The Hackintosh Is Dead, Long Live The Hackintosh!

The last time I wrote on BunsenBlog, it was about how I had revived my interest in Hackintoshing. Well, since that time, I had completely eliminated all Hackintoshed systems . . . then about a couple weeks later recreated one. Why couldn’t I just make up my mind? It’s because of the fickle nature of the art of hacking, and my variable level of patience with such hacks.

This most recent flip-flop had its genesis in an ambitious plan to replace Mandy’s 5-year old iMac (still a decent system, don’t get me wrong) with a much more powerful Hackintosh. The intent was to build a system with a powerful enough graphics card that would enable Mandy to play Left 4 Dead 2 on Steam for Mac and free her from having to use the HTPC (Home Theater PC) in the living room for gaming.

The secondary part of the plan was to replace the current HTPC with a Hackintosh system that could access shared EyeTV recordings (stored on the iMac, which would ideally have been replaced by a Hackintosh) and stream content from our media server via Plex, a full-featured home theater interface for OS X. After investing money in parts to build / upgrade the Hackintosh systems, and about 20 hours of ultimately fruitless effort, neither Hackintosh ended up being stable enough or feature-complete enough to pass muster as a full-time replacement for the existing setup.

It was frustrating, to say the least. I was able to construct a work-around that involved leaving the iMac in its current role as Mandy’s desktop and turning the intended-to-be-Hackintosh into a plain ol’ desktop PC running Windows 7. It allowed for the use of OS X and gaming at Mandy’s desk, but was nowhere near as consolidated or elegant a solution as the Hackintosh plan I had originally hoped for.

A similar work-around was necessary for the HTPC as well. The central features of an ideal HTPC for me, given our current setup with EyeTV for OS X as the primary DVR system, would be a computer that could playback recorded EyeTV recordings, view content via common video delivery systems (Hulu and Netflix being the big two), and stream content from our media server. A Hackintosh running the EyeTV software and Plex for OS X would meet those criteria perfectly. Hence the desire to hackintosh (verb) our HTPC. When this didn’t work (boot issues, system sleep hang-ups, and bluetooth reliability issues), I basically reversed everything back to what it was before: a plain ol’ PC running Windows 7 and relying on Windows Media Center’s TV tuning abilities to watch live TV. But that wasn’t all . . .

Since it was running Windows 7, it wasn’t able to run the EyeTV software and view any recordings on the iMac either. For Live TV, Windows Media Center was the obvious choice, and easiest to configure. It does have DVR capability, but it was completely incompatible with EyeTV recordings. For Netflix, Hulu, and other streaming services, Boxee has some decent features and social networking integration (that we probably would never use). And finally, for media streaming, XBMC (XBox Media Center) has a wealth of options. Having to use all three home theater software programs is a little silly, in my opinion. Especially because there is a LOT of duplication between all three, and always a tantalizingly close feature set for Boxee and XBMC.

So that’s how the old Hackintosh plan fizzled out. What prompted me to revive the Hackintosh and compulsively try to give myself a headache again? The answer is simply, Garageband. There is no other podcasting software available that has the feature set and intuitive usability that Apple has provided. Or at least I haven’t a sufficient replacement yet. In the interim, Garageband is the best option. And because Garageband is designed to work as part of the iLife suite and make the Mac a great multimedia content creation platform (you can probably see where this is going), it’s an OS X only program. So, if I wanted to use Garageband, I had to have a Mac to use it on. That’s when I begrudgingly started to hop back into the saddle and begin working on re-creating the very Hackintosh that had stymied my prior efforts.

The good thing was that the level of tolerance for problems/issues/trouble for a podcast editing station with Garageband as the primary function is a lot higher than what it was for a dedicated HTPC or iMac replacement. Why? Well, I’m already accustomed to troubleshooting Hackintoshes over the years, and if it was only going to be used by me, I didn’t have a major reservation against dealing with the occasional kernel panic or re-patching with kexts. And since I had most of the parts left-over from the failed Hackintosh plan for the iMac and HTPC replacements, it was a good way to make use of available spare parts.

Third time’s a charm, I guess. It took several hours before I got the system to install OS X correctly (a malfunctioning DVD drive was to blame, it turns out), but after that it was smooth sailing. Or at least as much as one can expect while setting up a Hackintosh. About the only issues I had (and still have) is the lack of integrated audio (but this is largely mitigated by the USB-based headset w/mic that I use for podcast recording and editing in Garageband) and a frustratingly slow LAN transfer speed. The ethernet issue is still unresolved and annoying when doing any major file transfers over the network (it’s a gigabit LAN connection that works fine in Windows 7, but performs only at 10/100 speeds in OS X) but is adequate for most daily network tasks (EyeTV recording and podcast uploads).

The current Hackintosh setup I have is adequate to the task at hand, namely, editing podcasts in Garageband. But something curious happened as a result of the time spent setting up the new working Hackintosh. Some may remember my hilariously short-lived “Adequate Computing” phase, but I’m beginning to revisit that idea, albeit from a different perspective. I don’t think I will ever be content with the anemic Celeron-based system I had somehow tricked myself into accepting as good-enough. My 3.7GHz Core i5 system has spoiled me in terms of raw computing power. But the lowly Core i3-530 at 2.9GHz with two physical and two logical cores (4 threads total) is not nearly as shabby as one might think. In fact, with the main exception of gaming for CPU-bound games, I doubt I would even be able to tell the difference.

So why the change of heart . . . again? The answer comes in the form of the hard drive used. Odd, right? My preference for an other-wise modest system over my gaming behemoth has to do with the hard drive? Yep. And that’s because it uses an S.S.D. (Solid State Drive). But that’s a WHOLE different topic that I’ll save for another post . . .