The time had come to replace the trusty old iMac that has been struggling to keep up over the past few years. Say what you want about Apple but that iMac went strong since new in 2008; but also say what you want about Apple, they are seriously deluded if they think I am going to fork out 7k+ (local) to entertain the idea of acquiring an iMac Pro. Granted it’s a nice machine and all, and that big fat screen in unrealistically good — read, 98% of the Internet does not look at screens that good, so it’s bit like living in an ivory tower, but still, a 7k+ starting point? Couple that with the fact that expandability and upgrade paths are next to non existent with new Macs, and I have finally had enough of Apple’s hardware policies.
So I started looking for options. I needed something with the power to do what I wanted — drive Pixologic’s Z-Brush and do digital painting in live time, in other words not have the machine lag three steps behind my strokes on the Wacom. And I didn’t want to have to replace all my OSX based software with new Windows based versions or alternatives.
Was I living in fantasy land?
That’s when I started thinking about trying to build a Hackintosh. I’d read about them on the fly some time back, so at at the start of the year I started investigating with a bit more vigour, until I was finally convinced it was the way to go. If you have no idea what I am on about, a ‘Hackintosh’, as they are called, is a machine built on selected PC hardware and coerced into running OSX. The advantage being, if you are so inclined, you can build a machine that far exceeds the specs of Apple’s hardware for half, or less, the cost. What’s more, it exits you from the Apple hardware ecosystem, allowing you to expand, update and build what you need (rather than what you are given) out of a large selection of parts — ever wanted 10 USB ports? Yea, I got that. Space for 6 SSD internal drives? Yea, got that too.
So a few months ago I committed, using the most excellent links and shopping list from what is now my go to Hackintosh source, tonymacx86.com, and ordered away from Newegg. Then I waited until the house was clear of small hands and interruptions and started to build.
Never having put a PC together from scratch, it was a learning experience — while I’ve replaced parts etc. over the years I’ve never undertook a full build from stuff in boxes. So other than one cable misplacement (read that small print in there manual), everything went together without too much fuss and I was rather chuffed with the end result.
I went with what is called the ‘CustomMac Pro’ build. That is, a monster machine that will eat small cute furry creatures that get in its way! The parts list went like this:
Asus Maximus X Hero R motherboard Core i7 8700k 3.7MHz chipset Thermaltake Slim X3 Low Profile (Air) CPU fan EVGA GeForce GTX 1070 SC Black Balistx 8Gb x 2 RAM Samsung 820 EVO 250Gb SSD x 2 OWC Mercury Electra 3G SSD 500Gb Corsair RM 650x Watt power unit TP-Link Archer T9E 802.11AC AC1900 wireless card.
Case: Thermaltake Core P3 Snow Edition Screen: Dell U2410 24”+ Wacom 27” Cintique Keyboard: WASD 62key w/ Cherry Clear switches.
I fired it up and it, nor I, did not vaporise in a puff of grey smoke, so that was a good sign. What I did not (fully) expect was the Vegas light show. The Maximus X is part of the Asus range of ‘gamer’s’ boards, being maximised for high output gaming. Seems the gaming set are as nerdy as people make out, because lighting up your machine, from the boards to the fans and everything else in-between, in a range of programmable LED colours is quite the thing. The Maximus comes pre-built with LED lighting that glows and cycles in a very HAL sort of fashion and while I expected it to glow red from the product pictures, I did not expect the light show. I could turn it off but to be honest, my inner geek has become quite fond of the machine having a sort of personality in the corner of my desk.
Then it was time… the box on it’s own was fine but this was a Hackintosh, so it needed some hacking.
Clover, as it’s known, is the system used to boot the non conformist hardware into OSX. Through an EFI partition, created via the boot drive you create using the tools provided by Tonymacx86, it does all sorts of trickery and makes OSX play nice with the hardware so, in my case, High Sierra runs as if it was living inside a Mac proper.
Overall, installing the OS was not hard. As I read somewhere in the Tonymacx86 forum, most of the time the errors are user related and in my case that was true 90% of the time; if you want to try this for the first time, read everything, do EXACTLY as explained and you should get it over the line the first time without fuss. These guys have been at it a while and have it pretty well sorted by now.
So after a few failed attempts and some guidance from forum admin member @Stork, the beast booted up and WAS working — “IT’S ALIVE!!!!”. All with only a few small issues to sort out.
What did I do?
I did nothing special, other than what I was told! To begin with — I did this:
And then followed an excellent build post for the Maximus’ Hero X here:
And that was the bulk of it. It was nowhere near as scary as I originally thought it might be, as a lot of the really hard work is done for you in the form of installers created by those behind Tonymacx86.
What can I add to the mix?
Downloading OSX High Sierra is not that easy. I tried it on our 27” iMac and the App Store kept on pulling down a partial install. In other words, Apple was dishing out some funky installer that was incomplete for anyone outside the Apple ecosystem. The internet being what it is though, I found an answer to that http://osxdaily.com/2017/09/27/download-complete-macos-high-sierra-installer/ and managed to get the boot USB set up properly.
As my build is pretty basic, nothing fancy or daring to see here, the only thing that really got me stuck that led to all sorts of hair pulling, cursing and searching… everywhere, was that the board would only boot to the start screen and not into the nominated drive. I tried everything but seemingly the only way to get it into Clover was to enter and then exit the BIOS. One last desperate run through and I had the 1+1=2 moment… When setting up the boot settings as per the above, in the Maximus’ custom BIOS interface, there is a setting at the bottom of the screen that asks if you want hold booting if an error message comes up. By default this is set to yes.
And of course, there was an error message coming up on boot re. the CPU fan (it’s a ‘dumb’ fan with no controllers, so the BIOS was picking it up as not installed correctly).
Hours of stress fixed with one simple setting and the whole system booted right into OSX without fuss.
But is was not ALL gold. I had two sorta big issues:
First was the big arse, way too expensive, graphics card was not picking up, even after the steps in the guides were run through correctly. After a lot of looking I ended up reinstalling them again following this post: https://www.tonymacx86.com/threads/nvidia-releases-alternate-graphics-drivers-for-macos-high-sierra-10-13-6-387-10-10-10-40.255913/ after which the card kicked into life and it was all good in the fast lane.
The second issue was that sound was a non event. I ended up finding this post https://www.tonymacx86.com/threads/quick-fix-z370-200-x299-series-kaby-lake-audio-onboard-and-or-hd-6x0-hdmi.221618/ and used ‘Solution 2’. Even after restarting it did not work but the following morning, after a full shutdown, the audio was up and working just fine. Maybe the little man with the stick came and gave it a kick in the middle of the night but regardless, the onboard HD sound is properly out there quality wise, with headphones on it’s being in the cinema.
So Son, how does it go?
It goes. Properly well.
I’ve been running the machine for a few twelve hour days now and it’s been rock solid. Performance has been more than an eye opener , I can create massive image files without even raising a sweat! Being a PC under the hood and a gaming optimised PC to boot, all the options are there to overclock the chip and get it into the howling speed zone. I have yet though to go there though and won’t do so until I get in a water cooler running — summer’s are hot here, so the open case will not be adequate in keeping the chipset cool enough to stay happy safe zone. Overall though, could not be happier, HAL (as I sadly ,and predictively, call it) is the beast I have been wanting for a long time and I managed to build it at less than half the cost of the iMac Pro.
And if you are curious, I have seen bench testing with near identical systems to HAL surpassing the iMac Pro, in performance tests.
As mentioned above, I’ll be putting in a water cooler now that everything’s running happily. Yes, water coolers are a thing, if you didn’t know (like me). As the name suggests, they are effectively water cooled radiators that run cooled fluid over the chipset heatsinks to keep temps down in the ideal operating zone. Sorta important if you want your chip to perform.
Being that the case is completely open, the stock cables will be upgraded with some ‘pretty’ braided numbers to give it a bit more spunk visually — pointless I know, but well… you know :).
And I’ll also probably add some more RAM, because you know, now I can.
Would I suggest this?
Would I? I would on the caveat that you have to have no reservations about pulling your sleeves up and not be scared of techno things that may scare you; ideally being a little familiar and comfortable with some of the basic inner workings of both hardware and software is a good starting point.
There’s a lot to take in, Terminal command lines, jargon you may not know and just ‘stuff’ that at first seems to be from another planet. Spend the time though getting up to speed and you’ll become one with it. I learned a bunch of new stuff and am becoming comfortable getting under the hood. In the end though, your end result will be very rewarding. I know I am more than pleased.