Hackintosh: Final Thoughts and Conclusion
Mac Pros are expensive, but obviously there are people who feel they’re worth the money. Apple works hard to provide their customers with excellent support and service, and the result of their efforts is a consistent top ranking in customer satisfaction, which has been steadily increasing over the years. If you’re not the type of person that other people call with their computer problems, a real Macintosh can provide some peace of mind.
Right now, I’ve been running my Hackintosh for about two weeks. Once past its initial teething problems, it’s been as stable and reliable as any Mac I’ve ever owned, and so far every program and device I’ve run has worked just as it would on a regular Macintosh, including Microsoft Office, Adobe CS5, a Fujitsu ScanSnap scanner, and even older PowerPC programs that require Apple’s “Rosetta” emulation layer. Syncing my iPhone to iTunes works perfectly. And Windows 7 running under Parallels 6.0, allocated 4 cores and 4G of RAM, is very snappy, with none of the stutters or slow performance I noticed on my Mac Pro.
But getting everything working this well took a lot more effort than simply plugging in a retail Mac and starting it up. Even with the hold-your-hand installers for specific motherboards being created by enthusiasts, problems like the ones I mentioned in the previous sections are still all too common, and require diligence and some degree of expertise to overcome.
There’s another problem: software updates. Like Microsoft, Apple releases frequent software updates, and OS X will alert you to them as they become available. You can even set your Mac to download them automatically (although they won’t be installed without your specific direction). But updates have the potential to render your machine inoperative, since they can replace some of the patched components your Hacktintosh needs to run. In general, application updates (for Office, iWork, and other programs) are safe, while OS and security updates are less so. You should be especially cautious of “OS version” updates. For example, the update from OS X 10.6.3 to 10.6.4 disabled the audio on many Hackintoshes, requiring a patch script to restore the previous audio driver. No problems have been reported with security updates, but the possibility still exists. The Hackintosh community is pretty good about staying on top of this stuff, and you’ll generally know within a couple of days of the release of an update whether it’s safe to install it, so it’s a good idea to wait before installing any OS level updates until they’ve been vetted by the community.
But since disaster can strike anyway, I’d strongly recommend a couple of things: first, keep a bootable OS X installation volume (USB key or DVD) around, preferably the one you used to create your system. This disk contains programs like Terminal and Disk Utility which can be very useful in resuscitating a non-booting Hackintosh. Second, dedicate a second hard disk to Apple’s “Time Machine” built-in backup feature. Time Machine backs up any changed files on your system hourly, and should your boot volume be toasted for whatever reason, the OS X Installer will offer you the option of restoring the entire disk from a Time Machine backup. I’ve used this feature to migrate my Hackintosh to a larger hard disk, and it worked perfectly.
The last thing to keep in mind is how hardware-dependent a Hackintosh is. Most Hackintosh setups are hand-tweaked to run on the specific hardware in a single computer. If the Radeon 4870 video card in your Hackintosh dies in a couple of years, you probably can’t simply swap in the current equivalent Radeon without some extra effort and boot loader updates, which will be difficult to do with no video.
If you remain aware of these issues, and adjust your expectations accordingly, a Hackintosh might be a viable option for you. When I started this article, I told my editor that even though I had gotten everything working, I’d never recommend a Hackintosh for daily use in a production environment, or as a main computer. But I’m starting to change my mind…
The rapid advancement in the Hackintosh field over the last year or so had made what was once a hacker’s toy into a real option for some people. The drawbacks of the Hackintosh approach— spotty hardware support and the requirement for hand-tweaked software, no support from Apple, and the vulnerability of the system to software updates— are countered by the lower cost, greater performance, and versatility in selecting components that it affords.
EDITORS NOTE: Benchmark Reviews has also published an updated Apple Hackintosh: Moving to Intel Sandy Bridge article, as well as our Budget Hackintosh PC Build Project, Hackintosh OS X Software Installation, and Hackintosh Performance Hardware Options.
+ Potentially faster than a real Mac
+ Substantially less expensive
+ You can configure exactly the system you want
+ Easier to upgrade (especially video cards, assuming driver support)
+ Geek cred for getting it done
– Still not a real Mac
– No Apple warranty or support
– Very vulnerable to hardware changes, especially video cards
– Software update may disable all or part of your system
UPDATE: Readers may be interested in our follow-up editorial: The Apple Hackintosh Experience