.tek: Woe, Woe and Thrice Woe: Installing Windows on a Late 2012 Model Mac Mini With Boot Camp #tech #apple

Apple hardware running as it was meant to: with DOS(Box)!

Norton Commander:

nc-mac

…AND Gabriel Knight:

gk-mac

I bought the cheapest Mac Mini from PC World a few days ago to replace my horribly underpowered, top-of-the-range HP NetBook.  And (shock-horror), the thing was actually cheaper than almost any PC of equivalent spec and no delivery hassles either.

Can’t Touch This! After a day of use, I realised that I would have to make so many compromises to my workflow and favourite appz using Mac OS X (Mountain Lion) that I simply had to use Windows or Linux as my primary OS.

Boot Camp Woes: Linux was out given the number of workarounds required, so I went straight for Windows 7 64bit Ultimate.  BUT, after plugging everything into the new Mac, Boot Camp Assistant refused to work.  Various error dialogue boxes popped up and, despite a combined 8 hours of effort by support staff from PC World and Apple, nothing worked.  Apple and PC World have told me that there is “an issue for some users” of Late 2012 model Mac Minis and Boot Camp. Wunderbar.

Solution: By much trial-and-error (and long, loud streams of profanity) I worked out what to do by myself.  With your Mac Mini off and unplugged, disconnect every single peripheral apart from your keyboard, mouse and monitor.  If using a wired keyboard, plug it into the USB port nearest the ThunderBolt port (via a generic PS2-to-USB adaptor if necessary).  You will also need a 4GB+ USB thumb-drive (I had luck with a cheap HP one from WHSmiths) to create your Windows installation drive using the Boot Camp Assistant.  That’s it and that’s all, Boot Camp Assistant should now allow you to start your Windows installation.

Explanations:

  • Disconnect everything you don’t need, because some external hard drives can severely screw up Boot Camp Assistant; the error message Mac OS X returns will not tell you this!
  • For keyboards, the USB port nearest the ThunderBolt port is the only one that can possibly accept boot options, especially if you are using a PC  keyboard.  I use a mechanical pre-Windows 95 PC 102 UK keyboard.  Anyway, in theory when you boot and hold down the ALT key you should be greeted with the Apple boot menu options.  Pah!  I said “in theory” because this has only ever worked once.  The software alternative is to install rEFIT or rEFInd on the Mac OS X portion.  I used the older rEFIT app.  Google it.  Once installed, completely switch off your Mac Mini, pause and then power it up again and you will now be greeted with a boot menu allowing you to select which partition to boot including the Mac’s recovery thingy. Handy and saves you buying a Mac keyboard.
  • Thumb drive? Well, Boot Camp Assistant refused to recognise the Windows 7 installation disk.  Duhhh!

Other Tips:

  • You can only install the 64bit versions of Windows 7 with Boot Camp.  You can install Windows 8 too, but 8 sux.
  • Incidentally, the spanking new USB 3.0 ports to the rear of the Mac Mini are stupidly underpowered and you may have an issue using some portable external hard drives unless you they are plugged into a powered hub.  Those cheap Tosh external HDDs that so many cheapskates (like me) are using are notorious for not working with the Mac Mini.
  • Non-Apple Fanbois and Grrls Rejoice!  The only part of my  setup that is properly Apple is the Mac Mini itself and I am now running Windows 7 natively.  All my peripherals are a smörgåsbord of third-party PC gear but, touch wood, everything has been working for a day with no problems.  The system is remarkably quiet too and, more importantly, I should be able to run Doom 3 at medium rez + DOSBox rulez.
  • Leave 100 GB for the Mac OS X portion.
  • Conclusion: Apple have made a right pig’s ear of the trying to entice ex-PC users.  The “it just works” mantra only applies to using exclusively Apple hardware and software.  Everything else is a bit hit and miss.  Tim, do your job; walk straight into the testing department in Cupertino and fire some testers and engineers.  If you can’t, please employ me to wield the axe.
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