Hackintosh Build

So.. You’ve decided you want to buy a big fat iMac with all the trimmings.

You want a 27 inch high resolution screen, with loads of real estate for all those photos and videos you edit.

You want multiple cores, plenty of RAM, a beefy graphics card and all the rest of it.. you’re going to make Lightroom your bitch and Final Cut Pro will cower before you!

So, you head over to the Apple store and all of your new found enthusiasm melts from your body like an ice-cream on a hot summer’s day. “How Much?!.. for an iMac?!”

Folks.. I feel your pain.
It’s hard to justify the kind of expenditure it takes to buy a shiny new 27″ iMac.. I know, I tried.. but I couldn’t.

But.. there is another way.
Imagine a glorious alternative reality where you CAN have that machine.
All that power, but with BETTER specs..with future upgradability, for around half the price.

Ladies & Gentlemen, welcome to the dark and murky world of the ‘Hackintosh.

As the portmanteau suggests (by the way, that’s one of my favourite words.. I mean, just listen to how it rolls off the tongue.. but I digress) it’s a ‘Hacked Macintosh’.
Since Apple moved away from Power PC chips a few years back and went all Intel CPU based, there’s nothing stopping you building what is essentially just a ‘normal’ PC and, as long as you select your hardware from a list of components that have fully signed Apple drivers, you can run it as a Mac.

For the latest list of fully supported hardware (and just overall excellent information) I always suggest you go to Tony Mac’s site.
Everything you need to know is over there, along with a friendly support forum should you need it.. however these days, the builds are thankfully, painless.

As with anything PC related, the bleeding edge hardware I purchased was just ‘average’ by the time the parts had arrived at my house and will no doubt be practically obsolete by the time you read this. 🙂

My main aim was to build an equivalent to the latest 27″ iMac.. so my hardware specs are as follows:

    • Gigabyte Z87X-UD3H
    • Intel i7 4770k
    • 2x 250GB Samsung Evo 840 SSD’s
    • 2x 2TB WD 7200 HDD’s
    • Corsair H100i Water Cooler
    • 16GB Corsair Vengeance RAM
    • EVGA 760GTX SuperClocked Edition
    • Corsair 650M PSU
    • NZXT H440 Case
    • 27″ Iiyama IPS WQHD Display
    • Apple Keyboard and Magic Trackpad

The equivalent Apple iMac (with a worse graphics card) was £2,846.. this came in over £1000 cheaper.
That’s saving a whole lot of cash, no matter which way you look at it!

Also, what I lose in not having everything housed in a single (admittedly beautiful) chassis, I gain in flexibility.
My setup is silently water cooled, and upgrading is as simple as dropping in new equipment, something you can’t do with an iMac.So.. enough waffle.. let’s get some pictures in the mix!

Here’s my collection of box fresh hardware, just waiting to be freed from their cardboard cages and unleashed into their shiny new arctic white home!

Box fresh
Box fresh

I could have chosen the slightly cheaper i5 processor, but Final Cut can take advantage of the additional cores..

Intel i7 4770k
Intel i7 4770k

The H440 case from NZXT is a real quality case, designed for water cooling. Loads of space inside, with room for huge radiators in the front and roof of the case. There’s also lots of cable routing options and cool design touches, like the PSU housing that hides the power supply etc.

The perfect Hackintosh case
The perfect Hackintosh case

First thing’s first.. you take everything out of it’s boxes and assemble it all outside of the case for the initial testing. You don’t want to install everything into the case, only to find something’s D.O.A or the system won’t boot etc.. meaning you have to uninstall everything! This is the real twitchy bum moment.

Bench testing the components
Bench testing the components

We have life!

A healthy motherboard code - and cool CPU cooler lighting
A healthy motherboard code – and cool CPU cooler lighting

Now that we know it’s all fine from a hardware perspective, we can install the Operating System.
In this case, I’ve actually gone with a dual boot system.. meaning I have OSX Mavericks on one SSD and Windows 8.1 on the other. This gives me the best of both worlds, as I get a free ‘gaming machine’ thrown in!
It also means that I can run all the relevant overclocking software and bench/stress tests before putting everything in the case.

Speaking of putting it all in the case. A quick word about cable management..
A lot of people don’t bother with cable management, but I really think it’s worth spending the extra hour or so it takes to ensure that all your lose cables are sleeved and cable tied up out of the way.
Smoothing the airflow around the case means lower case temperatures, which means less stress on components and hopefully, better performance and longer life.

So, take your cables that look like this:

Running 3x fan cables into one sleeve
Running 3x fan cables into one sleeve

And leave them looking like this:

Much neater cables - nylon sleeve and heat shrunk.
Much neater cables – nylon sleeve and heat shrunk.

It’s so much easier to tidy the cables up and out of the way once they’re in those little nylon cable sleeves. The case provides plenty of little hooks to cable tie the mess out of the way.

Mid cable tidy showing routing options
Mid cable tidy showing routing options

One of the cool things about the case is these dedicated little SSD mounting plates, designed to show off the fact you’re rocking solid state drives. They mount directly to the PSU hiding cover like this:

Pop your SSD in the case
Pop your SSD in the case
Then slot into place
Then slot into place
Living in perfect harmony
Living in perfect harmony

Once everything is where it should be, it’s time to hook everything up again and push the GO button!

Incredibly, it's all working
Incredibly, it’s all working

And finally, with the side panel back on.. ready to be hidden under my desk anyway.

The completed mean machine - Big Mac
The completed mean machine – Big Mac

All that was left is to install the software and you’re away!
I can simply switch between Windows and OSX during bootup (just choose at this screen) –

Custom Bootloader

The main reason for building ‘Big Mac’.. yea, I named it.. was to improve the performance during video rendering in Final Cut and to prevent the dreaded ‘spinning beachball’ when I was editing photos in Lightroom or Photoshop.

Well, it’s safe to say I achieved my goals..rendering time on an average twenty minute clip (1080p/24fps) went from around 45 minutes to about 5. Seriously.. a roughly ten times performance increase.
For those bothered about this kind of stuff, my Geekbench score went from 3437 (late 2009 Macbook Pro) to 14,072. So yea, it’s safe to say my new machine’s a bit more powerful.

So let’s hear it for ‘Big Mac’.. here’s to hopefully many years of speedy editing!.. or until I upgrade her in the Winter to play GTA5 in 1400p

Just look at that beauty!
Just look at that beauty!

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