OS X On The Dell Mini 9

by Raj on April 12, 2009

I have been looking at the Dell Mini 9 for quite a while. We needed a very portable, but full featured, laptop for a host of reasons.

I didn’t buy one previously because of operating system support. I refused to use Windows — that was a complete non-starter for me. Ubuntu lacks adequate mobile wireless (EVDO) support — it’s a hacky endeavor and ridden with slow performance. Otherwise, I love Ubuntu and use it extensively.

I didn’t want to use a hacked version of OS X that could readily be downloaded from various torrent sites. Pirated, closed source software could be full of malicious exploits. And the OEM install disks just won’t work. Plus, I wanted to buy it. The Mac Box Set with iWork and iLife work well for me.

The notion of the user experience of OS X on a highly portable laptop using legit software (even though it violates Apple EULA) was appealing to me.

I bought the base model with 512MB of RAM and a 4GB solid state drive that came with Ubuntu pre-installed. Then I immediately upgraded to 2GB RAM with a 64 GB Runcore SSD. The upgrade itself took no more than 5 minutes — it’s a few screws and a cover. There are many options for SSD upgrades, but apparently the Runcore drives are the fastest — they’re also on backorder unless you want to pay an ebay premium.

Here are some pros and cons of using OS X on the Dell Mini 9:

Pros:

Boot up speed
OS X boots up really, really fast. There’s no spinning disk to slow this thing down, so it’s quite snappy on boot-up.

Portability
This thing is tiny — it’s not meant to be your primary laptop. It easily fits into a messenger bag or my wife’s pocketbook. It’s very lightweight, surprisingly so considering how versatile it is.


Easy install

Installing OS X was relatively easy. If you’re comfortable with software, it should be a breeze. I started off using an external DVD drive, but that method didn’t work well, so I adapted to the two USB drive method. A smaller USB drive is used to bootstrap the OS X installer located on the larger USB drive. Sounds complicated, but not that bad.

Most things work
Most things seem to work well. The built-in camera, wifi and ethernet, USB, keyboard shortcuts and video work as expected.

No hacking of OS
No hacky and potentially dangerous OS downloads from Piratebay.

OS X!
The user experience from OS X! Nuff said.

Great for bedtime/couch
Makes for a great bedtime reader.

Cons:

No sleep (till Brooklyn)
OS X doesn’t sleep properly on this netbook. I think that’s generally a problem with most Hackintosh style implementations. Not a show stopper, but you can’t just close the lid and expect it to wake up properly. Actually, I just realized that I needed to disable USB Legacy Support in the BIOS. Now sleep works just fine.

Keyboard small
The keyboard is tiny, frustratingly so at first. I grew accustomed to it over the period of a few days. Now it’s not a problem. I can type just a fast on this as I can with a larger keyboard.

Video gets hot
On a positive note, the Dell Mini 9 can use our 52″ Sony Bravia rather well as a dual display (but mirroring seems to be an issue). But watching a standard length movie using the TV seems to be a rather big problem — it gets really, really hot. Ubuntu seemed to do the same thing, so it’s not OS X specific from my experience.

Time machine backup slow
Backing up using Time Machine seemed 20x slower than it should be. Not sure performance was so poor. Need to investigate further.

Monitor mirroring doesn’t work
Though it worked as dual display for my Sony TV, it worked neither as a dual display or with mirroring for my Dell monitor.

Touchpad hokeyness while typing
There’s some touchpad hokeyness with both OS X and Ubuntu. With OS X, the Clicking option under Trackpad Gestures needs to be disabled. Otherwise, well, hokey things will happen while typing. With Ubuntu, syndaemon needs to be setup.

Overall

I’m really happy with OS X on the Dell Mini 9. If you’re even remotely thinking about doing this — you should. It’s worth it.

  • Gil

    I have had a similarly positive experience. I wanted a netbook form factor, reasonable power, and OS X, as no other OS comes close.

    My install was uneventful, same problems with touchy touchpad, but sleep DOES work for me, just close the lid, it sleeps, open up and its on. Haven't tried time machine, but I've read that for certain operations — and full backups may be one of them — the SSD slows things down. That may be only for the first full Time Machine scan, with subsequent ones much faster, as they are incremental. That was my experience using Super Duper and smart update.

    battery life isn't all that great though: 3 hours. I'd like a better battery, but those oversize ones seem to cause problems.

    • http://www.intermentcamp.com Raj

      Actually, I just realized that I needed to disable USB Legacy Support in the BIOS. Now sleep works just fine.

      Thanks.

      • Craig

        Of all the netbooks, what made you pick the Dell mini?

        • http://intensedebate.com/people/rajbala rajbala

          OS X compatibility was huge. And there's a vibrant community around
          running OS X on the Dell Mini.

    • kevin

      I am loving my Hackintosh.
      Check this eBay listing. – Brushed metal apple logo sticker.

      http://cgi.ebay.com/ws/eBayISAPI.dll?ViewItem&amp

  • Aaron Short

    Hey guys,

    I am finding that photobooth freezes after a few seconds and when I plug into an external monitor the whole computer locks up.

    Can you please confirm if that is just me or not?

    Best,

    Aaron

    • http://intensedebate.com/people/rajbala rajbala

      I don't have any photo booth freezing issues, but I have one external
      monitor that doesn't work at all. My TV work fine though.

      • michael

        Can you include the steps and the cables you used for connecting it to your TV?

        • http://intensedebate.com/people/rajbala rajbala

          I have since stopped connecting it to my TV. I found that the Dell
          Mini generated too much heat while playing video — especially when
          connected to my TV.

          But in any case, I didn't use any special cables. Just a standard
          monitor cable worked fine. I needed to boot the Mini while connected
          if I remember correctly.

  • ASL

    Regarding dual monitor displays, mine seems to not remember the settings, and I need to set up the dual screen setup every time I restart. ANytime it starts, it defaults to clone.

  • http://teengays.com Kurtis Rayne

    I called my Dell customer service and asked how to install the OSX but those stupid indians probably didn’t understand english and kept saying it’s not part of what they can do, so I told them that it has been done, but they didn’t believe me.

    Hen I called the Mac people so I can legally buy a copy of OSX so I can install it on ly mini 9 and the guy pretty much got upset, and tried to sell me the $2000 computer, I need help, how do I install and get all these programs, how does everyone else do it?

    • Viktor J

      Hey Kurtis, "those stupid Indians" at Dell customer service must be laughing at the "stupid American" (or whatever nationality you are) who wants to install OS X on Dell Mini.

      Niether Dell, nor Mac people can help you with it. Installing OS X on anything not manufactures by Apple is a violation of Apple's license agreement. This is something you do on your own, at your own risk. But the intellect level you demonstrate in your post tells me that you should not bother trying it out. Just live with Windows… it's designed specially for you :o)

      • http://intensedebate.com/people/rajbala rajbala

        Wow. I somehow missed that comment entirely.

        He's either an idiot or an jerk — or maybe both because this is my
        blog and I am an Indian.

        What kind of idiot calls Dell to ask about installing an Apple operating system?

      • Jose

        I take offense to you saying windows is designed for him.

        I'm an avid windows user. I love it. I've also used OSX on a hackintosh, ubuntu and several other linux distros, Unix and some of it's distros. So when you say this guy should be using Windows I think that's an insult to all the people who like Windows. :)

        Now if you were more specific and said Windows Vista Home Basic was for him…I would agree totally ;)

  • Ace

    As a long time Mac user (I started using a Macs in 1986) I went the Dell mini OS X route just to find out how well PC's are built these days, and how practical a netbook really is. My experience: mwaaah. While the Dell is not as crappy as other netbooks (eeePC anyone), it really can't compare to a Mac, any Mac.

    Almost nothing is thought out: the keys are too cramped (even Asians must find the arrow keys unusable); the mouse buttons are rubbish; the trackpad is next to unusable (in OS X, but even in XP); the keyboard is located too close to the front and the overall impression is that of a VTech toy. After only a few weeks of 'usage' I'm putting it up for sale on eBay. At one third the price of a MacBook it may represent value-for-money for some, but not for me.

    One thing I would like for a future MacSlate (or whatever the touch Mac will be called) is this display. It is gorgeous: brilliant, sharp and colourful (albeit not very fast).

  • Gregg

    I just received a Dell Hack and love it, except for the fact that the 16gig storage capacity is at 660MB! Any suggestions?

    • http://intensedebate.com/people/rajbala rajbala

      I got a 64GB Runcore drive. IMO, 16GB is just not sufficient.

    • AmitP

      In case you haven't tried it yet, you could run something like Monolingual or XSlimmer to remove excess languages and architectures. Also, removing the printer drivers (2+ GB worth) and speech files (~700MB) help with space.

      If you're willing to put up with a bit of slowness, you can also move seldom used applications to an SD card and run them from there.

  • http://www.foolkit.com.au Nick

    looking at the dell 9 yes for variety of reasons – but also tempted to try linux gOS the kogan 10 netbook – interested in comments about the kogan – cheers.

    • http://intensedebate.com/people/rajbala rajbala

      I think the Kogan is more popular in Australia compared to the States. We only read about it on the Internets and never actually see it being sold.

      I installed the gOS once but removed it quickly. Would rather run Ubuntu if it's going to be Linux.

  • http://intensedebate.com/people/rajbala rajbala

    I had to update some configuration file, but not until it was actually
    connected (when I couldn't see the desktop). I know this isn't quite
    helpful, but I can't remember quite what had to be done because I only
    did it a few times.

    On the second or third use of my Dell Mini 9 with the TV I noticed
    that it got very, very hot while it was connected. It was so hot that
    I wasn't comfortable connecting it ever again — I think repeated use
    could cause permanent damage to the hardware.

  • Mary Anna

    Thanks for taking the time to respond; I'll research further since I get the same issue with any LCD I've tried to connect.

  • http://www.grahamandgreen.co.uk furniture

    I never thought it'll be possible to install OS X on Dell mini 9, I'm very impressed and think to give it a try too.