Installing Windows on My Mac Mini

Back in the 90’s, I was a die-hard Mac fan. That’s only natural when your college is loaded with software and hardware from Apple. Even shortly after college, my graphic design work was mostly done on a Mac. But a decade later, I’m a Windows guy. The hardware is cheaper and the software is plentiful… including video games. Although, I recently bough a Mac Mini. I wanted to see if the grass was greener on the other side. It wasn’t, not for me. Having re-experienced the Mac OS side of things, I found more success with Android development than iPhone OS development. My Mac Mini went unused. The neglect was so bad that I didn’t even have it hooked up to the Internet. My shiny new Mac had turned into a dust collecting box. It needed new life… so I installed Windows on it!

Right around when Steve Jobs rejoined Apple and released the first iMac, I decided to switch to Windows. It was clear that Apple was heading in a new direction. Apple basically told me that I didn’t need a computer with a floppy drive, a parallel port or SCSI. USB was the future. They were ultimately right, but that meant I would have to buy a new scanner, a new printer and a new external storage device. Apple decided to reinvent themselves, forcing me to do the same. Since I needed new hardware, I started fresh. I moved to PC/Windows and I was happy. I was annoyed at Apple. I felt that they could have handled the transition better.

But September 2009 was a new start for Apple and me. I was watching the success of the iPhone and I decided to join in on the action. I felt that the G1 was a superior phone because of the physical keyboard, but I liked the idea of the iPhone App store. The Android market was younger and not as popular. I bought a Mac with the anticipation of great success. If I was making decent money with Android, only a fraction of the size of Apple’s market, I should be hugely successful with the iPhone.

In order to create iPhone apps, I needed a Mac for development. I ultimately settled on their cheapest model – the Mac Mini. I installed Xcode on my new Mac and I registered as developer. All the ingredients of success were there. But unfortunately, it didn’t work out that way. My iPhone apps went unnoticed. It wasn’t instant defeat either. First, I had to fight through Apple’s approval process. After months of struggling to bring my Android apps over to the App Store, I was discouraged. I found myself disappointed with Apple once  again. Basically, I had to work harder to get less results. I’m glad that I bought the Mac Mini – the cheapest Mac available today. That decision minimized my losses.

I moved onto new projects. But there it sat on my desk, a constant reminder of failure. I remembered the days of extreme productivity with the Mac OS. I designed publications, fought aliens in Marathon (the precursor to Halo), created web pages and learned about networking. My Mac Mini – not so much. No games, no work… not much to do with it at all.

I had a contingency plan. In the back of my mind, I knew that buying a Mac could be a mistake. I also knew that I could simply use Boot Camp to turn my Mac into a PC. I decided to install Windows on my Mac. Not surprisingly, my Mac didn’t go quietly. Actually, it put up a tremendous fight.

First off, Boot Camp didn’t work with my old Windows XP disk. I needed at least Service Pack 2. To trick my Mac around this problem, I used VMware Fusion. I created a Boot Camp partition, installed Window XP and then I used VMware Fusion to download and install the upgrades. All the while, my Mac seemed upset. I could hear a loud raw from the spinning CD and I watched as my Mac struggled to operate with only one gigabyte of RAM. Boo hoo… now it has to do some real work. Welcome to Windows, punk!

There were some real oddities while trying to complete the install. For example, my Mac Mini clutched onto the Windows install disk. My Mac Mini was like a rabid puppy, refusing to let go of an old shoe. Without a Mac keyboard, it wasn’t obvious on how to eject the disk. My Mac was stuck in an infinite loop… restart… windows… restart… windows. To eject the disk, I had to hold down the mouse button. That didn’t seem very intuitive to me. My PC has an eject button on the CD/DVD drive. Not my Mac. Apple thinks different.

Installing drivers was another challenging task. It didn’t occur to me to check the Snow Leopard installation disk for Windows drivers. But once I had the right drivers, I could get my Mac Mini to boot up in Windows and connect to the Internet.

The Snow Leopard CD contained all of the Windows drivers that I needed for using Boot Camp on my Mac Mini.

I also made another bad choice. I picked NTFS instead of FAT32 as the format for the Boot Camp partition. While NTFS supports larger volume sizes, I didn’t need it. I could have kept the partition at 32 GB and had more Mac compatibility. Apparently, the Mac could only read – not write to – an NTFS partition. After hours and hours of Windows XP updates, I wasn’t in the mood to start over. I didn’t really need to. I had only one task in mind for my Mac Mini… a dedicated folding@home computer.

My Mac Mini contains a pokey NVIDIA GeForce 9400m GPU. While this is basically laptop hardware, it is CUDA capable. It’s slower than my main PC, but it also uses less power. I figured that I let my Mac Mini help contribute towards scientific research. It is quite possible that I’ll get back into iPhone development. But until then, at least my Mac Mini is doing something productive.

One thought on “Installing Windows on My Mac Mini”

  1. UPDATE: The Windows environment under Boot Camp seemed too unstable. There were lots of blue screens… and there were “EUE Limit exceeded” errors listed in my folding@home log. I deleted the Windows partition. Maybe one day I’ll try again or maybe I’ll find a better use for my Mac. But right now, it’s going back into dust collector mode.

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