The ModBook Part 3: Installing Leopard, The Good and Bad of an Hackintosh NetBook

by Hadley Stern Mar 05, 2009

In part one I covered why I was experimenting with hacking a NetBook, in part two I covered the purchasing process and now, in part three I will cover the actual installation process.

This isn't going to be a guide on how to install OS X on an Acer, Google will help you with that. Rather it is going to be an analysis of what the experience was like, and what the pros and cons are.

The Experience

When you buy a new Macintosh (or PC for that matter) you boot it up, create an account, and off you go. Getting your Mac NetBook going is more complicated than that. Whether it is an Acer, MSI Wind, or Dell Netbook (or desktop) you have to download a bunch of files, update bios, and cross your toes while holding down the power key (not really, but it starts to feel like that).

The biggest hurdle to all this is that you have to swallow hard, and procure an adjusted version of Leopard (see Google above). Once you have that it is matter of burning the image onto an ISO. Interestingly, for some other NetBooks people have figured out a way to install OS X using the actual Leopard install disk. But, and this is a big but, you still have to download from said sources a startup image that will get the NetBook running.

I first tried to install OS X using a hard drive, but I couldn't for the life of me get the NetBook to book off an external USB drive, despite the assurances from various forums that this would work.

The next step was to burn the ISO, and boot up from an external USB DVD drive. This worked like a charm.

But more doing this I had to do things I never imagined doing. I had to update the BIOS (whatever that is, I think it is firmware) and initialize the hard drive. Reading all these steps, even for a person who wrote iPod and iTunes Hacks, and following them was a bit unnerving. Not so much the process itself but the fact I am installing software from a source I know nothing about (more on that later).

Next was booting up the NetBook from an external USB DVD drive with the hacked version of Leopard on a DVD. And here is where things get surreal. I knew that the Hackintosh movement was a big one, but after seeing thousands and thousands of posts on multiple forums I was beginning to understand how big. This install that I had was an adjusted version of Leopard with all the drivers (aka, Kexts) for a seemingless endless array of devices. A bunch of people somewhere are writing these drivers.

Installing Leopard on my Aspire was akin to selecting selections from a menu item, for the keyboard, screen, usb, etc. that are in my Acer. Then I hit install and the process was very much like a regular Leopard install.

After the install I was prompted with the regular restart button and low and behold, after restarting my tiny Acer was taken over by the Apple logo. Unreal. And it booted up very quickly too! The only driver that hasn't been writer for the Acer Aspire One (yet) is the built in wireless card (Apparently, and ironically, a Dell wireless card that can be picked up for 15 bucks off of eBay does work). Otherwise everything on this Acer works. The webcam, keyboard, usb, ethernet, everything.

I have to say Leopard looks very nice on a 9 inch screen (didn't the original Mac Plus have a nice inch screen?). Opening up Safari and viewing email was a snap....a perfect NetBook experience. Or is it?

The Good

For $299 for the cost of hardware, and for $129 for the cost of Leopard I have myself a sweet little laptop. It is perfect for kids and perfect for toting about. I can do pretty much anything I want on it. I ran Geekbench and this little puppy scored the same as a 1GHZ G5. When those came out Steve Jobs was doing ads showing Intel chips with slugs on them so this isn't bad at all.

The Bad

The bad is more subtle here. Obvious are things like the fact that when I went to install Windows Media player (yes the Mac version) I got a Kernel Panic. But the real bad came when I was checking email, and thinking of doing some online banking. I realized that I was using an operating system that was hacked by people, or an entity, that I know absolutely nothing about. Yes, this could be me being paranoid, but still if some people were smart enough to get Leopard running flawlessly on my Acer Aspire One who the hell else knows what else is in there? Key-loggers? Traffic sniffers? I just don't know.

Another troubling aspect is that I am a pretty heavy user of MobileMe but adding this hacked netbook to Apple's database doesn't seem like the wisest thing.

The Conclusion

I'm glad I went through this process and I think a bunch of people, including Steve Jobs, should go through it too. I had no idea how big the Hackintosh movement was and that NetBooks really are a side story here; people are installing Leopard on high-end machines, forgoing the Apple tax. The hack here is sophisticated and as diverse as the number of machines that can now run Leopard. Long term I'm really not sure whether I'll continue with Leopard on my NetBook. For the reasons I mentioned in the bad section above there is just too much to be concerned about.

Seeing Leopard run so smoothly on a piece of hardware that retailed for $299 (and included Windows) does make me angry at Apple. If Acer can realize a machine with 1GB of ram and a 120GB HD and an Atom processor then so can Apple. It isn't, at this point, a technical decision, it is a business one. In the long run I think it will be a mistake. Times are tough anyway, and even when they aren't seeing every other manufacturer able to put out a product at this price point make Apple seem silly.


  • Should have got a Dell Mini 9. It runs Leopard with no pirate DVD - you make a boot disk with the necessary drivers to accommodate it, and then install from an original Apple DVD. And everything works out-of-the-box.

    evilcat had this to say on Mar 05, 2009 Posts: 66
  • Man!! After this series and the disappointment of the pricing of new Macs, I am so desperate to build my own hackintosh. However, wife wants to spend all our hard earned on a new car, so that comes first and then we’ll see i there’s enough left over for a decent hackintosh - which I’ve decided needs to be a laptop so I can take Adobe CS where ever I go. :|

    The one thing I’m not clear on though, Hadley, is the hack. Did you have to use a Bit Torrented version of OS X instead of your legit one? And as evilcat says, is that dependent on the machine you use?

    When you write part four, I’d like to hear about things like stability, compatibility and the best sites for hackintoshers.

    PS Loved your PC naivety! BIOS? Lol, no probs for former PC nerds.

    Chris Howard had this to say on Mar 05, 2009 Posts: 1209
  • evilcat had this to say on Mar 05, 2009 Posts: 66
  • Thanks, evilcat. Will check them out.

    Laptop wise, what I need in a hackintosh is something capable of running Adobe CS4

    Chris Howard had this to say on Mar 05, 2009 Posts: 1209
  • I hacked a Lenovo S10 with Mac OS X where everything works except for sleep and wired Ethernet. It’s pretty cool, but I don’t think I’ll ever use it as anything other than a experiment. I’ll admit it’s a kick to see the Apple logo coming up on a Windows machine, but is it too much of a maintenance headache?

    Normal patching becomes a potential nightmare. Just going to 10.5.6 broke a ton of things that had to be fixed, including keyboard, trackpad, and display resolution. 10.5.7 will likely do the same. I have no idea whether the next Software Update will make everything I’ve done worthless. While I don’t mind doing that as an exercise in “hey, I can build a Hackintosh!” but as a user machine, no thanks. I’ll stick with my MBP.

    Pleiades had this to say on Mar 05, 2009 Posts: 4
  • I’ve been wanting a netbook as a writing machine, so I should give this a try.

    That said, my writing software works in Windows and OS X, my e-mail is Google, and my browser is Firefox, so I’m questioning whether or not it’s worth the effort to monkey with the OS.  Hmmmm.

    Beeblebrox had this to say on Mar 05, 2009 Posts: 2220
  • You mention that you don’t know what a BIOS is.

    It stands for Basic Input/Output System.  It is the software that allows you to manage low-level settings for the processor and motherboard.  This is where PC people go to do things like overclock their processor, change the order of boot devices, or set a BIOS password that is needed to get the computer to boot.

    fspinol0 had this to say on Mar 07, 2009 Posts: 1
  • Ahhhhhhh BIOS, porn for geeks :p

    Chris Howard had this to say on Mar 07, 2009 Posts: 1209
  • An irresponsible article and an illegal act.

    Parky had this to say on Mar 08, 2009 Posts: 51
  • Out of curiosity, Parky, and since I’ve already written 3/4s of an article questioning the illegality of hackintoshes, why is it illegal? Simply because of a EULA that has never been properly challenged? Or do you think it goes deeper, that Apple is fully entitled to restrict how you can use its software?

    Chris Howard had this to say on Mar 08, 2009 Posts: 1209
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