Stop the Noiz

Building a PC That Can Run OS X

Frank Fox - 2011.07.07 - Tip Jar

If you are used to Macs, then you have probably missed out on the problems that PC users face. That can leave you unprepared for the things you encounter when building and setting up a PC computer.

In my previous article, A Mac User Builds His First PC, I talked about how I missed a simple thing like two power plugs on the motherboard. It led to days of troubleshooting to fix a problem that experience would have avoided, and it wasn't the only issue I ran into.

OS X Install Issues

On the positive side, if you plan to install Mac OS X on a PC, things have gotten easier. The big advancement is that the software for installing OSÊX on a generic PC has gotten much simpler. The new motherboards now use EFI (Extensible Firmware Interface) just like Apple, instead of the older BIOS.

The next step is getting past the TPM (trusted platform module) check that looks for official Apple hardware. There are now boot loaders based on Darwin that skip the check and allow you to use an unmodified, original install disk. (Darwin is the open source code for Mac OSÊX that has been released by Apple.)

The use of a modified install disk meant that people had to modify copies of OS X in order to get the installer to work. People then shared their copies to help others out, including some who may not have paid for a full license. This was a combination of breaking copyright and sharing pirated copies. It's not the most legal method, but it is not like Apple gave you the option to install directly.

The new method does less to interfere with Apple's copyright, but it still violates the EULA (End-User License Agreement). The EULA is tied to Apple's copyright through the TPM, which restricts installing to Apple hardware. This double whammy makes it somewhat questionable to skip the TPM in order to make the retail install work. You could still be judged as breaking DMCA because you are bypassing the TPM.

In your favor is the fact that copyright law understands that changes to software may be required to get it to work on your hardware. You may not have the right to resell the changed software, but for your own use you have some rights. Bottom line: It is a bad business model to sell your own brand of Hackintosh.

Then once the install is complete, the Multibeast software helps set up the drivers you need and fixes the DSDT (Differentiated System Description Table). This combination works with OS X 10.6 Snow Leopard. Older hardware and versions of OSÊX may require another solution.

Pick the Right Hardware

If you are going to build a PC, here is my advice that may make it easier for you.

If you plan to use Mac OS X, keep your components similar to Apple's. Apple only provides support for products it sells; getting someone else's hardware working is going to be trouble. That means use Intel Core Solo, Core Duo, Core 2 Duo, Xeon, or Core i processors. For video cards, stick with ATI, AMD, and Nvidia, but also be selective about your video card.

The rest is a crapshoot.

If there are things that are important to you (e.g., audio, WiFi, networking, Bluetooth, etc.), be sure to research compatibility online before you buy. I got lucky, Realtek audio was supported. The sound isn't perfect, but it is good enough. Ethernet works, but my WiFi card is a work-in-progress.

Installation Issues

If booting from the install disk doesn't work, then try booting in Safe Mode (press and hold the Shift key from power up until the Apple logo appears on the screen). This mode turns off some features, but it still lets you install OSÊX. I was able to start the install with iBoot, but each time I put in the Mac OS X disk, all that happened was the "spinning wheel of death". Using Safe Mode allowed me to finally get to the install screen.

If you plan to use Windows, it may be easier to start with the Mac install and add Windows later. The reason is that the Mac uses GPT (GUID Partition Table) partitioned disks during startup, while Windows uses the legacy Master Boot Record. These two partition types are not compatible, and OSÊX will refuse to install if it can't see a GUID partition. I found some workaround instructions, but they were complicated, and I just wanted to get the software installed.

Boot Camp failed to work for installing Windows. Instead, I partitioned my drive with two partitions when I did the Mac install. Strangely, Windows installed without problem after Mac OS X was working. I don't understand why, but all it required was a FAT formatted install partition.

Planning for the Future

If you are building your own PC and plan to upgrade later, there are options, but Intel doesn't make it much easier than Apple. Every new model year, Intel releases new processors with new sockets styles. These are both connector and key. The motherboard connects to the processor through the socket, but the socket is keyed to only work with certain sockets. It isn't backward compatible, and next year's models probably won't fit either.

If you are going to update, you can only use compatible chips - otherwise you have to buy a new motherboard. This isn't so bad. A new motherboard is much less expensive than a whole new computer. But other things, like RAM and video cards, might also change before your next upgrade, adding to the cost.

Macs are sold without a lot of regard to processor speed. Sure, the more expansive models have more powerful processors, but it's just part of the overall package. For example, the 27" iMac is faster than the 24" model, but you don't buy the 27" model just because of the processor.

With a PC, you can buy whatever and upgrade the processor to a faster chip later, or overclock what you have to speed it up. This can seem totally alien.

In fact, I slowed down my processor because I had a heat problem. I didn't get the heat sink pushed on tight enough, and the temperature was way too hot. I played with processor speed at first to see if it would help. It did work, but I eventually figured out that the heat sink was the real problem.

Drivers Matter

Processor speed can slightly impact performance, but a poor video card is worse. While the video I card bought isn't superfast, when Windows 7 installed without the correct drivers it made the whole computer sluggish. I ran the system performance check before and after - it went from a 1.0 to a 7.0. That is a noticeable change. Would I have been happy with a 5.0 or a 6.0? Probably. Small differences aren't important.

The Hackintosh world has been improving. I think we will see that Apple is going to finally take the movement seriously. It will become more like Microsoft with greater copyright protection on its software. The next operating system, Lion, will be download-only from the Mac App Store. Soon there will be checks built in to verify that the copy you are using is not only paid for but on Apple brand hardware.

Enjoy your freedom while it lasts. LEM

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