Clank-o-Mac-ic: Upgrading the Utility Box

For no good reason other than “I have a pile of weird old hardware laying around from a brother and wouldn’t mind doing something useful with it,” I’m going to attempt to build a replacement for Clank - my little utility netbook.

Clank is one of my random “Let’s use obsolete hardware for useful things” projects, though it may get demoted here at some point if this project works out. Just put a new CMOS battery in it, too…

That particular bit of obsolete hardware (a vintage Asus 1215N from 2010 or so, an Atom D525 processor, 8GB of RAM, and a SSD) dual boots Windows and Linux, and is my “admin beater laptop.” Windows is for Winbox and various utility things that only run on Windows, Linux is the common OS on it for most use, and the thing is an absolute gutless wonder. It’s been struggling with things like the window manager on the more recent Ubuntus, and while it’s got a discrete GPU, it’s of the early “Optimus/Ion” era that is absolutely not supported anymore beyond shutting it off, or, if the stars align, getting a bit of GPU acceleration going via framebuffer copying magic. Except it almost never works on demand, and crashes X in the process.

I have a couple 13" 2008 MacBooks - Core 2 Duo 2.0GHz, some spinning rust, one with 2GB RAM, one with 4GB, and one working battery (the other is a bit puffy and reports as non-operational, I’m inclined to believe it).

They’ll boot Ubuntu 20.04 UEFI, but not Windows 10 USB - it just hangs. So, onto experimenting!

//EDIT: Ooooh. How to get old versions of macOS - Apple Support archives these installer images

Alright. El Capitan installed. USB boot for Windows 10 still hangs immediately. Time to start hacking to get BootCamp to create a bootable installer! Apparently there are hacks to enable the USB/Win7 “or later” features in BootCamp.

Experimental results:

The MacBook uses PC3-8500S DRAM. 1066MHz.

The other RAM I had laying around, PC3-12800S.

MacBook No Likey. Just three beeps. So I’ll shuffle RAM around and have 4GB in the target box, instead of 8. Oh well, no big deal for what I’m planning to do.

Ok: Things learned after an evening of experimenting.

(1) You can’t use Boot Camp on El Capitan to make a USB installer for Windows. It just doesn’t work. The Boot Camp utility formats the drive FAT32 (4GB file size limit), then tries to copy the ISO contents over, which includes a >4GB file. It will complain that you don’t have space for the content, even on a drive with enough room.
(2) For reasons I still don’t understand, trying to boot from USB for the Windows installer just doesn’t work. It wouldn’t surprise me if the firmware doesn’t properly support exFAT on this machine.
(3) The Superdrive still works. I still have dual layer DVDs. Going vintage!
(4) The DVD, if you boot from it, will flash a Windows logo briefly, then sit at a flashing cursor for a long while. Apparently it’s actually doing something, and if you just ignore it long enough, it will eventually proceed into the Windows installer.

I have a USB key of support files made from the Boot Camp assistant that will be interesting to mess with, and I’m still slightly unclear as to if I can boot a totally clean system from the DVD with a clean disk. If I can, that makes my life very easy.

Still just dorking around on the spinning rust. SSD should be here this weekend.

//EDIT: Blank system will boot from DVD. After installing onto the drive, selecting “Windows” for the installer hangs, the same way the USB drive does, just… I decided to let it sit and it did clear out. Apparently WIn10 on a Core 2 Duo is not the fastest thing out there. This makes my life easier, I think!


Fine, your setup application doesn’t think this Mac is supported for x64. I’ll go run BootCamp64.msi myself!

Fine, BootCamp64.msi requires elevated privileges.

Admin command prompt (if you need right click, which you don’t have until you install the drivers, shift-F10, which on the MacBook requires shift-fn-f10, does just as well)

Fine, the drivers only support Windows 7? To Compatibility Mode with you!

… and now they’re installing. I understand I may need to upgrade the nVidia drivers after this before I reboot or there may be a bluescreen bootloop.

Installing Ubuntu 20.04: Easy.

Status of Windows afterwords: Not booting.

However, I’ve just been dorking around on the spinning rust it came with. I’ll ideally be able to get the SSD in this weekend and do it “for real,” and I think if I just skip OS X entirely, and do the normal “Put Windows on, then put Ubuntu on” thing that works on most x86 boxes, it’ll work. I hope…

SSD arrived and installed.

Windows 10: Attempting to install on the first 120GB of the SSD!

I’m going to install Ubuntu after I get Win10 at the base install, and see if I can boot both before I bother messing with drivers here…

Ok. Create a new EFI partition for Ubuntu. Then mark both the Windows and Linux EFI partitions bootable.

The installer will probably fail to install grub, because it can’t write the nvram variables for… reasons. Don’t know, don’t really care.

sudo -s
chroot /target /bin/bash
grub-install --target=x86_64 --no-nvram /dev/sda5
grub-install --target=x86_64 --no-nvram /dev/sda6

That ought to write it, from the desktop environment you get dropped to after it fails.

\o/ More cheap RAM. Now I have 6GB in the laptop, and will comfortably call it “done enough to use.”