Once upon a time I installed OS X 10.5 onto a Dell running a Pentium-D (a CPU incidentally that never shipped with any OS X based computer) but without a proper graphics card or compatible audio chipset, it was mostly for show. It was surreal seeing OS X running on a non-Mac. Having had a PowerComputing PowerCenter, I remember the days of the clones but this was something different. I only booted OS X two or three more times before deleting the partition but having witnessed a hackintosh, the idea has always lingered…
I’ve posted several times about the death of the Mac Pro, most notably my rant “The Future is Gated Community” and even my list of “Recommended Mac Pro Upgrades”. I love OS X but at this current juncture, Apple doesn’t offer a computer that truly meets all my needs. I considered the 27 inch iMac (with the additional GeForce GTX 780M and Core i7) but graphically, it left too much to be desired.
Quo Computing: The Answer? Sorta
A few weeks ago something that’s always seemed like a pipe dream became a reality once I discovered the “Quo Computer Z77MX-QUO-AOS” motherboard, a redesigned Gigabyte motherboard with a wink-wink, none-too-subtle-nod, and nudging of the elbows, “Run any OS”. By any OS, they meant none other than OS X.
After reading up on the Quo Computer, it started off as a successful kickstarter project that actually resulted in a working motherboard (although they never were able to deliver some of the promised stretch goals like built in Wifi/Bluetooth).
Despite its short comings, Quo produced a motherboard that spec wise resembled a Macintosh: Firewire 400? Check. Firewire 800? check. USB 3.0? Check. Thunderbolt? Check, with 4 PCIe slots (two 3.0 and two 1.0), 4 DIMM slots (max 32 GB of ram) and an LGA1155 socket for a Core i3/i5/i7 CPU.
It wasn’t the motherboard to end all motherboards being a CPU socket generation late, limited RAM, one solo 16x PCIe slot (and a secondary 8x PCIe slot), one PCIe slot that’d enviably be blocked by a graphics card but it had something no one else had; a special uEFI rom for the motherboard that allowed it to magically boot OS X. Magic indeed, the ROM isn’t provided by Quo but a mysterious group called HermitCrab Labs.
What Quo promised is something that even Gigabyte hadn’t been able to promise previously, a hackintosh that didn’t require a complex dance to install OS X. I was intrigued.
Parting out the PC… erm, Mac
For my computer I decided to use the following hardware:
- Fractal Design R4 Case
- Quo Computer Z77MX-QUO-AOS Motherboard
- Intel Core i7 3770k (3.5 GHz)
- Gigabyte GeForce GTX 760 2 GB*
- SeaSonic Platinum SS-860XP2 Power Supply
- Crucial Ballistix Sport 16 GB DDR3 Ram (PC3-12800)
- Lite-On Super AllWrite 24X SATA DVD+/-RW Dual Layer Drive
*originally I attempted to use my EFI Rom flashed AMD Radeon 6870 which didn’t function properly
Photo: MacBook Pro Retina with TechSpot’s instructions loaded
Despite being a life-long Mac user, I’ve always been a power user, using two-button mice in the OS9 days, to flashing video cards for my G4 and so on.
The sacred text for this leap of faith was a single lone article by TechSpot using the Quo Computer motherboard. It provided everything one needed to get the Quo Computing mobo going on a single page. So based on this one article and TonyMacX86 I ordered roughly $1100 of PC hardware to built my own Hacktintosh. All my storage was already in my existing Mac Pro, consisting of 5 HDDs, 1 Samsung 840 Evo 750 GB SSD, and two USB 3.0 WD drives.
6 internal storage is overkill but no Mac produced today can have multiple internal storage devices.
Putting together my PC took a usual amount of time, the Fractal Design R4 is a very large case, roughly the same dimensions as a Mac Pro (mid-tower seems like a short sale).
Setting it all up
After setting everything up, I plugged into my Hacktinosh a FAT32 formatted USB thumb drive containing the latest ROM for the quo computer mother board (from Hermit Crab labs), and hit the END key and brought up the motherboard rom flasher. SUCCESS! Next I plugged in my SSD from my Mac Pro… and it booted! The screen was jibbled up (after a quick read, I forgot to enable the video) Once enabled OS X booted, complete with graphics acceleration from the onboard Intel HD4000.
I was able to boot both 10.8 and 10.9 without any problems.
After the computer was booted, RAM seated securely, I discovered AMD Radeon 6870 did not work properly in the Hackintosh which meant dropping $270 on the computer, raising the price from $800ish to roughly $1100ish.
This process wasn’t painless but required very little on my end.
By default the QUO is identified as a Mac Pro 2008, which means using popular hackintosh utilities like Champlist are not necessary
Everyone loves benchmarks, so how does this computer stack up?
Single core: 3306
Single core: 3683
The best way to check the performance is to go here as Geekbench provides a nice chart to single core, multi-core and 32 bit / 64 bit performance but I’ll summarize.
Without much surprise, the Hackintosh in single core performance is only bested by latest core i7 iMacs sporting the new 4770k/4771k i7s as Quo computer is a generation behind for CPUs. Otherwise, single core performance is above every Mac in production in this particular benchmark.
The multicore performance is quite a different story, as any computer post 2009 running 8 or more physical cores is distinctly faster than the Hackintosh, meaning 2009+ Mac Pros with 12 Cores post nearly double the performance.
Interestingly, both the iMac i7 4771k 27 inch iMac and my Quo Computing Hackintosh post better benchmarks in single and multicore performance than the $3000 Xeon E5-1620 Mac Pro.
Graphics + OpenCL
Now before you jump to point out that the Mac Pro 2013’s include dual FireGL Pros, currently there are not any easy ways to benchmark the graphics performance with the Mac Pros. LuxMark v2.1 remains the sole benchmark I could find and the database is borked so I couldn’t reference the Mac Pros.
Currently, the FireGL Pros are not the fastest OpenCL benchmarks and a 2012 Mac Pro armed with two AMD Radeon 7970s will best it. That said, the 7970 still is faster than the 760 found in my Hackintosh.
The important thing to take away is that $1100 gets you the performance of a maxed out 27 inch iMac or entry level Mac Pro. Sadly, Geekbench does not include any graphics benchmarks.
The GeForce GTX 760 is a more powerful gaming graphics card than any Mac shipping. I may return the 760 for the 770 as its only $50 more and it’d put the Hackintosh in a realm untouched by anything other than assholes who could afford 8+ core 2012 Mac Pros with 7970s.
The Mac Pro 2013 has one distinct advantage over my hacktinosh, with the ability to have a maximum of 128 GB of RAM. Even my previous Mac Pro could sport 64 GB of RAM.
Core i-series are limited to 32GB or 64GB, which biggest defining characteristic. Unfortunately, most common CPUs are limited to 32 GB including the Core i7 3770k.
Also it is worth noting that the Mac Pros uses 1866 MHz DDR3 ECC SDRAM vs the 1600 MHz DDR3 SDRAM, ECC has been long stated to take a small performance tax for the error correction but I couldn’t find any modern articles. If I had to hazard a guess, the memory I/O performance would be neck and neck with the 2013 Mac Pro.
32 GB certainly isn’t prohibitive for most use cases, and with the improved memory management in Mavericks help further it. It is also double the maximum RAM in current MacBooks. However, it is worth noting. The Mac Pros have been the only Macs capable of > 32 GB of RAM as of writing this.
Strange Problems Encountered:
- When installing my CPU I managed to bend (without realizing) two of the CPU pins on the motherboard. I had to use an exacto knife to straighten these out. Nerve racking to say the least…
- By default the internal video chipset isn’t enabled, this requires enabling it. Its clearly outlined in the guide but I still managed to skip it.
- I couldn’t use my old AMD Radeon HD 6870 in my Hackintosh with my 27 inch monitor (2560 x 1440). This was likely due to the hacked EFI rom that I loaded onto the card so the card would display the OS X option boot. Not all the ports are detected due to the flash so perhaps the EFI rom doesn’t play nicely with the motherboard’s uEFI rom (despite displaying video at the BIOS). The only solution was to buy an nVidia card or forgo using my monitor.
- A slightly loosely seated ram caused powering up to fail randomly. Since it was booting occasionally, I didn’t think to check the RAM at first.
- An addendum to the problem above. It appears the loosely seated RAM caused the BIOS to corrupt, fortunately the vanilla BIOS reinstall automagically and reapplying the new ROM for uEFI only takes seconds.
- Installing the GeForce drivers were a pain. My drivers installed were from 2011. I found on TonyMacX86 a user who was kind enough to upload the drivers he had, however these did not work. After much digging, I found that nVidia quietly has OS X drivers for its graphics cards which can be found here. Installing these and the sequential update (found in the control panel for the nVidia card) did the trick. I also installed the optional CUDA drivers during the process, it is unknown if this helped.
- PC cases are still ugly as I remember they were in the early/mid 2000s. Garish LEDs and plastic pains are still the norm. Lian Li cases for sale at NewEgg were not worthy of the praise. Fractal Design is about the least offensive option on the market.
- Cubase’s stupid USB eLicenser complains that the hardware configuration is different. Isn’t the point of damned USB Dongle that I should be able to plug and play? I already hate the damn thing so much that I keep debating if I want to remain in their DRM hellish scheme. Now I need to contact them? C'mon. Shouldn’t I be able to plug this thing into any computer I please and launch cubase? This is a problem with Steinberg, not Apple or Hacktinosh related.
- iTunes gives me an error -50 but appears to work. Messages asks for my keychain access not sure which password its requiring, it isn’t the admin.
For reasons unknown (even after taking a dive into forums and messing with my bios) 3 out 4 boots, the computer boots with the CPU cranked to 4.3 GHz. This causes everything to run poorly, graphic transitions are slideshow and the mouse skips across the screen. This may be the deal breaker.
Solved: This appears to be a RAM timing issue in the Bios with a performance setting turned on. It plays nice with Windows but mostly confuses OS X.
Strangely, I cannot select my Bootcamp partition. Yes I realize Bootcamp itself is a OS X -> EFI interaction but prior to flashing my Motherboard, it would by default, boot my Windows 7 install. Hitting F12 at the motherboard’s launch only lists the OS X partitions with bootable volumes. Selecting the HDD with the Windows 7 install does nothing (OS X launches like normal). Perhaps installing Windows 8 is order.Solved: This goes for an undocumented feature but you must enable in the Bios uEFI + Legacy to boot
Had it not been for the QUO computer motherboard, I don’t know if I’d undertaken this project. Once the computer was set up, I literally was able to take my copy of OS X from my Mac Pro to my Hackintosh (and even back to my Mac Pro and back yet again to my Hackintosh).
I would have gladly paid for a Apple Mac with a user replaceable PCIe graphics card preferable a few drive bays. My previous Mac Pro lasted me 6 years. That’s an incredible feat! I can’t imagine a 2013 Mac Pro lasting until 2019 as good chunk of the longevity was locked up in upgradability. However there are rumors of a 40 Gbps Thunderbolt 3 and AnandTech reports success of running a GTX 780Ti over Thunderbolt 2 (Anandtech’s tests of PCIe scaling speeds are surprising and makes this proposal sound much more reasonable). Perhaps given time (PCIe enclosures to come down in price, and compatibility to improve) this will be a viable option, and my “desktop” will just be a MacBook Pro docked.
So, will this Hacktinosh replace my Mac Pro? Possibly.
Currently having the boot my computer 3 - 5 times to get it boot the CPU’s actual clock speed (even with Turbo boost and EIST disabled) defies logic and doesn’t bode well. While i’m not a big gamer I do like games. If I’m dropping $270 on a graphics card , Windows better boot dammit. Solved
I don’t terribly enjoy having to tinker with my computer.
Having lived through the early days of OS X (and early as OS7) I didn’t particularly enjoy the random kext hunts I had to perform to get audio cards work, to manually sudo -rm bad SATA drivers for a SATA card that was causing my computer to freeze or the ever present .plist garbaging that 10.1 and 10.2 required so much of. My expectations are much higher for my computer as the bar is so much higher today.
The highest end iMac 27 (paired with an Core i7 + GeForce GTX 780M) seems like a much more attractive option than the entry level Mac Pro as by Geekbench stats, the iMac fractionally slower surprisingly the same at GPU activities short of OpenCL. With OpenCL currently relegated to few processes like Codec mashing, the iMac 27 inch (Core i7+ GTX 780m) is for most intents and purposes is a faster computer than the entry level Mac Pro.
However, this doesn’t come cheap at $2,349.00 (more if you add more ram or SSD) and even the highest end mobile chipsets can’t hold a candle to midrange desktop cards.
I really only have three options:
- Take a leap of faith with my Hackintosh and keep the hardware.
- Continue using my battle worn 2008 Mac Pro.
- Save up for a $2349+ purchase for an iMac (and some sort of storage array).
None are ideal.
Hackintosh Boots Windows. Gaming wasn’t much a problem in most games at 2560 x 1440. The i7 + GeForce GTX 760 means instead of 2x FSAA and 2x Anistrophic filtering to 8x/16x in most games. Everything appears to work in Windows with three successful boots to consecutively without the stutter CPU timing issue.
I’ll be posting benchmarks from GeekBench. The Hackintosh is right in line with the Core i7 iMacs (CPU wise). May have fixed the CPU issue…
The CPU timing issue appears that it was a RAM frequency issue. The motherboard has some sort of performance enhancement for memory that was enabled. Assuming the computer continues to behave normally, I’ll check off the unresolved issue.
What the hell?
I decided to return the 760 for the 770. I left my computer booted to Windows 7, downloading steam games and I came home about 5 hours later to find my computer making beeping noises and unable to wake. The beeps were coming from the HDDs, particularly two Seagate drives. Over the past 2 decades I’ve heard clicks of death, grinding but never beeps. According to Seagate, they shouldn’t beep. I’d chalk this up to the motherboard except there were two independent beeps and both coming from the HDDs bay. I’m baffled.
Rebooting didn’t help and only when I physically disconnected almost all my drives did the Hacktinosh boot. Fearing the worst, I pulled my Time Machine HDD and my SSD and popped them into my Mac Pro. At first my SSD refused to boot but my time machine HDD was working fine. After some tinkering, it looks like my sled for the SSD is toast and at least one or more other HDDs. Popping in one of the beeping HDDs into my Mac Pro revealed the drive was intact and S.M.A.R.T. status was ok and it did not beep. Since then I’ve managed to mount every single HDD in my Mac Pro without any problems. Crisis adverted! (Sorta)
This makes me wonder: Is my 860watt power supply not enough for the massive GeForce GTX 770? Unlikely. Did my windows just pick a time to go down in flames? Why did my PC refuse to boot then when the Windows HDD was disconnected? Why did it beep when the GTX 770 was disconnected? (What was the beep for that matter?) Did my PC overheat? It didn’t fry itself as it was able to boot still. Do I have bad RAM? Something is amiss and I don’t know if I feel like tracking it down.
I was unable to figure out the problem with the HDDs, it looks like there’s an issue with the SATA controller or something to that effect. I didn’t want to risk my data. The conflict is NOT booting OS X. OS X runs great.
However, there’s just something that isn’t right with the computer, there’s been erratic behavior (the mystery clock speeds and SATA issues). I’m not sure if its bad ram, one bad setting, the new graphics card (I removed it and it still had problems), not enough thermal paste… Anyhow I tossed in the towel and packed up the box and sent it all back before the warranties were up. To help with the burden of cost, I assumed I’d be able to let go of my Mac Pro and recoup some of the losses by selling it but I am unable to.
It seems the ideal hackintosh is a setup where you have a safety net, more than just a time machine drive but rather a backup Mac Mini or the Hackintosh is your secondary computer, (primary being a MacBook). I’m still operating in a reverse world where my primary computer is a desktop my MacBook Pro Retina is used strictly for work so none of my personal data really exists on it.
I still think a Hackintosh is viable option and if I had a little more disposable income (and more space), i’d of kept the setup. Maybe my media pc will become a hackintosh…. :)