Why I'm Building a Mac

Why I’m Building a Mac

You might think I’m crazy for wanting to build my own Mac (Hackintosh). It seems a little strange today what with Apple laptops and desktops being as good as they are, and you’d be right. It is strange. I do have a couple of good reasons though that I believe justify what I’m doing and building my own Mac.

Software

I’ve been using Macs for as far back as I can remember. My only computer that wasn’t a Mac was a Windows ME PC that I found in a junkyard when I was eight years old (it even had a turbo button!). Other than that it’s been all Mac. Since that’s all I’ve ever used, that’s where I feel most comfortable working. All of the apps that I’m familiar with are all for Mac, and that’s where I know how to get my work done the most effectively and efficiently. The other component of that is that Macs are fantastic development machines. They have the same tool compatibility as Ubuntu, and have minimal configuration and stress. Once you install Homebrew or MacPorts you can install pretty much any Linux utility that you want. On top of that OS X is based off of Unix, which is a close cousin to Linux. This means that many utilities and scripts that works on Linux machines will work just fine on the Mac with no reconfiguration.

I suppose this is the biggest reason: with OS X you get the versatility of Linux without worrying about your machine eating itself alive (I’ve had several Ubuntu virtual machines do this when installing updates, not a fun time). My biggest issue with using Windows-based PCs is that you don’t get this versatility. You can get an idea of what I mean by just opening Windows PowerShell and trying to do something substantial. Good luck.

I do however understand that Windows is required for some programs that I use regularly: SolidWorks and a decent version of Microsoft Office. Office I can replace completely with Apple’s own iWork, Mail, Calendar, Contacts, and The Omni Group‘s suite of applications. These entirely replace all of Office and in some cases do more than Office does. Gaming is also one thing that isn’t so great on the Mac as of right now. It is getting better with way more games on Steam coming out with Mac support, however it’s still not as good as the PC selection. Gaming and SolidWorks are the reason that my Hackintosh does have a drive dedicated to Windows. I can just boot into it whenever I need to use SolidWorks, and then all my changes sync back to my Mac through Dropbox. I can also mount my Windows drive on my Mac to access larger files that don’t fit into Dropbox.

Another big reason for choosing Mac: apps that sync with their mobile counterparts. Along with my MacBook and Hackintosh, I also have an iPad and an iPhone. I realize that I could keep these all in sync using Dropbox, and for a lot of things I do. Apps like DayOne plug directly into Dropbox and save my journal entries in there. I can then open DayOne on either of my Macs, or on my iOS devices and my data updates right there. Any changes I make are synced back to the other devices through the cloud. It seems to me that there are so many more of these apps on Apple’s platform than on Windows / Android. This I believe is because Android and Windows aren’t a unified platform. The only way that these apps can exist in the same capacity as on Apple’s platform would be for Windows Phone to finally be adopted on the mass-market to provide developers an incentive to actually make apps for that whole platform. That’s not currently the case. Until that kind of unity exists on the other platforms I can’t make the switch.

Hardware

I love Apple hardware. I love my MacBook and iOS devices. They look fantastic and they work really well. The biggest problem for me with the hardware is the price. I realize that the prices for their high-end MacBooks are pretty good and the Mac Pro pricing is incredible, but I still can’t afford them. I have to pay for textbooks before I can afford to buy a new laptop, which I still intend to do eventually. I decided that the best way for me to work would be with my existing MacBook for mobile work, and some sort of desktop machine for more heavy development work and games. The Mac Pro didn’t really give me what I wanted. The Intel Xeon that it packs is way more power than I need, and the graphics cards aren’t really optimized for my usage. Plus I wouldn’t need two of them under really any circumstance. What I needed was a powerful machine with a Xeon or something similar but without the graphical-intensive power.

The only way I could achieve this I thought was to build a Windows desktop, which I really didn’t want to do. I really don’t like using Windows and can’t get my work done on it as efficiently as I would like. What I hadn’t realized until recently was how easy it would be to build a Hackintosh.

It’s made easy by a few things. The first is the incredible Hackintosh community. The people in the community have been working for years on building custom drivers for pretty much any hardware and figuring out how to get a whole host of devices working with OS X. It’s as easy as looking at a table of things that people have gotten to work and then picking the ones you like best. There are tons to choose from. I was able to get the top-of-the-line Haswell Intel Core i7 4790K, clocked at 4.0GHz. This hardware isn’t in any of Apple’s computers, but it still works just fine since the instruction set is the same. Tonymacx86 has what I think is one of the best compatibility tables and setup tools out there. His software tools make it even easier, since they can auto-configure OS X to work with installed hardware.

The second thing that made this easy is the fact that Apple delayed the new Mac Pro for so long. While annoying, it made it so that hardware manufacturers would continue to make their hardware (PCIe cards specifically) compatible with the older Mac Pro, which was pretty close to just being a regular PC tower. This means that right now there is a large library of off-the-shelf components that already have Mac support out of the box.

Wrap-Up

At the time of writing this, I’m still waiting on the motherboard to come in so that I can finish my build. As anyone who’s built a PC before knows it’s impossible to get all of the parts to arrive on time and at the same time. There’s always that one crucial part that doesn’t show up when you want it to. For me that’s the motherboard, which is probably the most important part and the only one that I can’t buy at a store around where I live.

The last factor that I didn’t mention above is that it’s fun. Building any computer is a lot of fun, and it’s a sort of art form. You get to pick your own parts, assemble them, figure out the cable routing, and do whatever you want to make it truly yours. My build doesn’t have sequenced LED lights that dance to the music I play like some I’ve seen on r/battlestations, but that doesn’t matter. It’s my Hackintosh. I built it and I made the decisions that brought it to life. It’ll serve me well in the next few years as my workhorse, and I couldn’t be happier with my decision (except for if the motherboard came on time).

If you’re interested in how the build goes, check back here in the next week or so for my post describing the build and how it all turns out.