Wednesday, 29 July 2009

Creating a Hackintosh - the build process

Previously I outlined my first steps in defining my requirements for a DIY Apple netbook (more commonly known as a Hackintosh), and the components I selected to start the "project".

Unfortunately it took much longer than expected to get started initially because of supplier issues and then FedEx lost the netbook. However eventually all the bits ended up where they were required and I was finally able to get started.

In this entry I'll explain the process of installing the software and hardware onto the Dell Mini 9. If you want a lot of gory technical details I'm afraid I'm going to disappoint you. I chose to load OS X onto a RunCore SSD using my MacBook Pro. You can download the instructions from the myDellMini web site. The beauty of the RunCore is that you can connect it directly to a Mac via a standard micro USB cable (which is provided with the SSD). The beauty of the myDellMini web site is that it is a one stop shop for everything you need to know, and this is where you can get your fill of technical information.

Truth is that the installation guide is so comprehensive that there is little for me to add. Print out the guide and check off each item as you complete it. Steps 1 to 11 are very straightforward and shouldn't cause you any cause for concern. There are no "heart stopping" moments. However, I will endorse the comment that you need to take care with the USB connection on the RunCore. It is incredibly tight and you need to tease the cable out very gently when you've completed your installation. At this point, it's again worth taking heed of the instructions and install any other software now, while you've still got the SSD attached to a host Mac. It'll save a lot of hassle later on.

Steps 12 to 19 involve installing the RunCore into the Dell Mini 9. This is where things get a bit more tense, and you'll end up crossing fingers, toes and anything else you can find! As before however, the instructions are clear and concise, and the SSD can be inserted without any trouble. Some minor changes to the BIOS are also required.

The moment of truth comes when the card is fitted and it's time to power up. After a few nail biting seconds the Apple logo appeared on the screen and the familiar power up sequence ran through. And there it was OS X 10.5.7 in all it's glory on an 8.5 inch screen. Happy days...

If you are serious about undertaking such a project it pays to do your homework in advance.

  1. Set your expectations in advance - there's no point in trying this if you want a cheap Mac. A Hackintosh is complementary to your existing Apple set-up, and if you expect it to replace a MacBook or MacBook Pro you will be disappointed.

  2. Do some research and work out what hardware you are going to use, and find the guides to help you. I chose a hardware set-up that was appropriate for my level of technical ability. If you're more confident, you may find a more suitable configuration.

  3. Get everything in the right place and allow plenty of time to undertake the conversion. Also, take any precautions necessary in terms of backing stuff up. But you'd do that anyway wouldn't you ?!?!

  4. Have fun and enjoy yourself! I did...

First Steps to a Hackintosh - update

For those of you waiting with baited breath for the next instalment of my Hackintosh blog - well, so am I.

Having ordered all the components, namely the Dell Mini 9, RunCore 32Gb SSD, and a new retail copy of Leopard 10.5.6, I had expected to be up and running by now. In reality, the OS and SSD arrived within a day or so, and I have successfully (I think) married the two together. I've even written the blog entry.

Sadly, however, the Dell Mini 9 has still not shown up and it appears that no money has been withdrawn from my account. The supplier is not responding to calls so I have cancelled the order - you watch, it'll be here tomorrow morning. I've re-ordered from a different supplier, at a better price no less, and hope to be finalising the build over the weekend.

I'm tempted to name and shame the supplier but I'll give them time to respond to my emails before doing so.

Keep your fingers crossed and watch this space.

Saturday, 25 July 2009

First Steps to a Hackintosh - tuning into the concept

I've been hooked on the idea of an Apple netbook for a while. Many years ago I owned a Psion 3 and later moved up to the Psion 5. I actually dragged the latter out of a corner of my office the other day, blew off a considerable coating of dust, inserted a couple of batteries and 30 seconds later the system was up and running. The backup battery had long since died so all my data had evaporated into the ether, but everything else was working fine. I fondly remembered the days when this was my workhorse and used to go everywhere with me. My iPhone now performs most of those day to day management tasks with a bit more style, but when it comes to more "office" like work there's no way that I'm going to use my iPhone for anything more than quick and dirty emails, simple calculations, the odd to do reminder, and some low web browsing.

My 15'' MacBook Pro goes along with me for any journeys out of town but sometimes it really is a lot of hassle to get it up and running, especially on crowded trains, jolting buses, and stations and airports with limited space to work (or often even to sit). I've lost rack of the number of times that I drag my laptop across the country, stuffed into my backpack along with all the USB modems, wireless mice, portable drives etc., only to get pulled out on my return home without being switched on. The only thing to show for the effort is sore shoulders and an aching back.

So with the Psion experience fresh in my mind, aching bits from a recent trip to London and some time on my hands, I decided to investigate building a Hackintosh netbook of my own. The first task was to consider my requirements. I wanted a machine that was light, small enough to be usable in some of those situations described above, and easily convertible. Although I used to be a programmer, and I'm not phased by taking the backs of machines and replacing bits, I'm not a real hacker so I wanted a reasonably simple set of instructions to follow. The other criterion was that it needed to be relatively inexpensive. After all, it's really only an experiment, and if Apple do finally make their own netbook or tablet it'll be fairly high on my shopping list.

Over the past few days I've trawled the web for potential candidates, building instructions and success stories. The thing that finally sealed it for me was the Andy Ihnatko video , where he was showing off a Dell Mini 9 netbook running OS X 10.5. This also turned out to be the most suitable commercially available machine to convert, and with about the best set of instructions I could find. In fact the only better set of instructions were for the RunCore SSD replacement drive for the Dell Mini 9. So the hardware pretty much chose itself.

Final configuration that I selected was a refurbished Dell Mini 9 with 2Gb RAM, and a 16Gb SSD pre-configured with Windows XP and a 32Gb RunCore SSD with on-board USB connection. I also purchased a new retail copy of Leopard OS X 10.5.6 to avoid the piracy police.

Next time I'll go through the build process, before a final posting on using the machine (hopefully, written on the beast itself!).

Wednesday, 22 July 2009

Apple Kit @ the Apple Harvest

This probably should have been my first blog entry as it sets the context for everything that is going to follow. But never mind, it's only a day late!

First a confession; I'm a relative newcomer into the world in which the Apple Harvest is set. Although I've secretly admired the Mac ever since it was first introduced into the orchard, I've been a PC user since they first became available in the UK back in the early 1980s. I left university (with a degree in Agricultural Science) and started life as a professional programmer - so my choice of platform was dictated by the demands of my employers and their clients.

Since then, my professional life has moved from pure software development, initially towards project management, then into software process improvement, and I now act as an independent management consultant, focusing on business and software process management, with a particular emphasis on organisational change management.

Two years ago I was working in Oslo in Norway, and dragging my relatively new Asus R1F tablet PC backwards and forwards. I was getting increasingly frustrated with the time it took to boot and to actually be able to do anything useful, not to mention the short battery life. I had a bit of disposable income at the time, so I decided to purchase a 15-inch MacBook Pro laptop, running at 2.4GHz, with a 150Gb disk and 4Gb of RAM. The time of purchase coincided with the release of Leopard. I became an instant convert.

Six months later I replaced my desktop (actually it was a permanently docked HP nx6325 laptop) with a 3.06GHz, 24-inch iMac,with 4Gb RAM and a 500Gb disk.

Earlier this year I replaced my Windows smart phone (which I've been using since the Orange SPV smart phone was first launched) with a 16Gb iPhone 3G, and somewhere along the line I ditched my Creative Zen-M 60Gb player for a 16Gb iPod Touch.

You could almost say that I'm now a fully reformed PC user, but unfortunately I still live in the real world, where my clients still demand PC compatibility, so I keep a copy of Parallels 4 with Windows XP for such situations. However, I do find I'm using it less and less, which is a blessing.

So there you have it. These are my credentials for writing about Apple kit in a public place. I may not win any awards for longevity in the Apple community, but I've certainly put my share of investment into my Apple kit and software over the past couple of years. And no doubt will continue to do so for the next few years...

In forthcoming blogs I'll tell you something about the software I use.

Tuesday, 21 July 2009

Mophie Juice Pack Air - Review

A couple of weeks ago I ordered a Juice Pack Air additional battery for my iPhone 3G. Whilst I love my iPhone, I'm not in love with it; it isn't surgically attached to my ear and I have plenty of other distractions to help me to fill my day. I generally work from home and there are docking stations in strategic positions around the house. In other words, I'm a fairly average user and battery life generally doesn't give me a huge cause for concern...except when I'm travelling. As a consultant I do spend a fair amount of time on the road, and on those occasions I have got caught out once or twice.

So, on the basis that prevention is better than cure I decided to invest in the Juice Pack Air. For those of you who are unfamiliar with the gadget, it is effectively a case incorporating a battery extender which clips around the iPhone, providing approximately twice the battery life of the iPhone. I'm not going to repeat technical specifications here, if you need them check out the Mophie web site

I ordered my Juice Pack Air over the internet from solutions inc. (based in Hove in the UK) at a cost of £63.00 (including VAT) plus a couple of quid for postage and it arrived by recorded delivery a couple of days later.

The first thing you notice on picking up the box is the Apple-like attention to packaging. The box itself is sturdy and feels as if it has been packaged by Apple themselves.

The Juice Pack Air itself is a two piece affair. The iPhone slips into the larger part which forms a sleeve around the body of the phone. A standard dock connector sits at the bottom of the sleeve and the iPhone simply slots onto it. It is quite a tight fit and it's not immediately obvious that the iPhone is fully secured. The second part of the pack slips over the top of the iPhone providing all round protection to the top, bottom and sides of the phone, with cut-outs for the important iPhone controls. The face of the iPhone is not protected, and the Juice Pack Air fits flush to the fascia. This means that a screen protector cannot be fitted and held in place by the Juice Pack Air. This may bother some people, but I personally prefer direct access to the phone's touch screen.

The top and bottom sections of the Juice Pack Air don't form a completely seamless fit, which is slightly disappointing, but something that you get used to quite quickly. Removing the case and its integrated battery is simply a matter of reversing the fitting instructions. However this is more difficult than one might expect. Although the top slides off quite easily, it is quite difficult to get purchase on the lower part of the case. Clean, grease-free hands are a definite requirement, but it's almost certain that you'll get grubby paw prints over the face of the phone when you try to remove it. Have a cleaning cloth handy!

A tiny switch on the bottom of the Juice Pack Air engages the battery and allows the flow of power to the iPhone. The battery is designed to use power from the Juice Pack Air before starting to drain the iPhone's internal battery. However, the recommendation is to allow the iPhone to drain before switching to the Juice Pack to provide the maximum amount of charge available. Four LED lights on the back of the case provide a visual indication of the amount of power available in the Juice Pack Air. These are displayed by pressing a small button to the side of the array of lights.

Charging the Juice Pack Air is done through the supplied micro-USB cable and connector at the base of the case. I would have preferred a mini-USB port as this would have meant one less type of cable to carry around. The supplied cable could have done with being a bit longer as well, but that isn't a big deal.

All in all, I really pleased with the Juice Pack Air. It certainly provided me with all the power that I need on a long day out, with little access to other power sources, and still had some to spare. There is some extra weight and bulk added to the iPhone, but this all but disappears after a short while. The texture of the plastic case is similar to the back of the iPhone, and attracts smudgy fingerprints in the same way, particularly on the black version. However, this is a small price to pay for the benefit of having a phone that now helps me make it through the night as well as the day. Highly recommended.