For those of you that don’t know, I recommend buying a new computer only after upgrading the RAM, upgrading it again, upgrading the graphics card, and upgrading the RAM again. That rule doesn’t quite hold for laptops, as you can’t upgrade the graphics card and sometimes there’s a limit of how much RAM the motherboard can recognize.
In 2007, I bought a new laptop. My old one was purchased in 2003, and wasn’t working for me anymore. Although I had followed my usual rule of upgrading the RAM multiple times, it had USB 1.1 and syncing my music collection to my iPOD took 2 full days of continuous syncing. (USB 2.0 must have been left out of the model I had, and I had never anticipated what a problem that would become later down the road.)
My new 2007 laptop had a Core2Duo processor, 2GB of RAM, 120GB Hard drive, and 128MB NVidia Graphics card (32MB dedicated video memory, the rest shared). In 2008, I upgraded to 4GB of RAM and installed Windows 64 bit (free for all owners of Microsoft Vista, and necessary to utilize all of the 4GB of RAM). In 2009, I upgraded to Windows 7. Now it’s 2011, and I’m starting to look at getting a new laptop.
Checking out the HP laptops, I found that a Core i5 or Core i7 with 6GB of RAM, maybe even 8GB of RAM, and 1GB Video Card could be anywhere from $1,000 – $1,200. Not bad, and certainly a laptop that will last for the next few years. Now, I am interested in Apple machines so I headed over to Apple’s site. For $1,000, I found I can get a laptop with a Core2Duo and 2GB of RAM. Now, why would I buy a laptop with the same specs as the laptop I purchased 4 years ago?
So I started looking into installing the MAC operating system (called OSX, pronounced “OH-ES-EX”) onto my laptop. Why not? The hardware is the same, right? How hard could it be?
Before starting this project, I read. I read blog posts, I Googled, I joined forums. There was a guide on Lifehacker for installing OSX on your PC, but like most guides out there, it was for desktops. I did locate a post by someone who installed OSX on my exact model of laptop, with instructions of what he did and the outcome. I decided to try it. I backed up all my data, and ordered a new hard drive since my current one was almost full. This gave me the benefit of just quickly switching out the hard drives if there was a problem, and be back at my Windows desktop in a matter of minutes.
I followed the directions posted for my laptop (involving iDeneb) and I have to say – it worked perfectly. I had LEOPARD fully installed, booting every time, perfectly. Even QE (Quartz Extreme) worked, neccessary for iLife (iMovie, iPhoto, GarageBand, and more). Wireless didn’t work, but I had found kexts for the card I had. However, I updated using Apple Software Updater, and lost my network card. The wireless kexts didn’t seem to work either.
About this time, I realized that I had LEOPARD, not SNOW LEOPARD. (For those of you who might not know, OSX 10.5.X is called “LEOPARD” and OSX 10.6.X is called SNOW LEOPARD. The unreleased version, 10.7.X, is “LION”). So, I began re-investigating, except this time looking for information within the past 2 years, aimed specifically at SNOW LEOPARD. Turns out that there isn’t nearly as much information, as everything has shifted to using the retail Snow Leopard disc to install it. This confused me. Yes, people who are technically illegally installing an operating system on a machine that it was not supposed to be installed on have specifically created a method so they can justify this to themselves. On one hand, this makes sense. If you’re installing an operating system, you should own the operating system. OSX 10.6.3 costs just $29 on DVD, so that isn’t much of a barrier to entry. On the other hand, since OSX is based on Linux, and Linux is open-source, you might argue that since you don’t own any Apple hardware, you don’t need to buy any disc.
Eventually, after some issues with this, I ended up buying the DVD from Amazon for $24. (Saved a couple of bucks by buying it used from Amazon. You could argue here that Apple didn’t make any money from me buying it second-hand, but that’s the case with used CDs and second-hand vinyl we buy all the time. I plan on doing an article on this at some point.)
Once you have the retail OSX CD (10.6 or 10.6.3) you’re well on your way. I recommend Nawcom’s Boot CD, which is a small file that you burn onto a blank CD to start the installation process. You boot with the nawcom CD, wait for it to prompt you to install the OSX DVD, and you’re on your way. Go through the options, install OSX on the drive (after formatted for HFS+ Journaled), and you’re on your way.
From this point, I was stuck. I couldn’t figure out what to do next. I could boot to the OSX desktop every time, but nothing seemed to get me to the next step after that. Then, finally, I had an idea. I found a person on a forum asking questions about the laptop I had, and started Googling the username. No clue who they were, other than that they had a laptop similar to mine, and were working on getting OSX working. I found the person on a bunch of forums and just started a private message on the forum they had been on most recently. Turns out the person is a 32 year old guy in the Phillipines name Kurt, and he speaks perfect English. It took him a year to figure out everything about installing OSX, and was kind enough to spend a good amount of time explaining things to me and teaching me what he knew. In the end, I was able to use the same configuration files he used to get my laptop up and working, except for wireless.
Getting wireless working is another story entirely. The Intel wireless card I installed wasn’t recognized by OSX, and the kexts I installed didn’t work for me. Kurt’s recommendation was to get a Dell card, install it, and it would work automatically in OSX. Turns out it was much more complicated than that. After locating the card on ebay for $7, installing it, and booting, I discovered that the computer wouldn’t boot at all, and gave me “Error -104: Unsupported Wireless Card”. Turns out HP does something to prevent other wireless cards being installed in their laptops, effectively ensuring that any wireless cards must be purchased from them. Being a PC user means that if I own the hardware, I can do whatever I want – I own it, and it’s mine. Well, not in this particular case.
To fix this issue, you have to download the BIOS file from HP, open it in hex editor software, insert the Vendor and Device ID of your new wireless card backward (it’s weird), save your BIOS, recompile it, flash it, and hope for the best. On my first attempt, I managed to break my BIOS so that my computer no longer booted. Turns out to fix that, you need to flash the bios with some files using a USB floppy drive. (Yes, FLOPPY DRIVE. Tracking down one was hard enough.)
At this point, I’ve invested about 2 months into this project off and on. I’ve learned a lot, I’ve got iPhoto/iMovie/Garageband working, and I’ve learned a lot of about the OSX operating system. If you’ve read this all, just know that I’ve glossed over a lot of the frustration, complications, kernel panics (that’s an error message), crashes, and more.
If you want to explore a project like this, make sure you know someone with the exact same hardware who has accomplished this project successfully. If you have a guide, make sure it’s recent and applies to your hardware. If you don’t have the time to devote the project, spend whatever time you do have learning some software that’s available for Windows that can accomplish the same thing.
Full disclosure – I still want a MAC. In fact, I really want one. I refuse to pay the premium price that Apple demands. I found a person releasing a specific installation CD for HP laptops that makes it much simpler – it’s just not released yet. I’ll be keeping a close eye on that.