The Siren Song of the Hackintosh

Over eight years ago, I built my first Hackintosh – a commodity PC configured to run Apple’s Macintosh OS X operating system. Since that time, I’ve experimented with a wide variety of Hackintosh configurations; all of them lasting for variable periods of time before the configuration become too unstable to make maintaining it worth the effort.

The reason for building a Hackintosh involves the thrill of getting something to work that wasn’t originally intended as such. But as I mentioned in my last post, that thrill can come at a cost of time spent tinkering to maintain a Hackintosh. My most recent Hackintosh build was perhaps the easiest to configure and most stable (for a time) of all my Hackintoshing experiences. Alas, in the end the tinkering took its toll and I was left with an unusable macOS install.

In summary, my build consisted of a Gigabyte Z170 motherboard, an Intel Core i7-6700k Quad Core @ 4.0GHz (Skylake) CPU, 16GB of RAM, a 256GB SSD (along with various other hard drives for storage), and an NVIDIA GeForce GTX 960. Not too shabby as Hackintoshes go. In previous builds, I had been using a much older AMD Radeon 6870 graphics card that – through luck of Apple’s component choices – was a natively-supported graphics card in macOS. That’s a much bigger deal than it sounds like as proper graphics acceleration (meaning: the graphics card is able to correctly do its job) is one of the most finicky parts of any Hackintosh build.

As with most Hackintosh builds, there was some initial tinkering to figure out exactly how to get the system to boot properly and install macOS. (For the record, it ended up being an XHCI handoff setting needing to be enabled). But the biggest change this time around was the graphics card. My venerable AMD Radeon 6870 had finally bit the dust, leaving me without my natively-supported graphics card. Surely, I thought, I could navigate the waters of NVIDIA web drivers to successfully install a newer graphics card, right?

Again returning to the theme of this post, while after some research and troubleshooting I did get it working, a slight change was all it took to topple my short-lived success. I downloaded and installed the NVIDIA web drivers as you do for a Hackintosh build (NVIDIA provides updated drivers for macOS in support of their Quadro series cards – but they just so happen to also support the GeForce line of cards in macOS). So far so good.

And after installing the drivers, the system required a reboot to start using the new driver. So I obliged. Unfortunately, that toggle setting to use the NVIDIA web driver instead of the basic macOS driver (which has terrible screen-tearing, visual artifacts, and slow enough redraw times that you can literally follow a screen redraw with your eyes) didn’t stay selected. About 20 more minutes of research, a kext update, and another reboot later and I had a fully-accelerated GPU working in macOS. Yay!

Or so I thought. Once I made the crucial step of cloning my drive (using Carbon Copy Cloner) to a new SSD to re-purpose the original SSD temporarily, I broke my Hackintosh. A cloning operation will move all the officially-sanctioned macOS system files, but not the custom Hackintosh code. Which is certainly understandable, and is something I was prepared to fix with a reinstall of the post-install steps I had originally performed to get it working. But alas, the one part that did not work – after hours of fruitless troubleshooting – was that graphics card. “No GPU-acceleration for you!”

With an essentially unusable Hackintosh at this point, I had come to a moment of crisis. With any Hackintosh, the key is backups and ‘recoverability’ if you break something – it just comes with the territory. But since my cloning backup failed to restore it to working order (meaning any future recovery attempts would likely run into a similar problem), I knew I would be relying on painstaking clean installs followed by Time Machine restores. Not ideal. But the biggest challenge was that I had lost my advantage of a natively-supported GPU and would likely be wrestling (unsuccessfully, so far) with GPU-acceleration/driver issues at potentially any turn with updates or changes to the system.

In the end, it was a lot of wasted time. Or at least it was looking like it would be more trouble than it would be worth. It had its fun moments, to be sure. And my masochistic relationship with Hackintoshing in general over the years is a testament to my willingness to subject myself to these challenges. But at the end of this most recent endeavor – and eight years of prior experiences – I think I’m finally ready to throw in the towel and leave the Hackintoshing to those with the will and free time I no longer have. A sad day, true. But one that reflects the reality that I’d much rather spend my precious free time actually doing the creative work (video editing, podcasting, etc) I was building a Hackintosh for in the first place.

For anyone who has read my previous musings on Hackintoshing projects will call foul at this point – I’ve “thrown in the towel” on Hackintoshing on more than one occasion only to come crawling back to it like some technological addiction. But today marked more than just a symbolic declaration of independence from my Hackintoshing past. For today I received (and unboxed) my 100% genuine, Apple-built Macintosh: a 5k iMac. (I’ll share more about that new development in another blog post). But at this point I think it is finally safe to say – the era of the Hackintosh (at least for me) is finally over.

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