Welcome, MacHolios (are you threatening me?). Join me now on a mythical, mystical, magical stroll down the paths of hardware procurement and operating system tomfoolery. ‘Tis a journey filled with promises of cotton candy Geekbench scores, OS X Aslan compatibility and value, value, value. But also a road fraught with fraughtiness, oily kernel panics, network interface naming issues and a possible meltdown of the family’s main memory repository.
We begin with the hardware. Since this is hack build numero dos, I only needed to procure a smattering of new bits: a Sandy Bridge motherboard, a new CPU, and RAM. I kept the case (Antec Sonata III), four SATA hard drives, a DVD writer, and a GeForce 9800 GTX graphics card. I considered (and still am considering) upgrading from the 9800, but wanted to do the initial re-build as cheaply as possible.
For the motherboard, I once again plead with the overlord of The Tech Report. Scott found a Gigabyte Z68X-UD3H-B3. The Gigabyte Z68 series is the preferred board over at TonymacX86.com for Sandy Bridge builds, mainly due to the ease of overclocking. I think. But, after the issues I had the first time around, I wasn’t going to venture out on my own with this decision.
Next up, the processor. This one you can probably guess. Exactly. I decided to build a Hack SE and pulled a Motorola 68000 from an old Amiga 500. I then rejiggered a Crutchfield wiring harness for a 1995 Isuzu Rodeo I still had in my random cable bin to get the contacts on the CPU to work in the LGA1155 socket. Cake. Then I put down the special brownies and headed to Microcenter for an Intel Core i7-2600K. That’s right, I bought from a local retailer and paid sales tax. Why? Because, as the guy at Microcenter admitted, they sell processors as a loss leader in hopes of selling you more stuff. In this case, the 2600K was cheaper, even with tax, than the cheapest place I could find online by about five bucks. Madness. And for the Mac folks out there, the "K" in the name means the processor is unlocked and ready for sweet, sweet overclocking.
I also live near a Fry’s. Which, for those who have never experienced one, is a bit like a giant Radio Shack but with more of a used car dealership vibe. Lots of stuff—from TVs to appliances to computer bits (even Mac)—most of which you should never buy unless it’s on sale. Which the 16GB of Corsair Vengeance RAM I purchased was. And it had a rebate. Dropping $75 on that much RAM is not a bad thing. Especially since, as I’ve mentioned every single time I’ve talked about RAM prices, I once spent $1,100 on 32MB. That’s an "M," people. Yes, I’m that old. No, I was not that rich.
Now for the assembly. The Sonata is a pretty decent case, but I do wish I’d opted for a full tower instead of a mid. Mainly because my hands seem to grow like the Grinch’s heart whenever I reach them inside a case or try to wire a car a stereo. But since I couldn’t quite justify one of those Stormtrooper-meets-Batman Thermaltake Level 10 jobs (I have no idea if they’re any good—why research when you can’t afford to buy, eh?), I stuck with risking bloody knuckles to save a few bones.
After connecting the myriad cables to their respective connectors, it was time for the real fun to begin. Hopefully, it would not be ironic fun. Which isn’t fun at all. First, I had to install Snow Leopard 10.6.8 so I could download Lion from the App Store. Following Tonymac’s procedure here, I did just that. (And for those wondering at home, I installed the new system to the drive I had been using to backup my A/V files and not my current system drive. I may be an idiot, but I’m not dumb.) It actually worked. The first time. I almost stopped right there so as not to press my luck. But then the spirit of the late, great Peter Tomarken appeared in some thermal grease I’d yet to clean off my thumb and encouraged me to go for the big money while promising no whammies. Knowing not to doubt greased-based manifestations, I began the final chapter. Or countdown if you want the Europe song stuck in your head. Which it now is. You’re welcome.
Once again, Tonymac provided the easy-breezy guide to Lion installation. A guide he has since updated to be even easier. The installation process itself was, not surprisingly, straightforward. But the proof isn’t in the install. It’s in the booting.
The screen went white.
The screen stayed white.
Then it happened. The glorious you’ve-just-installed-a-new-Mac-OS-setup-wizard-thing appeared! I busted out a puffy shirt and yelled huzzah! After getting past the wizard folderol, I made it to the desktop. Which I had also managed with my previous motherboard/CPU when the graphics demons wrecked everything. But not this time. No graphics issues. I should note that I was using the 9800 GTX and not the Z68’s onboard HD 3000 graphics. I had read that using the onboard graphics had proven unreliable on Hackintoshes, so I went with the card. Later, while searching other issues, I discovered that all I needed to do was set some VRAM buffer sizes in BIOS to get the HD 3000 bits to work. And maybe they do, but I’m not in the mood to jack with iffy integrated graphics that probably aren’t as good anyway.
A couple of minor problems did pop up. I had the same UUID issue that I’d encountered with my previous build. An issue that, left unresolved, prevents you from using the iTunes Store or the App Store. Fortunately, that fix was easy to find, since it’s a common issue. A less common issue was the fact I could only plug in three of my hard drives. When I would plug in my Time Machine drive (at all, not only as the fourth), the machine wouldn’t boot. The solution wasn’t easy to find, but was easy to implement. Turns out Darwin gets stuck in some weird request loop and a simple addition to the bootloader script fixed the issue. Although no one has yet fixed Apple’s issue of not being able to re-use a Time Machine backup set when you migrate machines. You can pull data from it, true. But you have to backup from scratch. Yay.
And that was it. Seriously. Nothing weird. No flaky bootloader issues like my first Hackintosh. No odd freezes. No clusters of unexplained kernel panics. Just a 4.6GHz (any faster caused crashes) Hackintosh spitting out Geekbench scores of 15,800. My first Hack rarely cracked 9,000. I even found a Bluetooth adapter on eBay for five bucks ($1.88 if you don’t mind getting it from Hong Kong) that worked out of the box—I can finally use my Magic Mouse at home. I am very, very pleased.
The system profiler does not report the overclocked CPU speed. Bummer.
Geekbench doesn’t see the CPU overclocking, either. Or get the bus speed correct. Whatever.
So, will I keep going down the Hackintosh route? I vowed "never again" after the first go-round. But now I’m not so sure. The resources are easier to find. The installs are simpler. And the value equation continues to be awesome. So, it depends. If I’m at a place in my life where I’ve got time to do it, I may give it another go in a couple of years. Unless my wife threatens to kill me. Which would not be without precedent.
But for now, joy does indeed reign supreme.
— UPDATE – 11/17/2011 —
I forgot one bit of oddness to report. My Hackintosh suffers from what is apparently a well-known bug with Gigabyte boards: It loses Ethernet connectivity if it’s been shut down. The solution is to simply turn off main power to the case for a few seconds. An easy solution that took me a couple of hours to hunt down during the build. As I tend to leave my machine on for long periods of time, I had actually forgotten about this until this morning. When I couldn’t get online.