Building the imperfect beast, part II: mobo risin'

Hey hey, kids. In case you've forgotten or are too lazy to use a scroll wheel and/or Multi-touch Glass Trackpad of Satiny Goodness to look down the page, my last post recounted my initial steps in building a Hackintosh. Nonspecifically, I discussed my impetus for undertaking such a project and my research into finding the easiest—not necessarily the best—way to go about the build. It culminated in the glorious creation of a USB thumb drive with a modded copy of my Snow Leopard install DVD all set to boot on a PC. Except I didn't yet have the PC. Hence part II.

Before we dive into the joy that was component purchasing and assembly, I'd like to take a few dozen paragraphs and address a couple of the recurring questions that popped up in the comments section of the previous post:

  1. I'm not building this because I think Mac Pros are too expensive for what they are. Some think otherwise, and that's fine. You don't have to buy one either. I'm building a Hack because a Mac Pro is too expensive for me at this moment. Also, blog fodder.
  2. If I wanted to build a PC or Linux box I would've started a new blog called The WhyAmIBuildingAMachineForWhichIOwnNoSoftwareHole.
  3. This machine will not have the most up-to-date hardware. As you will discover momentarily. That's called resource constraints. Such is life.

So, with Adam Pash's hardware list from "How to build a Hackintosh with Snow Leopard, start to finish" firmly, if virtually, in hand, I set about to procure the necessary body parts for my Frankenmac. Believing that "free and better than most" is preferable to "best at any cost," I did the natural thing and harassed The Tech Report's founding mensch Scott "Damage" "Igor" Wasson to raid his parts bin. Scott kindly proffered a motherboard, video card, and processor, the details of which you can find below. All other bits and pieces were sourced from Amazon. Newegg was very slightly (as in about seven bucks total) cheaper, but I prefer Amazon's lack of a restocking fee, and I was (and always will be) still using a trail membership to Amazon Prime.

Without further ado about nothing, here are the somethings I purchased or purloined for this endeavor:

Gigabyte X38–DQ6 motherboard. Newest model? No. Cost-effective? Oh yes. Supports quad-core processors and up to 8GB of DDR2 RAM. Which means I'll have to sell off the RAM and get DDR3 if and when I get a more up-to-date mobo. It's a trade-off I was willing to make, since I'll probably use this until DDR27 comes out.

The Gigabyte is one bad mobo. Still in plastic for your protection.

Nvidia GeForce 9800 GTX video card with 512MB of RAM. The ultimate gaming video card? Not so much. But definitely beastly enough for my needs. Also, cost effective.

Warning: The GeForce 9800GTX may cause jaundice.

Intel Core 2 Extreme QX9650 CPU. Is it in an i5? No. An i7? No. Was it, say it with me, cost effective? Yes. Four cores at 3GHz (until overclocking, of course). Not exactly slow.

Like Peter Boyle, this heart once belonged to another.

Antec Sonata III 500 case. I seriously considered the Antec Three Hundred, but I decided the silicone hard drive mounts of the Sonata were worth the upgrade.

Naked? Yes. Hot? Not with a 120-mm fan! Thanks, try the veal.

8GB of Corsair 800/1066MHz RAM. I once spent $1,100 on 32MB (yes, megabytes) of RAM for a Power Mac 7500. Getting 8 gigs for around three hundred bucks seemed like a no-brainer.

One 1TB Western Digital Caviar Black hard drive for my main system drive. Mmm, fast.

Three 1.5TB Western Digital Caviar Green hard drives to act as Time Machine, A/V, and A/V backup drives. Overkill? Perhaps. But I was drunk on cheap space.

Syba PCIe FireWire card. Got this for the FireWire 800 connectors that were absent on the mobo.

Samsung DVD-RW supermulti SATA 22X Lightscribe drive. Got this just because the name was so long. Also, couldn't justify a Blu-ray drive, so there you go.

Drives, RAM, FireWire card, Invisible FailBall.

Zalman CNPS9500A CPU Cooler. This thing looks like it could open a wormhole. Also came with barely enough thermal grease for one application. Thanks.

MacGruber uses this to open stargates.

Once the deluge of boxes arrived (that Newegg box was from Scott), the cursing began in earnest. While assembling PC components together isn't that difficult in general, some specific bit or four of jackassery usually crops up to slow the process. This time was no exception.

The first bit of trouble came when installing the Zalman cooler. The mounting bracket is meant to go on in such a way that a cutout leaves space for the miniature CPU pry bar to move up and down. Attaching the bracket in this manner was no problem. Attaching the actual cooler and its ginormous clip, however, proved impossible due to Gigabyte's audacity in installing other components within 18 inches of the CPU socket. Turning the bracket sideways was easy. Attempting to squeeze a bit more thermal grease from the nanotube included with the cooler was another story. One trip to Fry's and an awkward conversation about silver's heat conductivity later, and I was back in business.

Until I ran out of Molex connections. Seriously. Four hard drives, a video card and a DVD drive left me with a powerless DVD unit. So, back to Fry's for some hot Molex-splitter action and assorted employee harassment. ("Umm, no, I wouldn't like to open a Fry's credit card to pay for this $2.98 component. Nor do I need a Slap Chop. Fine, I'll take the Snuggie.") This wasn't a bad problem, mind you, just really annoying.

Finally, the GeForce card is flippin' huge. It's pointy and quite pointy in parts. Trying to snake my phalanx of SATA cables around it was quite delightful. Blood was drawn. Or was that while installing the hard drives onto uncooperative sleds? After my failed attempts at huffing thermal paste, who can say?

Once everything was assembled and, I must say, lookin' mighty ugly, the moment of truth arrived. In went the DVI cable and USB connections for the keyboard and mouse. On went the UPS. And the Sonata III 500's power switch was pressed. And lo! I was depressed.

Nothing. Nada. Zip.

Well, nothing good anyway. Just fans cycling on and off. But no POST.


Back to Fry's.

Not knowing the vintage of the motherboard, I bought a new battery just in case. And wanting to make sure everything was getting the necessary juice, I picked up a cable tester. New battery in and cables checked, and suddenly we're cookin' up a big ol' crock of fail leftovers. Yay.

Grr. Arrg. Okay, at this point I was perturbed. More than usual, even. I had been hoping to avoid taking everything apart just to make sure every single flippin' connection was correct, but what else could I do? (And if you know what else I could've done, keep it to yourself, the pain is still too fresh. However, feel free to send me any good Propofol jokes.) So I tore the mother down and rebuilt everything.

This is the point of the story where I tell you this simple act of reconnecting everything magically solved whatever odd tech gremlins were lurking about my mobo. Except I'm not The Fonz, and slapping every component with my wrist did nothing but get Donny Most to follow me on Twitter. Not cool.

No, still no POST. Repeat the Khan.

Hmmmmmmmmmmmmmm, perhaps one of my memory sticks is bad, I thunk. Granted, having bought name-brand sticks, I wouldn't expect this to be a problem, but who knows? Out come all four sticks. First stick back in, no POST. Second stick in (by itself), POST! Third stick, POST! Fourth, POST! Well, looks like I've got a bad stick, yeah? Well, oddly enough, maybe not. I reinserted all four sticks in a different order and, you guessed it, POST! All 8 gigs test just fine, and we're off to the BIOS config races. Anyone want to place your bets on what happened next?

Find out next time in part III: sleeping the sleep of the dead. Which will not be quite as dramatic as The Return of the King, but will at least be free of homoerotic hobbit banter. Maybe.



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