When Apple announced back in 2005 that it was ditching PowerPC and heading for Intel to supply CPUs for its computers hackers worldwide rejoiced at the thought of being able to finally build their own Macs. Since then an underground ‘Hackintosh’ community has bloomed as users worldwide create working Mac OS X-powered computers on generic Intel hardware.
So what’s involved and what do you need? First you’ll need a working Mac computer. While there are a number of illegal Mac OS X ISO images available on the web the community increasingly frowns on these and the vast majority of efforts are devoted to using legitimately purchased copies of Mac OS X – either disc-based for the old Snow Leopard (10.6) release or purchases from the Apple Store for subsequent releases. To make these Apple Store-purchased versions workable however you need a Mac to create a bootable Mac OS X USB installer flash drive.
New isn’t best
The other thing is this is actually one time when buying the latest kit will likely work against you. Unlike Microsoft which must cater for a world of different PC components Apple only has to support its own hardware so the driver support is far more limited. That means the community has to do a bit of work getting each new generation of Intel hardware running with Mac OS X. That takes time and there’s no guarantee every component will produce the perfect Mac OS X experience.
There are two key issues: the CPU and the motherboard. Since Apple uses Intel processors only the community focuses its efforts on Intel hardware. The motherboard issue is more complicated. Generic Intel boards from Gigabyte ASUS MSI and others may use Intel chipsets but they also use other third-party components for networking sound and other features – components Apple may not support. You can’t guarantee that every motherboard will work perfectly.
If you want to add a third factor it’ll be the graphics card. Apple switched from Nvidia to AMD from 2009 to 2011 so there are a number of Radeon cards that work but a larger number of Nvidia cards that work. Again not every graphics card is guaranteed to get along with Mac OS X – it comes down to whether Apple actually used the GPU in one of its Mac computers at some point.
The community has created a compatibility list which shows the success other users have had with specific motherboards graphics cards and mostly what they did to get things working. For example if you purchase a particular board listed you should be able to build the same experience other users of that board have had by doing what they did. The best of these lists is found at the OSx86 Project (tinyurl.com/d93dc). There are different listings for the last three major versions of Mac OS X starting from 10.6 (Snow Leopard) so check those before you proceed.
Installing Mac OS X
This is the complicated bit. When Apple used to release Mac OS X on DVD you could bootstrap a Hackintosh meaning you didn’t need a Mac to begin with. Now that you can only buy the update through the Apple Store you need a Mac to start the process. Why? You have to load the Mac OS X installer onto a USB flash drive and that needs a Mac. That’s where tonymacx86 has greatly simplified the process with tools he’s called UniBeast (to help build the Mac OS X USB flash drive installer) and MultiBeast (to install the bootloader and drivers for your Hack build once the OS is installed). You can find out the details at tonymacx86’s web site.
With the proviso that you understand we can’t guarantee this set of components will work for every future Mac OS X release this is what we’d choose to build a Hackintosh from scratch.
CPU: Intel Core i5-3570K
My pound to your peanut says Haswell will eventually join the Hackintosh family list of options but at the time of writing tried and trusted is the way to go and that means an Ivy Bridge build. The Core i5-3570K gives you overclocking options and is the best-value Ivy Bridge-grade CPU.
Motherboard: Gigabyte GA-Z77-D3H
If you can get hold of Gigabyte’s more expensive GA-Z77-DS3H it’s considered the best all-round option but it’s hard to find. The budget GA-Z77-D3H appears to offer good success – one or two builders have had trouble getting the integrated audio working although there’s a working fix for this. You’ll also need the latest BIOS installed.
Graphics card: Gigabyte GTX 660 Ti OC
Yep this one is a bit long in the tooth but at around $280 the GTX 660 Ti is a choice often recommended as working virtually out of the box which means very little extra work needs to be done. It should even handle Diablo 3 comfortably. However you’ll need at least Mac OS X 10.7 since the GTX 660 Ti isn’t supported by Snow Leopard (10.6). Alternatively you can use the CPU’s integrated graphics and save some cash.
Storage: 128GB SanDisk Extreme SSD 1TB Western Digital WD10EZEX Blue SATA HDD
While we’re suggesting Western Digital’s 1TB Blue drive as low-cost bulk storage you can install Mac OS X onto an SSD. However you must use the MultiBeast tool to enable TRIM support manually as Mac OS X only automatically activates it for Apple-brand SSDs.
Power supply: Antec VP-650P 650W
We’ve used this one before and found that it’s a good-value PSU made by Delta Electronics a company that does PSUs well. This 650W PSU should easily handle the combination of a Core i5-3570K CPU and GeForce GTX 660 Ti graphics card.
Case: Corsair 200R Carbide
The Carbide is another component we recommend regularly for its low cost. It’s also roomy and is one of the more stylish PC cases going around – just what you want for a Hackintosh build.
Do your research
We can’t emphasise this enough – you must do your research when planning a Hackintosh build. Since this isn’t something Apple really wants you to do support will come from the community only and it’s unlikely your build will work perfectly first go. Also future Mac OS X updates may not work on your hardware. As we said right at the start there are no guarantees. Of course if it all gets too hard you should be able to turn this build back into a Windows 8.1 box with relative ease.
Is it worth the effort?
As a learning objective building your own Hackintosh can teach you quite a bit about how Mac OS X works. However in terms of saving bucketloads of cash it’s probably less worth the effort than it once was particularly when you can pick up a genuine Apple Mac Mini for just $699. However if you want to have a go yourself on the cheap a Hackintosh is a great job for an older Core 2 Duo-era desktop you may no longer be using. This is the first Intel generation Apple launched with and if you already have the hardware gathering dust this will be by far the cheapest way to build yourself an Apple Hack.
Suggested hackintosh build
|CPU||Intel Core i5-3570K||$265|
|CPU cooler||Stock cooler||$0|
|RAM||8GB DDR3-1600 RAM||$79|
|Graphics card||Nvidia GeForce GTX 660 Ti||$279|
|Storage – SSD||120GB SanDisk Extreme SATA 6Gbps||$125|
|Storage – HDD||1TB Western Digital WD10EZEX Blue||$69|
|Operating system||Apple Mac OS X (10.8)||$21|
|Case||Corsair 200R Carbide||$75|
|PSU||Antec VP-650P 650W PSU||$83|
This information is provided for educational purposes only. Building a Hackintosh breaks Apple’s End User License Agreement so you wear any consequences. Also there are no guarantees your Hackintosh will work perfectly. Finally APC will not provide any support for or help you build your Hackintosh.