will do fine here too, but discs are just $30, you cheapskate. Upgrades to 10.6.1 should be applied after the fact.

• An 8GB (or larger) USB flash drive, the faster the better. External HDDs will work too.

• A Mac with a working optical drive, for preparing your flash drive

Netbook BootMaker (a free Mac application)

Preparing Your Flash Drive

The 10v doesn't have an optical drive, and it's a pain in the ass to have to go find one, burn a new disc, and do things the old-fashioned way. Installing from a USB flash drive is much, much easier. So that's the method we'll be running with.

1. Insert your flash drive and OS X Retail install disk into your computer

2. Open Disk Utility (searching in Spotlight is the easiest way to find this)

3. Select your flash drive from the list on the left. Make sure to select the drive itself, not any partitions you may have written to it before.

4. In the right panel, select the "Partition" screen.

5. From the dropdown menu, select "1 Partition," then click "Options" below the partition map.

6. Select "Master Boot Record." This will ensure that your Mini 10v can boot from your flash drive. Select a name for your partition—doesn't really matter what—and apply your changes. Keep in mind this will delete anything you have on your flash drive right now, so back it up if need be.

7. Once this is done, move from the "Partition" screen to the "Restore" screen in Disk Utility

8. For your Restore Source, select (by dragging) the OS X install disk from the left panel. Make sure this is the item called something to the effect of "Mac OS Install DVD," not "Optiarc DVD" or some other hardware title. For the destination, drag your newly-prepared partition over. Click restore.

This will take at least an hour, so go have sandwich or something. Or even better, skip ahead make sure your Mini 10v is ready for the install, as outlined in the next section.

Ok, once that slog is done, it's time to let Netbook BootMaker do its magic. And let me be clear: it is magic. What this utility will do is install a special bootloader on your flash drive, which allows your netbook to begin an OS X install. It also throws in a few driver tweaks, to make sure your 10v, y'know, work.

9. Running BootMaker is easy—just open the app, select your OS X partition on your newly-minted flash drive, and tell it to GO GO GO.

Aaaaand that's it! You're ready to start hackintoshing.

Installing OS X

First, you're going to need to do some light prep on your 10v.

10. Jump into the BIOS, since we're going to need to check on a few things. You can do this by restarting the 10v, and hitting F2 as the Dell logo first shows up.

11. Double-check to see if you have the right BIOS. As long as it's lower than A06, you're fine. If not, refer back to the "What You'll Need" section.

12. With the arrow keys, cycle over to the "Advanced" screen, where you'll see a list of options. USB BIOS Legacy support should be enabled, as should Bluetooth.

13. Now cycle over to the Boot screen. This is where you tell your 10v which drive to start from. During normal use, this will be the hard drive where your OS is installed. Since we're installing an OS today, though, you're going to want to select "USB Storage," and move it to the top by pressing the F6 key.

14. Once you're done, press F10 to save and exit. If you're ready to dive straight into the install, make sure you have your prepped USB drive plugged in and ready to go.

15. Plug your computer in, if it's not already. You don't want your netbook to die halfway though—this will only lead to sadness.

Next time you boot with your flash drive plugged in, you should see this screen. Don't be alarmed by the spinning pinwheel; just leave it for a few minutes. Your computer is thinking.

16. HAHA, BEHOLD! This screen here, it's awfully Apple-y! But you're not done yet. Let the install complete, following the regular prompts as you go. When it asks you where to install OS X, select and clear the entire HDD of your device. This will delete everything, so make sure you have your stuff backed up.

After about an hour, you're done. Seriously—that's it. Your first boot will take longer than normal, and your desktop may freeze for minutes at a time. Give it some time to figure everything out. Within about 10 minutes, your desktop should be ready to go.

Odds and Ends

By and large, your install should work out of the box. Sleep, shutdown/startup, sound, keyboard shortcuts, battery indicators, and anything else you can think of should be present and at attention, barring one glaring flaw: the trackpad. It's kinda shitty, and makes dragging-and-dropping nearly impossible. Here's what you need to do:

17. Go here, and download the attached trackpad driver.

18. Open Finder on your 10v, and press CMD+Shift+G (on this keyboard, that's Alt+Shift+G.) In the box that comes up, typed "/Extra" and press enter.
This will bring you to a hidden folder. Copy the .kext file you've download into the Mini10vExt folder, making sure to back up the one you're replacing.
19. Run the app in the "Extra" directory called UpdateExtra, which will alert OS X to the new drivers. Restart your computer.

Now you should be able to click and drag—the cursor should jump when your second finger makes contact. You should see, as you could before, a panel in the OS X preferences where you can adjust trackpad settings. Play with them as you like—two finger scrolling is great, and makes the 10v feel more like a genuine Apple netbook.

The only other issue you're likely to run into is the occasional too-tall settings screen. Here's an obscenely clever virtual screen resolution workaround for that.

So There You Go

You've got yourself a fully-functioning, beautifully small Snow Leopard netbook, which'll do 90% of what a 13-inch MacBook can, at 70% the size and about 25% of the cost. Mine's close to perfect: With an extended battery, I'm pushing 7 hours of battery life with Wi-Fi, which makes my MacBook pro look like a LOSER. And tiny extra bit of size over the Mini 9 means the keyboard is just large enough to work on, meaning this thing isn't just a toy—it's a decent investment. This from a guy with banana fingers.

Performance is acceptable, meaning you can run regular apps like iTunes, Firefox—and even Photoshop in a bind. It's not noticeably slow during normal use, though it'll choke on higher-res Flash video (no YouTube HD, but SD works fine). As with any netbook, this pretty much can't be your main machine. But it's a brilliant extra portable machine, for toilet browsing, travel, class notes and the like.

Anyway, buckets of thanks to the MyDellMini forums, especially users MechDrew (site here) and Bmcclure937. Without their guides, I wouldn't have been able to write this one. And of course, a hat tip to Adam Pash, who was already elbow-deep in Snow Leopard hackintoshing when we were all still too afraid. See his fantastic guide to building the build your own desktop hackintosh here. UPDATE: And I'd be remiss not to mention Meklort, the main developer of the NetbookInstaller suite, which does most of the heavy lifting here. —Thanks, Brian!

So that's about it! Please add in your experiences in the comments-your feedback is a huge benefit to our Saturday guides. Good luck with your own Hackintoshing, and have a great weekend!

Send an email to John Herrman, the author of this post, at