Building a Mac with PC parts…
Before I get into this build saga, I want to say a word of warning. Unless you are a very technical person who knows how to navigate a basic PC BIOS (motherboard OS) or how to swap out some computer code or know some specifics about piecing together a computer from scratch, I suggest getting help. Even though I am a pretty technical person, and I have built a Hackintosh before, I still needed help. Even after getting help with the first Hack, I still needed help. A lot of it was advice on parts, but the vast majority was in installing the modified OS, and making sure that everything in the BIOS was set for the computer to work. Yes, there are step by step instructions online, but some of these assume you have some basic assembly skills, and BIOS knowhow and a bit of troubleshooting chops. I had that, but still needed help. So if you intend to do this, I suggest you find someone who has done this before, or someone who is technical enough to help decipher what some of the code and tech lingo means. I could not have done this without the gracious help, and patience, of Stefan Avalos and Patrick Sheffield. The reasons will become clear as the saga unfolds.)
PART 1 – THE NEED FOR A NEW COMPUTER
My old tower is a 2008 MacPro, 16GB of RAM, with a decent graphics card (great for Apple Color). But it’s 2016, and the machine is 8 years old, ancient in computer terms. But it has served me well. Lately I’ve been relying on my 2012 MacBook Pro when cutting in my home office. And I have fully decked it out with 16GB of RAM and two internal SSD drives. It does well too, but really only with Avid and simple Resolve and Adobe projects. Since most of the jobs I do in my home office are online and color grading, and I’ve been getting more and more into Davinci Resolve, even this laptop is getting long in the tooth, it’s only four years old, and it still has some life left in it, but forget trying to do 4K with it. And I have several 4K projects on the horizon.
So I need a new computer.
One big stumbling block in this quest for a new computer is that I am a die hard Mac user. I have been since I bought my first computer in 1991. I’ve only owned one PC, and it was solely for gaming. But Apple is fairly behind in their professional line of desktops. The latest MacPro came out in 2013…it is THREE years old. One year younger than my laptop. Sure, the latest iMac came out in Oct, 2015, but I have issues with the expandability of the model. BOTH models to tell the truth. Neither one allows one to swap out the GPU for a better one…one more suited for Resolve and Adobe Premiere Pro. Neither one allows for more internal drives to be added. Neither one allows me to be able to install any sort of card to add ports like eSATA or Fibre or SAS or an internal capture card without using an external box. Apple is dropping the ball on the professional computer needs for video post, this much is clear.
So what about the other option? A PC running Windows. And yes, there are great computers out there for this…the HP line is especially popular, and a solid choice. You can get a decent machine for $2900 and put in one or two very high end graphics cards, as well as additional hard drives. And they can go to upwards of $5000 and $7000 (a good place to look for these is Videoguys.com). These are decent prices for companies or individuals that use them all the time, and have rental income on them year round. I don’t, I do projects here and there. And have small budgets.
But I have another issue…most of my clients require ProRes exports. They are either coming from FCP-X (or even FCP 7)…and need either to be round tripped, or they need ProRes Quicktime exports to meet network delivery requirements. So if I went with a PC, I’d have to keep an old Mac around to convert the exports (my MacBook Pro will do that). It’s a BIG issue on Windows, as recently Apple announced that it would stop supporting Quicktime on Windows altogether, so just having it installed is an issue. But this would also mean double encoding (DNxHD and then ProRes) and risking the dreaded gamma shift.
This had me looking at Apple options. I spoke to many people and they said that interesting enough, the Retina iMacs were more stable with Resolve and Premiere Pro than the late-model MacPro. And there were reports of graphics cards issues on the MacPro…an issue so bad that Apple offered a repair program for it. Many people recommended that I get the best iMac there is, and maxed out with everything…better processor, the most RAM it could get, best graphics card offered. I priced that out and it came to be $3600. 4Ghz processor, turbo to 4.2, 32GB RAM, 500GB SSD, and AMD Radeon M395X with 4GB RAM graphics card. Pretty decent…but spendy. And any expansion, as I said, is all external, which means a more cluttered workstation. And no Nvidia options, that Adobe and Resolve tend to like more.
That got me to thinking…what about a Hackintosh? (That’s a computer built with off the shelf computer parts that runs the Mac OS…one that’s been modified a little to work with these components) I’ve built one before. And I have a couple friends to have also done this before, quite a few times. They have built multiple systems for themselves and others..Hackintosh models that they use professionally, for years. So I got to looking into that option.
NOTE…in order to build a Hackintosh need to get very specific computer components that have been tested to work properly with the modified Mac OS. I set about researching this starting with the go-to site for this, tonymacx86.com. There you can see builds for MacPros, MacMinis, and MacMini Deluxe. And see posts of people’s success stories, and what components they’ve used…as well as failure stories where they explain why certain OS versions or certain hardware components don’t work. So it’s a good place to see what to do, and what not to do.
In looking for a basic motherboard, I found one that many people used…it has two Thunderbolt 2 and lots of USB 3 ports, and it one of the MacPro build options. The issue was that it was a couple years old, and I couldn’t find it anywhere. When I looked for more current motherboards, I found some with Thunderbolt 3, but people said that when they built their hacks with them, the TB3 wouldn’t work. The MacOS doesn’t have drivers for that yet…one place where Apple is falling behind in tech that IT introduced. I found the other components I wanted, but without that motherboard that has Thunderbolt 2…I was stalled.
Why so adamant about Thunderbolt 2? Well, none of the boards have Firewire (I’m flush with Firewire drives and clients provide me with Firewire drives), but I have a Thunderbolt bridge from OWC that has Firewire on it. I also have a BlackMagic Extreme 4K capture box that has Thunderbolt…so I pretty much need a board with TB2 in order to be able to connect to most of my hard drives, and my video IO box that I used with all my editing apps.
So, as I said, I was stalled, and set about saving up money for that iMac, or one of the PC options. And just when I was about to do that, I started chatting with Stefan about this (one of the hack makers), and he was trying to convince me to make the hack (one thing he said was “friends don’t let friends use Windows!) . And he was able to look up a couple builds and track down the board I needed…right on the manufacturers website (At the time of writing this, they seem to have appeared back in stock in several stores).
Here’s the list of components that I chose for this build:
RAM: $166 ($183 w/tax and shipping
PROCESSOR COOLING: $40
GRAPHICS CARD: $389
HARD DRIVE (SSD): $158
POWER SUPPLY: $110
Tax & Shipping for all of these components came out to $130.65. So the total cost of all the parts was $1593.65. Less than half the price of the iMac, and four times cheaper than the MacPro (it can be equipped with slightly faster processors, and it has dual GPU…down the line I intend to add another GPU) I already owned the two 23″ displays, keyboard, mouse, and Thunderbolt 2 Bridge. And this configuration doesn’t include a wifi card or capability. Patrick (the other helpful guy) had a wireless ethernet receiver that he had sitting unused, so he gave that to me. Otherwise, you’d either need to get one, or have the ability to connect your internet router directly to the computer.
The processors in build is more on par with the high end iMac. If you configure it, you can equip it with an 4.0Ghz i7, which is the same general model I purchased. But mine can turbo boost to 4.4Ghz, where it caps off at 4.2Ghz. And while it is called a QUAD CORE processor, it has 8 threads, so essentially an 8 core processor. As for the MacPro, those processors are called 6-core, 8-core and 12-core, but from research I can see that Apple disables hyperthreading in them. Don’t get me wrong, they still will out-perform the processor I have….but I’m also not shelling out what it costs for those machines, and their iffy GPUs.
OK…so the saga begins. I ordered the parts and soon they arrived. In part two of this saga, I’ll tell the tale of getting this machine up and running. It’s a wild tale filled with ups and downs, week long late nights, swearing…and a couple lean forward moments.