Dell Mini 9 Project

I ordered the following Dell Mini 9 from Dell on one of their one day only sales ($50 off) (which seem to occur every few weeks, so it pays to be patient — or indecisive!):

  • Ubunutu
  • 4GB SSD
  • 512k RAM
  • 1.3M web cam
  • Bluetooth

I ordered the following upgrades:

  • 2GB RAM from crucial
  • 32GB SSD
    • originally ordered the “fast” runcore from My Digital Discount, but it is still on back order almost 4 weeks later
    • ordered a “slower” SuperTalent since I was tired of waiting

First I tried to install OS X on an old 160 GB external USB HD since I could not wait for the SSD, but kept running into issues.  Maybe it was the drive… I had enough “components” lying around, so I then tried the install on a 16 GB USB thumb drive instead, and that worked fine, though obviously it was slow.   I will post a couple benchmarks below.

Rather than go through all the details, I will just point you to the forums at   I must say that I don’t think doing a “hackintosh” is for everyone.  I ran into several problems along the way.  While there are step by step directions, they  are not as simple as plug and play, and it seems like even following the instructions does not work for everyone depending on their exact gear.    I was able to work through the issues I had by reading through the forums, asking questions here and there, etc.  I want to thank the real hackers over there that have made the process as easy as it is, but again, I still don’t think it is ready for casual computer users…

The main post I followed was:

I tried method A with the external USB HDD, and when that failed, went to method D where I used an external DVD drive, and changed the install location from the onboard SSD to the USB thumb drive.  Again, I did have issues along the way, but by searching the forums and reading through a few other posts, I was able to get everything functionion properly.


Once I had it working I installed the following apps:

  1. First upgraded 10.5.1 to 10.5.6
  2. Firefox
  3. 1password
    1. migrated my main computers 1pw file over
  4. tabmixplus FF extension
  5. dropbox
    1. which installed growl
  6. copied over ssh config file so I can ssh everywhere I need and use ssh tunnels
  7. Set up mobile me
    1. tried back to my mac for accessing my imac from the mini, worked fine
    2. set up syncing (contacts, calendar, dashboard widgets)
    3. (see note below)
  8. adium
    1. copied prefs file from main computer, so all I had to do was enter pw’s (and I probably could have avoided that if I had copied my mac keychain over)
  9. skype
  10. silverlight
    1. had to download a hacked package for this since there is a check in the default installer that checks to see if you are intel or ppc, and that fails with the system info from the DellMiniEFI install package
  11. Adobe Air
  12. Tweetdeck
    1. here I symlink my tweetdeck prefs file to point to my “global” prefs file on dropbox, so I can keep tweetdeck sync’d across all my computers.

Again, this was pretty slow from the USB thumb drive… Here are a few benchmarks:

  • bootup:           2 minutes 15 seconds
  • launch firefox: 36 seconds but then a total of 90 to load my 4 default tabs

I couldn’t resist the final step in turning the Dell into a Mac — the logo!

When the SSD finally arrived I physically installed it in the dell and then used the built in OSX disk utility rather than superduper or carbon copy cloner to clone (restore) the thumb drive to the SSD.  My 1st attempt failed because I restored the USB thumb drive to the SSD without properly formatting it (1 partition, os x journaled, GUID), and that took a few tries to figure out because once you clone the drive, you have to run the DellEFI script again.  I kept trying that and getting different errors.  When I finally booted from the thumb drive OSX install and checked the SSD, I realized my mistake, formatted it properly, and restored again.  BTW, restoring from the thumb drive took a long time — probably longer than if I had just done a clean install!

Once I had it running cleanly on the SSD that I timed bootup and firefox launch:

  • boot:    ~35 seconds  (woohoo!)
    • I then enabled quiet boot by editing in /Library/Preferences/SystemConfiguration and that got boot time to ~30 seconds.  See this link for more info.
  • firefox:    less than 15 seconds to start app and load tabs

Much better than the thumb drive, as expected!  I decided to cancel the Runcore SSD for now since this is plenty fast enough…  When the price on the 64GB drops and you can actually get them without waiting weeks, I may try to order again.

Once all that was done, I installed:

  • Office 2008
  • X-Chat Aqua
  • iLife (just iphoto, imovie, and iweb, though I probably will only use iphoto)

It is a great little machine, and runs OS X great!  Lots of fun working through the “upgrade” process and solving the various problems…  🙂
And here is a picture that gives a feel for the size of the Mini…  This is it sitting in front of a 24″ iMac (and a 20″ Dell screen).


(*) Note on mobile me:  At some point in migrating from the usb thumb drive to the SSD, MobileMe stopped working… You can see all the trials I went through in this post.  I don’t know what I did different on that last go round, other than having console logging open so I could watch the errors go by.  And of course it worked then.

UPDATE: I upgraded to the DellEFI 1.1 level, from 1.07, as outlined here.  I manually deleted the dsdt.aml file from the terminal rather than letting the script do it, since some people were having problems that way.  Now the battery life indicator is accurate.  I am noticing wireless takes 6-8  seconds to reconnect after sleep, which seems a litlte long..

2 thoughts on “Dell Mini 9 Project

  1. You know I thought BlueTooth was working, though I had disabled it a while back since I don’t use it much. But when I just tried it out, system prefs shows “not connected.” Maybe I will look into that later. :-/

    For the external display, I found rebooting fixes the issue of garbled screens, which is a pain. I don’t use an external display often so I’m not sure if it is doing that on 10.5.7 or not.

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