posted by Thom Holwerda on Sat 6th Jun 2009 10:10 UTC
IconAnd we have another Ask OSNews item! This one has to do with the recent article we ran on how I built my own Macintosh and installed a vanilla, unaltered copy of Mac OS X on it using the boot-132 method. One of our readers asked us: what is the best hardware to build a Mac out of?

The questions goes like this:

My current Desktop PC has become an old man over the years and with my most recent acquisition of an Aluminum MacBook I am ever so impressed by how this Apple-device has turned my digital life upside down (in a good way).

With my urgent need for a new Desktop Computer I first started to look towards Apple once again. But the only option for my demands would be the Mac Pro which can only offer me a poor Nvidia graphics card or a rather mainstream Radeon HD card right now. All of this with the shocking conclusion that I can purchase much more powerful hardware (top-of the line in almost every segment) for as much as 500 €uros less.

My decision to not buy a Mac Pro is final. However I would love to get some advice on purchasing hardware on which i can expect this "boot-132" which you described in one of your most recent blog-posts to work with "a flick of the wrist" as you might say.

This is actually a fairly easy question to answer. The boot-132 method, which uses a modified open source Darwin kernel to bootstrap an unaltered Mac OS X 10.5 Leopard disk, works better the closer you stick to Apple's actual hardware choices. The more you deviate from Apple's hardware, the more problems you could potentially run into.

The Mac I built in that article is a good example. Due to the hardware in that machine deviating quite a bit from Apple's line-up, I have to disable HyperThreading to get it to boot, the line-in doesn't work, and sleep doesn't work either (this is a BIOS issue, though, but my BIOS appears to be too limited to fix it). Had I chosen hardware closer to Apple's, I would've had far fewer problems.

I'd basically advise you to build a machine which uses the same motherboard/chipset Apple uses for its Mac Pro, and since you're going to save some money that way, maybe buy a better processor, maybe more RAM, and a better videocard. Of course, you're missing out on the beautifully designed internals of the Mac Pro, but at the same time, your wallet will want to hug you.

The email goes on:

  • ASUS P6T Deluxe/OC Palm, X58 - Motherboard
  • INTEL Core i7-920 4x 2.67GHz, boxed - CPU
  • CORSAIR 6GB CL9 TR3X6G1600C9 - RAM (3 blocks)
  • ASUS ENGTX295 2DI 1792MB DDR3 PCI-Express2.0 896bit - Graphics Card
  • WD VelociRaptor 300GB SATA II - System Hard Drive
  • WD Caviar Black 750GB SATA II - Personal Files Hard Drive (+ Swap File under Windows)

I am pretty sure that CPU, RAM and Hard Drives won't be a problem since it won't be the first time for me to set up a hackintosh but I'm concerned about the Graphics Card and maybe the Motherboard. This specific Graphics Card screams as you may know but I am pretty sure that there will be no drivers available for it in the OSX World. So I'd love to know which one I can buy and expect to work on OSX but which is also going to last me longer over the next years concerning Gaming under Windows. The Motherboard is quite a beast as well and I don't think it will be a problem but I've heard of minor problems like a Sound Card not working 100% so maybe there's a better one to go for.

I'm a little afraid to give you binding advice on what hardware to buy, mostly because we're still talking about doing something unsupported here. I don't want you to spend loads of money and then not have it working properly. I can give you the best advice I can about the hardware in your list, and some links that should help you along in finding replacements for the parts that will certainly not work.

I must admit that I find it very hard to find information about the X58 chipset and the boot-132 method. There is a thread on InsanelyMac with a number of different boot-132 packages for specific motherboard/chipset combinations, and the X58 method isn't one of them. I suggest checking the OSx86Project HCL for a suitable replacement, but preferably you should find one in the boot-132 thread.

The processor isn't a problem, in any case, as it's fully supported - all four cores are recognised, and Mac OS X will see eight cores if you enable HyperThreading.

The video card in this shopping list is indeed going to be a problem. A trip to the HCL should inform you which do work, but I'm not sure if you're going to find a comparable card in there. You're really in a pickle here, I'll admit that: top-notch gaming in Windows, but also top-notch performance in Mac OS X. I'm really at a loss here, but I'm sure the OSNews community has a few things to say on this one.

Overall though, it's simply very hard to give advice on this one. Building your own Mac is a completely unsupported activity, so you have to rely on whatever the community throws at you - and while relying on the community can be a good thing (see open source software), it can be problematic and not very trustworthy in cases like this.

You are one of the many "victims" who suffer from the lack of a Mac between the iMac and the Mac Pro. The Mac Pro is way out of your league, and the iMac is a toy for you. This is a huge gaping hole in Apple's product line that most likely won't get plugged any time soon, so you're at the mercy of building a Mac of your own - with all the associated problems.

I could pretend to know what hardware you should buy - but the fact of the matter is that I do not. Even if each individual part you buy is said to be supported, the combination of said parts could still give you unforeseen problems and headaches. It's a gamble - a gamble which is fine if you already own all the parts anyway, but if you still need to buy everything, it's a big financial gamble that I personally wouldn't want to take.

In the end, I think you're asking for something that doesn't exist: a top-of-the-line gaming machine running Windows that also runs Mac OS X, all at a reasonable price (compared to a Mac Pro). The problem is that the Mac world generally lags behind when it comes to video cards, making it impossible for you to buy the latest dual-GPU graphics beast, and have it supported in Mac OS X. Either you pick a lower-end video card, or you forgo the idea of Mac OS X on your gaming machine.

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