Building the imperfect beast, part I: The gathering storm

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

Comments closed
    • yogibbear
    • 10 years ago

    erohw tuls CAm

    • getbornagain
    • 10 years ago

    Is that a wheel of time reference in the title?

    • FubbHead
    • 10 years ago

    The title implies that the Mac is perfect. Hah! 🙂

    • Usacomp2k3
    • 10 years ago

    I’m guessing you have vendor lock-in on some apps that are OSX only? Otherwise this whole endeavor doesn’t make any sense at all.

    • floodo1
    • 10 years ago

    hahahah mac haters need to come up with new ammunition besides the one button mouse dig. It’s pretty hard to dig on mac mice or trackpads when they both do multitouch!

    there are plenty of legitimate things to complain about, most obviously cost. that said there is value that you get in exchange for paying that higher cost. Most people wouldn’t say that value is worth the cost, and I’d usually agree. But there is added value in terms of both service and some niceties of OSX.

    At the end of the day if you’ve never owned a mac your opinion of the merits of mac are worth as muchas you paid to buy one, which is NOTHING since you didn’t buy one 🙂

    Anecdotal evidence suggests OSX is really nice, since I know of only one person who used OSX extensively (albeit the crap days of 10.1 and 10.2) and doesn’t like it. He however thinks computers don’t really need cases, or that your case doesn’t really need side panels.

      • eitje
      • 10 years ago

      q[

        • rhema83
        • 10 years ago

        Having used both Thinkpads and Macbooks (polar opposites if you asked me) I think each has its merits. But in all honesty, I will not shell out the dough to buy a brand new Mac (any model, notebook or desktop). The value proposition is simply not strong.

        The average home user (like my wife) doesn’t care whether it is a Mac or PC, or whether it runs OSX or Windows. They simply want to do what they do (watch video, browse the web) the simplest way possible. And the simplest way is often the most familiar way. (Try switching my wife to OSX, I dare you.) Thus the Wintel HTPC sitting next to my TV – all in glossy black.

    • internetsandman
    • 10 years ago

    I was going to follow Adam’s guide, but the list of dreadfully outdated hardware has made me pursue more ambitious hardware configurations on a Gigabyte EX58A-UD3R. Mind you, I have even less cash flow than you, so actually getting the parts together has proven to be a long, tedious, and anxious process.

    • SomeOtherGeek
    • 10 years ago

    It will be fun following you.

    But I will honesty say that if I wanted to try out the Mac, I would run it via a VM.

    So, in that case, what is it a Mac can do that Windows can’t? I’m playing dumb here cuz I really don’t know and will not really bother to research why at Mac sites as there are just too many people there so full of themselves.

    • elmopuddy
    • 10 years ago

    Good one, can’t wait for rest of series

    • Shining Arcanine
    • 10 years ago

    Why not just install Linux on your machine and be done with it? Linux is likely supported on whatever hardware you would be using to install Mac OS X and I doubt Mac OS X would be supported on it. You would probably be better off in the long run with Linux.

      • MadManOriginal
      • 10 years ago

      Zealot Wars, part 1: Mac vs Linux. Fight!

      • eitje
      • 10 years ago

      Photoshop?

    • bender
    • 10 years ago

    Isn’t this illegal? Should TR be endorsing this?

      • Buzzard44
      • 10 years ago

      Illegal only counts in horse shoes and hand grenades.

      • grantmeaname
      • 10 years ago

      not illegal. Against the EULA. There’s a difference.

        • bender
        • 10 years ago

        Gotcha. So Apple could file a civil suit or something, but certainly no law exists barring this sort of thing.

        Was asking because of the whole Psystar thing, but that makes sense that Apple would go after someone trying to make a profit by breaking the EULA.

    • rhema83
    • 10 years ago

    Hey Jason, with i7 and i5 prices as they are today, are you sure you still want to build your new Hackintosh with an obselete LGA775 board and an old Core 2 Quad?

      • eitje
      • 10 years ago

      free is cheaper than i7 & i5 prices today. 😉

        • rhema83
        • 10 years ago

        Oops, I totally missed the point. So how does the TR parts bin look? Any P45 parts left? Or full of X58 and P55 goodies?

    • WillBach
    • 10 years ago

    My own MacBook Pro from late 2006 is getting long in the tooth. I voided my (recently expired anyway) waranty and upgraded the hard drive. I also added another GB of RAM. Between that and SL it’s fast again. Unfortunately, I’ll be using it mostly for resume building. 🙁

      • ImSpartacus
      • 10 years ago

      Upgrading the harddrive voids the warranty?

      Damn, I guess I’ll have to wait to put 2x2GB of RAM and an SSD in my MBP13.

        • FuturePastNow
        • 10 years ago

        Upgrading the RAM and hard drive in a Mac does not in any way void the warranty.

          • WillBach
          • 10 years ago

          Upgrading the RAM doesn’t void the warranty. I thought upgrading the HD would voids the warranty because you have to take the laptop almost completely apart to do it, but the Internet says that they’ll just refuse to service the laptop until you put the original drive back in. Who knew?

    • djgandy
    • 10 years ago

    The cause for most PC’s being slow is all the Dell,Toshiba,HP, Acer, Asus etc… crapware.

    Fresh windows vs OEM installed is like 486 against a Core 2.

    • djgandy
    • 10 years ago

    Doublepost.

    • YeuEmMaiMai
    • 10 years ago

    OMG another stupidd I hate MS and love MAC article. Who woulda ever thunk it ?

      • jasonalwaysready
      • 10 years ago

      i hate mac’s and this is interesting. don’t.

        • Buzzard44
        • 10 years ago

        this.

      • derFunkenstein
      • 10 years ago

      You know this particular area is a Mac blog, right?

        • ImSpartacus
        • 10 years ago

        Yes, and I’d like to keep it confined to one blog on the site.

        .P

          • derFunkenstein
          • 10 years ago

          awww, poor baby.

      • Kharnellius
      • 10 years ago

      OMG another stupidd trolling comment on a Mac blog! Who woulda ever thunk it ?

      BTW, he said nothing about hating MS…he’s just building a hackintosh. Stop trolling.

        • sabrewulf165
        • 10 years ago

        l[

          • Palek
          • 10 years ago

          Have you seen what happens when you open the font drop-down menu in Word/Excel/Powerpoint? The man has a point.

            • Usacomp2k3
            • 10 years ago

            Yes, it opens fine.

            • Palek
            • 10 years ago

            I have a 1.6 GHz Core 2 Duo, 1GB or RAM, and a somewhat speedy 5400 rpm HDD in my work laptop. When I open the font menu in Word 2003 for the first time it takes over 5 seconds to load. It really shouldn’t take that long.

            • Usacomp2k3
            • 10 years ago

            Takes 3 seconds on mine. (c2d 2ghz, 2gb, win7, office 2k7) Not a big deal at all.
            All in all, I’d much rather sacrifice that 3 seconds for the live preview of fonts.

            • Palek
            • 10 years ago

            I know it’s not a “deal breaker”-level problem, but it’s minor annoyances like this adding up that spoil the overall Microsoft experience somewhat. Please note, I’m no Microsoft hater, I use Windows systems exclusively. There is just so much room for improvement. (And I guess I will found out if there are any improvements when my employer moves us to Office 2007.)

            Another similarly annoying Microsoft quirk (quite possibly caused by the same font loading subroutine): open up an Excel spreadsheet and change the font setting of any populated cell – for example from normal to bold, or to a different colour. Excel (2003) will be unresponsive for about 4-5 seconds while the change takes effect. This only happens the first time you apply a font change – but why does it take 4-5 seconds, again?

      • maxxcool
      • 10 years ago

      Gah noez it’s monki fub chat mac dribbllez in the pools!?!? zerius o.0 oooo at noobly toolbag. artikl not lube jubitz trucking! diff route …. ‘<.>’ DUHHHHHH

    • Sargent Duck
    • 10 years ago

    /[<"Hey, Scott, whatcha got lying around in The Tech Report parts bin?"<]/ I can only drool thinking about what Scott has "left over" from all his reviews. Geoff probably has some good loot as well.

      • yokem55
      • 10 years ago

      A lot of the kit they get sent by the manufacturers to review probably has to be returned after publishing the article. Probably not all of it but most likely the high end pieces.

    • ilkhan
    • 10 years ago

    Or you buy a win7 disc and just hit the “install” button… And then It just works.

      • JustAnEngineer
      • 10 years ago

      Macophiles believe that anything that requires more than a single mouse button is complicated “hacking.”

      Back in the day, replacing soldered-on chips on an Amiga 1000 motherboard to install kickstart 1.3 ROMs… that was more like it.

        • derFunkenstein
        • 10 years ago

        1997 called. They want their one-button mouse jokes back.

          • bender
          • 10 years ago

          I think Macs are the one button mouse joke.

          I would absolutely buy a macbook pro and put 7 on there if the stupid things would come with a second button. Sexy hardware!

            • ShadowTiger
            • 10 years ago

            it would also be nice if the button wasn’t underneath your palm in the natural touchpad position.

            • Beelzebubba9
            • 10 years ago

            All modern Macs use Multi-Touch, and a two finger tap on the touchpad functions like a right click.

            Once I realized this, I bought one.

    • puppetworx
    • 10 years ago

    Very intrigued. Your tempting me into following suit.

    One criticism: I’d prefer a Ferrari 250 GTO. Never gonna happen but the unrealistic dream is comforting when I blow all my cash on tech.

      • Fighterpilot
      • 10 years ago

      A worthwhile dream however considering they only built 36 of them (if I recall correctly) you will have to queue behind me to get one of them.
      Please be sure to have $2 million handy as well 🙂

        • HammerSandwich
        • 10 years ago

        A 250 GTO for only $2M? If it’s been in a violent, fiery crash; then maybe.

    • PRIME1
    • 10 years ago

    l[

      • Kulith
      • 10 years ago

      I don’t think they actually request it, I think they get psychologically manipulated into thinking they are actually getting a faster computer.

      • Meadows
      • 10 years ago

      First witty comment I ever see from you, lol.

      • Kharnellius
      • 10 years ago

      I think you meant to say “netbooks”.

        • jdaven
        • 10 years ago

        Nah, in PRIME1’s eyes Netbooks don’t count because it doesn’t match his sarcastic remark.

        BTW, don’t you know? Netbooks are “designed” to be slow. That is their best feature apparently. And with Netbook prices starting to overlap CULV and Neo laptops, you will get a specially designed slower machine than faster more capable machines at the same price. These are the ultimate Netbooks and the ones everybody wants.

        BTW+2, Netbooks -1!

          • oken735
          • 10 years ago

          Its funny cause, the ipad is such a failure compared to even netbooks, and that is what the guys at apple have been trying to pass it off as a replacement to, lol

          not trying to troll, but just saying

            • jdaven
            • 10 years ago

            Uh, not a failure until we have a few quarters of sales data. I know the rapidness that was released on the internets after it became apparent that there was no camera, flash and multitasking but you and I aren’t the target markets for this thing. Our moms and little sisters are and I really don’t think they are going to notice.

            • Usacomp2k3
            • 10 years ago

            Agreed. I honestly think it will do much better than the Apple TV is doing. I can see potential, and if a few apps take advantage of it, I’d be very tempted to look into one.

            • Palek
            • 10 years ago

            There should be no doubt that it will be much-much more successful than the Apple TV. It most likely won’t replicate the success of the iPod / iPhone but it will sell in decent numbers.

            For the record, I would never by the Apple TV, and have no desire to own and iPhone or iPod Touch because they do not offer me (emphasis on “me”) one outstanding feature that they appear to do exceptionally well:
            1. The Apple TV is absurdly limited as a media center device
            2. The iPhone is not a very good mobile *[

      • derFunkenstein
      • 10 years ago

      Probably because they’re using your company’s video chipsets. ZING!

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