HackBook Fail – or How Could a sub-$400 MacBook Possibly Suck?

MacBook Nano as it appeared on eBay as I sold it.
MSI Wind/MacBook Nano as it appeared on eBay as I sold it.

It seemed like such a good idea at the time. Never mind the fact that I have a perfectly good aluminum unibody 2.4Ghz MacBook that is slim, lightweight and infinitely portable, or a work-assigned 2.4Ghz MacBook Pro, not to mention the beasty quad-core 2.66Ghz Mac Pro desktop that I have at home for real work or the Asus eeeBox running OS X (but soon to be replaced by a Mac Mini) attached to the tv in the living room, or the perfectly capable iPhone for internet anywhere—adding another computer to my life seemed perfectly logical.

(w)eee pc
My First NetBook sitting on my Umpteenth MacBook/PowerBook

Who doesn’t have room for a netbook in their life, even one as cluttered with computers as mine? I dipped my feet into the netbook pool about a year ago with the miserable Asus eeePC, with a 7” screen, a tiny 4GB solid state hard drive, and a meager 1GB of RAM, and it didn’t last long. The keyboard was small and lacking, as was the hard drive, keyboard, screen, and ultimately, its ability to do anything of real import. At all.

In less than a year though, the landscape has changed dramatically. For less than $400, you are spoiled for choice with laptops with a 10” screen, a relatively capable 1.6Ghz Intel processor, a 160GB hard drive, and all the modern conveniences of modern laptops: 802.11b/g wi-fi, Bluetooth, and webcam. I chose the MSI Wind for several reasons: it was only $369, its keyboard was decently sized and laid-out compared to its competitors, and perhaps most importantly, it had legions of people who have worked out the kinks of installing OS X and have documented it in painstaking detail so that even a relative tech n00b like me could do it.

A sub $400 2.8lb MacBook with 4-5 hours of battery life? Why not? Given the dog-choking wad of computers already cluttering my life, where did I see this fitting in? I thought of the netbook as a sort of computer that I could leave in the bedroom for checking email or taking to the bathroom for uh… reading, or leaving in my bag for checking things out on the internet on the fly, or taking on trips. None of this really happened as planned.

OS X ran mostly perfectly on the machine. I did as any good hackintosher would tell you to do, and purchase a new $15 wi-fi card so that OS X plays nicely with it, and a $14 stick of RAM to max it out at 2GB, and so the OS X experience was relatively seamless. Browsers opened and displayed things correctly, it connected flawlessly to wired and wireless networks at home and at the office, I even ran the Adobe CS4 suite on it just to see if it would do it, and Final Cut Pro just for giggles, and it actually handled it just fine.

The 1024x600 desktop. Check out the battery life!

Problems did creep up now and then, however. First, was the screen resolution. 1024×600 is too small for a lot of applications (and web pages, for that matter), which require at least 1024×768. This means even simple things like Garage Band and Photo Booth were useless because the screen just wasn’t big enough to display all the interface, pushing essential controls off the screen.

While the keyboard was indeed larger than my first netbook, and definitely manageable, it still was nowhere near effortless to use. The same could not be said for the dreadful trackpad and button. The trackpad was large for a netbook, but still far too small to use easily and the trackpad button was maybe two toothpicks wide and required tremendous force to actuate. This is a far cry from the silky glass button on the MacBook, and was the ultimate downfall of this computer.

Ultimately, bad ergonomics killed this machine for me. While OS X ran admirably, the actual physical interface between human and computer sucked so bad that I just left it hooked up to my turntables for most of the time that I owned it (no, it doesn’t run Ableton Live or Traktor Scratch particularly well either). I hardly ever used it in the bathroom or bedroom, preferring instead to use my MacBook or even my iPhone to check mail or.. read. Even at 2.8lbs, I wouldn’t carry it around in my day-to-day bag, preferring instead to just use my iPhone to look things up.  You can put OS X on whatever you want these days, but it doesn’t make it an Apple.

Incidentally, it sold on ebay for $560 after a 1-day auction.

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