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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.

Cost Issues

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.


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Comments 

 
# RE: The Apple Hackintosh ExperienceStuart 2010-11-03 03:30
I thought it was a violation of the license to hack Mac OS X to run on anything other than a Mac?

Would it then be ok to "borrow" content from this site and publish it elsewhere?

I'm really surprised that this kind of thing would be condoned by Benchmark Reviews.
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# LOL @ StuartIan 2010-11-03 05:17
Well Stuart, it appears you are an advocate of the Apple Rights Movement. Apple have always and will always cater to the sheep, the technologically spoon fed idiots that eat up every word Mr Jobs says. If we can't take matters into our own hands and use their software while not being extorted by stupidly high hardware and upgrade costs, then what kind of geeks are we??
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# RE: LOL @ StuartStuart 2010-11-03 15:05
If you don't like Jobs, or their prices, don't use their products. It's very simple.

I'm not really an advocate of anything Apple. I just felt I should point out that people who run OS X on non-Apple hardware are violating the terms of the software license. It's not ethical.
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# RE: RE: The Apple Hackintosh ExperienceDavid Ramsey 2010-11-03 06:57
Stuart, you'll have to explain how purchasing a legal copy of Snow Leopard and installing it on my own hardware (as described in the original article) is equivalent to stealing content from this site. I gotta say, I don't get it. Apple's EULA does say that the OS should only be installed on Apple hardware (a point I also covered in the original article), but the legality of this requirement has never been determined for individuals. If you don't feel you should do it, fine, but the issue is not as black-and-white as you make it out to be.
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# RE: RE: RE: The Apple Hackintosh ExperienceSome guy 2010-11-03 15:07
You made a mistake in the original cost estimate. You put $30 for snow leopard, but that is the UPGRADE version. Legally you are required to buy either the $129 boxset or the $499 server version of snow leopard since the hackintosh computer didn't have any version of OS X on it to begin with.
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# RE: RE: RE: The Apple Hackintosh ExperienceStuart 2010-11-03 15:27
It's very black and white. You're violating the license and are thus not entitled to use the software. End of story.

Let's say I go to a grocer and want to buy an orange, but he says he only sells oranges and pears together. So, while he's not looking I throw down some money and take the orange anyway. That's theft. I didn't have permission to take his property.

Whether or not you think Apple's license is legal or not is immaterial. The point is that you're violating the terms of their license, and that makes you the bad guy.
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# RE: RE: RE: RE: The Apple Hackintosh ExperienceOlin Coles 2010-11-03 16:01
Stuart, that's a horrible analogy. A better one would be that he was told that he could only buy an Orange if he made OJ with it, but instead he used it for something else.

Additionally, which hardware in a computer is made by Apple? The last I checked, the processor, motherboard, video card, hard drive, memory, and power supply all came from the same manufacturers we use to build a Hackintosh. Maybe even the exact same parts.
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# RE: RE: RE: RE: RE: The Apple Hackintosh ExperienceDavid Ramsey 2010-11-03 16:25
The motherboards, cases, and power supplies are all custom Apple parts. Processors, memory, disk drives/SSDs, and video are standard parts.
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# RE: RE: RE: RE: RE: RE: The Apple Hackintosh ExperienceOlin Coles 2010-11-03 16:32
You'll notice I didn't say anything about the case, but the power supply and motherboard both come from an OEM. Foxconn makes the motherboard, and Channelwell makes most of their PSUs.
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# RE: RE: RE: RE: RE: RE: RE: The Apple Hackintosh ExperienceDavid Ramsey 2010-11-03 16:37
Quite true. In 1984, I was part of a tour of Apple's new Mac factory in Fremont, CA, which at the time was one of the most automated factories in the world, busily churning out 128K Macs and 512K "Fat Macs." That was back when Apple (and many other companies) actually did manufacturer products in this country.
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# RE: RE: RE: The Apple Hackintosh ExperienceStuart 2010-11-03 15:29
continued...


I am by no means an advocate of anything Apple. I just wanted to point out that what you're doing is not ethical. It also harms the company whose product you're so in love with that you'd lie and cheat to get it.

If you simply must have Mac OS X, then buy a Mac. If you can't handle that, then buy Windoze, or run Linux or something. (I'd suggest you run Linux or FreeBSD, but I'd also suggest that you donate to free software projects, either monetarily or by doing work for them.)
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# RE: RE: RE: RE: The Apple Hackintosh ExperienceDavid Ramsey 2010-11-03 15:44
That's certainly one point of view, Stuart. As it is I know Apple employees who have built Hackintoshes, and I personally have been buying Macs since 1984, when I gladly paid $2,500 for a single-floppy Mac with 128K (that's one eight-thousandth of a gigabyte, for you kids out there).

Since then I've spent probably upwards of $50,000 on Macs. I've had three Mac Pros, and my current list comprises three Mac laptops, an XServe, three Mac Minis, one Mac Mini Server, a Cube, and a 20th Anniversary Mac. It's virtually certain that I'll buy more Macs in the future. Oh, yeah, lest I forget: and an iPad and am currently on my fourth iPhone.

As I pointed out in the original article, this does violate the EULA. But honestly, my conscience isn't bothering me much right now. Whether it's ethical is arguable; personally, I don't get my sense of ethics from corporate lawyers.
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# RE: RE: RE: RE: The Apple Hackintosh ExperienceDavid Ramsey 2010-11-03 15:51
Perhaps more to the point, I'm sympathetic to the opinion that says I bought the software, I own it, I can do whatever the hell I want to with it. Especially since the "Cannot use on anything except an Apple-branded computer" restriction does not appear on the Snow Leopard packaging or any of the material inserts in the packaging (I just looked); you have to read the EULA _as it's being installed_.

Since you like examples, how about this: if the EULA stated I must wear argyle socks to install the software, and I didn't do so, would that be unethical?
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# RE: The Apple Hackintosh ExperienceRealNeil 2010-11-03 06:44
Thanks for the update. Good information here if I ever do build one of these things.
I have a 24" iMac already and I'm happy with the way it works so far. I understand the reasons for building a Hackincrack, but first, would not need one so powerful, and second, would not like babysitting it all of the time just to keep it working. (referring to updates and how they can break you) I have a friend who has had one of these things for years and he loves it. He says that part of it's allure is that he's not supposed to.
On another level, it appeals to me just to see if I can do it. Ha-Ha!
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# captain awesomebillydwilliams 2010-11-03 09:31
i like how you say you don't need a system so powerful realneil, but why are you so satisfied with horribly inferior performance today, let alone the total lack of upgradability in the future. i can understand it from the average apple user, but someone who reads benchmark reviews you'd figure would be more keen to get better value for their money, and try something a little out of the box. while i do love the screen on the new IPS imacs, the fact that they cannot be used as a stand alone monitor WHEN the hardware fails is a giant deal killer for me, i dunno they make great software, but i just can't subscribe to the steve jobs rancho relaxo retirement fund. they make so much more money than i do, i'm sure they'd want me to keep more of it this way anyway
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# RE: captain awesomeDavid Ramsey 2010-11-03 13:17
What "horribly inferior performance" would this be? Macs use the same Intel Core i3/5/7 processors as PCs do, and provide similar performance at stock clock speeds. You can't overclock them (easily), but most consumer PCs have BIOSes that don't permit overclocking either.

The iMacs have the same upgradeability limitations as all-one-one computer from Hewlett-Packard, Sony, MSI, Dell, etc. and yet somehow this never seems to be an issue with them.
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# Cut the ethical crapThe Truth 2010-11-03 16:49
Apple rips people off. Every person who builds a Hackintosh rather than buys an overprice lump of plastic is taking money directly from Steve Jobs, and that can only be a good thing.

Although it's better to obtain Mac OS X from a torrent site than purchase it.

The main reason Apple doesn't want anyone to install their (naff) OS on standard PC hardware is because it proves that there is nothing special about a Mac, except its stupid case, fruity logo and ridiculous price. Once the average moron realises that, they'll look a lot less magical.
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# Stuart - perfect buyerresere 2010-11-04 07:05
1st. nice article. This and the previous one about HackIntosh.
2nd. the power of an user is TO KNOW. research, try, make it work.
3rd. Stuart: did u EVER use a coin as a screwdriver? then you deserve to die, buoy. i paid for a microscope, ok? i can brake nuts if i want to. end of story. worst case scenario is to lose the WARANTY, but nothing else.
4th. Stuart: such an idiot. from your pov the Inquisition should never change.
omg, watta id*ot.

BmR, keep up the good work.
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# CEOjack edelson 2010-11-05 11:59
Rediculous, 1st it falls under copyright infringment, 2nd Our company, Smartbyte Systems, Inc. has been building multiple OS systems since 1981. Recently linux has gotten so refined (check out ULTIMATE 2.8) that a Windows 7 Pro 64 install which includes a kde and gnome linux installation (TRIPLE BOOT SYSTEM WITH HD MENU) has far surpassed what Mac has done lately----and it's all free!!!!! So, if my customer chooses not to upgrade to Windows 8 they can continue using Windows 7, and the other 2 free systems which trump the MAC as far as 3d experience.
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# PC Hackintosh can easily surpass MacRicardo 2011-02-08 14:41
Hey, great article. As you, I build and mantain my own Hackintosh, on a AMD Phenom X6, running SN 10.6.6. Even with some minor issues, that I always solve, my Hackintosh scores +-8000 in benchmarks, surpassing the Xeon based Mac Pro, that costs 5 times more than my entire computer(+LED monitor)costed. Here in Brazil, by the laws, I don't need to buy one thing to run especificaly on another (something like married sell), so like a wise guy said, if I have the original operational system, I can install it in what I want, even on my freezer!!!
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# RE: PC Hackintosh can easily surpass MacDavid Ramsey 2011-02-08 14:44
I'm impressed: getting a Hackintosh running on an AMD system is harder than getting one running on an Intel system.
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# AMD-HackintoshArjan 2011-02-26 13:13
I had OS X on my AMD Hackintosh, too. It is indeed a bit harder but there's a new kernel (called Legacy Kernel) which supports most AMD CPUs and older Intel Pentium 4's and Atom CPUS too. Unfortunately, it had also the AHCI Problem but in another way. I had to set it to IDE>AHCI in my Foxconn BIOS when i wanted OSX to boot and set it back to Native IDE Sata mode to boot Windows (7). Else windows takes half an hour to start up. And it looked like it broke down an HDD much faster than Windows, due to slower performance and lots of I/O writes. Therefore, it was a great experience to have running but i have switched back to Windows 7 (super fast on dual core and only 2gb of ram with 9400gt video) and sometimes use ubuntu in a VirtualBox. Good luck evryone with their Hackintosh systems!!!
From the Netherlands
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# RE: AMD-HackintoshDavid Ramsey 2011-02-26 13:23
Wonder why you'd need to switch to IDE mode to boot Windows? In any case, again, I'm impressed with people getting OS X running on AMD systems!
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# Trolls - go elsewhere!Bigstick 2012-02-29 14:16
I thought this was an excellent article, very informative!
The one thing that always gets me is the Windows trolls that seem to go out of their way to diss Apple, while at the same time claiming Apple users are 'fanbois'.
For God's sake people, get a life and go and do something constructive with your time. If you can't add anything positive, coherent and civil, why bother going to the effort of posting?
If people want to use OS X, but resent Apple's massive profit margins, and are prepared to pay for your OS, morally you are not stealing. It's certainly not harming the most valuable company in the world, so please spare us your righteous indignation.
As for me, I want to build a hackintosh. Windows 7 is good but I like the fact that I don't have to worry about viruses or a bloated registry that gets screwed up periodically. Articles like this help a lot but pointless comments from petty minded trolls got boring a long time ago.
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