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Frankenmac 2017: The Beginnings

It’s been almost exactly nine years (wow!) since I last ventured into the land of Hackintoshes, or homebuilt PCs that can run macOS.

Back then, I built and used one, then wrote about the machine for Macworld, and they even lab tested it, where it held its own against real Macs costing much more.

Fast forward to 2017, and I’ve decided to tackle the project again. Why? Oddly, because there is a new Mac Pro coming, but it’s a ways away. I want something I can use in the interim, without spending a huge amount of money on. When the new Mac Pro ships—assuming it’s not an enhanced trash can design—I plan on upgrading, and the homebuilt Mac will become a gaming PC.

As I’m not writing about the project for Macworld this time around, I’m going to document things here on the blog as I go along. In today’s installment, I cover the first steps in the process: online resources and parts decisions.

Step 1: Bookmark your resources

There’s a page I’ve had bookmarked for forever that covers the entire Hackintosh process from start to finish: Lifehacker’s Always up-to-date guide to building a Hackintosh. Here you’ll find everything you need to know, including links to the software that makes this possible, installation steps, and (most critically), a link to the Buyer’s Guide, which lists parts that are known to work in Hackintoshes.

Between the guide and the parts list, you’ll find all the information you need to build your own Hackintosh—make sure you read the linked article on building your first computer if you’ve never turned an assortment of parts into a computer.

Step 2: Create your parts list

To build a complete Hacktinosh, you need to build a complete computer, which will entail quite a few parts: Case, power supply, motherboard, CPU, CPU cooling system, hard drive, CD/DVD drive (mostly optional nowadays), memory, video card, Wifi/Bluetooth adapter, keyboard, mouse, and monitor … I think that’s everything.

That’s a lot of choices to make, and what you choose to buy will be based on both your budget, and on what type of Mac you’re trying to create (powerful Mac Pro replacement, Mac mini clone, etc.). I find it useful to create a spreadsheet listing each part type, then fill in costs and descriptions for the various parts you’ll purchase. This makes it easy to see what effect swapping out one part for a less/more expensive one will have on your total budget.

In my case, I wanted to build a powerful Mac with a higher-end video card, and keep the total under $1,500—well less than what it would cost me, even if I sold my current iMac, to buy a new iMac (which wouldn’t be notably faster than my current iMac). I browsed the list on the Hackintosh site in one tab, and Amazon’s site in another, seeing what was in stock, how much each part cost, and reading user reviews.

After much browsing and contemplating, I had my final configuration…

Note: For an always-updated list of the parts in my project, please check out the Frankenmac 2017 parts list. I’ll keep that page current with proper links and parts as things change over time.

The free (sunk cost) parts: For the case, power supply, and CD/DVD ROM, I decided to use what I already have here. The Frankenmac case from 2008 is still in great shape (it’s been in the attic for a few years), and it’s already got a power supply. I have an internal CD/DVD reader/writer in the spare parts pile, and it should work fine. I also have a keyboard, mouse, and 4K Dell display, so that’s all covered, too. [$0; $0 total]

CPU: Although Intel’s Kaby Lake processors are available, they aren’t yet supported by Apple (because no Macs yet ship with them). You can use them in a Hackintosh, but it’s not simple. Things will improve greatly once Apple ships Kaby Lake Macs later this year. So that made the CPU decision pretty easy: I went with the fastest Core i7 6600 CPU available. [$320; $320 total]

CPU Cooler: The cooler I chose would have taken an extra couple of days to arrive, so I’ll purchase one locally. So for now, this part is unknown, but it won’t be overly expensive. [$25; $345 total]

RAM: I went with the Hackintosh-recommended Ballistix Sport LT 32GB Kit, because I really don’t care what RAM I have as long as it works, and this stuff is well reviewed. At $220, it’s also a bargain for 32GB of fast RAM—by way of comparison, Apple charges $400 to add 16GB of RAM to a Mac Pro, and $600 to add 24GB of RAM to an iMac. [$220; $565 total]

Motherboard: Again I went with the Hackintosh-recommended part, a Gigabyte LGA1151 Intel Z170. This board should support (with a BIOS update that may already be installed) the Kaby Lake processors once Apple supports them, if I ever want to upgrade the CPU. [$130; $695 total]

Graphics card: I spent—by far—the most time with this decision. I knew I wanted a higher-end card, so I was choosing between two Gigabyte boards: The GTX 1080 and the GTX 1080 Ti. As seen on this comparison page, either GeForce card absolutely crushes the Radeon M395X card in the iMac, so either one would be a fine choice…

The Ti is the newer card, but it’s questionable that I’d see the benefits worthy of its additional $180 cost (it should be $699, though Amazon is showing higher prices right now). In addition, the Ti is backordered…so in the end, I went with the 1080. [$530; $1,225 total]

Hard drive: My plan is to migrate my RAID to my new Frankenmac as the primary storage, but I wanted a fast-booting SSD for the core internal hard drive. I chose a 256GB Samsung 850 EVO—it’s the same size drive I use in my iMac, where I still have 80GB free after three years’ use. [$108; $1,333 total]

Bluetooth and WiFi: There’s really no decision to make on this one; the Fenvi T-919 802.11AC Desktop Wifi Card1This product isn’t available on Amazon as of April 15th, 2017. Make sure you get the T-919. provides full Handoff and Continuity support on the Hackintosh. [$60; $1,393 total]

I managed to stay under my budget, but only because I have a number of the parts already. If I’d needed to purchase the other stuff, this would be close to a $2K machine, with much of the added cost coming from the 4K display I’d attach. Still, at that price, it’d be $1400 less expensive than a comaparable iMac.

Step 3: Order the parts

I ordered all my stuff from Amazon this time, primarily because I had some store credit and I like their easy return process. I’ve used Newegg in the past with good success, and we have a local Frys, which can be good for last-minute stuff at reasonable prices. Wherever you choose to buy, just make sure they have liberal return policies, in case a given part turns out not to work in your Hackintosh.

Coming next, the build…the parts are slated to arrive in two days, so it’ll probably be a weekend project.

10 Comments

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    1. That’s true for the Mac Pro, but not the iMac, isn’t it? System Profiler reports “disabled” on the ECC line on my iMac. And even in the Mac Pro, ECC RAM doesn’t seem to be that expensive: This page shows $155 for a 24GB kit.

      Am I missing something? (Very much possible :) ).

      -rob

    1. I’m expecting it to be fairly quiet – the Antec case I’m using is a quiet design, and when it housed Frankenmac 1, it was really quiet. Gaming may push the noise level up, obviously, but my iMac is anything but quiet when gaming, too.

      Basically, I expect it to be more or less silent in normal operation. I’ll do some measuring with an iOS sound meter app on the iMac and Frankenmac, though.

      -rob.

  1. As I’m considering the possibility of building a hackintosh myself, I’m really glad to see you pushing this project forward. I live in Brazil and just checked local prices for the same components you bought (motherboard, CPU, RAM, SSD and video card) and got an overall price of US$ 1958,00, which even though 49% higher than what you got, is actually good for brazilian standards. For some context, the cheapest Mac Pro costs US$ 7.514,00 against a US price of US$ 2.999,00 (150% higher).

  2. Great start to this series of informative articles!

    For another good read on building a Hackintosh, Dan Benjamin recently described his experiences building a “Frankenmac” on a microsite he created called the Hackintosh Method.

  3. Rob,

    I’m curious whether there are any pre-built, non-apple, computers one can buy that are ready to work as a Hackintosh out of the box? Can you buy a Dell (or another brand) which gets you most of the way there which may save you time and money?

    Matt

    1. Dell once released a machine that ran OS X straight out of the box. But I don’t think there are any currently out there. One problem with selling such a machine is that it’s not legal to do if it’s running OS X. They could sell you a built machine, but you’d still have to do the macOS installation. I’m not sure there’s a business model there.

      -rob.

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