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CustoMac

22 November 2012

Ever since Apple decided to put Intel processors in their Macs there have been attempts by enthusiasts to run Mac OS X on commodity hardware – with mixed results.

The key to installing Mac OS X on a non-Mac computer is using the right hardware. If your hardware is a close to Apple kit as possible, you have the best chance to succeed.

The so-called Hackintosh community has come a long way the past few years in making it easy for “normal people” to install Mac OS X on their PC.

Since I was tired of using Debian Linux on my Desktop, dual booting to Windows to play the occasional game of World of Warcraft, I decided to give installing Mac OS X a try. But there was a problem.

The hardware

My current PC is powered by an AMD processor (AMD Phenom II X6 1055T, to be precise). Simply put, installing Mac OS X on an AMD cpu is not going to work.

So, the first thing I did was go over to the OSx86 Project Hardware Compatibility List and see what hardware is most compatible with Mac OS X 1.8.2 (the most recent version of OS X at this time).

I already knew I’d need a shiny new Intel CPU, and thus also a new motherboard.

Choosing a CPU

Choosing a CPU for your CustoMac is not very difficult, because you are limited to Intel. Since the release of the new MacBooks Apple officially supports the Ivy Bridge architecture, which means about a 50% lower power consumption and a 5-15% speed increase (link).

The main candidates were:

I won’t go into to too much detail here, but I chose the Intel i5 3570.

The i7 offers Hyper Threading at a price bump of about € 100,-. For me, this was not worth the money.

Then there’s the choice between the 3570 or the 3570K. The ‘K’ version has less features, but is unlocked, allow it to be easily over-clocked to higher speeds.

The price difference between the 3570 and the 3570 are minimal, but I’m not planning to over-clock my CPU, so I went for the slightly cheaper Intel i5 3570 processor.

Choosing a motherboard

Next came a more difficult decision. The motherboard. Again, the Hardware Compatibility List was a great help here. In the end I chose the Gigabyte Z77-DS3H.

The pro’s of this board are that it’s well supported by Mac OS X and the OSx86 community. This board is special because it features Gigabyte’s 3D UEFI Bios. This bios would make it easy to install Mac OS X untouched on your machine.

I didn’t end up using this UEFI feature, but nonetheless, support for this board is incredible.

The full hardware list

So, recycling other parts of my current PC I build the following CustoMac configuration:

Note 1: The above Amazon links are affiliate links.

Note 2: I could have upgraded my memory to 1600Mhz units, which would be faster. But I have no use for the old memory, so I chose to re-use it for now.

The preparation

Before you get started, you should prepare an installation USB drive on another Mac. You’ll need at least 8GB of space on the drive.

At this point you have a bootable USB drive with the Mountain Lion install on it.

To prepare the actual installation, remove any devices you don’t need, like extra hard drivers, DVD/BluRay drives, etc. In my case I also pulled out the ATI 6870 and used the onboard Intel HD Graphics during installation.

Plug your USB drive into a USB 2.0 (black, not blue) port on the motherboard. Make sure to use one of the ports on the back of your computer, those are directly attached to the motherboard and have the greatest chance of succes.

Now, boot up the computer and enter the BIOS. There are two important changes you need to make.

Then select the USB drive as the bootable device and boot.

Booting the installer

You’ll see the UniBeast boot screen which show a ‘USB’ option (and possibly other, depending on what’s on your disks). Choose ‘USB’ - but don’t press ENTER just yet. Instead, type -x, which will show up on the screen. Then, press ENTER.

After a few minutes you should have the Mac OS X Installer in front of you. Go ahead, install this baby.

Notes on Fusion drive

It’s possible to create a CustoMac Fusion Drive using an SSD and regular harddisk.

When you’re in the installer, choose ‘Terminal’ to open a terminal window and follow the steps in this fusion drive guide.

I was able to create and install Mac OS X on a Fusion Drive without problems. The only knack was that the custom bootloader you need is not Fusion Drive aware, which makes it difficult to use.

In the end I decided to not use a Fusion drive setup, and just install everything on the SSD.

Completing the installation

Now comes the tricky part. The installation is done and you’re CustoMac wants to reboot. Let it, but leave the USB drive connected.

Your machine will boot up with the same boot menu as before, but instead of ‘USB’ you should now be able to select ‘Macintosh HD’.

Select that, enter -x followed by ENTER.

You’ll now be taken through the final steps of installation, like setting up iCloud and creating a user account.

When finished, you should be on your new Mac desktop.

Installing custom kexts

Now, your CustoMac can only boot with the USB drive. Let’s change that by installing a bootloader and some kernel extensions.

That’s all. Install that stuff. Now, you should be able to reboot your CustoMac and boot it without the USB drive.

If things don’t work out (like a black or white screen, kernel panics, whatever), just plugin your USB drive again, boot from it and select your ‘Macintosh HD’.

Graphics

At this point, you should have a working CustoMac with sound and network working. The only thing missing is a proper graphics card.

You’ll need to make some tweaks to the chameleon plist file. Then shutdown your computer and install the graphics card.

Note: this works for my XFX ATI Radeon HD 6870 card. There may be subtle differences for different version and brands. Just use the Google to find hints, boot with the USB drive to get to your system and make updates as needed.

In /Extra/org.chameleon.Boot.plist make sure you have the following entries:

<key>AtiConfig</key>
<string>Duckweed</string>
<key>AtiPorts</key>
<string>5</string>
<key>Graphics Mode</key>
<string>1920x1080x32</string>
<key>GraphicsEnabler</key>
<string>Yes</string>
<key>PciRoot</key>
<string>1</string>

Depending on which slot you used for your graphics card, you may have to set PciRoot to 0.

I also had to add npci=0x2000 to Kernel Flags, but you may or may not need it.

<key>Kernel Flags</key>

Boot up!

Now, reboot one last time and everything should go smoothly.

If your system comes up without any troubles, start attaching those others disks and drives you had disconnected during the installation. There shouldn’t be any issues here.

You’re done!

Congratulations. You now have a CustoMac!

Keep in mind that you should not blindly install any update you see. Installing an update my change the bootloader or change kernel extensions that break your system.

A good tip is to create a full disk image of your SSD using a tool like Super Duper. In case of shit hitting the fan after an update, you can easily restore your disk to working order.

In my case, I’ve attached an old 500GB drive to store this disk image. It works great.

Shiny and fast!

Just as a side-note, my CustoMac is blazingly fast. It’s the combination of the fast Ivy Bridge architecture, the i5 processor, and the SSD.

I’ve measured boot-up time from pressing the power button to the Mac OS X login screen at about 11 seconds.