The Robservatory

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Frankenmac 2017

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: 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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Frankenmac 2017: Transplanted

After hitting a roadblock with the graphics card connector in Frankenmac’s many-years-old case, yesterday I picked up a new case and power supply, and set out to transfer the machine to its new home.

The power supply

First, the boring stuff: The power supply I chose is a Thermaltake Toughpower 750W 80 Plus Gold. It works well, and (other than the CPU and motherboard power cables) is modular, so you only add the cables you need.

Very strangely (to me, anyway) is that Thermaltake packages its power cables in a nylon bag, as shown in the image at right. I’m not sure why—do people wander around with PC power supply cables often enough to require a sturdy carrying case? Very odd. Anyway, the power supply is nice and quiet, installed easily, and seems to do its job. But power supplies are boring…

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Frankenmac 2017: The roadblock

Today I was going to write about the process of going from the BIOS boot screen to having macOS installed on Frankenmac 2017. That, however, will have to wait for tomorrow, due to a pretty big roadblock I hit while trying to get my GTX 1080 graphics card working. The roadblock looks like this:

On the left, that’s my hand. More relevant to the problem is that six-pin PCIe connector (from the power supply) in my hand. On the right is my graphics card, with its eight-pin connector. Now, while this may look like a round-plug square-hole problem, I didn’t think it was, mainly because of what I found on this page:

Because of both the physical design as well as the use of the sense signals, the six-pin power supply connector plug is backward compatible with the eight-pin graphics card socket. This means that if your graphics card has an eight-pin socket but your power supply has only six-pin connectors available, you can plug the six-pin connector into the eight-pin socket using an offset arrangement, as shown below.

And it’s true, the plug fits just fine. And when I powered up Frankenmac, the card lit up and the fans spun. However, onscreen I saw a message about connecting the PCIe power cable to the card, so clearly, something was amiss.

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Frankenmac 2017: The Build

The continuing story of my homebuilt Mac, which I’ve named Frankenmac 2017. In the first installment, I covered resources, choosing parts, and ordering parts. Today, what do once the parts arrive, as mine did yesterday1Not shown: Keyboard, mouse, display, and the case.

Everything in that shot came via Amazon, except for the CPU heatsink/fan at the back right. That required more driving around than I’d care to admit (one business gone, one out of stock, another unexpectedly closed for the day), but I finally found something I liked. And with that, I had everything I needed to build the machine.

Note: This page contains an updated list (with links) of the parts I’m using in the project.

Now that I had the parts, it was time to try to turn them into a computer…

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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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