Recently we were asked the question, “How do I build a Hackintosh?” by a member of our facebook page. So I thought I would tackle this one as an article rather than filling a whole podcast with the answer.
It’s an enormous subject that cannot be quickly answered as each build is different depending on the particular hardware you want to use.
I’m not going to detail step by step how to actually build a system as there are so many variables that its near impossible to simplify in that way. So I will attempt to point you in the right direction of where to gather the correct information you will need to learn how to build one of your own. Therefore I will be fairly general with my explanations to try and cover things for as wide an audience as possible,
I have quite successfully built my own systems for a few years now and my current build consists of OSX Lion 10.7.3 with my PT10.2 HD3 PCI-X and two 192 I/O interfaces and it works just as well as any off the shelf Apple machine i’ve ever used.
Be in no doubt its not straightforward and definitely not as easy as installing Windows or OSX straight from the DVD, but it’s certainly not an unattainable task for anyone with a little computer administration skills, patients and the dedication to put a lot of effort into it.
Before you start, you will need to do some research to get yourself familiar with what goes into building a system, some terminology and common issues people encounter.
You have to be prepared to do a lot of reading, troubleshooting, problem solving and be ready for apparently unexplained random failures. However, like any “Computer DIY” type escapade there is plenty of help available from many online communities and lots of documented success stories so persistence is the name of the game here.
If you are a seasoned computer “Geek” and have a reasonable understanding of PC’s, Mac’s and a basic grasp of Linux I think you should be up to the task. However if you don’t like having to mess around to get things working properly and you are looking for a cheaper way to a powerful system but have no idea when it comes to getting technical with anything you might struggle a little, but I will let you be the judge of that.
Ok the first thing I would suggest is to visit and sign up to the TonyMacx86 website forums, they are the best resource and most helpful community I have come across in my time dealing with these builds. You should read through some of the build guides, there are a lot on the site so I don’t think it will be too difficult to find one that is tailored to what you want to do. Some of them are even ProTools specific from people wishing to get a little longer life out of their HD PCI-X cards with a PCI based PC motherboard.
Something else you need to be aware of, is that you cannot just use any PC hardware you like, there are specific motherboards, graphics cards and other hardware to use that are proven to work, and again there are recommended hardware lists on the TonymacX86 website and this thread on the Avid DUC is a great resource for hardware selection, especially for those looking to build Pro Tools HD PCI-X machines.
The careful choice of hardware is necessary due to the fact that there are not Apple software drivers for a lot of PC hardware, So drivers (known as kexts in Apple terms) need to be written or modified from existing versions. Luckily if you keep it as Intel based as possible (Motherboard with an Intel chipset and Intel CPU) its a lot easier due to Apple using Intel hardware to build Mac computers, So many of the essential Intel related kexts are part of OSX already, except perhaps for the absolute latest incarnations from Intel due to Apple machines being a little behind PC’s when it comes to the very latest hardware, but fear not, the Hackintosh community is usually on the button with the latest compatibility news.
Possibly the best resource I’ve seen so far is the recently released, Building a CustoMac Buyers Guide 2012,
This guide is a fantastic list of the most supported and closest match to “off the shelf” Apple Computers and could be considered the easiest hardware to get up and running.
It certainly serves as a great suggested shopping list when you are looking to build
that latest and greatest “Mac-A-like” machine you have always dreamed of.
I highly recommend it if you want a system that is the least hassle to get working.
So join up to the TonyMacX86 website, read some guides and chat with some of the very clever members, and of course the Hackintosh DUC thread whose members can offer some very detailed help when it comes to a Pro Tools related build,
Getting OSX and necessary install app
What you will also need though, is either a fully functioning Mac that is running the App Store, in order to buy your copy of OSX Lion/Mountain Lion and download it. I also believe you can buy OSX on a USB stick from an Apple Store. If however, you want to run Snow leopard, you can get a retail DVD version, from the Apple Store or a used one from Ebay etc
Then you will need the TonyMacX86 app relevant to the OS version you want to install that will integrate the items not included in the OSX installer necessary to get it working on your PC hardware. and perform a final cleanup at the end.
The method for a Snow Leopard build uses iBoot and Multibeast.
The method for installing Lion and Mountain Lion uses Unibeast and Unibeast 1.5 respectively.
Make sure you read these guides and fully understand the process before you begin your build.
Either way having another Working Mac nearby during your build can always be useful.
Something else you need to be aware of is the way that a Mac boots its OS. It does not work the same way a PC does, there is no way for you to install OSX onto your PC hardware and get it to successfully boot up without a bit of help from this clever piece of additional software compiled by some clever Unix/Linux type people.
The Bootloader is a little piece of software that exists between a PC’s motherboard BIOS (the low level operating system used to configure the hardware options) and the fully fledged operating system of choice, usually Windows or a flavour of Linux. Simply put, when a motherboard has completed its P.O.S.T. (Power On Self Test) and is happy that everything is present and correct, it hands over to the Bootloader, which contains detailed information about where and what your operating system of choice is all about.
Mac OSX does not contain a bootloader in the same way as Windows for example, and so a software equivalent of the Mac’s boot process is needed to be implemented in order for things to work on PC hardware. I won’t go into boring detail here but if you would like some further reading the Hackintosh Wiki “OSx86” has everything you could possibly want to know on the whole Hackintosh subject and bootloaders.
When using the methods I have outlined in this article the booloader is installed as part of the MultiBeast/Unibeast process.
The other important thing I should make you aware of (and have briefly mentioned above), before you embark upon your mission, is the “kext”. A kext is the Mac OS equivalent to a “driver” file in Windows, think of it as the little piece of software needed to make your OS talk to a particular piece of hardware, whether it be a sound card, mouse, USB hard drive, etc. So depending on your hardware and whether OSX natively already contains kexts for it, you may need to do some searching to find what you need. This is the main reason why you cannot just use any old hardware you like to build a Hackintosh. There either needs to be a compatible kext built into OSX , (examples could be a Microsoft Compatible USB Mouse, or a USB hard Drive because these items use generic drivers/kexts common to both windows and OSX) or if you are lucky someone will have written or modified an existing kext that is close enough to what you need to actually work for you. If you are using a piece of hardware that is manufactured for cross platform use, a soundcard for example, the manufacturers supply a driver installer for both PC and Mac, so running the Mac installer is usually the way to go and in my experience this has worked fine. You will only usually need custom made kexts for hardware that doesn’t come supplied with OSX drivers like particular graphics cards or onboard sound cards.
As a final word I would like to outline the possible legal implications and brief historical background of the “Hacked Mac”.
Way back when Apple decided to start using the Intel processing platform, and the beast that is hackintoshing was unleashed, there was no way to instal OSX in the simple way we can go about it today. An OSX install DVD had to be hacked in order to get the bootloader integrated into the install process and this was considered by some as illegal practice.
These hacked install DVD’s were only found on illegal file sharing websites and so were pirated/illegal material when shared as they were not physically the original media .
Thankfully these days with 3rd party additional app methods like Multibeast and Unibeast from Tonymacx86 no hacking is required, But the legality of simply installing OSX on non apple hardware still apparently debatable, for example:
“The Apple software license does not allow Mac OS X to be used on hardware that is not “Apple-labeled”, though the legality of this agreement is currently disputed.”
With that said, as a disclaimer, Pro Tools Expert in no way endorse piracy or hacking of any kind. We also will not be held responsible for any actions or encounters anyone may experience as a result of pursuing anything outlined this article and by no means will we be offering or providing any kind of technical support on the subject, got that?…… Good…. Enjoy!