A Hackintosh is any non-Apple Intel-based computer that has been “hacked” to run Mac OS X. Although not supported by Apple, or anyone else for that matter, the underlying hardware architecture of a Mac is essentially the same as that of any modern Windows PC. Put this in front of a good hacker, and the challenge is too sweet to ignore: “let’s see if we can turn this baby into a Mac.
“I’m not smart enough to figure any of this out, but the folks who are enjoy sharing their knowledge on the Internet, and they supply instructions for the rest of us. Instructions for hackintoshing computers tend to be brand and model specific due to the varied mix of manufacturer’s components inside the chassis of PC’s. When I found a good recipe for hackintoshing a Dell Mini 10v netbook, I decided to try it out. I was already running Linux on it anyway and knew, in worst case, I could simply revert to Linux or Windows.
The recipe calls for a fresh Mac Snow Leopard OS X 10.6 upgrade DVD (not the one that comes with a Macintosh). I purchased one for $35. You also need a USB hard drive that holds at least 8GB. My 8GB USB stick was already in use, so I picked up a 16GB one. I also discovered that a small-capacity USB stick is a good thing to have for this project, if you need to change the BIOS.
My Dell Mini 10v came with an A06 BIOS, and I had to downgrade it to A04. The recipe had links to a great little Mac utility for creating a bootable DOS USB drive to boot the machine for a BIOS change. I used one of my older 2GB USB sticks for the job.
The scariest part of the entire procedure was downgrading the BIOS to the level needed to properly support Mac OS. A BIOS change has to either succeed correctly, or fail correctly. Anything in between means taking the netbook back to Dell for fixing. Despite the scary disclaimers, though, BIOS upgrades or downgrades are relatively safe if you do them right and use common sense, such as making certain the unit has AC power attached.
A BIOS change is also a loud affair. It makes the computer beep repeatedly for five to ten minutes, very loudly. Everyone in the house thought a smoke detector was going off. I had to assure them the beeps were “a good thing.”
With the BIOS downgraded, I booted from the newly created Mac OS X installation USB hard drive I’d created with yet another Mac utility linked to in the recipe. I’ve installed plenty of operating systems, and, as installations go, this one was easy. I used the Disk Utility to partition the drive for a Mac, then clicked Install. The rest was simple.The moment of truth: after the install, the Dell Mini booted up as a Mac, and I was asked the usual customization questions to set up the netbook. It came up clean.
There are limitations, of course. A 1GB Snow Leopard machine is too limited for any large-memory applications, and apps don’t always like the Dell’s odd (1024 x 576) screen resolution. But the Mini is my writing and surfing machine, and I was able to run TextWranger and Scrivener well, and even MS Word 8 for Mac is usable. Safari runs fine.
Photoshop Elements 8 for Mac refused to install because of the screen size. I didn’t really need it on the netbook, but was curious to see if it would run in 1GB. I still don’t know.
I use a USB mouse with my netbook most of the time, and with a mouse, Mac OS X runs as expected. The touchpad, however, is not so great. It can’t do what a real Mac touchpad can, but there are experimental drivers available that bring it a little closer.
Bottom line: Hackintoshing the netbook was fun to do, and I now have an “under-$400” Mac netbook. It may or may not prove to be stable. I wouldn’t recommend it as a substitute for a Mac — you need the real thing if you’re serious about running major Mac applications. For light work, though, it’s a little gem.
Special thanks to John Herman and his excellent How To: Hackintosh a Dell Mini 10v into the Ultimate Snow Leopard Netbook