|The Apple Hackintosh Experience|
|Articles - Opinion & Editorials|
|Written by David Ramsey|
|Wednesday, 03 November 2010|
The Apple Hackintosh Experience
Benchmark Reviews explores the problems and benefits associated with building an Apple Hackintosh computer
Our recently published guide Turning PC into Apple Macintosh: Hackintosh described my experience building a Hackintosh, and my thoughts on the concept as a long-time Macintosh computer user. The article was very popular and generated a lot of comments from our readers, some with recurring themes that I want to address here, as well as report on the longer-term use of the machine.
EDITORS NOTE: Benchmark Reviews has also published an updated Apple Hackintosh: Moving to Intel Sandy Bridge article.
Why build a Hackintosh in the first place? Windows 7 is just fine.
Short of guns and religion, nothing starts online flame wars like the Mac vs. Windows debate. I deliberately avoided the issue in my article, but unsurprisingly it made its appearance in the comments, with things like I love this comparison how much ppl are overpaying lol! im a pc 4 life and can someone enlighten me as why someone would want to turn a PC into a MAC anyway?
You wouldn't think you'd need to explain this, but here goes: you build a Hackintosh to run Apple's OS X operating system (and by extension OS X programs), either for pragmatic reasons or just for simple curiosity. That's it. There are professional reasons you might want to do this: for example, for Web developers, it's very handy to be able to validate pages on Macintosh, Windows, and Linux browsers all on the same machine at the same time (with Windows and Linux running as virtual machines). People interested in Linux/Unix but want a more polished system that can run things like Microsoft Office will find OS X a welcoming environment, and it's easy to open a terminal window and drop directly into your favorite Unix shell (I'm a tcsh guy, myself).
If you want to run Windows on your Hackintosh, there are two solutions...and Apple's "Boot Camp" isn't one of them, since this feature is very difficult to get working on a Hackintosh. The most direct method is to simply reboot the computer using a separate Windows partition or hard disk, but using a virtual machine utility like Parallels 6 is more convenient, and is a good excuse for loading your Hackintosh up with a powerful multi-core processor and lots of memory. Assuming you have a decent graphics card, Parallels' DirectX 9 support provides very good performance on older games like Half-Life 2 and Painkiller, but for professionals and business users the real win will be the ability to easily move files and data between the Macintosh and Windows environments on the fly, rather than having to reboot the computer. If you don't need DirectX 9 support and all of the whizzy features of Parallels, VirtualBox is a free VM that also works well.
The subject of the free office suite OpenOffice came up in the comments. While OpenOffice works fine on the Hackintosh (or any Macintosh computer), the derivative NeoOffice suite (which uses the same code base) has a more Mac-like user interface.
Building and running a Hackintosh isn't as hard as you made it out to be.
Hackintosh experiences vary widely, from "I can't get it to work, period." to "It started and ran the first time I tried." Many seem to think their experience is the definitive one. I'd previously tried to get a Hackintosh up and running a year or so ago; I never even managed to get past the initial boot screen, but the effort I described in the article was much smoother because of all the development that's taken place since then. Still, I warned, there's the possibility that system updates could render your machine unbootable. Some commenters claimed that the state of the Hackintosh art is advanced enough that this isn't a problem, to which I can only reply "Ask all the people running Intel Atom Hackintosh systems what happened when they installed the Snow Leopard 10.6.2 update." While kernel hackers have subsequently managed to resurrect Atom support in Snow Leopard, it's another example of the potential fragility of a Hackintosh system.
As I emphasized in the article, your Hackintosh experience depends on a lot on your initial choice of hardware, and the more up-front time you spend in research, the less likely you are to have problems. I went through four different motherboards (ASUS Crosshair III Formula, ASUS Sabertooth P55i, and ASUS Rampage II Extreme) before settling on the ASUS P6T Deluxe V2. The first two I couldn't get working at all (AMD Hackintoshes require a lot more work, since Apple has never officially supported any AMD processor); and the Rampage II Extreme, although it worked, had very poor performance on any SATA disk except the boot disk.
If you plan to acquire new hardware for a Hackintosh, Gigabyte motherboards and mid-range NVIDIA graphics cards have the best overall support. In the Insanely Mac forums, you'll see threads tagged as "[GUIDE]"; these contain detailed instructions on getting OS X installed on specific motherboards, and are excellent starting points since they contain detailed instructions and often specific installers and utilities that have been tested and are known to work. If you like having the very latest hardware in your systems, be aware that it can sometimes take quite a while for support for any specific component to become available. For example, Radeon 5xxx series video cards have been out for more than a year, but it's only in the last couple of months that you've been able to easily run one of these cards on a Hackintosh.
The real Hackintosh masters code their own processor DSDTs and dig deep into kernel extensions, patching the correct device IDs into "info.plist" files and hoping the drivers will match up for their hardware, olr even peeling the drivers out of new OS X updates and building kernel extensions from scratch using Apple's free "XCode" development environment. If this level of geekery appeals to you, have fun, but most people will want to stick with a known solution.
Several commenters pointed out that my cost comparison was skewed in favor of the Hackintosh since the "equivalent" Mac Pro I built using the Apple Store configurator included 12G of Apple memory, which increased the price by $1,275 as compared to the $329 spent for the 12G of Crucial memory used in the Hackintosh. The $946 difference, they argue, should have been deducted from the Mac Pro side since even few Apple users will buy memory from Apple due to the high markup.
It's a valid point, but there are a few things to consider. One, Mac Pros (and other workstations) use ECC (error-correcting) memory, which is slightly more expensive (12G of DDR3 ECC memory for a Mac Pro in a 4G x 3 configuration is $369.99 at Ramjet.com). But even given the cost advantages of going with third party RAM, businesses and many professionals buying Mac Pros will choose to go with the Apple memory for warranty reasons. Although I can't find any sales figures, I suspect the majority of Mac Pro sales go to businesses rather than individuals; in any case, the cost comparison's whole purpose was to compare the cost of "doing it yourself" with "buying it all from Apple", and substituting third party parts renders the comparison invalid. High memory prices are common the workstation world: HP charges $300 for a single 4G DDR3-1333 ECC DIMM (the same memory current Mac Pros use) for their Z800 workstation, making 12G a $900 proposition...less than Apple's cost, but still very high.
So, how's your Hackintosh experience?
Very smooth so far, thanks for asking. I do all my day-to-day work in OS X, and I've been using my Hackintosh exclusively for more than a month. I've had no problems to report (except that I never did get the IDE port working, which is annoying, since it seems to work for everyone else). It's run everything I've thrown at it, including Apple-specific things like the Magic Trackpad drivers, Time Machine, and a few system updates that have come out since the original article was published. Adobe's CS5 Suite works fine, as do programs like Microsoft Office 2008, iLife '11, Eclipse, and drivers for my HP 8500 all-in-one printer and Canon and Fujitsu scanners. Even Apple's "Rosetta" emulator, which supports older PowerPC-based programs, runs smoothly. In fact, the only thing I know of that doesn't work well on a Hackintosh is Apple's aforementioned "Boot Camp" software (which enables a Mac to boot directly into Windows), but since a Hackintosh can do this already, it's not a concern.
As I mentioned above, I tried multiple motherboards before finding one that worked well, and this experience highlights a couple of significant advantages of OS X: first, there's only one non-server version (as opposed to the 6 Windows 7 versions distributed in North America), and second, there's no activation process, so swapping out hardware won't cause your system to start insisting you call Apple to re-certify it. Again, remember that the stability and functionality of your Hackintosh is highly dependent upon the hardware you start with.
I'm confident enough in my Hackintosh that I'm planning to sell my 2006-vintage Intel-based Mac Pro, something I wouldn't have thought I'd be saying when I wrote the original article. But my Hackintosh is faster and much cheaper than most current Mac Pros, and I like having the ability to do things like easily upgrade my processor. I still wouldn't recommend a Hackintosh for those who aren't comfortable building and maintaining their own systems, but if you're reading this, you probably are. So have fun!
Would you build a Hackintosh computer? Leave your comment below, or start a thread in our Forum.