5 reasons I like my Dell Mini 10v Hackingtosh and 5 why I don’t
Posted in Technology on Wednesday, 17th November 2010 at 1:14PM
I recently purchased a refurbished Dell mini 10v netbook for £120 on ebay as I was in need of a Windows 7 testing platform for my websites, but everyone knows that the main reason for buying one of these little machines is for their Hackingtosh potential.
So a few months on, Snow Leopard and Windows 7 are living happily side by side but am I actually using the thing? The answer is a resounding YES, I use it every day despite having a Macbook Pro sitting right next to it on the desk and the reason is that it fills a few niches really rather well. So here’s a list of five reasons I find my Dell Mini 10v Hackingtosh useful and in order to remain balanced, 5 things that aren’t so great about it.
1. Lightens the load
My Macbook Pro is getting a bit long in the tooth and I am finding that the less applications I need to have running at any one time the better. I was finding that even playing music through iTunes or Spotify was using up valuable CPU cycles so I decided to migrate my entire iTunes music library across to the Dell. Moving the library has also freed up close to 60gb on my main machine and as a bonus I have found I am far more likely to take the Dell on non-work related journeys due to it’s small size meaning I’ve got all my music with me wherever I go. I use Rogue Amoeba’s brilliant Airfoil software for streaming my music and it has worked flawlessly with this setup from day 1.
2. EyeTV PVR
I have an EyeTV DTT stick which has been gathering dust recently mainly due to the fact that it needs to be plugged in to the wall aerial to record which means sitting it on the opposite side of the room from the sofa and I usually can’t spare my laptop in the evenings long enough for this to happen. By using the Dell mini, not only do I keep my main Mac free for use, but similarly to my music, I also then have all my recordings in one small package to take around with me. I can also output the movies to the big screen using its VGA port.
3. An extra Mac / Windows 7 machine
I certainly wouldn’t fancy trying to get any serious graphics work done on the Dell as it just isn’t fast enough but on the evenings that my wife has nabbed my proper laptop, I have no problems using it to check / write emails and surf the web. Added to this, the fully functioning Windows 7 partition on the machine has fulfilled the initial goal of providing an Internet Explorer test platform for my websites and has proved invaluable to run those apps that just aren’t available for mac.
4. An extra screen
Whilst the Dell spends most of it’s day playing music and podcasts it’s screen might be in danger of falling a little redundant, however I have found a really good use for it. I hate having to switch apps to check my mail each time I hear that dreaded ‘ping’ so I now have the Dell set up as an extension of my screen using Screen Recycler. It basically just acts as an extra screen for my main mac only it transfer all the data wirelessly over my network and I can easily switch between the screen recycler screen and any other applications that are running in the background. It works really well and also comes in useful as a pallette holding for Photoshop work.
With the birth of my first child I suddenly realised the reason for Skype. The only problem is that my daughter loves to stamp on my keyboard, push the screen right back then slam it shut and wipe greasy fingers over the screen – needless to say I feel a little protective over my Macbook Pro. Now I know the Dell isn’t exactly cheap but it is fairly robust and I feel less worried about handing a 1 year old a £120 computer than a £1200 computer hence it has now become the Skype phone. It works very well with it’s built in camera and the sound quality is quite adequate. Another tip when it comes to babies is a Mac app called Alpha Baby which basically turns your computer in to a child’s toy which they hammer away at to make it light up and produce noises. I would say it reduces the computers life span by about half but surely its worth it for the look on the little ones face?
Above: The Dell Mini 10v running Alpha Baby under Snow Leopard
And now for the things that aren’t so great…
1. Crappy trackpad
The Dell mini 10v’s trackpad has got to be one of the worst on record – it is actually really uncomfortable to use and getting it to click on the link you are interested in rather than the one above or below is a real artform. The Mac OSX drivers for the trackpad are miles better than the Windows ones but I still get the mouse plugged in as soon as possible.
As I mentioned, this is not a fast computer and whilst it can cope with Standard definition EyeTV recordings, it just chokes on HD. I think recording EyeTV programs must be about the limit of its capabilities as if it is trying to do anything else at the same time, the vide starts to get a bit jumpy.
3. No Facetime
To be honest this is not a biggy but it does highlight some potential compatibility issues with future technologies. Trying to install Apple’s new Facetime feature seems to go OK until you try and make or receive a call at which point things get nasty.
4. Updates and bugs
The Dell mini 10v has performed with amazingly few issues so far and any that have arisen have been easily solved with a Google search but make sure you check with the forums (such as this one) before allowing Apple to push any updates to the operating system or hardware drivers as nothing is guaranteed to work. I have had an issue with sound not working which was solved by disabling legacy USB support and another with screen mirroring (see below) but that’s about it.
5. Screen mirroring
Whilst the mac mini works great with external screens in extend mode, I have not been able to get it going reliably in mirror mode. There is a solution in the forums that got it working for me but it had a few side effects that meant in the end I decided to abandon it. Generally speaking this is not really a big problem except for the fact it is useful when hooked up to the TV just to see what’s on without having to drag things from screen to screen.
So there you have it for just over £100 you can get yourself a pretty usefuyl pint sized mac with Windows 7 to boot. I know the new Macbook Airs are more sexy and that the ipad is more sleek but at the end of the day I think that the Dell Mini 10v Hackingtosh represents really good value for money all things considered and if you are willing to be a bit creative with how you use it, the lack of power need not be a deal breaker.
Footnote: Getting started
A quick search on eBay threw up several guides and how-tos for getting Mac OS X Snow Leopard up and running on this model of netbook but I needed equal access to windows 7 as well as OS X or else my original excuse for buying one would start to wear thin, so a dual booting guide was essential.
This guide by ‘Virusdoc’ on mydellmini.com fitted the bill perfectly so I went for it. The process was really quite straight forward if a little time consuming. The only hiccup I found was the size of my memory stick for holding the Windows 7 installation files. The guide states that a 4gb stick was needed (which was all I had) but I soon discovered that my Windows installation dvd amounted to much more than that. After a few minutes scratching my head I decided to delete all the foreign language packs from the installation and this did the trick, reducing the size to under 4gb with no apparent side effects other than making them unavailable.