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Tuesday, January 24, 2012

The "Hackintosh" Mac Clone

Here's an odd-ball one for you.

It seems everywhere you turn around, there is someone, or something, talking about the Mac.

Of course, at Mondo bucks per piece if you decide to go out and buy a Mac, buying a Mac "just for the %$#@ of it" is not a reasonable proposition.

Or, perhaps you want to do some preliminary testing on a Mac, because your product is supposed to support the Mac platform as well - yet you don't want to spend the time fussing with unfamiliar, (and expensive!), hardware just to find out that the latest Dev. release isn't worth the powder to blow it to Hell.

The solution is to build a Mac clone using a PC.

I will warn you, this is NOT a trivial undertaking.  You will have to look at the data and decide for yourself if you want to invest the time and effort required to build a Mac clone, or if you should just bite the bullet and buy the darn Mac outright.

Fair warning:
Assuming you actually go out and purchase a legitimate copy of the actual software to create a Mac Clone, creating the Mac Clone, (though not a copyright violation), is still technically a violation of Apple's EULA - which says you cannot install Apple software on anything but Apple supplied hardware.

By the same token, slipstreaming a Windows installation with the latest Service Packs is also "technically" a violation of the Windows EULA.  However everyone does that all the time - and there are even Microsoft sites that explain how to do it. . .  So this is something you will have to decide for yourself.

Also note:  I've never done this myself.  I am just passing along some interesting information that I found while on the web wandering around.  As a result, Your Mileage May Vary.  And don't forget backups before you do anything weird like this on your machine.

Now that we have that little blurb out of the way. . . .

It IS possible to build a Mac clone.  The reason is that - though the Mac software is very tightly bound to the Apple hardware, the hardware actually used is not unlike the hardware on a PC.

They use NVIDIA or ATI video hardware, just like the PC.
They use optical media drives - CD / DVD / DVD-DL / Blu-Ray - just like the PC's use.
They use Intel processors - that use architectures "just like" the PC's have.  (That is, unless you have an ancient OS-X release for the Power PC, and that doesn't count anyway.)
The sound hardware is, (often), very similar to - or exactly the same as - that used by a PC.

A USB mouse is a USB mouse is a USB mouse.  Likewise for the keyboard.  If you REALLY want to immerse yourself into the "Mac" experience, you can go out and buy "Gen-u-ine" Mac mice and keyboards that have all the special Mac keys with the four-leaf clovers on them.

So, what's the difference?

The folks at Apple maintain very tight control over the design and manufacture of their machines - ergo, the hardware environment is absolutely stable - at least as far as the operating system is concerned.

Because of this they can know exactly what to expect, and exactly what the range of variability is, when they design the software.  As opposed to the PC crowd where the O/S has to have forty-zillion drivers on hand to handle the wide variation in possible hardware configurations.

And because of THAT little factoid, Apple can absolutely guarantee that their software will install - and run - on their hardware with an absolute minimum of tweaking - if any at all.

The other side of this is that PC hardware is not tightly bound to the Apple's software - and because of this it's just not possible to wave a magic wand and turn your PC into a Mac.  There are many hoops you have to jump through to do this task - and the folks at Apple hope and believe that most everyone is too lazy to make this effort - and they will choose to just spend the bucks needed to buy the genuine article.

Now that all of this has been said, let's get down to the dirty work.

Unfortunately, I cannot give you a "blow-by-blow" detailed spec on how to do it, as everyone's PC is potentially different.  What I CAN, and will do is give you guidance along the path and provide links to web sites that get into the Gory Details.

The first thing you will need to do is assess your hardware; and the best place to start is at some of the "Hardware Compatibility Lists" out there.  The OSX-86 Project Website has a pretty impressive list.  Though it's for the 10.6.5 version, you should be able to get pretty close with the list as it is.  At Ahsantasneem's "BLOG OUT LOUD" site they have a pretty comprehensive list of hardware - listed by version - along with links to various "gotcha's" like the EFT, and DSDT file - which you will need.

I did a dogpile search on "apple hardware compatibility list" and I received a bunch of interesting "hits" on that topic.  You may want to check it out.

Once you have verified that your hardware is compatible, (and that you can get drivers for this stuff!), you can proceed to either build up a system from scratch, or begin the installation process on your existing hrdware.  A good tutorial for that process can be found on the "makeuseof" web site.  It details all the things you need to know about configuring the motherboard you have selected, including BIOS settings, hardware gotcha's, and stuff like that.  Tonymac's web site also has good information - links to useful utilities - and a few caveats that the first site missed.  Tonymac mentions that you should not install with more than four gigs of memory in place.  The first site didn't mention that, so maybe YMMV?  I dunno.

One other caveat is that the normal, "plain vanilla" PC cannot boot from a Mac installation disk because the disk formats are totally different.  Instead of using the ISO9660, (et. al.) format, they use the "HPFS" format, which a PC cannot read on startup.  The solution to that problem is to use tonymac's "'startup wedge" software application, iBoot.  You boot this application, and it allows you to insert the Mac-formatted CD/DVD and continue the boot process from there.  (This site requires registration to download stuff. . . .)

After that, following the instructions on the makeuseof web site, you actually begin the installation.

Further down, after the installation is complete, you will, almost certainly, want to make use of the program "Multibeast", (also available on tonymac's site), to do some of the internal tweaks you need to do.

There are other things you have to do - one important one is the "DSDT" file, which describes to the OS how to use the hardware you have.  Very Important!  Both of the tutorials have site links for DSDT files, and there is another great site with a good tutorial on how to find, edit, and re-compile a custom DSDT file for your specific hardware.

Update:  "C" left a very interesting reply to this article, (see below), and mentioned his own blog:

I popped on over to his site - it is excellent! - and he pulls together information and advice, both from his personal experiences and the advice from other Pillars Of Wisdom on this topic.

If you are seriously thinking of making a "Hackintosh" system, I would consider his site an absolute MUST READ on this topic. 

I have never built one of these myself, though I plan to, and I scrounged up a copy of Snow Leopard for just that reason.

One thing all the sites say, over and over and over again, is to use an entirely separate hard drive for this installation, as it needs to be formatted as an HPFS volume with a GUID partition table.  You can dedicate a specific machine to being a "Mac", or you can use a second - blank - hard drive for the Mac installation.

Once that's all done, you can worry about setting up a multi-boot environment and any other stuff you might want to play with..

It would be interesting to know how you make out, if you try this.

What say ye?

Jim (JR)


  1. I've spent a lot of time on the subject of Hackintoshing, and I've found that your mileage generally depends on your preparation. If you want everything to go right, you have to actually build your Hackintosh from scratch. A random preassembled Dell isn't going to cut it; only certain motherboards work out of the box, only certain graphics cards work out of the box, and god help you if you need a compatible WiFi adapter. I've actually written an entire post on the subject of Hackintosh compatibility, if anybody's interested. http://www.macbreaker.com/2012/01/is-your-computer-hackintosh-compatible.html

  2. C,
    You make some excellent points and I thank you for taking the time to post your comment.

    I took a look at C's blog posting and it's excellent! He has pulled together a lot of information on how to get a computer working as a "Hackintosh" - I would suggest it as a serious "must read" on this topic.

    C is absolutely right on the money when he says you need to do your homework - which is something I tried to mention in my article as well. It appears that great minds think alike ( :grin: )

  3. If you are creating image of your Mac for the purpose of restoring the original data, then I don't think there will be any issue regarding violation of EULA. There are authorized tools for the purpose and one is Stellar Drive Clone.

  4. I live in Central NY and the county to the north has Colgate university. Just north of them is an "outlet" location that sells older Mac systems for considerably less than the original price. These are systems that have been used in a classroom environment for 1-3 years, but have a 60 day warranty. I bought a "lampshade" style mac there for less than $250. Came complete with speakers, mouse keyboard, but no manual or restore disk. This is about 10% of the new price however, so I felt is was a great bargain.


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