Watercooled Mac — Hackintosh — OSx86 — Part I

If you are just an Apple sheep or if you love what Apple makes in all ways please close this browser tab, take your money to the nearest Apple Store and spend them for their incredible amazing awesome Apple thing!

The high-performance Mac

I have built many computers and here I am again, this time for my personal usage as my main new desktop. After a year with 2000$ MacBook Pro, I feel very disappointed in terms of low performance. I don’t want a machine which was build for facebook, chatting etc. I want a true performance without any sacrifices…

The aim of this article is to give you best options to build water-cooled x99 Hackintosh with a walkthrough of the whole building process. I will be also showing how you can personalize a look of your computer with some DIY… Not only buy powerful components but how to create a stylish, jaw-dropping design of the computer.
2 000$ MacBook “Pro” mid-2015

For example, this benchmark comes from my last build, even though I had only half of the budget against 2000$ MacBook and we were limited by mini-ITX.

mITX build mid-Aug 2016 — half budget MacBook (1000$)

I am a big hardware fan and through this hobby I have been helping my close friends to build their computers, I also like to use macOS (for some software reasons) so I have decided to share my knowledge about “windows based hardware” running a macOS and how to properly build it and because I am just building a computer for myself I would like to share it with you guys.

One of the big reasons to write this series is to return something to the InsanelyMac community. These people I owe a lot. I learned a lot about running macOS on “windows based” hardware and I recommend all the people to go check them out for future knowledge. That reminds me to remind you about horrible TonyMac project. Don’t use tonymac solutions… trust me. The same applies to iATKOS and other solutions… Just use vanilla!

Why to use Mac on regular “windows” hardware

You just simply get all benefits from the custom built computer. You can manage, upgrade, configure and even overclock and it’s cheaper than an Apple`s built hardware.

For me using a mac on win HW is still about learning how this thing works inside and it’s an opportunity for me to learn something new.

The disadvantage of this method is just one, you will be mostly on your own to hack kernel extensions and ensure that they work with your hardware. But don’t worry there is a big community and of course, it takes a lot of time (if you don’t know how UNIX system works).

Upgrading or updating might be also problematic, it depends on the quality of the hack drivers or if you did injection — but mostly it will only hurt from version to version upgrade (Yosemite to — el captain etc).

Shut up and go build it!

First of all, If you building a Hackintosh (I don’t like this name but everyone knows what I mean when I am using it) it’s all about the hardware selection. That’s is the reason why this first article will be more about the choice of hardware and the look of the computer . I have to introduce you to the business… there are a few things you have to check before your computer will be fully functional Hackintosh.

In the whole process is nice to have one “real” Mac to simply enable some functionality like iMessage etc.

So please be patient here is really much to say about…

How to select the hardware?

One more thing before!

Before you start selecting a hardware you have to find out what kind of “driver” is using Unix based system to ensure compatibility between HW and system.

Now funny question: What is a driver in macOS? They call it KEXT(S) and it works just like the normal driver. It extends the main core — KERNEL — Apple uses Darwin.

Most of this kexts are located SYSTEM/LIBRARY/EXTENSIONS/ and that’s the place for many drivers you will need to edit.

system/library/extenstion is the location for most drivers in macOS

What is also nice to know is that this folder is loaded immediately during the boot.

You can add some arguments to boot for better control of these kexts and in next article I will show you how you can inject drivers with UEFI when the system is booting.

For example, this argument will be applied in all Hackintosh configurations. It allows mandatory FakeSMC.kext

kext-dev-mode=1 (it allows third party kexts — signature)

And how to check device id compatibility?

Basic check works just like in the video below, which I made.

simple device ID check

Hexadecimal and Decimal numbers

Some deviceID numbers located in .plists are in hex values. For the translation to decimal values use the…

Check the InsanelyMac to get some answers

http://www.insanelymac.com/

Processor

The heart of build — Most important part in terms of performance and if you ever want to upgrade I recommend to start with the processor.

How to select a processor for your build? — There is one thing to consider and that is a kernel support. Not all the processor are supported by Apple’s kernel and you should choose one which the Apple’s kernel Darwin could control. It’s possible to run Mac on “unsupported” processor by Darwin but it will be easier for you if you buy a processor with kernel support. If you buy a kernel supported processor you don’t have to take care anything else than buying it (maybe only additional power management… but that is the specific case).

Oh, and did I mention that it will also a good idea to avoid AMD processors?

In one sentence — select the architecture which Apple already using. It will save your ass in all ways.

Now currently the selection for high end is poor. Skylake-E is still not released and it will hopefully arrive with a new socket in the future here is only one roadmap leak for low powerful processors Kaby lake. Mac Pro high performances of all Mac computer still using only Ivy Bridge-E. I am waiting for updates but I will explain it below… The selection for my build is Intel® Core™ i7–5820K.

Motherboard

The right hand of build — here is more than one thing to be aware of. Of course, it more depends on your personal needs.

Chipset — nothing hard to explain. Basically, it depends on the type of the processor. After you choose processor you have to choose a motherboard where the processor can fit. That depends on the type chipset on your motherboard. Some things on board are controlled by chipset. It’s good for us because one driver can control more than one similar hardware… like a USB controller… etc.

LAN — support depends on which controller of the motherboard is used. Basically, everything that has to be checked is the controller support. For example, the selected motherboard which I have chosen has two ethernets both controlled by Intel I2XX.

USB Support — same situation as LAN. It’s not hard to get this together. All the USB3 controllers is allowed only by loading one kernel extension.

Onboard Audio — it’s not that big of a deal for my build because I am using the external sound card (my workspace is half studio) but many boards have the ALCxxxx sound card which has many drivers developed in Hackintosh community. Check the ALC number.

Onboard WLAN and BT — It is hard to set this up properly. Especially with Handoff application and it is possible that it will be supported only with one band (5Ghz or 2.5Ghz) which will always work. Some manufacturers don’t provide information about which controllers they using for their boards.

My selection for my build is Asus x99 — Deluxe II.

Graphic Card

The left hand of build — Real hell in macOS — MacOS has terrible 3D performance which is the real pain in the butt. Check some tests on the internet if you want to bother, but here is one example you can also check on your own system. MacOS had always been short in terms of 3D performance in comparison with Windows.

After years and changes for example Metal etc. even though Metal id not used for any rendering situation still same. If you are looking for game performance — Windows should be your one and only choice.

Apple is talking about the same “old” MS technology and improving the platform The video forced me to explain you something about the platform what MS has been using. I don’t think that MS has the “same old” technology like registry etc. In my opinion to clarify this is that in the time when was UNIX involved MS just had already millions of users and they couldn’t change their system as easy as the Apple did it… Uhm The main reason is that MS has stepped ahead and they just wanted to change their system but it was impossible due to a large number of users and companies… oh, Michal! This article should be about building Hackintosh and computers… back to the business then.

Come on Apple, improve your 3d drivers!!!

Here is an example (best by Netkas) which benchmarks this Apple “downgrade” in the build.

go fuck yourself macOS

The graphic card is such a tough one to select. Let’s take a look at the actual software situation. The good news is that macOS 10.12 will be full of changes for newly released hardware. Some facts about 10.12:

Apple switched technology for GUI — Now use METAL instead OpenGL. Now it's not Intel only.
Fiji acceleration support
10.12 has Polaris 10 framebuffer support only
Polaris 11 has full support in 10.12 (new cards is RX460 (P11 based), RX470/RX480 (P10 based))
10.12 changes for nVidia — still no Maxwell

It is clear. Apple is working on some new Macs with Polaris 11 included so the decision which I am aiming for is that We can go with RX480 (which is a most powerful choice) and make it work on 10.12 with just a small trick.

I think RX480 is the best choice and that’s going to be my selection for the build.

Reference RX480 — I will get a reference RX480 because of my sophisticated cooling system. If you would like to use this card with stock cooler it is better to wait for/or get the non-reference version.

This has to be enough said about Graphic cards. It’s always good when an upcoming version of macOS has some support of new hardware. (This hint is more for the people who are looking to make a new build. You can check the compatibility simply as its something on your motherboard…)

There is also business reasons for Apple to support AMD cards. Apple aim on AMD as the cheaper supplier than the nVidia and if you like it or not Apple primarily loves to make money (that doesn’t mean computers will be cheaper).

Power supply

Total freedom — Here it is really up to you.

Seasonic is always a good idea!

SSD/HDD

Total freedom — Depend on the storage and how much money you want to spent but there are no restrictions. Samsung EVO 850 (V-NAND) is a good choice. Only two things you will have to do for fully functional non-Apple SSD — TRIM ENABLER and kext for making them “as internal”.

Memory

Total freedom — Apple is using or used memory from Crucial. Note that frequency of the memory is crucial and the latency has a positive impact on the performance. Recommended amount of memories in slots is four due to optimization.

Case

Total freedom — It depends on what kind of cooling system you will use for your build. Water-cooled systems take a lot of space so you need to measure and size really matters here. For most effective cooling use the biggest radiators which can fit in your case. The number of radiators is also important. The size of reservoirs will affect the power of water pumps is (reservoir can measure up to 400mm). For total silence of your build, use the bigger fans.

NZXT S340 White — my selection

Finally let’s build it!

As you can see above I have chosen the white version of NZXT S340 case.

I have chosen this case because of there is no „classic“ frames for optical mechanics, it has very good cable management and the design is made for customization.

Think about water loop.

This case has two slots for radiators ( the third slot on the top of the case is for better airflow).

Front one — can fit with two 140mm fans.

Rear one — can fit with only one 120mm fan.

So that means Water will flow from the reservoir through graphic card > rear radiator > CPU > front radiator.

In my opinion, this case could easily have 3 fans radiator at the front, 2 fans radiator at the top and bottom. Hard drive case could be also removable. But the biggest flaw of the case is that every NZXT case has pretty small space between backplate and motherboard. I will show you how you can modify it in next article.

The article started the build by selecting the right components in the real life you have to purchase the case and then start measuring how your components will fit with the cooling system.

water flow in case and radiators positions

At the front slot, I have selected the biggest possible radiator from XSPC which is EX240 Dual Fan Radiator (121 x 35.5 x 275mm (WxDxH)) and at the rear slot radiator from Alphacool — NexXxoS PRO I rev2 (150 x 30x 120 mm (WxDxH)).

Fittings are standard 1/4" and 16/10mm tubing.

Pay attention to sizes of inputs/outputs of water components.

Due to the limitation of the market with the water-cooling system in our country. I had to buy this parts in a black color. I will show you how I turned them to my favorite color for some part in this case.

Preparing and measure the case for radiators order + PSU and HDDs installed

Make it silent from scratch

For maximizing the silencity I highly recommend remove the stock fans and use the biggest fans you can.

This case is fitted with 120mm fan on the top of the case but there is space for 140mm fan so you have to use 140mm instead 120mm. I have also removed other fans and replaced them with some really silent Noctua/Cryorig.

You can use noise-dampening mats for PCs if you want but there are some good reasons why you should avoid them. I don’t use them and recommend you to not use them as well.

some water components (left) and rear radiator (right)

First thing you need to do is clean

It is important to clean all the radiators before you use them. Fill them with water and shake it. Repeat these steps until the water will be completely clean.

Make it spark

My build is also a sandbox for me. I have colorized parts for a better look of the whole design of the case.

Preparing to colorize radiators

To colorize some parts of the water-cooling system I have used acrylic spray paint. I can recommend using acrylic spray because it is easy to remove it and it is great to use it in this case . The results look very good. But if you are experienced with other colorize techniques you can use really anything.

Be aware, never colorize the main part of radiators because it will affect the cooling performance. To protect unwanted parts from colorizing use paper tape.

colorize progress

You have to proceed this procedure very carefully and be patient to achieve best results! You can also a multiple layers of color but the time of drying every layer is at least 20 minutes.

done

After you finish colorizing the parts which you want to color it is important to remove unwanted color from the radiator gap — the fitting for tubing has to fit perfectly and the unwanted color on the threads could cause a gap between fitting and tube.

So after you cleaned this, you have your DIY colorized radiator ready :)

Colored fans

Another part which could look good colored are fans. I had some unused Noctua I found in my basement from my last build but the brown color I didn’t like it with combination with white-black… I decided to try to dim them to gray as they actually do. Maybe later I will change the color to white…

Keep calm. I have measured the performance of colored fans before and it does not affect their performance…

Original grey and colored Noctua

Colored SSD, hard drives

So it can sound like crazy but in this case, drives can be pretty domination element to bold whole components of the build. I will use LED light in next article and make ambient light around this colored components.

Look, mom, what warranty I broke today!

Soo let’s put all what We have so far together.

Well, I have prepared everything I needed so far. Let’s put this component together.

First — front radiator — I bought the biggest radiator which could fit in the case (it’s bigger than Kraken! :)) Yes I could have bought thicker radiator but there has to be a space for the water pump and reservoir.

WARNING! Most of the radiators are supplied with standard 30mm screws! That means you have to place the parts in this order radiator — fan — 25MM — case panel. If you will use a different fan or place the parts in the different configuration you may break your radiator. So check the size of the screws twice!
Installation of the front radiator in order radiator — fans — front panel

Also, I had to remove the branded white piece of case. You can put it back but I wanted to replace it. I have prepared a white plated cables and I want them to be shown.

Same with the rear radiator only one more thing

I couldn`t use the anti-vibration layer which was provided with the part on the front radiator but I can use two for the rear one and order a diffrent one for the front one.

Use the anti-vibration layer every time you can. If you don’t use anti-vibration layer check the size of screws!
complete installation (left) and the anti vibration layer (right)

That’s enough for the first part

I have resolved the airflow, the radiators also PSU and hard drives place. We went through the selection of components for future Hackintosh build and how to select the components.

For the start with water cooling system, I recommend measure as a king. First of all split up your purchases to stages. I have used this method because I smell some problems with the reservoir. This case is not a full-Tower but smaller mid-Tower… so that’s will be the case for next part…

See you later.