Building a Hackintosh for Music and Teaching Use

Last fall, I built a Hackintosh. “But why….Apple makes computers that are cheap right?” you say. Yes, they do. I was using a 2006 iMac for recording and driving two monitors for teaching (the other monitor is used to display music, smart music, etc). But, it had gotten slow. Real slow. I upgraded the drive, fresh OS installs. It didn’t help. The aging Core2Duo chip at 2 gigahertz just was not cutting it. Nor was being limited to 3 gigabytes of ram. The machine was fine for basic recording, but just was not cutting it anymore. Maybe cause I was spoiled at home having a 2008 MacPro.

So, I looked into getting a MacMini or another iMac for the studio. Except, I really liked having multiple drives in the case like my MacPro has. That computer is nearly silent. And fast. So, I had seen a couple of things on LifeHacker and other sites about building a Hackintosh. I originally was interested in a Hackintosh to power my Webserver (for Jazz-Sax) and to be used as a server for time machine backups and iTunes storage. But installing OS X on Atom CPUed computers seems a big issue after 10.5. Plus the little computer just wouldn’t perform as well.

Anyhow, after reading many of the posts there, I figured out that for a little less than $1K I could get a machine that performs about the same as my MacPro. Plus it could easily drive two monitors, and would have a ton of drive bays for storage.

So, threw caution to the wind, and bought the stuff to make the Hackintosh. It turns out it worked just fine. This was using 10.7 (Apple is now on 10.8). Dual monitors worked. Sound worked. Ethernet worked. Performance is as good if not better than my 2008 MacPro. USB Audio interface works fine. Logic runs flawlessly on it, as does Finale. Digital Performer 7.24 does not though, which is sad. I like Digital Performer. Supposedly getting a graphics card instead of using the built in HD3000 graphics would fix that problem. Maybe Digital Performer 8 doesn’t have this problem. I briefly used ProTools 10 as a trial to export projects I had done. Decided I didn’t want to play Avid’s huge upgrade price for ProTools to work on 10.7 (version 9 of ProTools did not work on it).

Things I have learned about running a hackintosh…..BACKUPS.

Generally, the Hackintosh is rock solid stable. I think I can count on one hand how many of unexplained crashes I have had on it in a year. And most all of them were on 10.7. Moving to 10.8 made things even more stable. BUT…..system updates are a crap shoot. Anytime Apple releases a system update for OS X, be it a security update or a .X version of the OS, you need to be careful. The update from 10.8.1 to 10.8.2 fried my Hackintosh. Resulted in it not booting. This is where you need to have a backup plan.

Since I wanted near Zero downtime, I decided to do a clone of my system drive to another drive. Then, if I do a system update, and it fails to boot, I can reboot into the clone drive and at least get through the day. Failing that, you can use the Unibeast USB drive you make when making a Hackintosh and simply reinstall the OS. Generally, ever single program you had installed and it’s data will be fine and you won’t lose anything. I’m going to say it’s a sure thing, but I had such a huge issue with 10.8.1 to 10.8.2 I ended up having to reinstall the OS several times on my main drive and I did not need to reinstall a single program. Logic 9 worked, Finale, SmartMusic, Sibelius… problems.

Second thing I learned…….get the hardware parts right.

On the TonyMacX86 there is a recommended build list of boards, chips, etc. Get one of those. Don’t think that you can get something similar, or close. Get what other people have successfully built a Hackintosh system with. I chose a Gigabyte GA-Z68X-UD3H-B3 board. It offered enough video ports and other ports for me. There are plenty of other choices, but pick something they recommend there. I can’t tell you how many people get some no name board or pre-made computer and want help getting OS X on it. Running and building a Hackintosh is not for the faint of heart, but do yourself a huge favor and start off on the right foot. The choice of board is essential. The chip, memory, case, power supply…..not as essential.

Final Thoughts

I saved a TON of money building this. A MacPro is a great machine. I have one. But as of right now, Apple is sort of letting the line of computers languish. For those of us who want a ton of storage in the case, and the ability to have a ton of ram……a MacPro is the way to go. I would totally build another Hackintosh. In fact, probably a year from now I will depending if the current one gets slow (I don’t see this happening) or if there are Thunderbolt audio interfaces that seem to warrant me getting (probably not). If you are a little tech savvy, or are a quick study, you can easily get yourself a MacPro at a third the price with a little elbow grease.

Leave a Reply