Building the imperfect beast, part I: The gathering storm


— 10:25 PM on February 7, 2010

Few people ever request a slower computer. Mainly because Microsoft Word has yet to find a processor or operating system it couldn"t grind to a halt in the name of "font menu optimization." Like getting your tax refund or a prostate exam (please, God, let there be a written test for that by the time I hit 40), faster is better. However, upgrading to a faster machine means shelling out some bucks. Relatively speaking, computers are cheap for amount of power they possess. But in absolute terms, cash is cash, and I prefer mine in to be invested in my kids" college fund—aka dad"s Ferrari 458 Italia fund—than in a hunk of silicon and solder, no matter how powerful said hunk may be. Unless, of course, it can get all "Weird Science" on me and output the sexy shape of, well, the aforementioned Ferrari. (I"m married, and I"d like to keep it that way.)

So, when the day finally arrived last year to get a new machine to replace my late-2006 MacBook Pro 2.16GHz, I did what anyone with two toddlers and a third on the way would have done—I stood outside the nearest Apple store and wept softly until a Genius wandered close enough for me to kick in him the nether regions. But when I landed a new full-time gig, which landed me both consistent cash flow and a shiny, new unibody MBP 2.8GHz, I decided it was time to pass on my old laptop to the Missus and achieve a Higher State of Power. Yes, my people, I mean the Power of the Quad Core.

Unfortunately, power in the world of Apple does not come cheap enough for a man whose children insist on contributing nothing to the bottom line. I can"t even get them to make a decent pair of Nikes. Dropping a couple grand or more—and trust me, it"s always more when I get done spec'ing a new machine—on a Mac Pro was not going to happen with serious consequences to my own nether regions. Regions that I value at around $3,999. Obviously, the cost-benefit analysis favored keeping the boys intact. This left one logical option: build a Hackintosh.

Yes, it was time to return to my metaphorical Amiga roots and dive into kext files, BIOS settings, custom mods, and hardware exorcisms to build, if not a better Mac, a Mac that was good enough, cheap enough and, doggone it, powerful enough to vaporize Al Franken with a single keystroke.

It was time to get dirty.

Before diving into the weeds, let me state the goals of this project. I wanted a stable machine running 10.6.2 that was similar in speed to a current quad core Mac Pro of like processor speed. And I wanted it to be cheaper, naturally. My goal was not to build the cheapest version or the fastest version. In fact, my main objective was to build the easiest version.

It took all of five minutes of Google searching to discover that not only are there hundreds, thousands, or even five people out in the world building Hackintoshes, but there are a similar number of ways in which they all go about it. Of one thing I could be sure: while there was no one right way to build a working FauxMac, there were scores of ways to build a genuine brick.

I began my voyage at OSx86Project, which is, for the most part, a giant wiki full of FAQs, hardware compatibility lists (HCLs, to those in the know) and the like. It is also a great place to go if you want to make your head hurt. This is not the fault of the OSx86 guys. Or maybe it is. I was too busy popping acetaminophen to notice.

From there, I headed over to InsanelyMac. InsanelyMac, as I discovered, is actually the news and forum side of the OSx86 Project. This did not help my head. However, I powered through both sites and, after poring over guides, questions, HCLs, and animated gif avatars of varying quality, realized what I had to do to build my own Hackintosh.

I had to find someone who had already done it successfully and copy what he or she did exactly.

And find that person I did in the guise of Adam Pash over at Lifehacker.com. Adam originally posted a guide in early September 2009 entitled How to Build a Hackintosh with Snow Leopard, Start to Finish. This guide included a complete hardware list and step-by-step instructions on installing 10.6 from a retail Snow Leopard install DVD. A fair amount of Terminal work was involved, but copy and pasting remains a remarkably easy skill to master. However, just a couple of weeks after his initial post, Adam had already published the even easier Install Snow Leopard on Your Hackintosh PC, No Hacking Required. "No hacking" meant "no Terminal work," which would be a real time saver. All I really needed was the SL DVD, which I already owned, and a 16GB USB thumb drive, which a quick jaunt to Fry"s "Trust Us, We Wear Suits" Electronics Megalopolis procured.

After following Adam"s instructions, I prepped the thumb drive with an image of the Snow Leopard install disc modified to boot on a PC. Would it work? I had no way of knowing—I had yet to buy, beg, borrow or steal a single component for my new beast. Obviously, the time to do so was at hand.

"Hey, Scott, whatcha got lying around in The Tech Report parts bin?"

Tune in next time for Part 2: MOBO Assembly and Other Ways to Inspire New Curse Words.

Later,

Fox

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