I’ve been a notebook user ever since my first Mac – a 1GHz Titanium PowerBook G4, until about 18 months ago, when I bought a 20-inch aluminum iMac as my main machine. It’s a beast of a computer, but I still need to be portable from time to time.
I’ve also always been a fan of smaller notebooks, but never used anything under 15-inches across, until I bought a 12-inch PowerBook a while back. I loved that machine, but I really wanted something small enough to toss in my bag and ride my bike somewhere without the weight of a PowerBook.
The idea of putting OS X on a netbook had crossed my mind several times, but I didn’t really like any of the hardware out there. I had an EeePC 701 when the first came out, but the thing was impossible to work on for long amounts of time – the keyboard and screen were simply too small to be useful.
Then I came across the HP Mini 1000 – it’s got a 10-inch widescreen display, a great keyboard, and the fit and finish is far nicer than most netbooks out there. It’s as close to an Apple netbook as we may ever get as far as touch and feel.
After some research, however, I learned that the MSI Wind is the easiest netbook to run OS X on. It requires very little work to get Leopard fully functioning – wifi, sound, Ethernet and USB included. But I hated the hardware. The word “clunky” comes to mind. (The Dell Mini 9 is nice looking, and seems to be the new “cool” netbook to run OS X on, and it seems easy to do.)
At the time, the HP Mini 1000 wasn’t a great choice to put OS X on, as pretty as it was. Some people online had reported success to a degree, but most forum posts included tales of endless kernel panics and lots of crying. I bought the little notebook anyways, hoping the online community of HP Mini fans would get the bugs worked out. (I’m a sucker for nice hardware.)
In the meantime, I put Ubuntu on the Mini 1000 (instead of XP, which it shipped with), upgraded the RAM to 2 GB and kept an eye on the online forums devoted to getting OSx86 (the name of the hacked version of Leopard designed to run on non-Apple hardware) and the Mini 1000 to play nice.
A few weeks ago, I stumbled across a forum that promised the answers, so I jumped in. After downloading the altered OS X installer, several various programs and kernel extensions (known as kexts), I now have 10.5.5 running on my HP Mini 1000. There are some bugs (Ethernet and sound don’t work, and I can’t adjust my screen’s brightness, but thankfully the default is full-brightness.
Here’s a closer look:
Ubuntu is perhaps the perfect OS for netbooks. It’s free, runs well, has a good-sized user base (and really good online support), and is usable even to people who haven’t heard of Linux. But the truth is, I love OS X. It’s nimble, and I’ve used it daily since 10.1 was the new kid on the block.
But OS X on a netbook isn’t like OS X on a MacBook. Things don’t always work. I can’t run updates easily. I can’t run higher-end apps due to the Mini 1000’s hardware (which is in-line with other netbooks).
So why bother if Ubuntu is a better choice? Because I can. Because putting round pegs in square holes is fun. By playing with OS X on the Mini 1000, I’m learning more about kexts and other system-level components that I’d taken for granted before, because they just worked. Now that things require tweaking, I’m learning what makes OS X run so smoothly on Apple hardware.
Installing OSx86 isn’t as hard as it used to be. There are several custom OS X installer and EFI bootloaders that take most of the hard work out of the installation. I ran the whole thing off of a USB hard drive with very few problems. I had to hop into the command line only once, but even then I was in the good hands of the dozens of user forums that discuss all sorts of pitfalls and issues.
I’m not going to link directly to any directions, but Google is your best friend if you’re looking at running OS X on your own netbook.
How’s it Run?
10.5 takes forever to boot on the Mini 1000 – over twice as long as it does on my 2.4Ghz iMac with 4GB of RAM, but no longer than XP took to load on the same machine. Once it’s booted, the Mini 1000 feels somewhere between an iBook G4 and a 1st generation MacBook. The Mini 1000’s 1.6Ghz Atom Intel processor with 2GB of RAM puts the little machine right between those two Macs hardware-wise.
I’m not going to run iMovie on this thing. No way. But for browsing and writing, it’s great. The uses of a netbook aren’t really dependent on the OS it’s running. I wouldn’t run Movie Maker under XP on it. Anyone who would want to run any type of video or photo editing software on a netbook is just asking for a painful experience – it’s a $450 machine, it will only do what $450 worth of hardware can do. Expecting anything past that is foolish.
That said, running Safari, Office, Twitteriffic all at once is quite stable. I can stream flash videos (Hulu, YouTube) just fine – like I could in XP and Ubuntu, and I get about 3 hours of battery life out of the 3-cell battery (better than in XP, worse than in Ubuntu).
So what does the future hold for my little machine? I’m working on installing 10.5.6, so I can install iWork ’09 and ditch Office. I never wanted the Mini 1000 to be a workhorse, but anytime I’m headed to school, a meeting or coffee shop and don’t want to lug my work-granted MacBook Pro, the HP Mini 1000 will be in my bag, ready to boot into Leopard.