Installing Mac OS X on a Dell Mini 9 – the easy way (Updated 3x)

Summary:If you're looking to get a notebook to install Mac OS X on, I recommend the Dell Mini 9. It's one of the best, no-compromises platforms according to the BoingBoing compatibility chart for netbooks running OS X and one can be yours for around $400 depending on the options that you choose.

If you're looking to get a notebook to install Mac OS X on, I recommend the Dell Mini 9. It's one of the best, no-compromises platforms according to the BoingBoing compatibility chart for netbooks running OS X and one can be yours for around $400 depending on the options that you choose.

In this post I'm going to detail the easiest way to install Mac OS X on the Dell Mini 9. This tutorial borrows heavily from John Mahoney's excellent piece on Gizmodo, which in turn is based on a tutorial on the MyDellMini forums by "bmaltais" — and both deserve high praise. Refer back to Mahoney's piece on Gizmodo if you run into problems. If you really get into a bind you'll have to refer to the MyDellMini forums for help.

A note about Hackintoshing: Apple doesn't like it and may send the black helicopters from Cupertino to visit you if you follow the instructions after the jump. If you end up in Gitmo for installing OS X on non-Apple hardware, please let me know so that I can blog about it.

Note: I've separately posted a photo gallery of the process.

Prerequisites:

  • Dell Mini 9 with 16GB SSD (around $400)
  • A retail copy of Mac OS X ($129) not an OEM/bundled/upgrade version
  • An external USB DVD drive ($50) or Blu-Ray ($99)
  • About 8 hours (albeit mostly unattended)

Mahoney's tutorial for Gizmodo walks through installing Mac OS X on a USB Flash drive, which is overkill IMHO. Do yourself a favor and invest in an external USB DVD drive as it saves about eight steps over the "Mahoney method." I opted for the slimline Blu-Ray drive from FastMac which costs $100 for the Blu-Ray reader, $300 for the 1x writer, $400 for the 4x writer. If you don't want to purchase a USB optical drive you can also use a high-capacity (8GB+) flash drive as outlined in the Mahoney Method, but it will take a longer.

STEP 1 Download the  "Type11" bootloader DellMiniBoot123v8.01.iso.zip unzip it and burn the resulting .iso to a standard CD-R using Apple's Disk Utility. If the download link eventually breaks, search for the file name on the MyDellMini forums.

STEP 2 Connect the external optical drive to the Mini 9, insert the DellMiniBoot CD that you made in Step 1 and power up the Mini 9. Press 0 (zero) at startup to bring up the list of bootable devices.

STEP 3 Choose optical/DVD from the list (it should be the second choice) and you'll end up a command prompt that says "boot:"

STEP 4 Take out the bootloader disk and put in your retail Mac OS X install DVD, keeping the Mini 9 running. Press Escape at the boot: prompt to bring up the drive options. Then type "9f" (minus the quotes) then press Enter. ("9f" is the hex code for the external DVD, "80" is hex for the primary internal SSD. )

Tip: Give it some time. Mine took two plus minutes for the OS X DVD to boot. I got a weird EBIOS error but it eventually booted from the OS X DVD. If it never boots from the DVD drive, you may have to go the Flash drive route outlined in the Mahoney Method.

Note: While you're installing Mac OS X, the screen will be stretched to 800x600 rather than your Mini's native 1024x600 resolution. This is normal and will be fixed later.

STEP 5 Before running the Mac OS X installer you need to format your SSD via Disk Utility. Create a single Mac OS X Extended (Journaled) partition, go to Options and select GUID Partition Table. Then click Apply. The 16GB SSD nets about 13 usable GB

STEP 6 Go back to the Installer and install OS X to the SSD. Click Customize and uncheck as many options as possible to save space on the SSD. I turned off everything except the printer drivers for my specific printers. The install will take about 47 minutes to an hour, so go talk to your family, they miss you. If you come back to an Install Failed error message at the very end don't panic. It's normal.

STEP 7 Swap discs and boot back into the Type11 bootloader by holding down the zero key at boot and choosing the optical drive. At the boot: prompt hit Escape and type "80" to boot from SSD, press Enter. Back at the boot: prompt, type "-f" and hit Enter again to boot. This will load all of OS X's kernel extensions (.kexts) to enable things like Wi-Fi, Bluetooth and the webcam. Mac OS X will boot and it'll walk you through the typical OS X setup process.

STEP 8 Time to clean house. After a base 10.5.1 install I had used 11.4 of the available 13GB on the SSD. In order to make room for the base 10.5.6 update (which needs a minimum of 4.9GB) I trashed a bunch of apps I knew I wouldn't run on the Mini 9 (AppleScript, Automator, Chess, Front Row, Image Capture, PhotoBooth, etc.) then I ran Monolingual and removed every available Language, Input Menu, and all the unwanted PPC code using the Achitectures tab.

STEP 8 Run Software Update and install the 10.5.6 Update, again you need about 4.9GB free for the base update and about 6.0GB free for the corresponding QuickTime, iTunes and AirPort updates. I installed just the base 10.5.6 update first then I installed the other updates.

Note: The 10.5.6 update takes about two hours to download and another two hours to "Install and Shutdown." Again, talk to your family.

Tip: My Mini 9 got a little weird during the long installs with no user interaction. When I came back to check on the install, the screen was frozen in time, still saying 47 minutes remaining for example. But after a few clicks and waiting upwards of 3-4 minutes the screen would suddenly refresh and the Restart button would suddenly appear. Do not force quit or power down in this scenario. Be patient, young jedi. Click around and press Enter a few times and the screen should eventually refresh.

STEP 9 Boot into the Type11 bootloader one last time by press zero at boot. At the boot: prompt hit Escape and type "80" to boot from SSD. In OS X navigate to the DellMini9Utils folder on the Type11 CD and run the DellEFI installer. This will load all of the Mini 9 .kexts and drivers as well as a special bootloader to boot your SSD install. Do the default install and resist the urge to check the two unchecked options.

STEP 10 Reboot one final time, this time directly off of your SSD and enjoy the glorious 1024x600 resolution!

OPTIONS

  • The "AboutThisMac.pkg" inside the Type11 utilities folder on your bootloader CD fixes the "Unknown Processor" bug in the About This Mac window, replacing it with the proper "Atom 1.6GHz" designation.
  • While you're at, do a Get Info on the DellEFI Installer application, click on the cool Mini 9/Leopard icon and copy and paste it to be your SSD icon. Much better!
  • This trick fools oversized windows into shrinking to better fit the Mini 9's 1024*600 screen.
  • This trick can enable some multitouch features (i.e. scrolling) on the Mini 9's Synaptics touchpad.
  • This trick will enable mobile broadband – if your Mini 9 has it (mine doesn't).
  • The MyDellMini forums are your friend. Register for an account and search there if you run into any problems.

Congratulations, you did it! You're now rocking the best netbook in town.

As always, I encourage you to post your experiences in the TalkBack below.

Update: Life's not all peaches and cream in netbook-ville. It's not a Mac, so don't expect it to act 100% like a Mac from Cupertino. For example, my Mini 9 is currently having narcolepsy issues. It will often go to permanent sleep requiring a power cycle to bring things back. Sleep in general appears to be a little flakey, so beware. Also when booting/rebooting you need to see the grey Apple screen with the spinning wheel below it. No spinning wheel, no boot. Try again.

Update 2: I got 2.5 hours of battery life running an iTunes music stream over Wi-Fi with the visualizer on and display sleep set to Never. I'm pretty confident that 3+ hours of run time is attainable with minor conservation. The Mini 9's battery takes about two hours to fully re-charge.

Topics: Apple, Dell, Hardware, Operating Systems, Software, Storage

About

Jason D. O'Grady developed an affinity for Apple computers after using the original Lisa, and this affinity turned into a bona-fide obsession when he got the original 128 KB Macintosh in 1984. He started writing one of the first Web sites about Apple (O'Grady's PowerPage) in 1995 and is considered to be one of the fathers of blogging.... Full Bio

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