About every other year, I embark on a masochistic journey to build and maintain a Hackintosh (a commodity PC running Apple’s Mac OS X operating system and software). I have made many, many, many, many, many Hackintosh builds over the past several years. The end of each Hackintoshing stint usually ended with a problem I couldn’t solve with that particular build, or my ever-shifting focus on the next technical project that would require the disassembly of the Hackintosh for parts. Between the euphoric rush of successfully booting up a new build to the maddening frustration of trying to debug an unresolvable kernel panic on every subsequent boot, my time with Hackintoshing has certainly been a love-hate relationship.
I’ve already explained my reasons for building a Hackintosh in the past, but as a general summary: it comes down to bang for your buck. Apple makes a wide range of Macs from the almost iPad-like new MacBook (One) to the powerhouse Mac Pro. In the desktop category, the Mac Mini takes the low end, the iMac takes the middle, and the Mac Pro serves the high end. But while each category does a good job of covering the span of use cases fairly well, you pay dearly for upgrades.
With each successive generation of Macs, the ability to upgrade after purchase has dwindled. While I might be able to afford an entry level 21″ iMac today, if I wanted to increase the RAM, replace the CPU, or increase the internal flash storage at a later date I’m out of luck. Macs are becoming more like iOS devices – built to be as compact and “appliance-like” as possible. When it breaks or is no longer able to meet your needs, Apple would rather you replace it with a new Mac rather than try to upgrade it. It would be less of an issue for me if Apple just preferred you to buy a new Mac. But when the CPU and RAM are soldered to the motherboard and the upgrade of internal storage involves potentially voiding the warranty, options are limited or non-existent.
So that’s where the Hackintosh comes in. By replacing the restrictive and expensive limitations that Apple imposes on hardware with the commoditized array of standard PC components, you can get the benefits of Apple’s operating system and the benefits of as many powerful components as you need. Should your needs change in the future, swapping or upgrading individual components are only constrained by the compatibility of the existing hardware installed. The big downside – and the reason I have such a love-hate relationship with Hackintoshing – is the work needed to get a Hackintosh up and running and to keep it that way.
Anyone with a normal computing setup (such as Mac OS X on a ‘real’ Mac or Windows on a PC) is familiar with the fact that things can go wrong and troubleshooting is part of the package. But imagine inverting the likelihood of something working most of the time except for when problems arise. What if it didn’t work most of the time and only with a lot of effort worked correctly? That would be really frustrating, right? Well, that’s essentially what you sign up for when you build a Hackintosh.
For a technically-minded person, this challenge can be fun by itself. And I must admit that getting a Hackintosh to run correctly and remain stable for a period of time is an accomplishment. But the joy of that accomplishment can fade and be replaced with a persistent unease that the supposedly stable platform you’ve just created could collapse at any time.
I’ve just recently decommissioned my most recent Hackintosh build, largely because I’ve managed to replace its role as a video editing machine with a semi-pro ‘real’ Mac. But I know that it’s only matter of time before the itch to tackle another technical challenge and the allure of powerful hardware running Mac OS X on the cheap (relative to Apple’s prices) will draw me back in to build another Hackintosh.