April 3, 2009 3 Comments
You won’t believe it, but I am actually typing this on my tiny little HackBook, aka Dell Mini 9. Running Leopard 10.5.6 smoothly and all hardware -as far as I can see now- seems to be working. The keyboard is really small, so I have to get used to it quite a bit. But overall this is one dell of a machine (pun intended). So what happened between now and my last post about this emotionally challenging experiment?
It took Dell about three weeks to actually deliver the box. On a Wednesday I reserved the evening and dubbed it my solo Hackintosh event. I’m not stupid using a computer and I usually find my way around, but I’m certainly no hardcore hacker. So a tedious online research on the protocols of hacking a Dell Mini 9 was imperative. Fortunately I was not the only nerd with the desire to have a Mac the size of a book so I could find a vast amount of forums where real geeks were kind enough to describe the process step by step. I even prepared a USB stick with the necessary software: MacOS X.
But first back to the box. Being a Mac user for almost my entire computer life (not true, after my Commodore 64 and Amiga I did start using a PC/AT but was converted to a Mac when I was working for Janssen Pharmaceutica back in 1993, and never looked back) you get used to quality. It sure does sound like a cliche, but opening a Dell box is not the same experience as opening an Apple box (yes, I am biased but doing my utmost to be objective. Seriously). From a marketing point of view intruiging. Apple’s packaging is a true form of art, with even the plastic bags inside sealed with silver wires. Dell’s box is just… a box.
Once opened I was first confronted with the physical form factor of the Dell Mini 9. I confess, it did touch my feminin part in me: “How cute!” (now this is out in the open I will from now on only talk GHz, GB, RAM and CPU power). The price tag of €299 became obvious. The Dell Mini 9 feels more like a Fisherprice laptop with plastic all over the place.
So I was ready to go but first I needed to make yet another USB stick with a ‘bootloader’.
[GEEKTALK MODE ON]
Originally the Dell doesn’t recognise the Mac OS. In order to ‘fool’ the Dell one need to load a specific piece of software during startup which makes it understand a USB stick with MacOS X. This bootloader has to be set up in Windows XP. So here the fun started…
Although I use XP in a compulsary way at work, I soon came to realize that being a Mac user I am really, seriously spoiled. I booted up XP and entered the confusing world of this antique OS. OK, I admit that my Dell came with XP Home Edition which is no doubt the most notorious and inferior OS in the family of XP, but still. It started with a mismatch between the keyboard and the OS. I had a US keyboard whereas XP thought I had a Dutch one. Result: all symbols completely messed-up. That really became a problem in the next geeky part, creating the bootloader. I also needed wireless internet but Windows could not get any connection (although it said it was connected but could not find an IP address, or something like that).
I won’t go into detail, but creating the bootloader involved starting up the command line after which I ended up in a kind of window with DOS. Wait, I’ll write that again: DOS. As in Disk Operating System. As in the eighties.
So the code I had to type read something like this: ‘cd C:\syslinux-3.63\win32’, and after that: ‘syslinux.exe -ma E:’. But the keyboard was really freaking out on me. I just could not find the bloody ‘\’. And as you can see, I kind of needed that symbol quite a few times. And did you ever try to find a setting in XP where you can just change the keyboard layout? It drove me nuts and made me want to throw the bloody machine out of the window! And that after only thirty minutes! Aaahh… those good ol’ pre-Mac times of CRA (Computer Related Anxiety).
Anyway, my basic knowledge of DOS which I was forced to learn at school back in the early nineties was still present somewhere in my memory. Eventually I was able to create the bootloader and I was ready for the real work: hacking!
One USB stick with the bootloader in the left port, the Mac OS USB stick in the right. After changing the boot order to start up from the USB bootloader funny letters and numbers magically appeared on my screen. Now it was time to pay attention. Being faithful to my research I typed in ’81’ at a dedicated spot somewhere in the process and to my delight the uberfamous Apple logo filled the tiny 9″ LCD screen. It felt like coming home.
The rest was just the normal setup of Mac OS X. The only thing I still had to do was changing the EFI so that the Dell was actually booting from the Mac OS and voila. I was the owner of a real HackBook.
[GEEKTALK MODE OFF]
The final part of the transformation was applying the specially designed Apple logo over the Dell logo on the cover of the HackBook, and the removal of the cheapo sticker ‘Intel Inside’ and ‘Designed for Windows’ inside. Pathetic, but a neccesity if I ever wanted to be taken seriously among my few friends I still have.
Till now all seems to work. Sound, webcam, dimming the screen, wifi. Even the soft pulsing LED when the lid is closed. The battery lasts for about 3 hours which is reasonably good. As said, the keyboard is really tiny but I guess that’s the price one has to pay to be portable. The HackBook is really light which is most welcome when I’m traveling (the second main reason why I bought the Dell mini). I have installed only a few programs since I want to test to what extend the HackBook can be used for what it is designed for: the Cloud.
I will be traveling soon. Expect feedback on my findings using this device on our blog.