At work, I came to be a Mac fan. It’s based on BSD, but adds a much more polished GUI. It’s got a very user-friendly interface, and yet it’s trivial for me to pull up the command line and do “real” things there. So when I decided to build a new desktop, I decided I wanted to build something that would run OS X. Unfortunately, Apple’s hardware is ludicrously expensive, and I was on a budget. The good news is that you can build your own!
It used to be that you had to download a “cracked” version of OS X, which had a bunch of patches applied to make it run on non-Apple hardware. Now, though, the tweaks occur elsewhere — some minor changes to the bootloader, and a couple kernel modules to do the rest. The install process wasn’t too convoluted, and the result was well worth it:
It’s not actually a Xeon, but that’s okay.
Here’s what I used for hardware. I tried to stick to things that were fairly close to the hardware Apple uses, to ensure compatibility:
- Motherboard: Gigabyte EX58-UD5. NewEgg hasn’t carried it in a long time. I got mine somewhere else. This is one of the few components that you have to be careful about, verifying them with hardware compatibility lists.
- CPU: Intel i7-930, a quad-core 2.8 GHz processor with plenty of cache.
- CPU cooler: I’m used to my laptop running hot, so I went overboard and bought a huge Zalman cooler.
- Graphics: I went for an EVGA-branded GeForce 9800GT, because it’s easy to get working. This and the motherboard are the two main components to watch for OS X compatibility. A fairly simple “enabler” script brought me from crappy VESA display to dual displays at 1920×1080, with 3D acceleration. I was going to skimp on the video card, but Kyle convinced me that I’d regret it. Within a couple weeks of building the system, Steam launched a Macintosh client, so I was in business playing TF2. The card runs great.
- RAM: 6x 2GB DIMMs. I went for these OCZ sticks. The RAM ended up costing me more than any other component, but I’ve spent pretty much my entire life wishing I had more RAM. It’s really great to have more than enough. I probably would have been okay with 6GB, but in my experience, 4GB is inadequate, and I wanted room to grow.
- Hard drive: I should have bought an SSD, in hindsight. But I was trying to keep the cost down, and I was used to having inadequate disk space, so I sprung for a 2TB SATA disk. At 5400rpm, it’s a slow performer, but I don’t do anything too disk-intensive. Some day I may pick up an SSD for the OS, applications, and the portion of my home directory that isn’t 75GB of photographs or 10GB of music or 250GB of backups.
- Bluetooth adapter: this little AZiO adapter fits in one of the myriad USB slots, protruding only a minuscule amount, powering my Bluetooth mouse. I was concerned about Mac support, and the reviews are full of people complaining that it doesn’t work on Windows 7. But it’s plug-and-play on the Mac.
- Case: I got a nice big, roomy Zalman case. It’s kind of a ludicrous amount of money for a case, but I think it’s well worth it to have a really quality case. Little details, like slide-in rails for the power supply — or the fact that the power supply is the bottom and not the top — plus tons of hot-swap bays on the front — make it a pleasure to work with. The USB ports on the top front are a nice touch, too.
I have an actually-legally-purchased copy of OS X. I used the digital_dreamer install scripts, which required having an already-functioning Mac. Luckily I had a Mac laptop. I connected the hard drive via USB (about the thousandth time that I realized my USB-to-IDE/SATA adapter was a great purchase) and formatted it properly, did a retail install of OS X to the drive, and then ran a script to patch in the requisite drivers. Then I plunked the drive into my new machine, booted it up, downloaded the latest OS updates, and ran a couple things like the “enabler” scripts for my Ethernet cards and the graphics. Now it runs superbly well; the only thing I lack is a sleep mode. I think that’s easy to fix, actually, but I haven’t bothered yet.
For fun, a few photos of the build.
This kind of amused me. The processor came in a huge package. In the course of removing the heatsink, this little silver square fell out. The little silver square, of course, is the processor:
Here’s the motherboard fitted with the processor and the default heatsink:
But I didn’t trust that fan. Here it is with the Zalman cooler installed. (Yes, the protective plastic is still on. This was a dry fit, before everything was mounted. Yes, I remembered to remove it when I installed it for real.)
I’ve been quite happy with the setup, and I’d highly recommend it.