Building a Hackintosh Pro
Saturday, 18th March 2017
If Apple made a mini tower that was upgradable and could take a full-sized graphics card (or two), I'd have purchased it in a heartbeat. However, they don't. There's no doubt that Apple has a refresh for the desktop market in the works, I just don't know if it's going to be enough to satisfy the creative market who seem to be slowly migrating to Windows.
Maybe Apple has been waiting for the recently released Ryzen CPUs from AMD? Or maybe they are just waiting for WWDC to announce their new pro desktop machines, either way, I really hope they get it right this time. A modern cheese grater Mac would make a lot of professionals very, very happy.
I've used Macs for the last 20+ years, and in recent years I've also had a gaming PC at home. This is nice, but having to find room for both machines, along with juggling separate monitors, keyboards, and mice is a pain. Especially when you consider they are both running off of the same architecture. Wouldn't it be nice to have just one machine that could do everything…
So yeah, building a Hackintosh means I'll be able to have just one kick-ass machine that can boot into either macOS or Windows. Perfect.
Research & Build
I spent a week or so researching how to build a Hackintosh, I watched plenty of YouTube videos, read articles, and spent a lot of time on the tonymacx86 website. As many others have pointed out, this is time well spent, and probably the best way to learn how to do it. There are basically three parts to building a Hackintosh; picking the right components, actually building the thing, and finally getting macOS installed and running. As long as you take your time, and research each part properly you'll be fine.
I wanted to build a machine that was faster than my current MacBook Pro and would be able to replace my gaming PC. This basically boiled down to picking the fastest CPU and GPU that macOS supports without resorting to any hacks.
I used the tonymacx86 build guides to get started and if I wanted to stray from the exact items listed there, I checked the forums with other users to make sure the components were suitable. I can't stress enough how useful the tonymacx86 website is.
While picking two of the most important components, the CPU and GPU. I hit a few snags. MacOS doesn’t yet support Intel’s 7th Generation Kaby Lake processors so I had to go with the previous generation, the Skylake processor. Not a huge deal as an i7 4.0 GHz processors is still faster than any MacBook Pro you can buy.
The other slight compromise I had to make was on the graphics card. The best “supported” GPU you can get is the GeForce GTX 980 Ti or the GeForce Titan X. MacOS and the Mac Nvidia drivers don’t yet support Nvidia’s more powerful new 10series range of Pascal based cards. Still, the GTX 980 Ti will run rings around most PC’s, and any Mac you can buy. The best part about this is that you can now get a GTX 980 Ti fairly cheaply as PC users are ditching these in favour of the latest generation cards.
The 980 Ti is more than powerful enough to play all the latest games with settings set to “Very High” or “Ultra” depending on your screen resolution.
After plenty of research, here’s the final set of components I settled on for the “Hackintosh Pro”.
- Case: Phanteks Evolv ATX Tempered Glass Edition – £171.15
- Case Lighting: Phanteks LED System Cabinet Lighting – £24.07
- Motherboard: Asus Z170-A – £131.99
- Graphics Card: ASUS NVIDIA GeForce GTX 980 Ti – £275.00 (via eBay)
- Processor: Intel Core i7 6700K Processor 4.0 Ghz – £307.99
- Power Supply: EVGA Supernova 850 W Gold G2 Series – £127.92
- Memory: Trident Z RGB Series 32 GB (8 GB x 4) DDR4 3000 MHz – £388.53
- Cooler: Corsair Hydro Series H100i V2 240mm Liquid CPU Cooler – £106.99
- Wi-Fi / Bluetooth: Fenvi FV T919 802.11AC Wifi Card – £45
- Storage: Samsung 850 EVO 1TB SSD – £299.99 (Windows)
- Storage: Samsung 850 EVO 2TB SSD – £589.99 (macOS)
- Storage: 5TB Seagate Internal HD – Already Owend (Mac Backup)
Build Cost: £1,578.64 (£2,468.62 with SSDs)
The most expensive items in the build were storage and memory. It turns out 3TB of SSD storage, and 32GB of fast memory is still quite pricey. Had I gone for a more modest setup I could have cut this cost in half.
If you’re price sensitive, you could build a Hackintosh for under £1,000. You’d just need to go for the basics and not max everything out. Again, Tonymacx86 has a selection of example builds to get you started.
Pimp My Hackintosh
When I set out to build a Hackintosh, I knew I wanted a stupid amount of LEDs in the case and on the desk. I figured if I’m going to essentially build a PC, I may as well go all in. This is a very different from my previous Mac setups, and is definitely a love it or hate it kind of thing. Personally, I really dig it.
I stopped short of buying coloured cables and just went with the stock ones supplied. I was honestly tempted, but as this was my first build I decided to play it safe. Now I’ve built the Hackintosh, I feel confident I could replace the cables with some fancier looking ones along with adding in some RGB fans to really complete the build.
I did some quick benchmark tests with my MacBook Pro and Hackintosh. I sourced the Mac Pro results from the internet. The Mac Pro only wins in Multi-Core performance (something you won’t notice in day to day use). The Hackintosh beats both machines in Single-Core performance and absolutely kills them on 3D performance. The price difference is eye-watering.
- Hackintosh: i7 @ 4.0 GHZ (4-Cores), GeForce GTX 980 Ti, £1,578.64
- Macbook Pro: i7 @ 2.90 GHz (4-Cores), Radeon Pro 455, £2,879.00
- Mac Pro: Xeon @ 2.7GHz (12-Cores), Dual AMD FirePro D700, £7,139.00
On all the graphs below, longer bars are better.
Comparing my Hackintosh score on Geekbench confirms that it’s faster in single-core performance than any other Mac Apple currently sells. Maybe this will change soon as Apple is due to release updated desktop hardware. The good thing is that as Apple support newer and better processors the Hackintosh community should be able to take advantage of them (e.g. Ryzen or Kaby Lake).
Building a Hackintosh is not for everybody. It’s not a simple process, there is an overwhelming number of parts to choose from, and on top of this, you need to pick the ones that are compatible. When you’ve built the machine you need to get macOS running on it, it’s not a quick process. If you want to do it, do your research and take your time. I’d probably say this build took me around 8 hours from unboxing the components to getting macOS installed. This was over the course of a few days.
I’ve been running this machine for a couple of weeks now and I couldn’t be happier. It’s super fast and I can easily switch between Mac and Windows. I’ve switched off auto-updates in Sierra. While system updates should work just fine, I prefer to hold off until the community over at tonymacx86 have confirmed there are no issues. This is probably one of the major drawbacks to running a Hackintosh.
If you’re into tech and enjoy tinkering and understanding how things work then you’ll find building a Hackintosh is hugely rewarding.
P.S. If you like the Hackintosh sticker in the photo above, you can get your own set over on etsy.