How to turn a $900 paperweight back into a usable Intel Mac Mini

Posted: February 4th, 2007 | Filed under: Uncategorized | 1 Comment »

After creating the aforementioned $900 paperweight, I then spent another few hours turning it back into a useful computer again. If anyone should find themselves wanting todo a ‘from scratch’ dual boot install of Mac OS-X and Fedora, it is actually quite simple….

The first step was to get Mac OS-X back onto the system. So I inserted the original install disk, and held down ‘c’ while turning on the mini. A short while later the Mac OS-X installer is up & running. Before beginning the install process, I launched the ‘Disk Utility’ GUI tool. Using its partitioning options I deleted all existing partitions then told it to create 1 partition of 36 GB marked for a HFS+ filesystem, and leave the remaining 30-something GB as unallocated free space. Quitting out of Disk Utility, I now started with the standard Mac OS-X install wizard, letting it install to this 36 GB partition. This all went very smoothly and 30 minutes later I had fully functional Mac OS-X installed & booting correctly.

Next step is to install Fedora, but before doing this I decided to setup the rEFIt bootloader. The automated setup process for rEFIt installs it onto the main Mac OS-X HFS+ filesystem. I’m not sure whether I’ll keep Mac OS-X installed long term and don’t fancy loosing the bootloader if I re-install that partition. This is a perfect solution to this – install rEFIt onto the hidden 200 MB EFI system partition. The rEFIt install instructions (unhelpfully) decline to tell you how to achieve this, but thanks to Google I came across a guy who has documented the process. Went through that (very simple) process, rebooted and bingo – rEFIt is there, showing a single boot option – for Mac OS-X. So now it is time to try installing Fedora again

Inserting the Fedora CD and rebooting while holding down ‘c’ starts up the Fedora installer. Since I had taken care to leave a chunk of unpartitioned free space earlier, this I could simply let anaconda do its default partitioning – which meant no need to play with lvm tools manually. I had wanted to setup a separate /home, but since anaconda was in text mode there’s no way to add/remove LVM volumes. Still it was possible to shrink down the root filesystem size, leaving the majority of the LVM volume group unallocated for later use. Once past the partitioning step, the remainder of the installer was straightforward – just remember to install grub in the first sector of /boot, and not in the MBR. 30 minutes later I rebooted and to my delight rEFIt showed options for booting both Mac OS-X and Fedora. Success!

Once Fedora was up and running there was only one remaining oddity to deal with. The Mac Mini has a i945 Intel graphics card in it, which isn’t supported by the i810 driver that is into the current released of Xorg. Fortunately Fedora ships a pre-release of the ‘intel’ driver which does support the i945 and does automatic mode setting. So it ought to ‘just work’, but it didn’t. I should mention at this point, that the Mac Mini is not connected to a regular monitor, its actually going to my Samsung LCD HDTV, which has a native resolution of 1360×768. After poking around in the Xorg logs, I discovered that the TV wasn’t returning any EDID info, so the graphics driver didn’t have any info with which to generate suitable modelines. The manual for the TV says it requires a standard VESA 1360×768 resolution. A little googling later I found a suitable modeline, added it to the xorg.conf and X finally starts up just fine at the native resolution. For anyone else out there with a Samsung LN-S3241D widescreen HDTV, the xorg.conf sections that did the trick look like this:

Section "Monitor"
         Identifier "TV0"
         HorizSync  30-60
         VertRefresh  60-75
         ModeLine "1360x768@60" 85.800 1360 1424 1536 1792 768 771 777 795 +HSync +VSync

Section "Screen"
        Identifier "Screen0"
        Device     "Videocard0"
        Monitor "TV0"
        DefaultDepth     24

        SubSection "Display"
                Viewport   0 0
                Modes "1360x768@60"
                Depth     24

So compared to the pain involved in breaking in the Mac Mini, bringing it back to life was a quite uneventful affair. And if I had done the install while connected to a regular monitor instead of TV, it would have been even simpler. Anyway, I’m very happy to have both Mac OS-X & Fedora Core 6 runnning – the latter even has the desktop effects bling, and Xen with fully-virt working.

One Response to “How to turn a $900 paperweight back into a usable Intel Mac Mini”

  1. Daniel says:

    Ruben Kerkhof mailed me to point out his Fedora logo for rEFIt… a very nice touch !

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