The How-To Geek Guide to Hackintoshing – Part 1: The Basics

Macs. The finest computers made by Apple, known for their simplicity and style, their Operating System, and their price. If Mac OS X is all you’re craving for, read and find out how to install it on your custom-built computer!

This three-part article series was written by one of our favorite readers, often known in the comments by his screen name, Hatryst. Stay tuned this week for the rest of the series, including how to install OS X, and how to upgrade from Leopard to Lion.

Why Hackintoshing?

There are two factors that may inspire someone to buy a Mac: The design, and the Operating System. Even if you’re concerned with the OS only, you still need to spend a lot. Most PC users will admit the fact that a Mac is better at doing some particular tasks, and all the credit goes to Mac OS. But getting a Mac isn’t as easy as it sounds. As of today, the cheapest Mac (Mac mini) starts from $599, and there isn’t much you can do with it, while the most powerful and upgradable Mac (Mac Pro) starts from $2499. Someone might ask, isn’t it possible to purchase a Mac OS X install disc, and install it on a regular PC just like you would on a Mac? The easy answer would be NO. The difficult answer is YES, with a couple of modifications. If you need just the OS to work on, and you don’t want to spend a lot of money buying a Mac, you can build one for yourself that’s just as powerful and effective as a real Mac. And also on the positive side, it is fully upgradable, and you might get it built for half the price or even lower, with all the specs that you want.

Such a custom-built PC running Mac OS X is called a Hackint0sh (Hacked Macintosh = Hackint0sh), and this process is known as Building a ‘Hackint0sh’ or a ‘CustoMac’. In short, hackintoshing is all about building a PC with some specific hardware, and using a special method to install Mac OS X on it. This has been going on for quite a while now by the name of Project OSx86 (Mac OSX + X86 architecture = OSx86). Now that Mac OS X Lion is out, we’ve decided to put together some guidelines for YOU to try it out, without spending too much. A requirement from Apple (as of today) is that you must have Mac OS X Snow Leopard (10.6.8) running, in order to upgrade to Lion. Apple is also shipping Lion on USB thumb drives, but installation from a USB isn’t much different. In the future, there might be a newer and direct guide for installation of Lion on a PC, but we will have to wait for that. This article covers all the basic concepts you need to know in order to understand hackintoshing.

However, one thing is worth mentioning here. If your work or means of earning depends solely on a Mac, it is recommended to get a real Mac, because it will be more reliable and hassle-free. With a Hackintosh,  you will run into problems every once in a while, no matter how perfect it is. It is more of a hobby and a fun project now, rather than a serious business. So remember, Hackintosh is NOT a replacement for a real Mac.

How it Works

As mentioned earlier, the process of installing OS X on regular PCs isn’t new. It all started when Apple announced its support for Intel based processors. Programmers and hackers dug deep into Mac OS X installation DVD, modified it, and created a patched version which could be installed on a PC as easily as possible. You just need to boot from the disc, run the setup, and voila. Several distributions (distros) of these patched versions are still available over the web. But Since Mac OS X is licensed software, this method was soon realized to be illegitimate. If you’re able to download the Mac operating system for free, it clearly counts as piracy. So we won’t be talking about that. Here’s what we are going to do. We will be buying a Mac OS X Snow Leopard install disc (from an Apple store, if you can still get it, or from Amazon), making your PC recognize the install disc, installing Mac OS X Snow Leopard on the PC, and finally we will be upgrading to OS X Lion and enabling full functionality of the system afterwards. Of course, there are questions regarding the legality of this method as well, since Apple doesn’t appreciate installing Mac OS on non-Apple hardware. But it is better than the other pirated, illegitimate methods. And this is called the TonyMacX86 method. Now we will be describing the basics of how it all works and everything you need to know before getting started.

The Hardware

Since Mac OS X is designed only to work on Apple-manufactured hardware, a couple of limitations exist. You can’t just go ahead and build a PC and start the process. STOP. You need to do some research first. And if you’re building a PC for the first time, be sure to check out our How-To Geek Guide to Building Your Own PC. Some hardware components will work with OS X natively, and some won’t. You need a computer with the parts most compatible with Mac OS X. The question is, What’s compatible, and what isn’t. There are several build options available, even Sandy Bridge compatible ones, and there are many options to choose from. As a matter of fact, some pre-tested builds are available HERE, and you can choose one of them to avoid the hassle of researching. But of course, if you want it fully customized, have a look at compatible hardware database wiki, and select the hardware components that suit your needs best. Or even more, you can have a look at complete builds along with guides on how people got them fully working HERE. In short, the most compatible OSx86 hardware includes an Intel Processor (Core2 and above, Core i3/i5/i7), a compatible motherboard (preferably one whose DSDT is available, read on for further explanation), all P55 and H55 motherboards are expected to work perfectly. And a graphics card which is tested to be working perfectly. It is generally recommended (and better) to install OS X on a separate hard drive. This makes dual-booting much easier.

So now you know something regarding what’s compatible and what’s not. But here’s a word of caution. No matter how carefully you choose your hardware, you’ll eventually run into problems like enabling audio, getting full graphics acceleration and stuff like that. And once you upgrade to Lion, you’ll probably face these problems again. This is normal, and will be tackled easily once you get to know the basics.

Once you’ve got your hardware selected, you need to know how the process works. You can’t just go on, following each step and installing. You should know how to get out of a problem that might arise when you’re following the procedure. If you need help, go ahead, and post it on the tonymacx86 forums.

The method we are going to use is called iBoot+MultiBeast. If you need to see a video demonstration of how it is done, our friends over at Lifehacker have put together an excellent walkthrough. So go ahead, and check it out as well. Before getting started with it, let’s have a detailed look at the things we have mentioned so far, about the stuff coming ahead, and some FAQs that beginners always ask.

Some commonly used terms

iBoot: Your PC is not able to accept or read the Mac OS filesystem natively. iBoot is a small utility that gets your computer ready to accept the Mac OS X install disc. It has to be burned on a disc, and you need to boot your computer from it before you can start installing Mac OS X. iBoot is a creation of tonymacx86, and available from their downloads section.

Chameleon/Chimera Bootloader: The bootloader that will greet you and show you the choices of Operating Systems when you turn on your hackintosh. This will be installed using MultiBeast.

MultiBeast: After installing Mac OS X, you might experience several problems, like not being able to change the screen resolution, or the audio devices not being recognized. This is because the OS is unable to find proper ‘kexts’ for these devices. MultiBeast allows you to install the kexts required for display, audio, ethernet, etc. Apart from that, since you already know that Mac OS filesystem cannot be read natively by your computer, so the iBoot disc will always be required to boot into Mac OS. To get rid of that, MultiBeast is used. It puts a bootloader in your OS X hard drive, which has the same functionality as iBoot. Hence, you won’t need iBoot anymore. MultiBeast is also available from downloads section of tonymacx86 website.

Kext: In simple words, kext is to a Mac what a driver is to Windows. It is required for ensuring full functionality of your onboard devices and peripherals. Kexts can be installed manually, and several important kexts can be found in MultiBeast as well. You just need to know which ones you need to use. And you’ll get to know about that in the next part of this guide.

DSDT: DSDT is an interface between your motherboard’s BIOS and the Mac OS, and in most cases, it enables the OS to identify and recognize your onboard devices. In this way, you probably won’t need to install kexts for each of them. Also, the presence of a DSDT solves problems related to Sleep, Shutdown, Startup, etc. That’s why it was mentioned in the hardware section to get a motherboard whose DSDT is available. That makes things a lot easier. Otherwise, you would have to look for proper kexts and install them manually.

xMove: The mandatory tool for installing Mac OS X Lion over/alongside your current Snow Leopard installation. More about Xmove will be explained later.

More detailed information about these and several other less used terms can be found here.

Frequently Asked Questions

Where can I find a database of confirmed compatible hardware?

You can find compatible hardware information by having a look at the Builds, Compatible Hardware Wiki, and User Builds on tonymacx86 forums. Be sure to have a look at Guides for Snow Leopard and Guides for Lion.  Remember the logic: A build that can run Lion is surely capable of running Snow Leopard.

Is my hardware compatible?

Make sure you know what hardware you have. If you don’t know, use a utility like CPU-Z or Speccy to find out what hardware you have in your PC. Then, search for each component in the hardware wiki, in the tonymac86 forums, and on the web as well. You will find out soon if it is compatible or not. You might consider posting your own build in the Buying Advice section of tonymacx86 forums, and the community users will be there for help and suggestions. Finally, Lifehacker has put up a guide on choosing the most compatible hardware for your hackintosh, a must read for those looking to build a hackintosh.

I have an AMD processor, will I be able to use tonymacx86 method?

Nope. Apple ONLY supports Intel based processors, so does this method.

I need more information, I have some more questions

Head over to tonymacx86 forums, create an account, and you may ask your question there.

Finally, stay tuned for part 2 of this guide, where we will discuss the installation of Mac OS X Snow Leopard (prerequisite to OS X Lion, as long as another easy guide isn’t available for the purpose) and tweaking the install. In Part 3, we will try to upgrade it to the latest version, i.e. Mac OS X Lion, and try out basic dual-booting as well. Our goal is to give you a starting point for building a hackintosh, and you’re on your way then. If you’re ready to walk along and make yourself a CustoMac, make sure to have compatible hardware at hand, a copy of Mac OS X Snow Leopard install DVD, iBoot and MultiBeast from tonymacx86 downloads section, and most importantly, patience and tolerance!


Title image modified from “Computer” image, via Wikimedia Commons. “Customac” image courtesy of tonymacx86.

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