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Dell XPS M1330 + Snow Leopard Hackintosh

I have been working with a Dell XPS M1330 laptop for a few years now.  It doesn't quite match up to the newest notebooks in terms of performance, but it certainly still has some life in it.  I had previously installed OSX 10.5.x on it as an experiment, and had moderate success.  I decided to revisit this idea again to install Snow Leopard (OSX 10.6) on the Dell M1330, and keep some notes for those of you brave enough to Hackintosh your own machine...


I've done many articles on installing OSX on PC hardware, from the very cool Dell Mini 9 Hackintosh to my hopeful Lenovo s10-3t (with subsequent #fail and #postfail reports) to my recent article on turning a Thinkpad X61t convertible tablet into an awesome Mac OSX tablet (with working tablet of course).

The whole point in doing these exercises (aside from techno-geek fun), is to use low-cost or recycled hardware and give it a new lease on life.  If anybody is buying a new PC/notebook specifically to hackintosh it, I would say that I think your money is better spent on a secondhand macbook.  Used intel mac notebooks can be had for under $500 if you look carefully, so that is a wise move.  Making the decision to install OSX on one of your machines is a commitment to research and time.  It never goes completely smooth (unless you are using the Dell Mini 9, which was a hackintosh dream, but sadly is discontinued...).

So on to the Dell XPS m1330.  This is a great little machine.  Core 2 Duo 2.5 ghz, LED widescreen, decent battery life, nVidia graphics.  Its worth giving new life.  By the way, the specs on the XPS m1550 and m17xx models are very similar, so I would guess that these notes would apply with minor tweaks.  You can still get these machines secondhand, and the prices are decent.  I've seen some m1330's go on craigslist for $300, although they are usually in the $500-$700 range.

So which distribution of OSX to use?  Some people will say that you should only ever do a Vanilla install (i.e. use the retail copy of OSX from Apple, and use a boot CD/EFI system to handle compatibility).  If you can find good instructions for your machine to do a Vanilla install, I recommend it.  Thats what works best on that Dell Mini 9.  Turns out that a Vanilla install did not work well for the Thinkpad X61, nor for the Dell XPS M1330.

I opted to use iAtkos S3 R2 (google it), as I had heard that it was very compatible with a lot of notebook hardware.  Search online and snag a copy of the DVD image, and burn it to a disc.  It will fit on a single layer DVD disc so no need to buy the slightly-more-expensive dual layer ones.

Before you start installing, follow these tips, which I have determined to be CRITICAL for a successful project:
  • Make sure you have the time -- this is a learning experience, not an evening "pc cleanup" and it WILL take you longer to figure out, and even longer to get all the kexts (drivers) working
  • If at all possible, use a second hard drive -- if you are doing this to a daily-use computer, DO NOT just install over your working Windows -- you will be sorry you did.  Rather, find another hard drive (you can get them REALLY cheap online at www.geeks.com)  Once you figure out everything, you can always backup/restore or do another clean install on your good drive later.  Having a second drive is useful long term anyway, for system backups, etc.
  • Document the options you choose -- installation isn't as easy as Windows or even Linux for most cases
BASE INSTALLATION:

Ok, getting started, put in your new hard drive (if you have one) and boot from the iAtkos S3 R2 disc you created.  Let it boot completely until you see the Welcome/install screen AND you see the tool bar at the top of the screen.

NOTE: If your system doesn't boot to the install screen or throws errors, chances are that you are not using one of the machines I listed above and you should stop what you are doing and search for an alternate guide!  Don't be dumb, you CAN mess up your computer if you try to install incompatible software.

Run "Disk Utility" from the "Utilities" drop-down menu, and partition or erase the drive partition you will install OSX on.  You can use MBR or GUID partition tables. When it is done, close Disk Utility.

Continue with the installation, pick the destination drive/partition, and click on "Customize."

Here is the tricky part that you should document.  Keep track of exactly what you change/add, because the next couple times you install, you will want to try changing different drivers/settings.  You SHOULD ASSUME that you will need to do a few installs.  If you think you are "all that" and can do it on one try -- good luck, and I hope you have all your stuff backed up.


Here are my notes on options I selected which yielded a working machine:

(These all are based on all the "default" selected options -- i simply noted what I added/removed, with +/- respectively)

Bootloader Options:
   + 32-bit boot option

Patches:
   - RTC
   + RTC (32-bit)   * without this, the machine wouldn't boot -- had kernel panic

Drivers:
   + AHCI Sata
   + Main/PS2/*  (there are multiple drivers, just pick them all)
   + Voodoo Power (this acted a little flaky for me, you choose whether you want it)
   + Laptop Battery
   + ACPI thermal 32-bit
   + NTFS 3G
   + Network/Wireless/Broadcom driver (good if you have a dell 139x wifi card -- if not, they are dirt cheap on ebay)


All the other options I left as defaults.  You can try to mess with the graphics drivers, but I found that those gave me trouble and left me with an install with no picture on the screen.  If you leave it alone, OSX will use a non-accelerated video driver that seems to work well for everybody, and you can tweak the driver later.

Click the "Install" button and go get some coffee.

When it is all done, it will reboot on its own, and hopefully boot right into the "Welcome" app in Mac OSX.

POST INSTALL:

If your machine booted up properly, you are pretty close to getting things working.  Follow the on-screen instructions and setup your user profile, etc.  When that is done you should be looking at your OSX desktop.

The next step is to get the video acceleration working.  Assuming you have a compatible Wifi card from dell, you should already have been prompted to connect and have Internet access.  If you have an nVidia video card, google and download a utility called "Lizard" which is used to manage settings for Chameleon boot loader for OSX.  Some screen shots and video of Lizard are here.  Run it and tick the boxes for nVidia injection and 32-bit boot.  I recommend that you leave the rest as-is unless you know what you are doing.  It may prompt you and say that "com.apple.Boot.plist" doesn't exist, but just click ok and create it.  Once it is done, its time to hold your breath and reboot the machine.

If all goes well, your machine will boot back into OSX and you will see all your hardware bits working.  You can check if your nVidia is working by going to system preferences/displays and see if your monitor has multiple resolution options.  Without the proper video drivers loaded, you will typically only get 1024x768 as an option.

If something goes wrong and your machine doesn't boot, then refer to your notes on which options you chose (you DID take notes, right?), and start tweaking things.  Start with the RTC patch, AHCI sata and 32-bit boot options as a start.  There are a lot of other options too -- you may need to actually go do some of your own research :)

Once you have a working machine, the next step is to take a backup of your OSX installation, so that when you break it later, you can quickly get back to a working setup.  As with most hackintosh PCs, you should resist the urge to upgrade your hackintosh to the newest OSX system updates from Apple (apps are ok, its the OSX system that is the problem).  If you DO want to update, you will need to google about how to do that, as it is not a simple process if you want to keep all your hardware devices still working.

With my config above, here is what is working/not working:

Working:
   Video (nvidia 8400 gs)
   Audio
   Webcam
   Wireless (dell 1394)
   keyboard/mouse
   usb ports
   SD card

Not working:
   Hangs when you shut down, requires you to hold the power button down
   Mirroring displays with external monitor (to my knowledge, most hackintosh pc's have this issue)

Overall, I am pleased with this machine running OSX -- it is very fast and can still keep up with some of the newer macs in terms of performance.

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