Dell Vostro A90 – The Best OS X Netbook Money Can’t Buy!

DSCF1108-300x225Several months ago, I took a shot at building a Hackintosh out of a Dell Mini 9 netbook.

One of the biggest problems I ran into was the choice of the wrong SSD card (Crucial) and an excessive boot time, which lead to the whole thing being rather slow and IMHO, unusable for anything except the occasional browsing and/or e-mail on the run.

While these are the very things you’d think about using a netbook for, when I had the opportunity, I picked up a second-hand Macbook Pro and found the Mini 9 a good home with a good friend.

About a month ago now with the help of a good friend, I ran across a great opportunity to pick up the “business” version of the Mini 9 in refurbed form, the “Dell Vostro A90“. The A90 is identical to the Mini 9, save that it’s all black, and seems to feel a little more sturdily built. The model I got came with a gigabyte of RAM and an 8 Gigabyte STEC Solid State Disk (SSD) card.

UPDATE: As of the time of this writing, it looks like Dell might have actually discontinued the A90, as it’s not on their web site, but you can still pick them up in their Outlet store at I can’t confirm whether or not they’re discontinued, but if not, they sure do make them hard to find on the Dell web site.

DSCF1112-300x225What I quickly found out however is that an 8 gigabyte SSD card isn’t big enough to install Snow Leopard on, even if you strip out every option that is available on the install routine.

Vostro A90 tiny keyboardTo that end, I picked up a 32 gigabyte RunCore SSD card (80mb read/40mb write as opposed to 70/15 for the old Crucial card) off of eBay and just finished with installing my legitimate copies of Snow Leopard and iLife. All I can say is “what a difference 9 months and the right SSD card makes..”

Way back in March, I used Gizmodo’s multiple CD-Rom method of installing Leopard (10.5) on the Cherry Red Dell Mini 9. This time, I used MechDrew’s single USB stick method, which meant that I didn’t have to deal with boot commands, or learning to hack the command line for all sorts of little tricks and boot options.

Total install time from start (creating the USB stick) to finish (final update to 10.6.1) was approximately two hours.

So far, this little beasty boots within a minute or so (no slower than my 27? iMac), and seems to be — for all intents and purposes — about as peppy as the original Intel Core2Single processor mac Mini. Even with 1 gigabyte of RAM, programs seem to launch without any problem and so far, I haven’t found ANYTHING that doesn’t work exactly the way a Mac Mini or iMac would.

Even the camera in Photobooth works!

All in all, unless things change, this should remain to be a suitable carry box for exactly what a netbook does best.

Comparison shot. Dell Vostro A90 versus American 20 dollar bill
Comparison shot. Dell Vostro A90 versus American 20 dollar bill

Now let me get to the bad.

  • Legally, it’s a bad thing. There’s no room for debate here, and the only reason I’ve gone this route (again) is out of financial and physical necessity. When Apple comes out with a netbook of their own, I guarantee that I’ll be in line to buy one on day one, unless it’s $800.
  • The keyboard on the Vostro A90 is identical to the Mini 9, hence still too small. You should be about to peck out an e-mail, but unless you’ve got tiny hands, you’ll never pound out your next “War and Peace” novel.
  • It’s still NOT a Macintosh. While I don’t have to sit here and deal with the frustration of Windows or the tinkering with Ubuntu that drives people mad, the “Apple experience” just isn’t the same. It works. It works well (thank you Apple!) but personally I *do* look forward to either an Apple tablet or similar branded netbook should they decide to get their head out of the sand and build one.
  • Keep the USB stick you created for the install. You may need it at a moment’s notice, as Apple has intentionally disabled support for the Atom processor in version 10.6.2 of the OS. This means no more upgrades.
  • Being the “Apple’s Bitch” that I am, I still feel like I should fall to the floor and beg forgiveness for my sins, but then I realize exactly how much money I already have tied up in branded Apple hardware and software and that lets me sleep a little easier at night.

In the end, I find myself completely with mixed emotions here. I am still unabashedly Apple’s bitch. I have an iPod, an iPhone, an iMac, and now this. In the end, I’d prefer Apple hardware because I trust it more. At this time however, I’m just a slave to my own needs and requirements.

Wayne Hunt