Installing OS X on a Dell Mini 9

by kai on 10/03/2009

People who follow me on Twitter might have noticed that I was eagerly awaiting the delivery of a black Dell Mini 9 during the last 2 weeks. Finally I got it the other day and right away converted it into an OS X machine – who wants Windows XP on such a beautiful little netbook anyway?

My configuration is: Black Dell Mini 9, 1 GB of RAM and the 16 GB solid state drive. Dell NZ just offers the Windows XP version but apparently you can get larger SSDs with the Mini 9 and an Ubuntu setup in the US.

I thought I share my installation and post-installation experience here. Basically I followed the instructions provided on Gizmondo about 3 weeks ago. My friend and business partner Campbell went through the procedure last week and I picked up a few good hints and alternative steps from him.


First of all – all this is without any warranty or support and I do not recommend doing it at all. It’s probably even illegal in some places by breaking the EULA of Mac OS X not to install it on a non-Apple machine. This is just a technical description of what I have done as an experiment – if you decide to continue reading and use any content of this descirption and run into any issues – you’re on your own. So kids – don’t do this at home!


Before I started, Campbell recommended that I run through the Windows setup process to check the machine and – important – to enable wireless and bluetooth in Windows first. Apparently if you don’t you might run into issues in OS X later and have to reinstall Windows and redo your hacking. But I had finished the XP setup already anyway, so not a problem.

The Gizmondo instructions require you to have an external DVD drive or a 8 GB USB key. I had neither of those and wanted to get around having to get those devices. Also – the installation process described on Gizmondo and also in this post requires you to have access to a legal retail DVD of Mac OS X 10.5 or .dmg image of your DVD – this does NOT cover any tampering with the installation media.

HD partitioning

I ignored the first 4 steps because I didn’t have a DVD drive and went straight into step 5. The original tutorial covers installing everything on an 8 GB USB key, I used my LaCie 160 GB external USB hard drive. There was just some old junk on there so I copied off what I needed to keep and used a Mac machine (Disk Utility) to create two partitions on my hard drive.

– 1 GB FAT named TYPE11
– remaining space Mac OS X Extended (Journaled) named OSXDVD

Easy so far. In step 6 when you’re installing Syslinux to make your FAT partition bootable you might come across an error message warning you that your hard drive is not the right type of media to be made bootable. Syslinux offers you the solution to overcome this issue – use an additional command line parameter (-f) to ignore the warning. After that’s been done we’re going into step 7.

In step 7 make sure you do NOT overwrite the ldlinux.sys, it’s mentioned there but I want to stress it again šŸ™‚

Steps 8-10 worked out differently for me. I’ve got a .dmg image of my OS X 10.5 retail DVD anyway so I didn’t have to rip the DVD first and when Campbell did the installation he didn’t want to tamper with copying the /mach_kernel over etc. So basically what worked very nicely was to just use the free Carbon Copy Cloner to “backup” my .dmg file (the name of the dmg doesn’t matter at all) to the OSXDVD partition created in step 5. Done.

Installing and setting up OS X

Now in step 11 you just boot into the installer, nothing has changed here. Read step 12 multiple times and note that you have to partition your SSD as a GUID Partition Table Partition. For the installation in step 13 I strongly recommend to comfigure your installation and get rid of the printer drivers and the languages you don’t need. It saves lots of space and you’ll find the installation is much faster (took 24 minutes on my machine vs. the 1 hr stated in the Gizmondo tutorial).

After the installation you have to reboot. You still need to go into the custom bootloader and boot from the USB hard drive. I didn’t have any issues as described in step 14 of the tutorial but then again I did do things differently. When you come into the bootloader hit escape and enter “81” (that’s your second – USB – hard drive) and back at the boot prompt saying “boot:”, type “-f” and hit enter. The tutorial said to boot from drive “80” – that’s wrong at this stage.

That should trigger booting OS X and you end up in the setup process for a fresh OS X. Enter all the details you have to and want to provide, for me wireless and the camera worked at that stage already, but apparently that’s not always the case. After setting up the installation I ended up in OS X. Sweet!

Getting more space

To further shrink the space my installation used I used Monolingual and XSlimmer to get rid of language files and binaries for PPC and the 64-bit architecture. That saved nearly another GB of SSD space.

Finishing it

After that I ran software update, picked up lots of updates, among those 10.5.6. (which you NEED to install the DellMini9Utils) and installed those. When it was time to reboot after the installation of 10.5.6. the machine hung when it was supposed to shut down. A cold restart fixed that issue but I again had to go through the bootloader, hit escape, this time boot from drive “80” with option “-f” to get back into the system. Booting without “-f” as suggested in step 17 did not work for me. I actually had to boot twice – the first try with “-f” booted but then just reset itself for whatever reason. Finally with the Mini 9 running 10.5.6. then I gave XSlimmer another chance to shrink the newly updated applications in my /Applications folder which gave me back another 300 MB of storage.

Now we’re basically in step 17 and have to install the DellMini9Utils and AboutThisMac.pkg (those are on your external USB hard drive’s FAT partition) – they contain drivers for the screen resolution, a proper bootloader for Darwin and some other neat stuf. After that’s done – reboot and unplug your external USB hard drive and you should be able to boot without any help and any external bootlader straight into OS X.

Bottom line

I found everything working very well, from screen resolution via audio, wireless, bluetooth, printing etc – the only glitch so far is that I can’t activate/deactivate Bluetooth in OS X. I have to actually reboot and go into the BIOS and do it there. But then – I hardly use BT anyway – not a big deal for me. But besides that I now have a very sweet and tiny netbook running OS X.

Next steps

Next step (this afternoon) – installing 2 GB of RAM (should be easy). Future projects to come (with Campbell’s welding and soldering assistance :-): Looking into a 3G module for wireless broadband and a larger SSD drive šŸ™‚

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