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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.

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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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How to burn an ISO file to a USB stick

I wanted to install Linux on a hard drive in Frankenmac, as Clover is a multi-boot utility—it lets you choose from any OS it sees during power up. (I’ll add Windows, too, eventually.) To do this, you need to get Linux onto a USB stick. I’ve done this in the past, and my vague recollection of the process was download the ISO, convert to an image file, write image file to USB stick. However, as it’d been a few years, I went searching for references to make sure I had all the commands correct.

I found a lot of pages with a general summary of the process, and few with the specific steps. I tried one of those, but my USB stick didn’t work. The other specific pages contained the same basic process, so I was stuck. Until I found this page, which contained a critical step I was missing: Formatting the USB stick before copying the image file.

For future reference, here’s the precise process to follow if you want to burn an ISO file onto a USB stick…

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Easily compare Intel CPUs across generations

As part of my research into Frankenmac, my homebuilt Mac clone, I stumbled across this page at Intel that lets you easily compare CPUs across generations. Just click the Processors button, then choose a family (Desktop), then choose a CPU family (7th Generation Intel Core i7).

Click directly on a processor’s name to go to its data sheet, or click the Compare box to add it to a comparison. Select as many as you like; the final layout includes horizontal scrolling to display those that don’t fit onscreen at first.

I found this site useful when selecting a CPU for Frankenmac. Comparing the 6th and 7th generation Core i7, for example, the 7th generation has a slightly faster clock speed, faster RAM, and support for Intel Optane memory, whatever that might be. Based on these mild differences, and on Apple not yet shipping a Mac with the 7th generation chip in it, I chose the 6th generation Core i7 for Frankenmac.

Create Time Machine-like backups via rsync

Taking a break from the recent Frankenmac posts, here’s a little trick for creating “Time Machine like” backups of anything you’d care to back up1I don’t know how well this might work for Mac files, as opposed to Unix files. But Mac files can be saved to the real Time Machine.. In my case, it’s the HTML files off of my web sites, both personal and work. I used to simply back these up, but then realized it’d be better to have versions rather than totally overwriting the backup each day (which is what I had been doing).

Once you’ve got it set up and working, you’ll have a folder structure similar to the one at right, with one folder for each backup, and a “current” link that takes you to the newest backup.

I get zero credit for this one; my buddy James explained that he’d been using this method for a year without any troubles, and pointed me to this great guide that explains the process.

I used that guide and added the following to my backup script to create my own customized Time Machine for the files from here, robservatory.com:

/usr/local/bin/rsync -aP \
  --link-dest=/path/to/quasi/TM_backup/current user@host:/path/to/files/on/server/ \
  --exclude "errors.csv" \
  --delete --delete-excluded \
  /path/to/quasi/TM_backup/back-$newtime
rm -f /path/to/quasi/TM_backup/current
ln -s /path/to/quasi/TM_backup/back-$newtime /path/to/quasi/TM_backup/current

And that’s all there is to it. Note that you may need a newer version of rsync than what comes with macOS now (2.6.9)—I use version 3.1.2 from Homebrew, so I can’t say for sure that this script works with the stock version.

I’ve only been using this for a couple weeks, but it’s working well for me so far.

Macworld: 2008 writings

Macworld logoAll (or as many as could be found online) of my 2008 writings for Macworld.

January
Jan 2 First Look: Excel 2008
Jan 14 Expo Notes: Office gets its day in the sun
Jan 15 Steve Jobs gets cohesive
Jan 15 Time should be on our side with iTunes rentals
Jan 15 MacBook Air: Holding my breath
Jan 16 Expo Notes: Hurrah for Houdah
Jan 16 Expo: Of Snowballs and Snowflakes
Jan 16 Expo Notes: Podcasters in glass houses
Jan 17 Expo Notes: TechTool Pro gets approachable
Jan 17 Expo Notes: Merge ahead
Jan 17 Microsoft Excel 2008
Jan 18 Expo Notes: Screenshot sharing
Jan 18 Expo Notes: Acura show its drive at Expo
Jan 18 Expo Notes: Cleaning Up at Expo
Jan 23 Stacking up the MacBook Air and a Sony Vaio
Jan 23 Avoid embarrassing typos
Jan 25 Expo’s international flavor
February
Feb 25 The state of the union for iPhone apps
Feb 26 Mac case designs: Nirvana achieved?
March
Mar 5 HoudahSpot 2.0.8
Mar 6 When good hard drives go bad in small places
Mar 6 The iPhone SDK has all the right answers
Mar 7 ScreenFlow 1.0.2
Mar 12 iPhone SDK: One at a time?
Mar 14 Hands on with Firefox 3
Mar 25 Hardware Monitor 4.5
April
Apr 4 Leopard’s Unix tricks
Apr 15 Excel 2008 vs. Numbers ‘08
Apr 18 Apple and the homebuilt Mac community
Apr 18 Frankenmac! What’s in a Mac clone?
Apr 24 iPhone battery life redialed
May
May 2 Flying through time
May 7 First Look: VMware Fusion 2.0 Beta 1
May 13 Basic lesson: Microsoft listens to its users
May 19 Best of Both Worlds: OS X and Windows
May 20 Microsoft Office: The killer Windows app
May 20 More killer Windows programs
May 21 The 10 best games you won’t find on your Mac
May 22 Psystar skates on thin ice
June
Jun 5 Does Apple have an OS X update up its sleeve at WWDC?
Jun 10 Some background on background processes
Jun 12 Apple announces Mac, iPhone design award winners
Jun 13 OS X virtualization options limited for desktop users
Jun 16 Lingon 2.1
Jun 17 Tidy Up! 1.4.2
Jun 23 SmartSleep 1.2
Jun 24 Smultron 3.5
Jun 25 SuperDocker 2.2.0
Jun 25 XP’s window is about to close
Jun 26 The ARDAgent security hole: What you need to know
Jun 26 MenuMeters 1.3
Jun 26 When installing software is too simple
July
Jul 9 A brave new world for iPhone apps
Jul 10 Window shopping at the App Store
Jul 10 View the web’s images via iEnvision
Jul 10 Use Jott to record your thoughts
Jul 10 All the news that’s fit to tap
Jul 11 Review: Mobile News Network for iPhone
Jul 16 Two steps forward and one big step backing up
Jul 16 Review: Jott for iPhone
Jul 18 Review: Bloomberg 1.1 for iPhone
Jul 21 Review: iEnvision for iPhone
Jul 21 Review: Golf scoring applications for iPhone
Jul 28 Review: NowLocal for iPhone
Jul 29 Review: Golf scoring applications for iPhone
August
Aug 1 Review: Mocha VNC and Mocha VNC Lite for iPhone
Aug 4 Review: Teleport for iPhone
Aug 5 Review: Firefox 3.0
Aug 5 How sound is Consumer Reports’ Safari advice?
Aug 6 More ways to protect yourself from phishing scams
Aug 12 Vetting the App Store approval process
Aug 14 Troubleshooting iPhone and iPod touch issues
Aug 15 Review: Secret keeper apps for the iPhone
September
Sep 1 Review: Dive Planner for iPhone
Sep 5 Review: 1Password for iPhone
Sep 10 First Look: iTunes 8.0
Sep 17 A market opportunity for Apple Remote Desktop
Sep 19 Practice good online password security
Sep 19 Review: X-Plane 9 for iPhone
Sep 23 Review: Frotz for iPhone
Sep 29 Apple and old equipment recycling
Sep 29 Profile: Automotive performance apps for the iPhone
October
Oct 1 More credit for Apple
Oct 6 Review: Gas station finders for the iPhone
Oct 6 Review: Razer ProClick Mobile Notebook Mouse
Oct 9 Review: Fuel mileage trackers for iPhone
Oct 9 iTunes and media file organization
Oct 14 Matte matters
Oct 15 Fluid 0.9.4.1
Oct 24 Review: Grocery list applications for the iPhone
Oct 27 Leopard’s year-old annoyances
Oct 31 Stop the page-flicking madness—give us iPhone folders
November
Nov 5 Remembering Michael Crichton
Nov 11 Shopping at Apple’s Special Deals site
Nov 13 Path Finder 5.0.2
December
Dec 3 Eddy Winner: VMware Fusion 2
Dec 3 Eddy Winner: ScreenFlow 1.0.2
Dec 4 Did Hulu deserve an Eddy?
Dec 8 Review: Another look at iGasUp
Dec 17 Review: Parallels 4 build 3540
Dec 17 Review: VMware Fusion 2.0.1
Dec 18 Review: Sun VirtualBox 2.0.6
Dec 18 Choosing a virtualization application
Dec 23 Review: RemoteTap for iPhone
Dec 16 The end of an era for Macworld Expo
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