In mid-December of 2008, I embarked on a mission: to build a Hackintosh.
When Hernando Cortes reached the New World, he burned his ships to make impossible any retreat from his conquest of the Aztec Empire. So, like Cortes, I decided to sell the parts to my old computer first, making it impossible to just “give up” and retreat back to the familiar realm of Vista. So I sold the motherboard, processor, and memory from my main desktop, getting enough money back on eBay to purchase a new motherboard, processor, and memory for the Hackintosh. But unlike Cortes, I would still have the option of installing a traditional operating system (like XP) on the Hackintosh computer if the Mac OS X install didn’t work. I guess the direct comparison to a legendary Spanish conquistador only goes so far . . .
But before I continue with the details of how I built such a contraption, you might be inclined to ask: exactly why would anyone want to build a Hackintosh in the first place? Well, there’s always the thrill of a tech challenge and experience one can gain from attempting such a project. And there’s the geek cred that one receives from the successful accomplishment of building a Hackintosh. But my own reasons for building a Hackintosh have more to do with the desire to use OS X and leave the bloated and buggy world of Microsoft Windows.
So, you might be wondering, “why not just buy a Mac?” For most consumers, that’s pretty much the only option. But Apple computers have one major disadvantage that precludes me from just going out and buying a Mac: they’re really, really expensive for what you get. The “OS X Experience” might be offered up by Apple as a justification for the exorbitantly high hardware prices, but that’s little consolation for those on a tight budget.
But price itself really isn’t the problem. You can get a Mac Mini for $600, which isn’t unreasonable. But it doesn’t include a keyboard, monitor, or mouse, and is pretty underpowered. It only has a 1.83 GHz Intel Core 2 Duo, 1 GB of RAM, and an 80 GB laptop hard drive. Not exactly a multimedia powerhouse. I owned a Mac Mini for a couple years (it was meant to replace my 12″ PowerBook G4 for video editing), and I was rather underwhelmed. It really is a budget computer, so I can’t complain too much. But I wanted a decent workstation that didn’t cost $3,000.
The Mac desktop line-up is as follows: the Mac Mini is the lowest tier with price points from $600 to $800 for base configurations. The iMac makes up the middle segment, from $1,200 to $2,200. And the Mac Pro takes the high end at a starting price of $2,800. Given my desire for a decent workstation, you might think the iMac would be the right fit. But the complete lack of customization (aside from adding more RAM) makes the iMac a poor choice for someone who likes to be able to customize the hardware.
But what really makes the prospect of buying a Mac problematic is that the hardware used in a Mac can be purchased individually for far less than what Apple is selling it for. And for someone on a tight tech budget (that’s me), justifying the expense of buying a new iMac for $2,000 when the same computer could be built for less than $1,000 (no joke) is pretty hard to do.
So, let’s do a quick comparison. Let’s ignore, for the time being, the monitor, keyboard, and mouse. Those can be interchanged on a Mac Mini or Mac Pro, and aren’t really critical to running OS X. So for just the computer itself, I’ve gone on to Apple’s online store and priced out a similar Mac Pro, and will compare it to the Hackintosh I built. I’ll go into more detail about the parts I chose for the Hackintosh, but for now the important idea is the price difference:
To be fair, let’s go over some of the performance advantages of the Mac Pro. It comes with a Xeon processor, which is a server-grade processor as opposed to the Q6600 I have. There is some advantage to the cache structure of the Xeon over a Q6600, but I’m never going to notice that difference in everyday use. The memory is ECC (Error Code Checking), to which I have yet to see a demonstrable benefit over non-ECC RAM, despite the theoretical advantage. The hard drive is 320 GB as opposed to my 250 GB, but given that a 1 TB drive costs a little over $100 these days, the difference is minuscule.
Those are the only differences.
Ok, so there are a few minor differences between the two builds. But $2,189 worth of difference!?!?! I think not! Heck, that’s enough money leftover to buy a decent 15″ MacBook Pro. And to be honest, until I did the work for this post to actually calculate the price difference, I had no idea just how much more Apple charges for a Mac Pro than what it would cost to build a comparable system on my own.
The title of this post posed the question: why build a Hackintosh? And as many might might inquire: why not just buy a Mac from Apple if you want the “OS X Experience?” Well, that $2,189 difference comes to mind in answering that question. That’s why I built a Hackintosh.
Next post, I’ll describe the process I took to build and setup OS X on my Hackintosh.