Setting up a Mac environment for Xamarin (for Windows users)

I’ve referenced this indirectly before, but I wanted to take a minute to explain the Mac setup that I have. As discussed, if you want to use Xamarin to make Android, iOS, or even Mac OS apps – you’ll need a Mac. “But Mac’s are needlessly overpriced!” you say, “and aren’t I really just paying for the name?” you ask. Well, yes and yes.  🙂

HOWEVER, there is another solution – that is the “Mac Mini”:

This is a small form-factor Mac that runs a completely decent processor and can hold a good-amount of RAM. At the moment, even the very latest version, with an i5 2.7GHz CPU and 4GB is around $500. That’s not astronomically priced like the Macbooks. If that is what they are new, what are they used? Well, hang on – we need to cover a couple of things first.

Connecting to the Mac:
Assuming you don’t want this Mac to replace your current Windows machine, how do you connect to it? It would be great if you could just Remote Desktop into it, wouldn’t it? Well you can’t, easily. You can try VNC, but I found that to be painfully-slow… like, unusably slow. So, I use to connect to it. You set up the Mac in “unattended mode” and you can connect to it either in a window or run it full-screen. The response is great and it’s free!

What about Hackintosh?
Apple specifically only allows their operating system to be installed on their hardware. So, you can’t install Mac OS on your regular Intel-based computer. However, several groups of people found ways around this. They created a custom bootloader to get the installation booted. Once that is done, then you actually can install Mac OS on a PC. …well, it’s not that simple. Because the OS wasn’t meant to run on a variety of hardware, you have to have some pretty specific video cards, and there are lots of drivers that won’t work.

In the end, it’s not really worth it, as it’s not a very stable, long-term environment on which to build your computing platform! If you are interested, probably the best resource I found was a subreddit dedicated to just this topic:

PowerPC vs Intel processor:
In August 2009, Apple switched from using a PowerPC-based CPU to an Intel-based CPU.This is significant because the operating system, and all your programs are not compatible between the two!

So, when looking for a used Mac Mini, make sure it is at LEAST a “late 2009” or later. That will definitely be Intel-based, and it will be a decent computer.

The good news is, Mac hardware tends to be on the higher-end – so even a Mac Mini from several years ago is still going to be decent. Apple uses years for the version numbers – like “Early 2006” or “Late 2009” as the model number for a Mac Mini.

If you buy a used Mac, you’ll probably (definitely) want to do some upgrades. In particular, get a solid state hard drive. The prices have plummeted and it will make an ENORMOUS difference in performance. Also, get a truckful of RAM for it too – it’s very inexpensive now.

The Mac Mini has no screws or clips visible on the outside. So, here is generally how you replace a hard drive or RAM in one:

How much disk space?
For my setup, I have:

  • OS X Yosemite (the latest) operating system
  • Office 2011 for Mac, and OneNote
  • Xamarin (and all the Mono prereqs)

And this uses about 40GB. So, if you are on the fence, get at least a 120GB Intel or Samsung SSD to make sure you have plenty of space.

How much RAM?
This is subjective, but I do have some hard evidence. My Mac Mini had 2GB of RAM in it. With Xamarin running without any emulators, I was using all 2GB of RAM, and swapping to disk:



I then upgraded it, maxed it out to 8GB of RAM, and now the same thing comfortably uses ~4GB and I have the other 4GB for Android/iOS emulators and OS overhead.



So, my recommendation is to get at least 8GB or RAM if you plan on doing development on this Mac.

How much? Where to buy?
I got a “late 2009” Mac Mini on ebay very cheap. I basically monitored ebay and Amazon looking for a good deal. As of now, an Intel-based Mac Mini is going for $150-300 – but the cheaper ones are pre-2009. On ebay, they are a little cheaper and there are a few deals there.

For upgrades:

So bottom line, if you want to get a decent Mac setup like this, you might be looking at maybe $250 for a decent Mini to start with, $80 for an SSD, and another $80 for an 8GB upgrade. Basically, $410 will give you a pretty good, “poor-man’s” setup like I have!

Posted in Apple Stuff, Computers and Internet, General, Infrastructure, Uncategorized

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