The big project this weekend was setting up my wife’s “couch computer” (netbook). Â After about a month of waiting the Dell Mini 9 finally arrived. I spent most of the day Saturday working on it. I also videotaped much of the process and made you this lovely video:
Watch it in HD over at vimeo. It’s much better in HD. Vimeo won’t let me embed HD without paying.
Overall I would say that the process was easy but is not for the weak. While I edited around it on the video, I made a few mistakes along the way – which is why it took all day to do. If I were to do it again it would go much quicker. Below I’ve listed links to the instructions and tools. I’ve also explained all of the pitfalls and how to avoid them, and what works and what doesn’t.
I gotta say we love this mini mac. I’m using it right now to write this post. While the Atom is a slower single-core proc, everything runs snappy and I haven’t noticed any slowness yet. Really the only bummer is the weird keyboard layout (which I’ll explain later). I wish Apple would make a mini like this. It’s clearly a hole in their product lineup.
I also need to make it clear that this is not MY process. I simply followed instructions found on various sites, and called on a buddy for help a few times along the way. Thanks to everyone who made this possible and shared the information for free. Â Here are my notes after my install:
- The InsanelyMac Forum has posted instructions on how to do the install, as does this wiki. If you want to do it go there and read up on it, then look over my pitfall notes. There are two camps with slighty different methods. Â Type11’s method has something to do with EFI bootloader which is over my head – but nonetheless that’s not the method I used. Â I went with Darkten’sÂ original method.
- The install takes a while – at least a few hours – and your mini might crash a few times in the process. It’s not a big deal, but just don’t expect it to be like having a real mac. Â It’s not.
- Download the Mini9-132EZ.img, then burn it to a CD with Toast or something similar.Â
- Try to avoid booting into the pre-installed OS. Â Early during boot hit 0 (zero) on the keyboard to jump into the boot options screen. Â Not being a windows person I missed it the first few boots – even though it says it right on the screen.
- Once you get into the Leopard installer use Disk Utility to reformat the SSD. As shown in my video you have to choose the drive (14.3 GB STEC PATA 16GB) – not the partition, then click on the ‘Partition’ tab, then change ‘Custom’ to ‘1 partition’, click on ‘Options…’ and change it to GUID, then enter the name, hit apply, and the the ‘Partition’ button. Â Without making it GUID Leopard won’t install.
- You have to Customize your install and turn everything off. Â Initially I forgot to do this and when my install was finished I only had about 1GB free. Â This wasn’t enough space to do the 10.5.5 updates – which required 5.5 GB. So I started over and by turning off the customize options saved an additional 5GB. The custom install also completed about an hour faster.
- The time remaining estimation can be way off. Â Towards the end each ‘minute’ took several.
- The install ‘Failure’ is a known part of the process. Â When that happens reboot and hit 0 again for boot options, choose to boot off of CD, hit enter on the first “boot:” prompt but this time enter in device 80 (the SSD), and at the next “boot:” prompt use the “-f” and enter.
- After this each time you boot the computer you will first see the “boot:” prompt and just hit enter. Then it will boot into Leopard.
- To finish the job you need to install Chameleon and the audio drivers (ALC268). These are zipped on the Then you can do software updates to get to 10.5.5.
- You should also install Darkten’s mini9 prefs pane, and his Chromatophore app – you’ll need them for this:
- After installing everything I had no audio. What I did to fix it was to use the mini9 prefs pane to reinstall audio drivers.. then I also reinstalled them via the ALC268 installer, then I rebooted. Audio works fine now.
- To get the ‘About This Mac’ to show the correct processor info I installed this app.
- Most everything works: Volume up and down function keys, “dellSight” camera, iChat AV, WiFi, Software Update… it works just like a mac.
- Headphones jack – Unlike a real mac, the headphones jack is unaware of when you plug in headphones and doesn’t auto-switch to that output. To remedy that install THIS FREE APP which places an audio output selector in the menu bar.
- I have not tested the VGA out or the bluetooth – but hear they work.
- The SD card slot does not work in Leopard. This is a hardware issue.
- The keyboard layout is weird. (See jRin’s review.) On a normal keyboard the quote key is between ; and Enter, but on this one it is down next to the space. Â It does slow down typing. Â I’ll be looking for ways to remedy this.
- The big one – sleep mode doesn’t work. I’m still playing around with it. The workaround is to not have it sleep. It hasn’t been a big problem yet. I’ll have to report later. There is a fix which is to use a different (and larger) SSD, but it’s another $100 and is currently backordered. So that’ll have to wait.
- Not sure if it’s related to the sleep issue, but sometimes on shutdown I get the grey screen of death.
On Sunday I pulled it away from my wife long enough to shoot this video of the finished install. Â Again this embedded video is low quality. Jump to youtube and watch it in high quality. Â Look out for my creepy smile.
But this is absolutely one of the coolest little computers I’ve ever seen. I’ll be upgrading the RAM and maybe eventually putting in a better SSD. Â As I do any customizations I’ll post them here as well.