I have recently noticed that I am starting to have a few issues with my current iMac. My hard drive is nearing full (and it is a pain in the ass to replace with a larger one) and my optical drive died (I have been using a cheap external). Since iMacs are not very upgrade-friendly, I decided to check out the offerings from Apple. If I got a new iMac, it would cost quite a bit for (what I consider) a pretty marginal upgrade. The new mac pros that were announced look pretty awesome, but dadjum are they expensive! I started looking around and found that I could get something with more than enough power for less than half of what I would pay for a mac pro so I decided to go the hackintosh route. I started with this guide from lifehacker, and tonymacx86 has been an amazing resource. When figuring out what kind of hardware I wanted, I pretty much stuck to the list provided by tonymacx86 since most of those components had been tested so I would be less likely to encounter incompatibility issues. I hadn’t build a computer since the media server, and that was the first one I had built in many, many years. Thus, there were several times that I’d forget the order of a few key things (e.g. I always forget to install the little coverplate in the back before I install the motherboard), but otherwise it came together fairly easily. Since this was a larger build, I decided to put the basic components together to test them before I installed them in the case, and sure enough something wasn’t working! The motherboard would just power cycle and never boot even to BIOS. First I thought it was the power supply, so I picked one up at Best Buy to try and it gave the same result. I tried with varying numbers of RAM chips and still nothing so I assumed the motherboard was bad. After I returned it and received another one, I had the same thing happen. Initially, I thought it was the processor, but I decided to test the RAM a little more thoroughly and, sure enough, one of the ram chips was bad. Doh! So I got that return processed and then I had working components, and it was time to put this bad boy together!
For the most part, the installation of OS X went according to plan. I had to tweak one graphics setting that was keeping it from booting up, but otherwise it pretty much went as the guide described. Gotta love it when things just work! I left a partition on the main drive in case I want to dual boot. I’m thinking about throwing linux on there for now, then switching it to Windows so I can try out some PC gaming.
The next thing I have to tackle is how I want to set everything else up with regard to my hard drive. Since I have both an SSD and a traditional hard drive, there are a number of ways I can set things up to best utilize them. One option is to just change the location of my home directory to reside on the hard drive. This would mean applications and system files would all be on the SSD, and I would have the large drive for all my music, movies, etc. The downside to this approach is that any applications that use temporary storage would use a directory in my home directory and would, therefore, not utilize the speed of the SSD. Another alternative, the one that I have chosen, it to leave my home directory on the SSD and have my large directories reside on the hard drive. This is fairly simple to set up because you just delete the folder (e.g. Movies), create a folder on the hard drive for all the files, then create a new Movies folder in your home directory that links to the one on the hard drive (e.g. ln -s /Volumes/BigHardDrive/Movies ~/Movies). Because programs don’t differentiate between an actual directory and a symbolic link, all application behaviors should remain unchanged. The other downside to this method (that wasn’t mentioned in the first descriptions of possible setups) is that you can’t use the Migration Assistant in the same way. Typically, I would use a Time Machine backup and import all my files and settings to the new computer. When you try to do this, it won’t let you merge the imported user with an existing user. Therefore, any symbolic links that you set up won’t be utilized when the data imported. Because of this, I can’t import because my SSD doesn’t have nearly enough space to hold everything, even temporarily, so I can set up the directories again. Additionally, what I have read indicates that you don’t want to try to copy files directly out of a Time Machine backup. The organization isn’t the same as just regular files. So I had to use an external hard drive to copy over all the large directories (in a couple of batches because the hard drive isn’t that large). It is a bit annoying because, had I known this was the approach I was going to have to take, I could have started transferring things a while ago and had them ready to load up as soon as the hackintosh was built. Live and learn I guess!
It is looking like I may also use this opportunity to upgrade some of the iLife applications I have been using. I suppose another downside to building your own hackintosh is that the iLife suite isn’t automatically loaded. Now that OSX is free, there is definitely no chance of a bundle. I haven’t updated any iLife apps since 2009, apparently, so I imagine some improvements have been made in the past 4 years I’ll probably just start with iPhoto then look into iMovie when I have some movie editing on the horizon. I debated just switching over to Aperture for all my photo organization, but my version is also at least 4 years old and a new version is like $80 vs. $15 for iPhoto. Luckily, the newer versions of these programs actually share a library, so what I have read indicates that switching to Aperture in the future would be pretty seamless. Here’s hoping! I figured I would put together a little spec sheet. If anyone stumbles upon this and has questions or wants more specifics, feel free to contact me. Just wanted to give a basic overview here.
- Quad Core processor
- 32 Gb RAM
- 240 Gb SSD as primary drive
- 4 Tb storage drive
- Video card with support for up to 4 monitors
- bad ass ATX tower case
So far, I am not seeing much that I feel like I will be missing out on with the hackintosh approach vs. traditional mac. There are a couple of tiny things I won’t have (camera, everything built into my monitor, etc.), but a couple of things I have gained (multiple easily accessible usb ports, easy modification/upgrades in the future, etc.) Yes, putting it all together was more difficult than just ordering a mac, but if you only choose proven hardware, it was pretty straightforward. Now the only real thing I have to be concerned about is any future OSX or application updates being incompatible with something in a hackintosh, but I think that’ll be pretty unlikely (or I can just not upgrade anything for a while, haha).