28 Jun 2009

HP Mini 1000 (1030NR) with Mac OS X 10.5.7


After WWDC 2009, I was torn. I wanted to buy a MacBook Air with SSD as my travel laptop since every time I go on a trip, there's always a struggle to bring along my 5 lbs laptop. The price drop announced was very attractive, US$700 less for the MacBook Air, but still it would cost $1700.

HP Mini 1000 (1030NR)

While I was in the US, I came across the HP Mini 1000. It cost only US$329 (a quarter of the MacBook Air) and reportedly would be able to run Mac OS X. So on impulse (well, after a fair amount of research), I ran into Best Buy to pick up one.

Various Models of HP Mini 1000.

HP Mini 1000 is a series designation for a wide range of differently configured netbooks. Mine was a 1030NR which sported a 1.6 GHz Atom processor, 1GB RAM and most importantly a 16GB solid state hard drive. The chassis also has a built in SDHC card slot so I could technically expand my storage to a second volume if necessary.

There are other models of the 1000, such as one called the HP Mini with Mi which comes with Linux instead of Windows XP. I couldn't find those for sale in a regular brick and mortar store. One odd note, the XP version which I got says it is only expandable to 1GB of RAM, however the Linux version says 2GB. They are technically the same, so I was puzzled why the spec sheet said that. Turns out that the reason HP reports the XP one can only have 1GB of RAM is because of licensing agreements when it comes to getting XP on a netbook. I can reportedly upgrade to 2GB without any problems. I have yet to try this.

In the UK, they do not sell the HP Mini 1000. Instead, they sell it as the Compaq Mini 700, which is the same as the HP Mini 1000 except it has a 60GB hard disk rather than a 16GB solid state drive. I would definitely prefer the solid state drive over the hard disk as it clearly is much faster and the lack of RAM doesn't hurt the performance as much.

Mac OS X Installation

The installation was not easy, but there are some very good instructions on the net. I won't go into the detailed instructions but will cover some interesting things you should note.

First up, all instructions say you need a 8GB SD Card or USB drive, or an external DVD drive. I had neither of those. I only had a 4GB USB drive. The reason why it specifies a 8GB requirement is because the installation DVD image is 4.7GB, so you cannot fit it on to a 4GB USB drive.

Since I was using the USB drive installation method, you can get around this restriction by mounting the DVD install image and deleting files and packages that you don't need. For instance, I deleted all the third party programs that were included in the hacked install image and also removed a large portion of the language packs that come with OSX.

Once you do that, you can restore the image on to your partitioned USB drive, and then run the UInstaller program (from the "Essential Tools" archive on the instuctions) to patch your USB partition with the PC EFI boot sequence. Once you do that, your USB drive will be bootable and not have the same size restrictions of a DVD.

Secondly, because the screen on the HP Mini 1000 is only 1024x576, most of the installation screens are too tall. Most of the time, the buttons are placed off the bottom of the screen, so there was a lot of guessing which buttons were where. Most often I would have to tab two times and then press space bar to select the "Continue" option.

Thirdly, once you've installed Mac OS X on to the HP Mini, the resolution would revert to 640x480 (even worse than 1024x576). One of the final steps in the installation is to do a System Update to 10.5.7. However, in order to accept the EULA, you must manually press the Accept button with a mouse, and that doesn't work! One solution I found was to turn on "VoiceOver" in the "Universal Access" of the "System Preferences". Once you have that turned on, you can actually use your arrow keys to focus on controls that you would otherwise have to focus on with your mouse.

Finally, if you update to 10.5.7, you must use the newer AppleIntelGMA950 drivers to get back the native resolution (1024x576). To do that, there's a separate bundle of Kernel Extensions you need to install attached to this forum post.

After all is said and done, the installation for me took around 3 hours, 2 of which was downloading the 10.5.7 update off the net, and 30 minutes of which was copying the installation image to a USB drive.

The installation itself will take around 8GB on the hard disk, which left me with around 7.5GB storage on the main partition. Which is actually fine as I don't intend to store much on this machine. But if you're planning to store more, you'd probably want to get a large SD card as a second "hard disk".

Compatibility-wise, I am shocked that the Hackintosh version of OS X manages to get the sound, graphics, wifi, sleep/suspend, screen brightness buttons, volume buttons and the camera are all working. The only odd issue is the power management. When using the default Apple battery monitor, it would randomly warn about low battery even though the battery is fully charged. The solution is to not use the Apple battery monitor on the menu bar and use a third party called "Slim Battery" which gives a more accurate charge indicator.

Performance

The biggest reservation I had when I bought this was "how well will it run Mac OS X?" The answer was that it runs very well. The graphics with the patched drivers were seemingly accelerated with Quartz Extreme.

One surprising thing is that this machine works pretty well with only 1GB RAM. Maybe it is because when when it goes to swap it is still fairly fast because of the SSD. I'll try to upgrade to 2GB RAM to see if it is any better.

I did a side by side with my MacBook Pro comparing how fast it would boot up and how fast it launches Safari from a cold boot. Boot up time is around 10-20 seconds slower on the HP Mini.



Safari shockingly launches a couple seconds faster on the HP Mini compared to the MacBook Pro. I'm guessing the reason is that it is way faster loading Safari from flash compared to loading it from a regular HDD.



Flash videos (like YouTube) do not play at full frame rate, but are otherwise viewable. Oddly enough, when you use Vimeo, it stutters even more than YouTube. I think maybe the Vimeo player is doing more compared to the YouTube player. I managed to watch an hour of Wimbledon tennis on this using the BBC Flash player and it worked well full screen.



The battery reportedly lasts for two hours, but I've not stressed it enough to know. The battery meter right now says it has 2:30hrs remaining fully charged, but its probably not accurate.

Usability

This is my first weekend of using this machine, and already I've not bothered to turn on my MacBook Pro unless I'm doing some Xcode work. For web browsing and tweeting, this has been a fine machine. I'm even drafting this post using it through Google Docs and I barely notice the difference. I guess the only thing that is problematic is the lack of vertical screen real estate. That means I'm particularly sensitive to how much chrome there is at the top of websites and applications.

The keyboard is a 92% full size keyboard, so the keys are slightly squished. Once you get a hang of it, it isn't too bad. My hands are pretty small so it's fairly comfortable.

I can't say the same about the trackpad though. Although the trackpad supports two finger drag, because it is so short, it isn't very effective. There is an area on the right hand side where you can drag to scroll like regular Windows machines and it actually works on OS X. I tend to use that more than two finger scroll. The tap-to-click mechanism also works, but has a noticable lag compared to the MacBook Pro. I'm not sure whether that is because of the different drivers or the hardware. Note that the trackpad and keyboard uses an alternative Voodoo driver.

At night, the extra light between the keyboard and the trackpad is very distracting. So distracting that I am considering sticking a piece of electrical tape over it. One interesting touch is that there the breathing light when a Mac is suspended. The same thing happens with the power light on the HP Mini, but it only blinks on and off because it is a binary light.

The SD card slot is a little hard to get access to. It is receded with the curve of the device, and that is difficult to feel without looking. Finally, the fan is sometimes a little noisy, but it is no where near as noisy as my MacBook Pro's fan.

Overall

I'm really happy with the HP Mini 1000. It is very light and fast. I love having a solid state drive because I don't have to worry about bumping this thing and the hard drive failing. The installation was a little tedious, but once I've done it I know how to do it in the future. Compared to the MacBook Air, it doesn't have such good build quality, the keyboard flexes a little and the touchpad is too small with the odd button placement. However, at a quarter of the price, I'm willing to give up those luxuries.

Leopard

I own a licensed copy of Leopard which I bought the day it came out. So I'm not feeling particularly bad about installing it on this non-Apple hardware.


You can reply to me about this on Twitter: