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August 28, 2010 12:06 PM   Subscribe

Am I crazy for considering a Hackintosh?

It's that time of the decade, and I'm shopping around for a new computer. My Mac Mini (1.66Ghz Core Duo) is becoming a bit long in the tooth, and I'd like to repurpose it as a Media Center PC. Lightroom is unbearably slow on it, Portal doesn't work, and goodies like 802.11n would be nice. Although I'd love to replace it with another Mini, Apple's current selection has barely improved over 4 years ago. No way I'm paying $700 for a machine that's less than 1.5x as fast.

On the other end of the spectrum, the iMac fits my needs quite well, but is oh-so-expensive. Building an AMD or i5-based Hackintosh seems like a reasonable compromise, as I could assemble a pretty decent machine in a Micro-ATX case for around $600.

Technical competence is not an issue -- I've built more Windows/Linux machines than I can remember, and am an IT guy by trade. However, one of the nice things about an Apple-based system is that "everything just works." Scattered reports of Apple updates breaking hackintoshes scare me, and I can't get a straight answer about whether 10.6.4 actually works on non-apple hardware.

tl;dr -- Hackintosh users: What is the current state of affairs? How much effort will be required to get a usable (small and quiet) desktop system running, and how much effort is required to keep it running, and current on patches? Any regrets? Should I just pony up the extra $600 for the iMac? Specific requirements are: Quiet, low-ish power consumption, 802.11n, and the ability to sleep and resume as seamlessly as a "real mac."

Yes, this has been discussed before, although the last time was several months ago. Google's turned up a bunch of out-of-date guides, and interest as of late seems to have waned. Is this because everybody who wants a Hackintosh already has one, or because all of those users have given up in frustration?
posted by schmod to Computers & Internet (23 answers total) 11 users marked this as a favorite
In my experience, it is far, far to avoid all that hassle and just get a real Mac.

(to note, I'm a real life computer security person, who has 3 SSH windows open right now, and I have no trouble building hardware, etc. It is just a big pain for nothing. If you want a self-built computer, just stick with one of the better Linux distros. If you want the Mac experience, get one.)
posted by Threeway Handshake at 12:11 PM on August 28, 2010

Have a look at the refurb iMacs. Great deals there.

We were -> <>Synology diskstation I asked about earlier (very pleased). It'll be an iMac for sure next year.

With a Hackintosh, you always have that worry that Steve will break something and you won't have a 'puter for awhile until the community comes up with a patch. With a primary machine, instead of a fuckingaround machine, I wouldn't dare risk it.
posted by seanmpuckett at 12:15 PM on August 28, 2010

If I were you, I'd be looking at a new Mac Mini. I love the fact that if anything goes wrong, I can pop the little sucker in my backpack (or camera bag!!!) and take it to the Genius Bar for free hands-on tech support. Granted, I've only had to do that once, but it was easy to do.

The new Mini is a huge step up from your Mini. If you go this route, make sure you load that sucker up with ram.
posted by 2oh1 at 12:45 PM on August 28, 2010

No way I'm paying $700 for a machine that's less than 1.5x as fast.

I understand your trepidation but my old MacBook Pro with a Core Duo is much slower than my current Core 2 Duo MacBook Pro. Clock speed is less of a measure of raw performance as it once was.

If you get a PC and do Hack it to run Mac OS X there's always going to be that possibility security patch may come along you'd want, but will break it. Or your sound card stops working, etc. To me, part of the appeal of Macs is not having to worry about that shit and the price premium amortized over the life of the computer is manageable. If it were me, I'd get another Mac (used if a new one if out of reach) or look at Linux or learn to love Win7.
posted by birdherder at 12:50 PM on August 28, 2010

If your primary goal is to run OSX for application support, I would suggest a VM. For about the same price as a mac mini you can assemble a system with a hexacore phenom with your requirements that will virtualize like a champ. On the other hand, if you want to use OSX as your primary OS, I would recommend a refurb imac because the process of keeping an updated hackintosh system as your primary has a high opportunity cost. As others have pointed out already, updates often break the system, and the time it takes for the community to find a workaround varies significantly.
posted by palionex at 1:09 PM on August 28, 2010

Just to add that if you do decide to go this route, look at the specific builds that appear to work best and require the least number of customized files, which usually favors systems with hardware fairly comparable to the ones in the original macs.
posted by palionex at 1:15 PM on August 28, 2010

From my experience, and that of others I know, Hackintoshes are still a bit like custom or vintage cars: you spend five nights a week tinkering with it to run it on the weekend, then it's back into the garage for more work. They're not like Civics.

The process of getting OS X installed is simpler than it was, but you still have to be careful in your choice of core hardware and even then expect certain things not to work or to break in annoying ways, then need to trawl around forums and whatnot for fixes.
posted by holgate at 1:22 PM on August 28, 2010

I don't have an answer for you on the hackintosh front, but a number of VMs perform software emulation of a graphics adapter. Using a VM for graphics-intensive work (games, Lightroom, etc.) may not work well.
posted by Blazecock Pileon at 1:30 PM on August 28, 2010

I was gifted with a Hackentosh, and at the risk of seeming ungrateful, I wish I'd gotten the machine with a Windows install.

I love Mac OS. I hate Windows. Personal preference, I'm not here to debate the relative merits. But half of the hardware on my Hackentosh isn't recognized. No ethernet, no Bluetooth, no wireless. The audio in/out is odd at best.

At this point I'm debating whether I'd rather have Windows or Linux on it, because I'm pretty sure I could get a significant performance increase if I ditch X.
posted by lekvar at 1:35 PM on August 28, 2010

Best answer: I specifically built my primary (quiet) workstation as a hackintosh, i.e. picking the motherboard, GPU etc. I'm using it now, and I'm back on windows 7. I'm also an IT pro with a bunch of linux servers at work.

Yes, 10.6.4 works on hackintoshes - the biggest problem with I think was apple retired several drivers from the kernel, including breaking sound for several realtek chipset varients in 10.6.3. 10.6.4 wasn't much different to 10.6.3, which is why there's not much about it. I think it made sata drives use the orange external drive icon instead of the white internal icon, but that was about it.

I did get it all working in the end*, with a bunch of custom kexts, modding, modded DSDT etc. Once you figure out which of the mutually incompatible 'tweaks' you use to get sound, networking, and especially GPU aceleration working it's relatively straightforward to do it again. Definitely a learning curve though.

On the whole though, it was more effort than it was worth - and it is *not* uncommon for a point update to break one or more driver components. The analogy with a classic car is apt - it's fun if you enjoy the tinkering in and of itself, but if your goal is to get a reliable car that never breaks down, a hackintosh is not the way to go.

If you do go down that round, and don't mind a few nights of reading forums to try and figure out which method you want to solve a given problem, I'd recommend the iboot multibeast route, with supported hardware.

A core i5 or i3 with a gigabyte P55 or P55A board is likely going to the best for compatibility, though there's a list with pre-modded DSDT's available here and picking one of those will make your life WAY easier. Modding your own DSDT is possible, but not for the faint at heart.

Bear in mind, with the new mac minis, they have FAR more powerful GPUs now - that does make a big difference. You've got one of the early minis with an intel GPU on it, and the nvidia chipset they have now makes a helluva difference, especially since it's just been refreshed to an nvidia 320M. OK, it's going to struggle a bit with crysis on max, but anything less than that it will play no problem at all. Going from a core duo to 45nm cure 2 duo is a big step up, with a core i3 or i5 even more so, regardless of clockspeed.

For me, I spend all day fixing servers, and debugging strange computer issues. When I get home, I'm kinda of sick of it and the hackintosh - while it does work - was too much effort for me. I use centos on my home server, and windows on the desktops and laptop, and it's less grief. Incidentally, getting linux working now is WAY easier than a hackintosh. Building a hackintosh is like linux was back in the mid-to-late 90's, even with supported hardware.

*I got it all working up to dualhead on a single card. I use two card triplehead, and couldn't get it working with 3D accel, even with two 9400 cards that worked fine individually. Oh, and sleep was flaky as buggery. Works flawlessly in windows. *shrug*
posted by ArkhanJG at 2:39 PM on August 28, 2010 [1 favorite]

BTW BP, lightroom and portal are both available as native OSX programs these days, but even with a native intel GPU, they'll suck hard.

But yes, running GPU intensive apps under virtualization is usually a bad idea.
posted by ArkhanJG at 2:42 PM on August 28, 2010

Oh, and I do have an older mac mini (2.4 Core 2 Duo, intel GPU) which is why I tried to build a better spec'd hackintosh, and gave up after a few weeks of using it.
posted by ArkhanJG at 2:46 PM on August 28, 2010

Hackintoshes have always been pretty sketchy. They sort of work, but likely as not, you'll spend a ton of time futzing around trying to get all your hardware recognized. Have you considered linux? The newest versions of Ubuntu "just work" (really!) and will install on pretty much any netbook. You can even theme it to look like OSX, if that's your style.
posted by chrisamiller at 3:26 PM on August 28, 2010

I have a 2 year old Mac Mini (2GB RAM, Intel Core 2 Duo, P7350). I recently installed 32-bit Windows 7 on it, and it runs like a dream. All the wireless and Bluetooth and other hardware works perfectly. OSX also seems to run well, although I don't boot into it often.

My favourite thing about the Mac Mini is how silent it is. My USB 3.5" hard drive makes more noise.

I won't go into why I prefer to run Windows to OSX. They both have their advantages.
posted by Diag at 4:02 PM on August 28, 2010

I was in the exact same boat 6 months ago (built a hackintosh as a primary workstation after considering a Mac mini). It took me a month to get it 'stable,' and I only just finally figured out how to get MATLAB to run on it last night, but it's been a sweet project, and now I have a fully functional box that would have cost 6k to get the same specs from Apple.

Don't kid yourself, it's a good bit of work (although this was also my first build, and first experience using any Apple developer tools at all), but there are folks out there who will help along the way. Feel free to send me a MeMail/email if you want to discuss it in detail.
posted by solipsophistocracy at 5:45 PM on August 28, 2010

Response by poster: Geekbench scores for a new Mac Mini are around 3350 -- the same benchmark on my 1.66GHz Core Duo scores 2200, whereas the cheapest current iMac scores around 5800, and the one-step-up model scores around 6000 (seriously?). Unless you can convince me that this benchmark is meaningless, a new Mac Mini really is out of the question. I tend to keep my computers for a rather long time, so I'm a bit apprehensive about buying a PC that's already outdated. I'm retiring this one a year or two early, because I've got other plans for the machine.

Gaming isn't really a huge concern -- I've got a PS3. The Lightroom performance is more troubling to me.
posted by schmod at 5:52 PM on August 28, 2010

I specifically bought hardware to be a hackintosh. Researched all the hardware and ensured that everything I bought was known to work and had guides on how to set it up/configure it.

It sits proudly on my desk ... running Windows 7.

Getting OS X on it was a disaster. All the guides turned out to be out of date, referenced files no longer available or was just plain wrong. I spent many hours looking at yet another failed install, sad face or corrupted display.

A shame as I wanted to try OS X with a view to maybe buying a Mac at some point - however I probably won't bother with either now.
posted by mr_silver at 7:35 PM on August 28, 2010

Best answer: My experience has been contrary to most everyone else's in this thread.

Two years ago, I specifically bought hardware to do a hackintosh (Gigabyte EP45-DS3L board, Q6600, nVidia 9400 video card). It took me about two full days of tinkering to get Leopard up and running on it. In particular, it took me a long time to get my graphics card recognized. I ended up having to generate some long-ass string using a bunch of low-level graphics utilities. And even then there were some quirks (onboard network dropping out for random reasons, sound breaking after every point update.)

But once it was up and running, I was WAY happier with my hackintosh than I was with my Macbook Pro at the time. Not only was the hackintosh significantly faster, but my desk was no long a cluster of hard drive cases and other assorted cables. I went ahead and sold the MBP for more than what I paid for the hackintosh and never looked back.

When Snow Leopard came out, I did a completely new install using this thread. At least with this particular board and nVidia graphics cards, you're able to do pretty much a vanilla install (i.e. you don't have to modify any system files, you only need to put a couple of kext files in a separate directory that point updates will never touch). It's been running rock-steady since I got it installed.

Development has come to the point that just about everything (graphics, sound, networking, even Intel speedstepping) is automatically recognized and you don't have to futz around with modifying DSDT files. Basically, all you have to put is a few lines like "EnableGraphics = Y" and "EnablePStates = Y" in a single configuration file, and everything is good to go.

I'm especially happy with my decision to go hackintosh in terms of the way Apple absolutely screws over photographers or anyone who cares about color accuracy. Macbooks and Mac Minis are underpowered (although I hear the very latest Mac Minis aren't that underpowered), Mac Pros are overkill, MBPs are expensive relative to their power (especially if you don't need a mobile computer), and while iMacs can be great deals, their inconsistent screens ruin them for anything approach color consistency.
posted by alidarbac at 9:03 PM on August 28, 2010 [1 favorite]

I recently built a Hackintosh out of a system I've had for a couple of years using kakewalk. Out of the box, everything worked except for sound, but I was able to find a driver to install on Insanely Mac and now every piece of hardware works, including the onboard audio. Gigabit ethernet worked out of the box.

I have a Gigabyte P35-DS3R that is not even on the list of supported boards for kakewalk. I simply picked a P45 board from kakewalk's list that seemed to have hardware similar to mine and everything worked fine. I installed using my 10.6 disc- no kernel hacking needed.
posted by globotomy at 11:25 PM on August 28, 2010

To get OS X to boot on a non-apple system, you need to have drivers that are of .. unknown provenance. There is no way to tell if someone inserted a key logger or back door into any of the drivers (which obviously run with full administrator privileges), or in a package that is installed by default. Not worth the risk, for me.
posted by Geckwoistmeinauto at 7:00 AM on August 29, 2010 [1 favorite]

Stating the obvious:memory, memory, memory. I went from 2-4 GB and using Photoshop/illustrator simultaneously, which was a dog became a breeze. Lightoom will be the same: give that sucker as many GB s you can.....
posted by lalochezia at 3:43 PM on August 29, 2010

I helped my wife build a Hackintosh early last year, and when, in the fullness of time, she found that she needed something more laptop shaped. I took over the desktop machine. Since then, I have done exactly nothing to keep it running, and it is still ticking along just fine.

It's roll is primarily that of a media server, but it's also been used for non-linear video, photo editing, and a multitude of other process heavy jobs, at which it has performed perfectly.

The machine we built cost about $1500, the comparable Mac would have been three or four times that.

If you have the energy, time, and patience, a very solid machine can be had for a fraction of the cost. But truth be told, when push came to shove, she did end up buying herself an actual Mac (laptop).
posted by quin at 2:25 PM on August 30, 2010

Response by poster: Well, y'all have successfully scared me off. Looks like I'll be paying a visit to the Apple store soon. That 27" model is absurd, but so tempting.
posted by schmod at 6:28 PM on August 30, 2010

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