Everything That's Wrong with Hackintosh

Dec 27, 2017

A week ago I wrote about my Hackintosh build. At first I was very enthusiastic about building my own computer. Everything looked good on paper. I did a lot of research on the interwebs and watched a lot of YouTube videos. Everybody was always bragging about performance and the low cost, but nobody was telling the whole story. This is my attempt to do just that.

Price

It's correct that on paper the sum of all components do cost less than a comparable Macintosh, but this does not account for the hours you have to invest in building the thing. It's not just skrewing all the hardware components together, it's also the installation of macOS and especially getting all the hardware components to work correctly. The whole build took me at least a full work-week. You do the math. If I would have worked for a client in that time, invested the income in Apple and substracted the rest value of my current iMac, I could have bought a new low-end iMac Pro.

Display

Another big price component that is never mentioned is a decent screen. There is really no good alternative to a 5K LG dispay at the moment. And a normal hackintosh is not able to run a display with 5K resolution. That has something to do with the Displayport spec and how 2 streams are multiplexed for 5K. It is theoretically possible to build it with a GC Alpine Bridge, a thunderbold PCI card that takes 2 displayport streams and multiplexes them into a thunderbold output stream. But judging from the forums, nobody has ever tried it before and the hardware is not easy to get. That means you are stuck with a 4K display and 4K displays for PCs do not have the 5K LG display's high resolution. I ran with the Dell UP2718Q UltraSharp 27 4K HDR Monitor, which costs around $1500. In terms of colorspace and brightness it's competitive to the LG Ultrafine displays, but it's expensive of course.

Graphics

One of the reasons for building a hackintosh for me was using a beefy graphics card. There are multiple options. You can go with Nvidia and need to install drivers and don't get good OpenCL performance (Final Cut Pro) or you go with AMD. I decided for AMD, because I thought that I don't need to fiddle around with drivers. In reality that's not true. Only a hand full of AMD graphics cards seem to work in High Sierra. The AMD Vega 64 works well, but runs the fans at light speed. In the end, I settled with a AMD RX 580 for now, which is the same graphics card that is running in a new high-end iMac. So that's that. I hope to upgrade to Vega 64 sometime in the future. I wasn't able to get the internal Intel GPU running. This process is really to cumbersome and involves a lot of kernel panics. No time for that.

Audio

Depending on what motherboard you use, you need to inject different kext modules. It's amazing that there are people who care enough to make this work. High Sierra however broke the support of a lot of audio drivers. I really couldn't get it to work after 8 hours of trying different drivers, version, etc. I ended up with attaching an M-Audio USB interface to the USB port. Works fine.

USB

Talking about USB. It mostly works for me, but reading through the forums, I get the impression that USB can also be a major source of headache. Cable-bound keyboards and mice do work, audio as well, but at first I wasn't able to mount external hard drives. There was a solution for that however and it took me a while to make it work, but external disks do mount now. However I can't keep them connected to the PC at all time, because at some point the machine just freezes, which is not the case when the external drives are not connected.

Bluetooth

Bluetooth also mostly works. I purchased the IOGEAR Bluetooth 4.0 USB Micro Adapter, because I read that this is the best solution. And yes, Magic Keyboard and Magic Mouse do work, also AirPods, however running external hard drives on the same USB bus can cut bandwidth from the bluetooth adapter and the mouse gets a noticable lag. This can go so far as a total shutdown of the bluetooth adapter. Disconnecting and reconnecting it again mostly workarounds that issue.

Hard drives

Disk space is a big upside and I can't really complain about that. I am using a Samsung 960 Pro on the M2 slot and 5 hard drives that are connected over SATA. And I love it. It's really nice to have a lot of disk space and not have a loud RAID on the desk. SATA is also working very reliably so far.

Conclusion

In summary, I would never recommend to anybody to build a hackintosh unless he has the time and energy to make it work. I can say, a hackintosh is not about the money, it's about the challange to make it work. If you need a machine for your professional work, get an iMac or an iMac Pro. Personally, I love to have a lot of disk space inside the machine. My hope is that Apple comes out with a new modular and upgradable Mac Pro in 2018 which makes me want to demote the hackintosh to run it Windows only.