'Book vs. Hackintosh Netbook: Which Makes More Sense?
by Alan Zisman (c)
published in Low
March 8 2010, Zis Mac
Netbook vs used Mac
LowEndMac has run several articles lately looking at netbooks running
OS X. I described my experiences - at first frustrating, but ultimately
successful (and surprisingly easy) 'hackintoshing' a Dell Mini 9
Allison Payne followed up with her experience putting OS X onto a
Lenovo S10 (http://lowendmac.com/ed/payne/10ap/lenovo-s10-hack.html),
and wrote about what she described as the good, the bad, and the ugly.
Dan Bashur took a different tack, looking at a used 14" iBook,
suggesting it was better to 'buy a Mac for less'
Along with my hackintoshed Mini 9, I've also got a G4 iBook - the
original G4 12" model, running at 800 MHz. Checking my records, I see I
bought it new in October 2003, paying just over CDN$2000 for it,
including AppleCare. Now I see similar models on eBay for about $200. I
bought the Dell Mini in March 2009, paying a bit under $400 for it.
Like the iBook, it's no longer in production, and is also probably
worth about $200.
Let's try to compare the two:
* G4 iBooks usually have a Combo drive. ** not included on mine.
I used the iBook as my main computer for a couple of years. Later, I
passed it on to my daughter. When she upgraded, it came back to me, and
we put it in our cottage, where it was used, primarily for Internet
access. Right now, it's back home sitting in a closet - it may end up
in my wife's studio if she decides to let the temptation of email and
Internet access distract her from jewelry making. It had a troubled
first couple of years of life, needing three (!) hard drive
replacements and two replacement keyboards - all covered by Applecare;
since then it's been pretty much problem free, though I replaced the
battery in 2007.
With the Dell Mini, I upgraded the RAM, replacing the single 1 GB
module with a 2 GB piece. And because it has an SD card slot, I got a
16 GB SD card, effectively doubling its storage capabilities.
In some respects, comparing any 7 year old model - in this case the
iBook G4 - with any two year old computer - the Dell Mini 9 - is not
really fair. But in many ways, these two models are similar - while the
iBook is not the smallest laptop Apple released, in its era it was
relatively light and small and relatively affordable. Neither would be
a good choice for someone doing photo, music, or video editing, but
both are usable ways to work with text, or go online.
Because of the small keyboard - and the unusual placement of some keys
- typing on the Dell Mini takes some getting used to, and is not a
great experience. On the other hand, while the iBook has a full-sized
and standard layout keyboard, it has a cheap, bouncy feel and is not my
favourite among Apple's notebook keyboards.
The Mini feels perkier online and has superior graphics. Its smaller -
but widescreen - display and better graphics sub-system makes it better
for viewing movies onscreen. While the iBook has a built-in optical
drive, it's a CD-RW; neither system is able to read DVDs, at least
without hooking up an external drive.
Storage on the Mini is constricted - the Mini 9 came with SSD drives,
and could be ordered with a nearly-unusable 4 GB drive, or 8 GB or 16
GB SSDs. There are larger-capacity third party SSDs available, but I'm
not wanting to spend, say, $129 or $229 for a 32 or 64 GB drive for it.
Instead, I bought a 16 GB SD memory card (about $40) and use that for
documents, music, photos, etc. With Snow Leopard and my basic set of
applications installed, the 16 GB SSD is only a bit more than half
full; currently, most of the SD card is empty - so I could rip a number
of DVDs onto it for travelling if I wanted.
When I bought the iBook, back in 2003, I splurged on the largest hard
drive Apple offered with it at the time - a 60 GB model. Right now,
it's got a pretty clean installation and a minimal set of applications,
and a lot of free drive space.
So which is a more usable computer?
The best answer I can come up with is "it depends". Depends on what you
want to do with it.
Neither would make me happy as my primary system; both have screen
resolutions that lack the expanse of modern systems - even Apple's
current low-end 13" MacBook's 1280 x 800 pixels feels like it has
significantly more screen space. Neither have keyboards that are
comfortable for a lot of typing - which is something I do a lot.
Either, however, could be used as a secondary computer or as a computer
to be used by a child - assuming they were not a hard-core gamer.
I really like the Dell Mini when I'm travelling - I've taken both it
and the iBook on planes and into hotels, and I much prefer the Mini.
(Admittedly I haven't travelled with the iBook in a number of years).
The Mini is half the weight, and those couple of pounds make a
noticeable difference when toting a carry-on bag down a mile of airport
corridor trying to make a connection. It's small size fits comfortably
on an airplane tray table. And it fits into a hotel safe, so I can lock
it up when I leave the hotel room. (Or, given its light size, take it
with me much more easily).
And it runs OS X 10.6.2, currently Apple's latest operating system
version. There's no guarantee that Apple will continue to allow it -
and other Atom-powered netbooks - to be upgraded as Snow Leopard
evolves, but there's an active hackintosh developer community which
will do its best to make sure that these non-official Mac OS systems
can be kept up to date.
And the iBook has already been left behind by Apple; I could upgrade
the RAM to a maximum of 1.2 GB and install Leopard if I wanted, but
that would be the end of the road for it. As a PowerPC system, it can't
run the current OpenOffice version or other Intel-only software. And as
is the case with many or most older laptops, battery life is a far cry
from what it was when the battery was new. Apple boasted of 4 hour
battery life for new iBooks way back when - this was very good at a
time when typical PC laptops got 2 hours or so battery life. But now,
after the battery reports being fully charged, when I unplug the power
cord the battery indicator claimed there was 1 hour 10 minutes of
charge - and that dropped to a reported 38 minutes with 30 seconds or
So my $200 value iBook G4 remains a usable computer - as long as it
stays plugged in and on a desk. But if I want something to travel with,
my $200 value Dell Mini 9 netbook makes more sense to me, for superior
performance online and watching movies, for better portability, and for
far better battery life. Especially since I've been able to install
Snow Leopard on it.