The Great Apple Netbook Experiment, Part 1, What to Buy

by Hadley Stern Jan 22, 2009

Chris Seibold and I had a grand time together at Macworld, meeting with vendors, readers, and the great Macworld community. But Chris couldn't help but observe that I was in a bit of a funk. It wasn't the fact that this was the last Macworld with Apple. Or the fact that I was missing many episodes of House while attending the conference. Rather my funk had one source, the apparent lack of an Apple Netbook. Indeed Apple seemed to throw salt on my wound by announcing an almost $3000 17 MacBook Pro! Recession be dammed!

I don't particularly want to delve into a long discussion here about why I think Apple is dumb not to have a Netbook. Nor do I particularly want to entertain the pleasure of debating why or how you can justify this hole in the lineup. I know the responses, Apple cares about high margins, Netbooks are just too low-end for Apple, etc.

I don't buy any of it.

But, I don't want to talk about that!

This article is the first in a series that will undertake to ignore the fact that Apple has ignored this growing market segment and take control of the situation myself.

I will endeavor to buy and build my own "Apple" Netbook.

Now, one could argue that I could get a second-hand iBook on eBay for under $500. I don't want that. I want as close to a fully realized Apple netbook I can get without gaining access to the secret laboratories in Cupertino.

As an aside this is the first time in my life that I have purchased (Power Computing and Umax clones notwithstanding) a non-Apple computer. As you will see in my specifications I fully intend to run Leopard on this machine, so it will, for all intents-and-purposes me a "Mac"

Here are my specs and must haves:

My Netbook must:

- Cost under $500 for the hardware (I will by a separate instance of Leopard to run on this machine, but for the sake of this experiment I am assuming and hoping that Apple would be able to bundle the hardware and OS for under $500)
- Be able to be hacked to run Leopard
- Have wifi
- Have a decentish keyboard
- Have a decentish display
- Be fast enough to run a web browser, email, and a basic set of applications

That's it! My first step then is to get the hardware. There are a ton of choices out there and I was wondering if anyone of you had an opinion. Should I go Dell? HP seems to have some snazzy offering. Or maybe I should be a Netbook purest and go Asus.

As long as the hardware fits my above requirements I don't really care either way although I do have a concern that Chris will greet me with, "Dude you got a Dell" next time we chat on the phone.

Let me know what you think about this experiment, tell me what you think I should buy, and I'll write back next week with my experience procuring my first (gulp) PC.


  • MSI Wind
    Dell Inspiron Mini 9

    A quick search found blogs that have already accomplished this with the above 2 machines. Do the search, read the directions, DONE.

    Wundryn II had this to say on Jan 22, 2009 Posts: 11
  • I bought a Dell Mini 9 with 32GB SSD, added a 2GB memory stick from Corsair, and installed OS X using the Leopard retail DVD and a small download (see directions at mydellmini dot com).  The effort was truly a walk-through.

    My son is using it on a daily basis for school with no problems, other than an occasional minor video artifact.  Sleep, audio, wifi, ethernet, USB, webcam and SD card reader all work (no bluetooth installed).  I recently picked up an Apple Extreme N card on eBay to upgrade the wifi to N, and that was a drop-in replacement.

    From what I read, the Asus has some problems with the network and audio.

    alauser had this to say on Jan 22, 2009 Posts: 2
  • Things may have changed quite a bit since I purchased my Dell Mini back in September, but I’d agree that based upon my research THEN that it comes down to the Wind or the Mini. What ultimately sold me on the Mini was the passive cooling (no fans) with the corresponding potential for better battery life and I have to say that it works as advertised and never really gets that hot.

    I purchased mine with 512mb of RAM and then upgraded on my own to 2GB (At the time Dell didn’t offer over 1GB) and with SDHC cards dropping in price it was easy to cheaply add 16GB of ‘internal’ storage via the memory card slot.

    Only really concern with the Mini is a somewhat awkward keyboard (some of the keys…especially the ’ key are in odd places) but you get used to it pretty quickly.

    If the potential for a cramped keyboard bothers you it might be worthwhile to wait for for the recently leaked Mini 10 to become available. Looks to be around the same size as the 9 (Unlike the currently available Mini 12) but will sport an edge to edge keyboard.

    AMartin56 had this to say on Jan 22, 2009 Posts: 1
  • Unfortunately, the Mini 10 has a video card that won’t work.  A key requirement of a hackintosh is that it has to be built with hardware that’s already supported on some Apple product, unless one is willing to try taking on writing a driver.

    alauser had this to say on Jan 22, 2009 Posts: 2
  • Hmmm? Why get a 10” netbook? Seems to defeat the purpose. You may as well just get a 12” ibook…

    Also, H, you must *really* want an Apple netbook if you’re prepared to risk the Apple Secret Police coming after you!

    Chris Howard had this to say on Jan 22, 2009 Posts: 1209
  • I’ve embarked on a similar project. I picked a Samsung NC10. So far I’ve got the NC10, waiting for some more RAM and a Dell Wi-Fi card before trying to put Leopard on it.

    shufflegazine had this to say on Jan 23, 2009 Posts: 2
  • There will not be a Mac netbook until Apple first figures out what unique, ground-breaking feature it will offer.  Come on, by now we should all know that Apple will not enter an existing market with just a shinier, tweaked version of the existing products.  When they jump in, it’ll be with a product that will totally upend status quo for the targeted product segment.

    Frankly, I can’t think of what mind-blowing feature a netbook can offer that makes sense only for a netbook. That is, if the feature is put in a laptop or an iPhone we’d all go “Huh?”  Then again, what do I know?

    tundraboy had this to say on Jan 23, 2009 Posts: 132
  • I agree tundraboy, I don’t think Apple is very likely at all to bring out a netbook soon. I think they’re more likely to scale up the iPhone/iPod touch form factor rather than scale down the MacBook Air.

    That’s one reason why I want to try Leopard on a notebook.

    shufflegazine had this to say on Jan 23, 2009 Posts: 2
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