What you get from Mac-ifyingPart 4: My $400 MacBook Air Light

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Mac HP Mini

Continued from Part 3: How to migrate your current Mac setup to your new Mac netbook

Two weeks into my new Mac-ified netbook, I'm no longer longing for that MacBook Air. While I still find it occasionally inconvenient to work on a teensy weensy screen, the lightness and small form factor of the netbook are actually preferable to the larger (and slightly heavier) Macbook Air. Now that I've got the Mac OS to work with, I realize that my frustrations with the netbook were 90% software, 10% hardware (and the hardware issues are largely addressed by the fantastic Microsoft Arc mouse -- a must, given the poorly-located trackpad buttons on the Mini).

Overall system performance is excellent, especially now that I've spent 5 minutes and $50 to upgrade the netbook to 2 GB of RAM. Here's how. Certainly, the Mac OS runs faster than Windows did, and I think it may even (gasp!) be faster than Ubuntu.

The one major drag is that the system doesn't sleep. If I close the Mini, it freezes -- so I have to shut down every time I head out the door or move to a different café. However it looks like the new (and much more complex) process for installing Snow Leopard may resolve this issue, so I'm going to give it a shot, even though it means moving all my user settings again (sigh). Hopefully it will get the internal microphone working too.

Update: Sleep now works!! Find out how here.

Other than the mike and the sleep functions, the netbook works perfectly. And while it's certainly slower than my Macbook, I can successfully run 6 or 8 concurrent applications with no noticeable lags except when switching between apps. The main concessions I make to its performance are to use Safari rather than Firefox (since Firefox is a notorious memory hog) and to try and shut down applications I don't need at any given moment.

I can't recommend a Mac-ified netbook as a primary computer, largely because I wouldn't recommend any netbook as a primary computer: they are simply to small and under-powered. As a satellite computer, however, it's fantastic: at about $400, the HP Mini is literally one quarter the price of a MacBook Air, and I just love having a super-light, purse-sized computer. But even the small form factor imposes a minimal trade-off: the Mini's keyboard is the largest you'll find on a netbook, and at 92%, you'll hardly notice the difference between typing on your netbook and typing on a regular laptop.

As for the difference between a netbook running Windows or Ubuntu, and a netbook running the Mac OS: there's simply no comparison. Setting aside my relentless Mac evangelism, it is just a hell of a lot easier to use a single operating system. Apple's Migration Assistant made it incredibly easy to get all my apps right onto the new machine, and cloning my user account got me my settings, my browser history, my mail -- the whole enchilada!

Best of all, now that I'm living a two-Mac (as opposed to two-OS) lifestyle, I can keep both computers perpetually and perfectly in sync with each other (and with my iPhone!) using:

  • MobileMe for my calendar, address book,Safari bookmarks, keychains and mail accounts
  • DropBox for my documents and other files (but not synced to iPhone -- thankfully!)
  • Evernote to keep all my notes, organized by topic and tag
  • Gmail IMAP for e-mail messages

Just about the only thing that doesn't stay synced are any new apps I install or one machine or another. If I were really brave I'd consider using DropBox to sync my Applications and Library/Application Support folders in sync too, but that just seems a bit scary -- especially since DropBox occasionally confused about which folders it's synching.

Stay tuned for Part 5: Who should install the Mac OS on a netbook >>


Mike says

October 3, 2009 - 10:46pm

Let's see, it's lighter than a MacBook Air, so would that make your HP Mini a "MacBook Helium" ? ;)

Glad to hear that it's working out for you - personally, I love the positioning of the trackpad buttons on the Mini. Hardware-wise my biggest complaint is that it doesn't have a video out port. But I've worked around that using a USB to DVI/VGA adapter (Diamond BVU-160, approx. $80) - allows you to connect an external monitor via USB and works well.

Where is this "new and much more complex" method of installing Snow Leopard? When it comes down to it, the difference is only going to be a couple of drivers/extensions in your /System/Library/Extensions folder, so you may not have to do a complete reinstall to get the same effect.

Anonymous says

October 24, 2009 - 11:29am

You neglected to mention that Apple's licensing terms specifically forbid installing the OS on non-Apple hardware. Something one would presumably need to take into consideration when deciding upon this course of action.

Alexandra Samuel says

October 30, 2009 - 11:04am

Hi Anonymous -

Yes, you're right. You and your hackintosh may be forced to go on the lam, living life out of sight of the law, knowing that Apple's hit squad could end your experiment at any moment. This is the reason that I suggest (in part 5) that hackintoshing may not be a good idea for people prepping for Senate hearings.

Tom Smith says

December 3, 2009 - 6:12pm

Glad to hear that it's working out for you - personally, I love the positioning of the trackpad buttons on the Mini.

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