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Frankenmac 2017: How to back up a hackintosh

After last week’s temporary death of Frankenmac, I decided it was important to back up the machine—even though I haven’t yet migrated my data to it. Having a backup would let me quickly recover from any future self-induced stupidity. Backing up a hackintosh is generally the same as backing up a regular Mac, with one key exception: Making sure you back up the EFI partition, which is where are the special bits are stored to make your hackintosh boot.

Here’s what I did to make sure I had a bootable backup of Frankenmac…

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2019 iMac vs Late 2014 iMac—Part Two

Update: After I posted this, Brad Oliver contacted me on Twitter about the frame rates for DiRT Rally—he commented that the fact that they were clustered around 60fps made him think I’d left vertical sync (Vsync) on…and he was right. I’ve updated that section with the modified results, as well as one additional comparison I forgot to include the first time.

Oh, and in case you don’t know Brad…he was directly involved in porting DiRT Rally to the Mac for Feral, so he knows his stuff! Thanks Brad!

In part one of the comparison between my old and new iMacs, I provided a brief overview of the new machine, tech specs for both, and a number of benchmarks. (I also tested the video card against a Windows GeForce GTX 1080, and posted a slide-over image that demonstrates the wider color gamut on the new Mac.)

In today’s second (and final) part, I’ll take a look at video processing performance (via iMovie), how well the new iMac handles gaming, and then wrap up the whole series.

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Two year old crushes the new (video card) kid on the block…

My 2019 iMac has the new AMD Pro Vega 48 video card, the fastest video card Apple has offered in a (non-Pro) iMac. But just how fast is it? I’ll have more to say about it in an upcoming “games shootout” with my 2014 iMac, but I was also curious as to how (badly) it might compare to the video card—an NVIDIA GeForce GTX 1080—in my 2017 Frankenmac.

While I’d love to be able to compare the performance under macOS on Frankenmac, that’s not possible as I uninstalled it a while back—I’d been unable to update to Mojave due to a lack of NVIDIA drivers for Mojave. (Which is related to all of this, in that you cannot use an NVIDIA card—with acceleration—in Mojave, even in an external GPU box, because it seems Apple and NVIDIA aren’t on speaking terms right now.)

However, because a number of the benchmark apps I used in my 2019 iMac vs 2014 iMac—Part One comparison test also run on Windows, I was able to do some head-to-head testing, even if the difference in the OS adds a layer of unknown to the results.

Going in, I was pretty sure I knew what the results would show: The Windows PC was going to crush the iMac in anything graphically related, but lose in the CPU tests. While the AMD card is a big step up from previous-generation iMacs, it’s nowhere near bleeding edge—it’s more like “minor scrape” edge—in the Windows world.

Anyway, I ran a bunch of tests, and the results were pretty much as I expected…

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6,399 reasons why I haven’t yet replaced my iMac

My main machine is a late 2014 27″ iMac with a 4GHz Core i7 CPU, 24GB of RAM, and a 256GB SSD (plus a big external RAID for most of my files). While it runs fine, I would like something with Thunderbolt 3 support, with faster graphics for X-Plane, and with more computing power for ripping Blu-Ray discs. It’s also beyond AppleCare age, and if something fails, it will be expensive and time consuming to repair.

When the iMac Pro came out, I was intrigued, but the price point is scary high and there was the “new new” Mac Pro on the horizon—potentially a cheaper alternative, given the display wouldn’t have to be bundled (and upgradeability is a good thing). I was hoping for an update on that machine at WWDC this June. Instead, we got the update much earlier, though it’s not was I was hoping to hear: The new new Mac Pro won’t be released in 2018.

As a result, if I want to replace my iMac this year, I have only two choices: A new iMac non-pro, or a new iMac Pro. (In theory, I could look at a MacBook Pro with an eGPU for graphics, but I despise the Touch Bar, and that’s the only way to get the highest-spec MacBook Pro. But I really want a desktop Mac, not a laptop-as-desktop Mac.)

So just what would I be getting for my money with either machine? And how do those machines compare with the Frankenmac homebuilt I put together last year? And perhaps more intriguingly, how do they compare with the 2013 “new” Mac Pro that Apple still sells today?

To answer those questions, I turned to the Geekbench 4 benchmark app, which includes both CPU and graphics (they call it Compute) benchmark tools.

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Making some marks on some iPhone 8 benches

With the arrival of my iPhone 8 Plus and its A11 Bionic CPU, I thought it’d be interesting to compare its benchmark performance (for the CPU and GPU) with some of the other gear in our home—iOS devices, Macs, and even a PC and a Linux box. In total, I tested 15 devices.

How did I test? I turned to Geekbench, which you can run on MacOS, Windows, and Linux (anywhere from free to $99), as well as on iOS ($.99). It has tests for both the CPU (using single and multiple cores) as well as the GPU (OpenCL and Metal on iOS/macOS; OpenCL and CUDA on Windows; CUDA on Linux).

What follows is far from a scientific study; I was just curious how the CPU and GPU in the iPhone compared to other tech gear in our home. As such, I didn’t run the tests under “ideal lab conditions,” I just ran them—one time per machine, with no special setup other than some basic stuff…

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Frankenmac 2017: Fix distorted images at power on

When I originally set up Frankenmac 2017, I did so using an old 1920×1200 monitor, and everything looked fine from power on through booting to macOS.

But then, when it came time to get Frankenmac ready for production use (much more on that in a future post!), I connected it to my widescreen Dell 4K display, and was greeted with the ugliness that is a stretched Apple, as seen at right. This problem would fix itself relatively quickly during the boot process, but it was annoying.

Even more annoying was that the same distortion was present in the Clover boot loader that you see every time you power on the machine. In light of all my other issues, solving this problem was near the bottom of the priority list. But once I’d done everything I could on that front (again, more about that soon), it was time to tackle the distortion issue.

The solution turned out to be relatively simple, though not even vaguely describable as obvious. After much web searching, I wound up in this forum thread, where I found many possible solutions. Some seemed incredibly complex, but finally, on page four, I found a simple fix that worked—no more distortion, in either the Apple logo or the Clover screen:

If you’re experiencing distorted images on your hackintosh, here’s the fix that worked for me:

  1. Power up and enter BIOS (usually by hitting the Delete key)
  2. Find the Windows 8/10 Features setting—on my Gigabyte motherboard, it’s in the BIOS Features section. Set it to Windows 8/10
  3. Once you do step one, a new option, CSM Support, will show up. Set it to Disabled.
  4. Confirm that Secure Boot is set to Disabled.

And that’s that—with those changes (for me at least), the distortion was gone. As a side benefit, the boot screen is at the full resolution of the display, so there’s no more jaggies and everything looks properly scaled. Ah, correct aspect ratio bliss!

Frankenmac 2017: Troubleshooting tips

Earlier today, I managed to kill Frankenmac…again. Technically, it’s “again again,” because I also did so over the weekend. The weekend death was a black screen, same as the first, but this time, I managed to find the solution.

Today’s death looked more serious—Frankenmac would reboot itself about a second after I started the boot sequence. I tried my backup drive, and it didn’t work either—despite the fact that I tested it over the weekend. I couldn’t boot in single user mode or safe mode from either drive. I could, though, boot into single user mode from the original USB stick I made for the install.

From there, with some help, I eventually got things working again. If you choose to build one of these things, you may find yourself with a similarly-dead machine at some point in time. Worst case, you should also be able to boot in single user mode from the USB stick, but then what? Here are a few tips on things you can do while booted in single user mode that might help debug the problem.

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Frankenmac 2017: The devil is in the details

My Frankenmac project has reached the point where all the easy stuff is done, and only the hard stuff remains. To put it another way, the machine is 95% functional, but that last 5% is going to require more effort than anything thus far, I believe. Today, a look at what was easy (relatively speaking) and what’s going to be hard.

The easy stuff

Going from nothing to a basically functional Mac was all relatively easy, save for a few moments of self-induced pain. To me, these were the easy parts of the project.

  • Buying the right hardware: Compared to nine years ago, when I last built a hackintosh, this part has gotten much simpler. If you stick to the hardware on the tonymacx86.com Buyer’s Guide, you’ll have the right hardware for the job.
  • Building the machine: If you’ve built a PC before, this step is pretty simple. You’ll need to watch out for some gotchas, especially if you’re trying to use a nine-year-old case and power supply, but it’s still pretty simple.
  • Installing macOS: Nine years ago, I remember this step taking me a long time. Today, thanks to programs like UniBeast, Clover, and MultiBeast, it’s relatively straightforward. You’ll want to follow the guide closely, and you may hit an odd issue or two—USB ownership in my case—but getting macOS running was still relatively easy.
  • Using an upgraded video card: Thanks to NVidia’s release of Pascal drivers for the Mac, getting my GTX 1080 video card running was a breeze.
  • Sleep/wake: I didn’t have to do anything here; it just worked.
  • Handoff and Continuity: With the proper Fenvi card, this should just work…and it did for me.

At this point, I had (and still have) a machine that will boot MacOS and run just like an actual Mac—for most things. It’s the “not most” parts that constitute the hard stuff…

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Frankenmac 2017: It’s (temporarily) dead, Jim

My purpose in writing this series of posts is to share everything about the hackintosh process, as experienced by a somewhat technical user who has built a number of PCs, and one prior hackintosh. That means sharing the good (the PC booted!), the bad (graphics card roadblock), and the ugly (today’s story).

The ugly is this: Frankenmac is presently dead.

4pm Update: Frankenmac has returned to life. How? I’m not entirely positive, but I think it was a system date/time issue. I booted into single user mode (which worked) and noticed a lot of the system-installed files had dates of 1969 or 2037. Typing date at the command prompt returned some date in 2040. Yikes! I rebooted, set the date and time in the BIOS, reformatted the drive (for the sixth time), installed macOS, waited for the reboot…and it worked!

I was trying to get audio working after sleep (one of the last remaining little things to fix), and managed to get the machine in a state where it’d only boot to a black screen. No amount of web searching found a workable solution, so I thought I’d just start over. To do that, I needed to format the internal drive (using my iMac’s disk dock). Disk Utility isn’t enough, though, as the hidden EFI partition also needs to be removed, and you can’t do that in Disk Utility. (You could, via a hidden debug menu, before Apple neutered Disk Utility in OS X 10.11.)

Some web digging found the solution: Write zeros to the boot sector with this command:

sudo dd if=/dev/zero of=/dev/disk1 bs=1024 count=1024

Very important: Don’t do this unless you’re absolutely positive you know what you’re doing! You’ll wipe a disk in a hurry, and there’s no recourse. Also, see the comments for a much better way!

After zeroing the disk, I ran the installer again, and that’s where things went south: The installer finishes, but upon reboot, when I tell the machine to boot from the internal drive, it starts the boot process, then reboots again.

And that’s where things sit. So for now, Frankenmac is tabled while I seek the advice of experts.

Frankenmac 2017: From BIOS to installed macOS

Today, a look at how my Frankenmac went from the basic hardware BIOS setup screen to a usable (though not yet fully complete or natively bootable) macOS machine. If you’re just tuning in, you may want to catch up…

  • The Beginnings: Resources, parts list, and ordering. (Steps 1 – 3)
  • The build: Turning the parts into something that powers on…but that’s about it. (Steps 4 – 5)
  • The roadblock: A new graphics card and an old case and old power supply do not mix.
  • Transplanted: Frankenmac moves into a new home, with a new power supply, to get around the roadblock.
  • The parts list: A constantly-updated list of the parts I used and the cost of each part.

Now that Frankenmac is functional in its new home—roadblock averted—it’s time to explain how I got to that point from the BIOS boot screen of step five a few days back. It’s a tale filled with drama, dread, doubt, defiance, and in the end, domination. Well, OK, it’s pretty much none of that, but I had a string of “D words” in my head, and had to use them somewhere…

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