Building my own Mac?
May 30, 2007 12:48 PM   Subscribe

I am going to be buying/building a new computer soon to replace my Powerbook G4 and I am debating whether to get a Windozer or a new Mac. I thought I might be able to build my own X86 machine and install OSX on it using something like OSX86. Has anyone done something like this?

I really enjoy OSX but I am fed up with Apple's subpar graphics chips and their expensive customization options. I want to get a new desktop to replace my Powerbook and, if I choose to go with Windows, I can build the computer myself. However, I recently read about projects that allow users to install OSX on X86 machines (admittedly illegally), so I thought this might be a good solution: I build the computer myself and install OSX on it. I just wondered if anyone else had done this or has any experience with such a setup. Or am I stuck with buying Apple's beautiful, expensive hardware? Thanks!
posted by Aanidaani to Computers & Internet (12 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
Why do you enjoy OSX so much that you need to continue on with it?

Could your enjoyment of OSX be replaced with one of the many other Un*x-alikes out there, but on whitebox PC hardware?

Or, is it parts of OSX which aren't available on Windows or Linux/*BSD which you want to keep?

On the hardware side, what's preventing you from buying a refurb Apple machine and putting a hotshit graphics card and third-party hard drives and RAM in it?

It's been ages since you've needed to pay Apple's prices for RAM and HD, and looking at the desktop build-to-order prices on the processors, they seem comparable to what's listed on NewEgg. I'm really at a loss when looking for this huge perceived price gap you think is there.

Until Apple begins offering OSX for sale on non-Apple hardware, as you've mentioned, it's not legal. Past that, if you did get it working, you'd have to work to keep it working as Apple's updates might break the custom drivers and components from projects like OSX86.

I own too many Macs to admit to. That said, I have installed OSX86 as a novelty on several machines, but never kept it there, opting for either some Linux distro or BSD variant depending on the intended use of the box. But for me, because I understand the legality of the situation, and have weighed the diminishing gap of cost difference with the worth of my time to keep such frankensteins operable, I choose to buy the whole Magilla.
posted by tomierna at 1:42 PM on May 30, 2007

Supporting hardware requires drivers. So if you can get OSX86 working, you'd still pretty much be stuck with the same crummy video options as a regular Mac. Given that it is illegal and not very popular, you won't see official drivers nor user created drivers either.

If you want a Mac, just buy one. I like building machines so I'm not happy about the situation either but it is what it is. And tomierna is right. The price gap isn't as big as people make it out to be. It's there all right but it's not like you are paying double. You can also pick up one of Apple's refubs if you are are cheap (like me).
posted by chairface at 1:58 PM on May 30, 2007

I've done a ton of reading about OSX86. It takes some leg work to set it up correctly, after which it usually works. But, if you try to update to a new version of OSX, it usually breaks something.

Then it is a pain in the ass to wait for OSX86 patches that fix the issues. My 2c is that if you want to try OSX without purchasing a Mac, then go ahead. But if you want to enjoy OSX without the frustrations of hackish workarounds, then purchase a Mac.
posted by |n$eCur3 at 2:40 PM on May 30, 2007

I was in the same boat looking for a laptop recently. When it came to build, support, built in isight (to talk to the family when I'm at work late), etc. the open box macbook I found on Amazon was better for the money than anything I could have put Ubuntu on.
posted by monkeymadness at 3:01 PM on May 30, 2007

If you want the computer to be a tool, just buy a Mac.

If you want the computer to be your hobby, then try and cobble something together.
posted by The Deej at 3:28 PM on May 30, 2007

I moved from a G4 powerbook to a Vista Laptop - a Gateway CX210 convertible - earlier this year. A heresy I am fully aware may get me killed in some parts.

That said, I managed to get OSX86 running on it - but it wouldn't work with the tablet function, and in general just wasn't worth it - random lockups and other crashes. The touchpad wouldn't work, and so on. I didn't have any real expectations that it would work, and besides, OSX has no tablet support anyway - so I didn't put real effort into it.

I've found that Vista isn't half as bad as the press has made it out to be. It's not worth purchasing outright, but it's a decent enough improvement over XP. So, if you're not too wedded to OSX - and who should be, it's an OS for chrissake - then you might consider a vista laptop instead.
posted by Pogo_Fuzzybutt at 3:33 PM on May 30, 2007

Best answer: I just retired my dual 1ghz G4 two days ago.

If you check the hardware compatibility list on osx86 projects board, I highly doubt you'll have any problems.

In fact, one might be able to build an OSX box with a 250gb hdd and 2 gigs of ram for about $500 (without video card, cheap case) if you shop around properly. One might buy an Asus P5GV-MX (or something like) and a halfway decent video card from here or here.

Then again, one might become paranoid about the bogeyman coming to steal his bits in the night and install debian or ubuntu.

Plus, kibadock + beryl + RESTRAINT, YOU DAMN FREAKS = beautiful user interface.

So, here are your options:

A) Pay $500, break the law, and know that you're going to have to spend a wee bit more time knowing how your computer works.

B) Pay $500, don't break the law, and know that you're going to have to spend a wee bit more time knowing how your computer works.

C) Pay $500+N, don't break the law, get a warranty (I have nothing but love for Applecare) a prettier case, along with updates that probably won't have catastrophic repercussions.

If you're used to a mac, however, I don't think you'd be happy with Vista. I don't think my girlfriend would be happy with it, either. Of course, I may be wrong, as I'm a full-time mac/linux desktop user, but she isn't.
posted by onedarkride at 4:16 PM on May 30, 2007 [1 favorite]

Performance-wise I think XP can't be beat, especially if you're doing this for gaming. I'm not sure how OSx86 runs on custom PCs, but it's not bad on Intel Macs., even emulating windows within that.

Vista is a "user experience" OS much like WindowsME was back in the day...although Vista is vastly more impressive on the technical scale. The problem is though, is that it will demand more resources than XP even while idling, which will cause a noticeable drop in framerates, even with themes, extra services, and such turned off (or running in compatability mode). So if you're looking for the best performance you can get out of your hardware I'd stick with XP for now until DX10 compells you to upgrade.

For everything else (word processing, media, internet, graphic arts) the resource change is less noticeable, so you should be ok going the Vista route for the fancy environment.

For the OSx86 route, I think it's certainly doable on a custom PC...I just think you might run into a lot of interesting gotcha's by not using Apple hardware....but if it's for fun I say go for's definitely something worth bragging to other Apple customers about once its running :)
posted by samsara at 4:52 PM on May 30, 2007

Response by poster: Thanks for all the tips guys. OSX an unofficial x86 machine seems like a lot of hassle, so I think I'll just wait until WWDC to see what Apple's latest offerings are. Considering I get a student discount, it might be worthwhile to buy a new Mac, but if I don't see something I like, I 'll just build a PC with a Vista/XP-Ubuntu dual-boot.
posted by Aanidaani at 6:41 PM on May 30, 2007

I recently switched from XP to Vista, and I see no noticable decrease in gaming performance.

I have 2GB of RAM.
posted by BeaverTerror at 6:55 PM on May 30, 2007

If you are a bit computer saavy, building a OSX86 machine is pretty straightforward. It is a pretty fun project. That said, you definately want to check the wiki and forums for recommended hardware.

I didn't follow that advice and I tinkered with OS X on a Dell 3ghz box I had laying around, and it was a bit of a nightmare trying to get everything working, but now that it is, i'm amazed at how well the Intels run OS X. This 3ghz P4 blows the pants off my G5 dual 2.5.
posted by mphuie at 10:22 PM on May 30, 2007

mphuie: I had the same experience with my first 10.4.1 osx intel install on a crappy dell laptop. It took a lot of effort to get it installed (No SSE3, nic or wireless support, or sound at first) but once everything was working, it kicked the shit out of my dual 1ghz G4. That was a sad, sad day for me, and I never quite got over it.

Aanidaani: Seriously, I've never tried to pimp linux to anyone before the past few months, because I've never thought that anyone had made doing things in the GUI practical, let alone easy to do. I got fed up with my XP workstation at work, decided to give Ubuntu a serious try. I've been using debian since the dawn of time, and I still use it on server installs, but Ubuntu? Always seemed fluffy to me.

But now, I've changed my mind. If you want a computer that you use to work, and not work ON, go for it. I have friends who I would previously tell to reconsider their urges to run linux. Now I send them links and software repositories. Hell, they actually read the forums and solve a majority of their problems on their own, mostly via the GUI. I'd tell my sisters to install it.

But I'll shut up now.
posted by onedarkride at 4:27 AM on May 31, 2007

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