Adventures in Hackintoshing
I’ve been using the same Mac Pro machine since 2007. It’s been a solid workhorse — over the years I’ve upgraded it, boosting it up to 16GB of RAM, slugging an eSATA card in, and replacing the Radeon 7300 card with a pair of NVIDIA cards to get some CUDA acceleration going.* But I’d finally come to the point where I could no longer work efficiently on the machine — working with Scarlet footage on a new short we just shot is just choking it up; on top of which, I’ve decided to learn Houdini, and when it comes to running even the simple first-tutorial simulations, I might as well be asking it of a brick.
With Final Cut Pro effectively EOL-ed (Final Cut Pro X is… cute), and no other software I use being exclusive to the Mac platform, I considered jumping ship entirely back to Windows and building my own PC, especially with Apple dragging their feet in announcing a new line of Mac Pros.** Then someone reminded me that I could potentially get the best of both worlds by building myself what’s variously called a CustoMac, or Hackintosh — a PC tricked into running OS X.
The last time I looked at Hackintoshing was around the time I got my Mac Pro. It was known to be possible, since OS X was now compatible with Intel chipsets, but it required, well, hacking. You had to actually dig into the code and know what you were doing, which — as this post will demonstrate — my attempting would not be the path of wisdom.
But, much like building a proton pack — which I’ve also been investigating lately for…reasons — what used to be an underground, esoteric pursuit requiring all kinds of scouring for parts and information has since become a simple, standard procedure with pre-selected parts ready to go. In the case of proton packs, you can find almost all the bits and bobs just searching eBay for resin castings. In the case of a Hackintosh, the central hub is tonymacx86.
On tonymacx86, you can find articles recommending PC parts that have been successfully Hackintoshed — the primary part at issue being the motherboard. The forums are also packed with threads by clever folks who have successfully built OS X machines, all laid out with clear, step by step information what they did to get everything working (and what they couldn’t get to work, if anything). Particularly of note are the Golden Builds, which are chosen by the community moderators as particularly worthy of attention and emulation. All you have to do is pick a build to follow and it’s as simple as following the steps.
The build I personally chose to follow is this one, based off the Gigabyte GA-Z77-UP5 TH motherboard. I chose this board and build because the board comes with dual Thunderbolt ports that were confirmed to work after the hack, as well as USB 3.0. If I was going to build a new computer I might as well try to get as much of the latest and greatest as possible.
There are faster boards that take more RAM (my board tops out at 32GB), but I don’t have infinite funds and it’s easy to get down a rathole of spending — if I get a faster board that takes more RAM, I should get more RAM, and a faster processor, and a better cooling system, etc. This board and the parts seemed to hit a price-performance sweet spot I was happy with.
I also chose this build because it had successfully booted into Mountain Lion 10.8.2, which was the only version available from the App Store.
Not wanting to take any chances, and for the sake of expedience, I decided to buy pretty much all the same parts as the build I was following, so I got the same processor (Intel i7-3770K), the same RAM (Corsair low-profile DDR3-1600 — though I maxed out the board with 32GB instead of the 16GB in the build), same CPU cooler (I probably would have wasted days trying to figure out what the best one was, so I appreciated being able to just buy one that I already knew would be appropriate), and same case.
The recommended power supply was discontinued so I bought a similar one from the same manufacturer; it being Black November, NewEgg had a great deal on 240GB SSDs so I picked up two, intending to dual-boot Mountain Lion and Windows 7; and I got a GeForce GTX 680 instead of the 670 in his build. I also purchased a FireWire card for backward compatibility, as well as a card with extra USB 2.0 ports so I can keep the USB 3.0 free for devices that can leverage it. I also picked up a Blu-Ray-burning-multi-wonder-everything optical drive. OS X doesn’t have built in Blu-Ray support, but it recognizes the drive and reads/burns DVDs and CDs, and using software like Toast the Blu-Ray features work as they should. In this way it’s no different than putting a BD into a real Mac.
The first motherboard I bought was defective — the power supply cable for some reason would not plug in to the board. It just physically would not make the connection. I sent the board back, got a new one, and that one worked fine.
Once you’ve got the parts assembled and the computer boots into the motherboard BIOS (if you’ve never built your own PC before, simply follow this step-by-step video produced by Newegg), it’s three simple steps to get your Hackintosh up and running with very little muss or fuss:
STEP ONE: BIOS
Adjust your BIOS settings to be compatible with an OS X boot. This is where following a successful build is key — someone else already went through all the trial and error for you. The build thread will contain instructions — often screenshots — for exactly the combination of BIOS settings that will make your motherboard and OS X play their nicest. Once that’s done, you’re ready to move on to:
STEP TWO: UNIBEAST
Like I said before, back in the day you would have had to hack up OS X yourself to trick it into accepting a non-standard chipset, but now it’s as simple as downloading a utility called Unibeast. Unibeast will help you create a bootable USB thumb drive with an unlocked version of OS X.
The process of making the drive and installing the OS to your machine is simple and detailed clearly here.
Unibeast will get the compatible OS onto the drive, but the drive will not yet be bootable. Using the USB stick to boot into the newly-created hard drive, it is then time for:
STEP THREE: MULTIBEAST
Another pre-baked utility from tonymacx86, allowing you to install all the necessary tweaks, drivers, and a bootloader in one fell swoop, after which your computer will happily boot to OS X directly. This again is a step where following a successful build will save you lots of time and trials, because the build thread will have a screenshot of all the proper boxes to check. The process of downloading and using Multibeast is part of the Unibeast installation instructions.
After that, you’re pretty much done. You’ve got a computer that thinks its a Mac and you’re good to go.
Other notes about the process:
My motherboard comes with a wifi/bluetooth card. Unfortunately, since it’s not meant to be a Mac motherboard, the card does not work under OS X. In fact, most wireless cards don’t. I think since real Macs come with wifi built in, manufacturers don’t see the point in making discrete cards for the purpose. Even the ones that say they’re Mac compatible turn out not to be, at least not for Mountain Lion, as I found after several round-trips to Fry’s in a cycle of purchases and returns.
There are a few guides for building your own Hackintosh-compatible PCI-e Airport cards, but I found someone selling prefab ones on eBay and just went with that. Once I got it, the computer recognized it completely natively. If you’re building your own, get one of these with the other parts.
CUDA IN ADOBE
The GTX 680 is not “natively” supported as a valid CUDA processor by Premiere or After Effects under OS X. As with wifi, this is an every-Mac thing, not just a Hackintosh thing.
Fortunately, it’s a simple fix. The programs have a human-readable .txt file inside the “package” telling them which cards they should accept for CUDA processing. It’s literally as simple as adding the name of your card to that file. A quick and easy, five minute walkthrough of how to do that from the Terminal is available here.
Having a dual-boot machine was as simple as installing a second SSD, installing Windows on the drive, and setting the boot priority in the BIOS so OS X is primary. If I want to boot to Windows I just hold down F12 when the computer first powers on and I get a boot selection screen (the specific key will vary depending on your mobo manufacturer, but it’s the same principle). No need for Boot Camp, it’s just native Windows. Easy peasy.
DON’T FIX WHAT AIN’T BROKEN
Okay, so here’s the story of how I completely fucked up my perfectly-working build for a little while there.
My motherboard has, among its other ports, an eSATA port built in. I have a Drobo S I use as my “active” storage — where I keep footage I’m using for editing and effects — connected to my previous Mac Pro via an eSATA card. Plugging the Drobo S into the eSATA port on my Hackintosh, it mounts as a drive, but is not recognized by the system — nor Drobo Dashboard — as a Drobo. Plugging it into FW800, it recognizes it as a Drobo.
This wouldn’t be a big deal, except that apparently if the computer doesn’t realize it’s a Drobo, the Drobo itself doesn’t realize it and doesn’t do its data protection thang. I transferred some files to the Drobo via eSATA, and then when I connected it to FW800 it went into data protection mode for several hours to deal with all the new data it apparently hadn’t noticed before.
I looked up my motherboard for driver/BIOS updates and it turned out that I was using BIOS v4 and it’s now up to v11, which listed “enhanced SATA capability” as its primary feature.
So here’s me, just built a Hackintosh, thinking I’m hot shit. I figure, hey, I’ll go ahead and update the BIOS.
In my defense, I wasn’t completely an imbecile about it. I downloaded Carbon Copy Cloner and cloned my boot drive to a USB drive so I could restore if needed. I likewise saved my existing BIOS to a thumb drive before overwriting it so I could restore it if things went pear-shaped. Which they proceeded to do. Updating the BIOS broke the OS X bootloader, so the computer no longer recognized the OS X partition as a valid bootable drive. Attempting to restore from the clone didn’t work because apparently I did the wrong type of clone backup.
On top of which, the graphics got all broken because Hackintoshing my particular motherboard’s BIOS has two sets of settings — one if you are going to use the onboard graphics, one if you are going to use your own graphics card. In my stress over trying to get my computer back up, I spent a good day repeatedly following the wrong procedure.
Long story short, eventually I rolled back my BIOS, followed the correct settings procedure, reinstalled Unibeast, reinstalled Multibeast, and just put all my applications back from scratch instead of trying to restore anything from Carbon Copy, finally getting back to where I had been in the first place.
The punchline? The Drobo-not-recognized-over-eSATA issue seems to be a problem with the Drobo and probably had nothing to do with my motherboard at all.
All in all, aside from user-error/-is-retarded issues, I’m very happy with my sexy new machine and looking forward to working with it. I especially look forward to trying some new-to-me apps — like Resolve and Smoke — which I simply didn’t have the horsepower for before. With the information and resources available, anyone even moderately tech-savvy can build a powerful, stable Mac Pro replacement — which can also boot Windows 100% natively — either for a fraction of the price, or for the same price but better. If you’re looking to upgrade your rig, don’t want to wait for Apple to show their hand on the Mac Pro, but still want to keep a foot in the OS X ecosystem, definitely consider it.
*The pair of cards, since I’m being tech spec-y in this post anyway, is the GT 120 and the GTX 285. The 120 is used to run the monitors, leaving the 285 purely for GPU acceleration. While not an officially supported configuration, it was recommended by Blackmagic as a kludgey way to get Resolve running on my machine. I still couldn’t really use Resolve but it boosted AE’s performance tremendously.
**They assure us such machines are coming, and that they will be awesome. This was also what they said of FCPX.