Strange days before Macworld Expo bring back talk of Hackintosh

Strange days before Macworld Expo bring back talk of Hackintosh

Summary: In the days before the annual Macworld Expo (now with iWorld) in San Francisco, my inbox is flooded with guides to build a Hackintosh. Does anyone with any real work to do really want one?


Almost five years ago, I asked why a current Mac customer, or a potential Mac customer, or even someone interested in just kicking the tires would spend good money and precious time and effort in purchasing a Hackintosh. At the time, the post was about the exploits of the Psystar company, which proposed to sell "Mac clones."

But that was then and this is now and for some reason, my inbox suddenly is flooded with pitches for a booklet from Make Use Of with the title, Think Different: how to build your own Hackintosh. The author is Stefan Neagu. And, yes, there's a period in the book's title.

A Hackintosh PC, as the name would suggest, is a vanilla PC (built by you or a retailer other than Apple) running a hacked (or patched) version of Apple's Mac OS X operating system. OS X is specifically designed to run on Apple's hardware line; a Hackintosh is simply non-Apple hardware using the operating system.

Although Apple opposes the practice of hijacking their OS for use on off-brand PCs, many technology-oriented people who don't want to buy the hardware from Apple choose to spend a lot of time and effort in creating a Hackintosh.

It's not easy by any means, but this guide explains to you what's needed to get OS X running without a Mac.

From this pitch, I understand that there's someone, likely a PC stalwart, who wants to check out the Mac and OS X. And he or she doesn't want to spend the "outrageous amount of money" that would be needed for a real Mac from Apple. Instead, they want to waste their time on this hack.

It's all very strange. Firstly, the Macintosh is all about "easy" but here comes a project to make it all so very hard. One that doesn't necessarily work correctly and doesn't come with all the elements and technology that comprises the Mac experience today.

It comes at a point in time when customers can buy a Mac Mini for way under $900 (with tax) that supports OS X 10.8 Mountain Lion, comes with Thunderbolt, the latest in expansion technology, USB 3 support, and Apple support. It is the real Apple experience.

This guide is different — and less effective — than the "value" Hackintosh pitch from a couple of years ago. For example, this LifeHacker article said that builders could make better Mac Pros in entry-level, mid-range, and high-end flavors and at half the price.

I don't buy this pitch either, but at least it's attempting to make a sensible argument.

The professional community is waiting on Apple for a new vision on performance computing on OS X. There's hope that we will see it arrive later this year. However, Hackintosh can't be seen as any part of the equation for OS X computing.

Topics: Apple, Hardware, Operating Systems, Storage

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  • face it the mac pro is a rip-off

    i've had macs since the 128k, but they do screw the customer on their high end equipment.

    I had a mac pro and loved it, but I bought it used from an educator who got it on a discount, so I only paid $1300 for what was a $2200 computer, and both prices were ridiculous. Added a 2nd xeon processor and sold it later for $1600, so I had the use of the machine for a year for about $450.

    compare this to buying a mac book air for $1000 on craigslist (retail $1300), using for six months and selling for $850 - use of the machine for six months for $150 - that's value for money...

    sorry, the mac mini is a joke: 5400 RPM HDs = crappy sluggish performance. the OS X server software is completely unreliable and unusable - I pity the fool that uses that to run their business - its just too buggy (believe me, I tried and tried to get Lion Server to work in any kind of consistent fashion - it wasn't even worth the $20 I paid for it...)
    • Very much agreed

      I work for a storage company and we deal directly with Apple and also customer's who use Xserver (God bless their souls). The compatibility is completely ridiculous with anything Apple related. Simple things like fibre HBA's or even 10Gb iSCSI just does not play well with OSX. And to even obtain the OSX software you need to have an iTunes account? From a business perspective, this is completely laughable and unacceptable at the same time. Moral of the story, if you work in the business world, please stop using OSX, its just too much trouble. Linux and Windows do the job way better with less hassle. Save the overpriced Apple stuff for personal use, like it was meant for.
    • nonense

      The Mac Pro and the macMini run the same OS X. If OS X is crappy on the mini, it is just as crapy on the Mac Pro.

      The Lion Server is just an application, that provides easy to use interface to configure the already present server tools in OS X. If you know what you are doing, you don't need it. But then, for $20... I doubt anyone will even skip it (it they need any server functionality from theri Mac).

      Back to the mac mini -- it is pretty capable computer and if you don't like 5400 RPM drives, that is, you do things with it that require low latency and high bandwidth disk I/O, you have plenty of options:

      - Thunderbolt: two 10 Gbit bidirectional links (remote x4 PCI-Express, in fact), where you can connect anything imaginable. From storage to displays.
      - 4xUSB 3.0 with 5 Gbit each.
      - FireWire for low latency peripherals or existing storage.

      You can keep the "slow" 5400 RPM drive and add super-fast SSDs or RAID arrays, or interfaces to FibreChannel etc, via either Thunderbolt, or USB 3.0 or both. (no need to open it)
      You could also create an external Fusion Drive for your specific projects (such as huge Aperture library)
      Or you could order the Mac mini with an SSD drive or an Fusion Drive. (no need to open it)
      You could in fact use the kits supplied by the likes of OWC or iFixit to install two drives inside the Mac mini. In any combination you like. Even build your very own Fusion Drive with whatever parameters you like (for example: 512GB SSD + 2TB HDD) - and the mini will stay compact and stand-alone.

      It's just a little computer, that you can use as building block of whatever you need to have as computer. There is nothing like the mini on the market.
  • nope

    Their desire to require xcode for iOS development is going to hurt both in the long run and honestly, there isn't much you can do with a Mac that you cannot do for less on another platform.

    Let's face it, they are repeating history and it is a shame.
  • Apple needs to allow virtualizatoin at the least

    It wouldn't be that hard to to sell their OS X in premade VM's for techies who are otherwise forced to use "unofficial" versions. This would have negligible impact on their mainstream product sales while expanding their market and bringing in some extra change.
    • They do

      OS X runs perfectly in a VM.
      • ??

        Apple doesn't currently support running their OS in a VM.
  • OS X servers are a valid reason

    Right now, if you want to run an OS X server, you have to choose between a Mac mini, which is kind of like the Fiat 500 of the Mac world, or a hulking great, expensive, Mac Pro. Neither are good choices. A Dell or HP rackmount server would make a lot more sense.

    So why doesn't Apple, who doesn't want to be in the server hardware business just license Mountain Lion server for use on any Intel hardware? Apple could alter the version that comes with Apple hardware not to run on anything else, and charge a premium for the "open hardware" version. Then the people who want to run OS X servers could do so on rational equipment, and Apple still makes plenty of money.
    • That was the hope of many when Apple switched to intel originally..

      There was a lot of hope that Apple was re-birthing the Apple clone market when they moved to intel, and that sentiment became even louder when Apple brought BootCamp to the table. Unfortunately, those hopes have so far been dashed.

      Even the Xserve wasn't much of a server, since it really didn't use a lot of what many consider "standard" server parts these days (3.5" SATA drives, low-end Promise RAID cards aren't exactly cutting edge server components).

      Apple has gained in popularity and has still been making pretty healthy margins, so as a company I'm thinking the path that they've taken was the right one - at least in the short term (short term by now actually meaning half a decade, which is a pretty long term in this market), but I agree with slickjim above - they seem to be following the same path that they took in the late 80's and early 90's that eventually led them to a cliff, and they are forgetting exactly why their phones, iPods, and iPads have been so succesful (hint - look at iPod sales both before and after Apple started supporting PCs)
      • agree

        yes, unfortunately this resembles a lot what happened to Apple during the eighties. The only obious solution to this is to place OSX in the PC market competing with Windows. The chance is still there, and Apple should think why so many people are willing to take so many time in making a complete usable Hackintosh. OSX is the best choice for personal use, and Apple, now, could take over the Windows OS business. Why they are not doing it, still is a mistery to me.

        Give it some more time acting avidly on their share of hardware sales, and it will happen again: Windows will kill the fantastic opportunity Apple has now.

        And yes, I am writing this from my Hackintosh, it costed half the money of an equivalent Mac, and this is a goot selling fact.
  • How about an inexpensive Hackintosh

    Some people do not have a lot of money and they are not members of the computer trade press, who get all manner of hardware thrown at them by vendors. (I was there once back in the '90s, even being gifted a video card with my own name burned into the BIOS.) So $900 is really a lot of money for some. I see plenty of inexpensive hardware for sale on eBay and Craigslist. For example, One can buy a used dual-core Dell Optiplex 745 for under $100 and a decent 17" or larger LCD monitor for $50 or less, hardware with enough power to run OS X. For maybe $200, you can have yourself a Hackintosh... Ben Myers
  • Macs aren't cheap in the UK...

    In the UK the US dollar prices usually get translated straight into GB pounds. It's not just Apple who do this, it's most technology products.

    The cheapest Mac Pro in the UK is ~£2,000, whereas a high end PC can be had for £600-£1000 or half the price.
    Lord Minty
  • I guess Hackintosh can be fun if you're the sort of

    person who loves to tinker and, well, hack. But there are pretty much two things guaranteed with any Hackintosh: One, it's going to take a lot of time, and two, SOMETHING won't work right and you won't be able to figure out why.
    • Not even remotely true

      First, there is no fundamental reason why it should take significantly longer than a standard OSX install, and second, as long as you pick known hardware components with existing drivers, there is no reason to presuppose that things won't work right, out of the gate. The OSx86 project has made the process very streamlined.
  • David, you need to look outside Apple's box a bit more to understand this..

    I agree that Apple's main sales pitch is "simplicity" with the hardware and software all tied to the same manufacturer and made to work together seamlessly. Apple's targeted customers for the Mac Mini, iMac, and Macbook Air do best buying these items, and that's where Apple makes their big profit.

    The Mac Pro is really targeted at professionals who already spend a boatload of money on all of the other tools of their trade (professional photography equipment, software and Wacom tablets, professional audio and video software and equipment, etc). Many of these people are using their machines as just a tool in their toolbox for a larger purpose. They will also be more interested in consistency of the hardware/software ecosystem than the few dollars they will save building a similarly spec'd generic PC (if they save anything at all - that debate is always ongoing and really depends on what's available at any given time - we'll just leave it as Apple is always at least competitive and offers value for their premium).

    The people who want to build/buy Hackintosh's are not in either of these groups. They are the enthusiast crowd who wants to do one of a few things:

    1) They want to run Mac OS X on their choice of hardware. Be it a mid-tower that offers the price of a Mac Mini with the expandability of a Mac Pro, or they want to buy some of the premium consumer-level motherboards, video cards, etc that are only available for "roll your own" systems.

    2) They already have a computer they want to use for this little experiment - happens to be a PC that they either want to dual-boot, or they want to re-purpose for running Mac OS X.

    Psystar understood this to a point, and was offering the "expandability at a lower price" option to people who would have it. Obviously, Apple is of the opinion that consumers rarely upgrade these days (which is pretty true), and those that do will see the value in the Mac Pro. Up until the latest iteration of their products, they even had some pretty easy expandability in the iMac and MacBook line, but even those have been increasingly becoming disposable.

    The end point is that the Hackintosh is really targeting a market that Apple either doesn't see as large enough or profitable enough to care about. And really, Apple has never had any bones about shoehorning their customers into one of their 4-quadrant categories - this was one of the main strategies that Steve Jobs brought back to the company when he returned. If you don't fit in any one of those categories, you are not in Apple's target market.
  • Hackintosh For Professionals...

    On at least one of the forums I frequent there is a Hackintosh thread. It is for aduio professionals who don't trust Apple to keep supporting the audio and video professionals who supported them during the dark days, especially with a new, updated, powerful Mac Pro Tower. Many have found that they can build a reliable, stable and very powerful PC, more powerful than the current Mac Pro offerings, and run OS X on it, with all it's features, for half the cost of a comparable Mac Tower and with not a lot of effort or issues.
  • No

    I'd only land up with the sort of crap that went into those clones. One of these still remains the only machine that ever broke down on me. It lasted a miserable five years.
    Laraine Anne Barker
  • Use the hardware you have

    I have Snow Leopard and Lion (installed from a retail Snow Leopard DVD and ESD Lion) on a Dell Inspiron 1525, that I already owned. Snow Leopard was $40 as I just partitioned the internal hard drive. Lion was $40. I bought a used sata 40 GB Hard Drive for $10 and Lion was $30.
    Charles Doty
  • knowledge

    I do a lot of tech support for a vertical market product that runs on Win 7/8. I have no real use for the Apple OS. I would like to be knowledgeable because many customers are running Win7 on Apple PCs and like to banter while waiting on a download or a diagnostic.

    I have neither the budget, desire, or space to add another piece of hardware at my workstation. There is no way to gain basic knowledge of the Apple OS without buying Apple hardware.
    • Um, did you try READING?