In the summer of last year, I was in the process of leaving my job to go full-time as an indie. I arranged to keep the mid-2012 MacBook Pro that had served me so faithfully at my old job as a backup machine, but it was starting to show it’s age when running Photoshop or Illustrator. I set about looking for my next workhorse.
I have been a Mac devotee for the better part of a decade. The way the winds were blowing made me consider whether or not a new Mac was the right choice though. The price of their hardware plus the (in my opinion) declining quality of their software kept me on the fence for a while.
The biggest factor was price. The Mac Pro was a non-starter. Too expensive (and even back then, outdated). That said, I wanted a fixed desktop setup, not a laptop with an external monitor like I’d used previously. There were two reasons for that:
- I wanted the power of a machine who’s space for components wasn’t limited by the footprint and thickness required of a laptop.
- I hoped that having a machine that wasn’t portable would help me improve my relationship with work by forcing me to leave part of it behind when I left my desk.
With those factors in mind, the iMac was the only real contender left in the Apple line-up. Living where I live, a decently setup iMac will still easily set you back £3000 (~$3700) 1 though. A hefty chunk of change.
By fortunate happenstance, as I was going through this decision making process a number of posts about Hackintosh builds started cropping up. The more I researched them, the more they appealed to me:
- In exchange for a few hours of my time, I can build a machine that has the same specs as the iMac mentioned above for about 1/3 of the quoted price.
- The tools for doing so are the best they’ve ever been.
- If I want to upgrade a part, I can do so at my leisure. If I want to add more drives or RAM, same deal.
- Should macOS continue to go in a direction I don’t personally like, switching OS couldn’t be easier (at least from a hardware standpoint).
The biggest downside was that I had never built a computer before, let alone a Hackintosh. If I managed to muck it up severely enough, I’d be ~£1000 out of pocket.
As you’re reading this, needless to say that I went ahead and built a Hackintosh. All of the parts I used in my build are listed below. Should you want to build the exact same machine, one of each will set you on your way.
- Motherboard: Gigabyte Z170MX-Gaming 5
- CPU: Intel Core i7 6700K
- CPU cooler: Corsair H60 (Water)
- Graphics card: EVGA GTX 950 SuperClocked
- RAM: Crucial Ballistix Sport LT 64GB (DDR4)
- Drive: Samsung 850 EVO 500GB
- PSU: Corsair CP 650 Watt
- Case: BitFenix Phenom Micro-ATX (Black)
- Wifi adapter: TP-Link PCI Express Adapter
- A USB DAC: There are plenty of articles and forum entries around the web on how to get audio output working, I took the easy option and just plugged a DAC in though.
- A USB drive with over 8GB of storage: I didn’t have one so wound up with this. It’s excellent.
- A screen: I took some of the cash I was saving on the iMac and treated myself. It goes without saying that you can pick up a very good screen for a lot less money though.
All told, minus the screen (£692 / $858), the parts and extras cost £1265 / $1568. For a high performing, expandable, repairable, open setup that will last for years to come, I don’t think that’s bad at all.
The tip that would have saved me the most time for this build would have been this: before you open anything else, unpack the case and find a YouTube video during which it’s taken apart. Maybe this only applies for cases that try to be clever like the one I got, but they’re not as obvious as you’d think. I was surprised how many parts of it were detachable. Had I known at the start, it would have made the build a lot easier for my over-sized hands.
The only time I thought I was on the verge of breaking something was when connecting the 24pin atx connector to the motherboard. I double and triple checked I had it the right way around, but it just wouldn’t go down the whole way. As it turned out, it just needed some good old fashioned brute force (but make sure you support the bottom of the motherboard whilst doing so).
As a first time builder, I took my time with the build. I googled, watched and re-watched videos and double checked the motherboard’s manual (one of the only useful pieces of paper in all the boxes) every step of the way. All told, I think I spent about 6 hours building it and installing the software. A very nice Saturday project.
Once I had all the hardware clipped, slotted or screwed into position, I pressed the power button and… nothing. I set about googling again and found this page. Their second suggestion was exactly what I was experiencing:
If you push the power button on the front of the computer and absolutely nothing happens, no lights, no fans, just stone cold silence, then this can also be caused if the system panel cables are incorrectly connected.
Bingo. My power switch cable wasn’t on properly—a 2 second fix once diagnosed. Time to install the software.
Firstly: if you’re doing this build with the same motherboard as mine, you’ll want to use createthis’ BIOS settings where they differ from tonymacx86’s.
Secondly: once you’ve finished the installation process, you’ll want to go into System Preferences and turn off “Wake for Wi-Fi network access” to prevent your Hackintosh randomly waking up whilst asleep.
Thirdly: Messages doesn’t work properly for me at the best of times on my iPhone, iPad or MacBook, so I haven’t even bothered to try and get it working on the Hackintosh. If you care about it more than I do, there are plenty of guides out there. Tonymacx86 is always the best place to start when it comes to Hackintoshes; here’s their recommended guide.
My thoughts, 6 months in
This machine has been my day-in day-out workhorse since July 2016. In that time, I’ve had to force restart it once. Other than that, it’s had no screens of death, failures, or problems of any other kind.
Performance wise, I can’t fault it. Photoshop, Illustrator and Sketch all open with projects at the same time? Not a problem. Converting or rendering video? A laughable feat. Multiple VMs open at the same time? Pff. Tinkering with 3D stuff in Maya? Easy.
Here are a couple of videos I took just after I’d completed the build. The first shows Photoshop launching cold within 2 bounces. The second, Sketch in about a quarter bounce.
More than anything else, moving away from Apple’s hardware made realise just how quiet their machines are. This is the area where my build lacks most comparatively, but I think there’s something to be done about it. The fan’s just aren’t loud enough to make looking for a way to make them quieter a priority. Something to do on a rainy day perhaps.
Alternatively, looking elsewhere made me realise just how much bang you can get for your buck in the build-your-own-machine world. The main components of my machine are the same as Mike’s and in his tests, our specs beat every single Mac on sale when performing single-core tasks. Only when performing multi-core tasks do we get beaten, and even then only by the Mac Pros which have 6 cores compared to our 4. Machines that, by the by, cost thousands of dollars more than ours.
If there’s one sentence you’ll see time and time again when researching Hackintoshes it’s that “Building a Hackintosh isn’t for everyone”. I can say that, without a shadow of a doubt, building a Hackintosh has been worth it for me though.
If the current state of the Mac has you questioning your allegiances and you are on the lookout for an alternative to Apple’s expensive, closed, slowly updated, non-expandable but beautiful hardware then I can suggest a worthy alternative. Best of all, it runs our favourite operating system.
I kept a list of all the links I found helpful whilst building this machine. Here they are.
For the build
- Tonymacx86’s up to date list of Hackintosh-compatible parts and pre-tested setups.
- The best general process video I found on how to put a computer together. Don’t worry that it’s not a Hackintosh, it makes no difference.
- A video showing my case in pieces, as recommended above.
- A more detailed video showing how to install the Corsair H60 liquid cooler.
- An answer to the same question I had about the CPU Opt and CPU Fan connectors.
For the software
Both of these were linked to in the software section above.
- Tonymacx86’s installation guide.
- Createthis’ installation video.
- I don’t update my OS all that often, having been bitten too many times since Snow Leopard (I currently run the last release of El Capitan). Should you want to keep your Hackintosh up to date with the latest macOS release then these days it’s usually as simple as updating in the App Store. Tonymacx86 keeps a stickied forum entry with notes for the Hackintosh community on the latest macOS release here which is always worth checking out though.
I got all of the answers I needed from questions people had already asked. Should you have an unanswered one though, these seem to be the most active Hackintosh communities out there.
As per a quote from Apple’s website for a 27-inch iMac with Retina 5K display, a 4.0GHz quad-core Intel Core i7, 32GB of DDR3 RAM, 512GB of flash storage and the AMD Radeon R9 M395 with 2GB video memory. ↩