A couple of months ago, I noticed that my late-2008 MacBook was getting sluggish. I started pricing out some newer, higher-end computers, but didn’t like my options. On the Mac side, anything with the level of components I wanted was insanely expensive. And although I wasn’t necessarily opposed to switching back to a Windows PC — especially if I built my own — I knew that most of my software was now tied up OS X, which meant that I would have to spend several hundred dollars to buy the Windows versions of many of the programs I owned if I wanted to be able to do any work. This basically left me with one other option: build a Hackintosh.
I won’t go into the pros and cons about building a Hackintosh, or why I decided it was the best option for me. All I’m going to say is that I’m glad I did it. Not only did I end up with an incredible machine, but I also learned a lot in the process. This blog post is my own personal take on a DIY Hackintosh guide. I’m putting it out there not because I think I’m an expert, but rather because I’m a novice who somehow managed to pull it off, and I wanted to let others know what to expect when doing their first build.
First, let me say that I would rate my knowledge of computers as fair to middling. Before I embarked on this journey, I had a basic understanding of what the various components of a computer did, but not much more than that. Naturally, when I first started looking into building a Hackintosh, I doubted whether I could handle it. Even looking at a “simple” DIY Hackintosh guide like this excellent one from Lifehacker, I found myself grappling with a lot of scary new terms: “BIOS,” “kext,” “DSDT,” “boot flag,” “kernel panic,” etc. I also read a lot of opinions from people on various forums who said that installing OS X on a homebuilt PC was difficult and a waste of time compared to building a Windows-based system, which is a much more straightforward process.
I’m here to tell you that building a Hackintosh is actually not that difficult. All it takes is some research, a little persistence and an ability to follow directions carefully. Here’s a summary of my experience; I present it in the hope that others might find it useful.
Choose Your Components
Choosing components is a critical part of this process, because not everything works out of the box with OS X. The easiest thing to do, if you can afford to buy all-new components, is to use the tonymacx86 Buyer’s Guide to select components that are OS X-compatible. I basically just went right down the list of suggested components for a “CustoMac Pro” and picked out what I wanted.
Of course, if you’re an actual hacker, you’re range of options is much bigger. A relative on my wife’s side built a Hackintosh out of a $186 Acer Aspire One notebook. I imagine something like that takes actual skill, which I don’t have and can’t really discuss here.
Anyway, here is the full list of components I chose:
- CPU: Intel Core i7-3770 3.4GHz Quad-Core Processor
- Motherboard: Gigabyte GA-Z77X-UD5H ATX LGA1155 Motherboard
- Memory: Corsair Vengeance LP 16GB (2 x 8GB) DDR3-1600 Memory
- Storage: Sandisk Extreme 120GB 2.5″ Solid State Disk
- Storage: Seagate Barracuda 1TB 3.5″ 7200RPM Internal Hard Drive (x 2)
- Video Card: EVGA GeForce GTX 660 Ti 2GB Video Card
- Wireless Network Adapter: TP-Link TL-WDN4800 802.11a/b/g/n PCI-Express x1 Wi-Fi Adapter
- Case: Corsair 500R Black ATX Mid Tower Case
- Power Supply: Corsair Enthusiast 750W 80 PLUS Bronze Certified ATX12V / EPS12V Power Supply
- Optical Drive: Sony AD-7280S-0B DVD/CD Writer
Here’s the PCPartPicker part list, for those who are interested. PCPartPicker, by the way, is a website you’ll probably want to bookmark if you’re thinking of building your own system. It lets you price out the components and make sure they’re compatible.
(FYI, I went on Apple’s online store and priced out a Mac Pro with similar components; the total added up to well over $3,000. So basically, I got the same computer for less than half that price. If that’s not a reason to build a Hackintosh, then I don’t know what is.
Assemble the Hardware
Before you install OS X on your new computer, first you need to actually build it. (Check out my Flickr set of my build.) For me, this was the easiest and most fun part of the whole process. I’m not going to go into any detail, however, because others do it much better than I could. There are a lot of great guides out there on how to build a computer, but these are the ones that really helped me:
- Newegg TV: How To Build a Computer – Part 2 – The Build
This YouTube tutorial shows the entire process from start to finish. Honestly, this might be the only guide you need.
- Marques Brownlee: Hackintosh Pro Project 2013!
Before you dig into Newegg’s comprehensive tutorial, you might want to check out this shorter overview. I found this guy pretty entertaining.
Honestly, the only thing I found difficult about this process was cable management — which was partially my fault for buying a semi-modular power supply instead of a fully modular one. If you run into any trouble figuring out which cables go where, here’s a simple tip that might help you: do a YouTube search for the model of your case and/or power supply.
Adjust Your BIOS Settings
Once your computer is fully assembled, it’s time to get it ready by adjusting the settings in the BIOS, which is the basic input/output system that controls the flow of data from the computer’s components.
This was an area where I made a key mistake the first time I tried installing OS X. I ended up wasting a lot of time troubleshooting because I didn’t do my homework on which settings needed to be changed in my BIOS. I suggest you read up on it beforehand to save yourself a lot of frustration.
Frankly, you don’t even really need to know what a BIOS is or how it works. Just know that you’re going to have to fidget with its setting in order to get OS X to run right on your new homebuilt computer. Here are the key changes I needed to make in my BIOS to get OS X Mountain Lion up and running. Remember that this is specific to my particular system, though:
- AHCI – enabled
- xHCI mode – auto
- xHCI hand-off – enabled
- EHCI hand-off – enabled
- Init Display First – PEG
- High Precision Event Timer – enabled
- Wake on LAN – disabled
Install OS X Mountain Lion
This is the exciting part. It’s also the part where things can start to go wrong. They shouldn’t, though, if you’ve adjusted your BIOS settings correctly and are capable of following directions.
I used the Unibeast installation method, since I already owned a MacBook and was able to download a copy of OS X Mountain Lion from the App Store. Rather than go through the process step-by-step, I’ll just point you to this excellent installation guide from MacBreaker. (Lifehacker also has a good tutorial, if you prefer.) Basically, you’re going to download an application called UniBeast from tonymacx86.com that will turn a USB thumb drive into a bootable OS X Mountain Lion installer. You’re then going to use this bootable thumb drive to install OS X Mountain Lion on your soon-to-be-Hackintosh’s hard drive. That’s really about it for this step.
Except, of course, that things probably won’t work right the first few times. Do yourself a favor and prepare for some frustration here. Plan on getting stuck a couple of times on the gray startup screen that appears when you’re trying to install OS X. If that happens, you’ll need this list of “boot flags” that you can use to temporarily bypass whatever the problem is. What’s a boot flag, you ask? Again, I really have no idea; I’m just following others’ instructions. (Personally, I had a lot of luck with the -x, or “safe mode,” boot flag.) Once you’ve got OS X installed, then you can move on to the next step, which should eliminate the need for using any boot flags on startup.
The last step to getting your Hackintosh running properly is to download a program called MultiBeast that will let you easily install the drivers you need. Multibeast a free application created by some very ingenious people (clearly much smarter than I am) that will help you install files called “kexts” that will allow your new Hackintosh to run smoothly.
This is arguably the most difficult part of the process, in the sense that you have a lot of different options to choose from and choosing a wrong one could really sidetrack you. Your best strategy here is probably to search the tonymacx86.com forums for the kinds of hardware you’re using and see what other people did to configure their systems using Multibeast. I know it might seem insane to spend an enormous sum of money on computer parts and then trust a bunch of anonymous users on an internet forum to help you get it working right, but trust me, you would be surprised at the depth of knowledge these people have. In my case, I found this thread from a user with a system very similar to mine that basically spelled out step-by-step which settings I needed. I followed his instructions to the letter and ended up with a fully functional, completely reliable Hackintosh.
Have a Backup Plan
Of course, there’s always the possibility that you just won’t get the damn thing figured out. In that case, I’d recommend buying a copy of Windows 7 as a backup. Windows is much, much easier to install than OS X. So, worst case scenario, you give up on installing OS X and have yourself a really nice Windows machine. Best case scenario, you end up not needing your copy of Windows and return it for you money back — or, even better, do what I did and create a dual-boot OS X/Windows machine by installing another hard drive and using the Chimera bootloader.
I hope this is useful. If you’re thinking about doing this for the first time and decide to go ahead with it, just remember that your best friends in this process are going to be tonymacx86.com and YouTube.
Good luck. I’ll leave you with a couple of other miscellaneous websites/pages I found that helped me through this process: