Practical Technology

for practical people.

You can build your own Mac, but do you really want to?


Psystar claims it can make Mac clones for cheap. There’s reason to doubt however that anyone will ever actually own a Psystar $399 Open Computer running Mac OS X. Funny, though, as Jason Perlow points out in his ZDNet blog, it’s really not that much trouble to build a Hackintosh.

Perlow explains that “Well, along with legal copies of Mac OS X and a special EFI firmware emulator for PC BIOS-based equipment and instructions how to put it all together it doesn’t really require any more effort than what it would have typically taken a PC homebrewer to assemble their own DOS or Windows-based white box 10 or 15 years ago.”

If that’s beyond your abilities, there are still easier ways to make your own homebrew Mac. “If you really want the easy way out and have no ethical quandaries with software piracy, you can get a hacked Mac OS X DVD (just search on “kalyway” or “osx86? on any myriad of torrent sites) that pretty much does the whole thing for you without any OS hacking skills needed whatsoever,” wrote Perlow.

And, as for the hardware? “In all likelihood, you probably can run it on the PC you have now, depending on your tolerance for headaches and how many Saturdays you feel like killing to get it tweaked just right to make all your drivers work.”

In short, it would be pretty much like running desktop Linux say five, six years ago. In other words, it wouldn’t be for everyone, but it would certainly be doable for anyone who knows PC hardware and Mac OS.

My question though is: “Why would you want to?”

Yes, it would be a good deal cheaper. By my calculations I can get build a decent Hackintosh for around Psystar’s $399. That’s $200 less than the cheapest Apple Mac Mini.

So why not do it? Because when I buy a Mac, I’m not just buying an operating system. I’m buying a complete, stream-lined PC package that’s going to work like a fine Swiss watch.

You see, I like things that work right. That’s why I prefer both Macs and desktop Linux over Windows. Apple and the desktop Linux companies take very different paths to reach the same goal: an outstanding end-user experience.

Desktop Linux does it with an open-source operating system that’s constantly becoming more efficient, more secure, while giving me incredible control over my desktop. To me, running a top Linux, like SLED (SUSE Linux Enterprise Desktop) or Ubuntu, is a lot like driving a Porsche 911 Carrera S with its manual six-speed transmission: pure power, pure control.

A Mac, which is proprietary as a system comes, is designed so that everything works together seamlessly. The hardware, the operating system, the applications, they all come together to form a whole that’s greater than its parts. In terms of cars, I think of the Mercedes-Benz C-class sedans. Both Macs and Mercedes give you a smooth, class ride.

Windows, just to finish the metaphor, ranges from a Yugo, Windows Vista, to a high-end Toyota, XP SP3.

Here’s my point though, when I want a Mac, I don’t run to run Mac OS on a system I’m going to tinker with, I want to run a Mac.

There’s a line from a song by David Wilcox in which he reflects that when you’re always working on an old British sports car instead of driving it, what you really have is a hobby and not a car. I like cars and PCs, I already have enough hobbies, so I won’t be building or buying a Hackintosh.

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