My New Dell Mini 9

Dellmini9.png  I finally got my Dell Mini 9 that had I ordered last week!! Spent a few hours setting it up last night and a couple of hours this morning tweaking it to mimic the functionality of my desktop. In short – this is the best thing ever! (I’m posting this blog entry using Ecto on the Mini 9.)

A quick note about hardware: When I configured my Mini, I thought that I knew what I was doing. Really go over your requirements before ordering any hardware! These little machines can become very expensive, very fast. Keep in mind that these minis are NOT meant to replace your desktop or even a full blown notebook/laptop. They do what they do very well – get on the internet and do some light computing. (Although I could talk forever about the fact that most computer users are ‘light’ computer users – even if they do spend all day on the machines.)

My requirements were to get the Bluetooth option (for Bluetooth headset and mouse for video conferencing/music), the 1.3 webcam (b/c how else are you going to see this gorgeous face?), and 16GB SSD (You only need 8gig if you want to squeeze OSX on the machine.. give yourself some breathing room.) I thought that was it, until I was reading that other people were able to get their iPhone SIM chip working with the optional WWAN card for 3G access. Now I wish I had that. Oh well – I’ll look into hacking the machine later if I am determine to have that capability.

Overall the entire installation experience was pretty good. It took hardly any time in comparasion to getting OSX to work on my PC. It’s about as easy to install as Ubuntu (okay… maybe a little harder.) Including upgrading the memory, flashing the BIOS, downloading all necessary files and getting them onto USB sticks, the entire installation didn’t go more than 5 hours. It sounds like a lot but most of it is just waiting around – so it’s not nearly as bad as it sounds. Also, I screwed up the first installation and I had to repeat the entire process, however, it went much faster the second time around.

I did learn a few lessons along the way. I’ve created list of things you need to do, in roughly the order to do them so that you have a great install.

1) First and foremost, download and read all the steps below AND any links. This isn’t something that you do on the fly. You need to understand the entire process before doing this. Here is the guide I used for my installation.

2) Get your hardware: Obviously get your Mini 9. Upgrade the memory if you haven’t already. This may cut down on some of the time it takes to install and configure the OS. Secondly, get installation devices. There are a lot of different installation methods – I used the two USB flash drive method, as I didn’t want to pay for a USB DVD drive. I used a 4 gig stick and 8 gig stick – one for the “boot loader” the other for the OS.

Here is a lesson learned – You may want another, if not two other, small USB sticks. It really depends on how many times you want to format and change out sticks and/or piggyback software on the same stick. There are a number of things you need to install/configure than just OS and the bootloader. Having other sticks would be helpful. However, I’ll write these instructions as if you had only two.

3) Back up your Mini. I didn’t – but I would be remiss in not telling you to do so.

4) Update your BIOS. When I got my Mini it has a BIOS of v.A0. As of this writing, the BIOS is up to A5. Unfortunately, I didn’t upgrade mine till the very end and I had to go looking for a way of upgrading without having to reinstall OSX all over again – why? because the Dell BIOS upgrade is a DOS EXE file. So if you have access to a PC, go ahead and get the BIOS off the Dell website — make sure to make your USB stick bootable. For you Mac users, see this forum thread. It points to an all inclusive utility that will build you a bootable USB with the latest Dell BIOS.

5) Follow the directions for 2 USB stick installation in this thread. It’s a very good guide – but here are a couple of pointers before you get started:

a) You will be using the bootloader on the smaller stick EVERYTIME you boot the Mini. Not just the first time, nor even after you get the OSX installed. The ONLY time you don’t use the bootloader stick to boot from is when you finally run the DellEFI program. That program will put a proper bootloader on the SSD drive so that you can finally get rid of the bootloader stick.

b) Make sure you customize your install – you’ll see a customize button in the installation of OSX. If you do use it, you can save gigs of diskspace – and you need too b/c the 10.5.6 upgrade requires 2.1 gigs of diskspace by itself. Even with a 16gig SSD drive, you will run out of space if you do a full install. (Yeah, this is the reason I had to do two installations!)

c) If you have issues getting past the ‘Migration’ screen of the install, reboot the Mini. This time when you get to the boot: prompt, type in -x and boot the OS. This will put the machine into ‘Safe Mode’, but you will be able to continue with the install. The next time you boot, you shouldn’t need to use any parameters.

d) If you are using a version of OSX prior to 10.5.6, download and copy the 10.5.6 combo update to the big USB stick. You should have enough room on the stick.

e) Download and copy the DellEFI program that the thread talks about ahead of time to the USB stick. Make sure you don’t use the version that is on the small USB stick (it should be there if you are following the instructions in the thread.) In any event, having it already downloaded and ready will really save you some time.

I was fortunate that I was able to follow the My Mini 9 install guide and didn’t see any errors/problems that they didn’t document. It is a really great guide.

So far, there are only two things that are not working:

1) Multi-touch seems be very flaky. So no two finger scrolling for me.

2) My machine freezes when it hibernates. When I try to bring back the machine from a sleep state, the screen comes back, but no control over the mouse or the keyboard. I can live with it as the machine boots fast and I’ve set the energy settings to never go into hibernation. I can power down the display however without issues.

Good luck with your build.

-JT

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