You’re probably aware that Apple computers are built using the same standard parts that are used to create Windows PCs. You might not be aware that a standard PC can run the macOS, a so called ‘Hackintosh‘. An increasingly popular option for video editors, musicians and the somewhat geeky is to create a custom macOS compatible computer, tailored exactly to their needs.
What are the pros and cons of a Hackintosh?
The main pros are cost and choice. You can often built a dirt cheap Hackintosh for significantly less than Apple’s cheapest option, or built a more powerful and expandable computer than Apple currently offers. With a Hackintosh, everything is modular, so you can easily upgrade the RAM, hard drive, video card and processor.
The main con is the time you will spend specifying the components, building the computer and getting a working and stable Mac OS installed. A Hackintosh will work best when you carefully select the parts you are going to use so that they mirror the parts Apple use. Out of the box pretty much everything will just work as expected with minimal effort. However there are still significant pain points getting Sleep, WiFi, Bluetooth, NVMe SSDs, Thunderbolt and video cards to work cleanly. I lost track of the time spent trying to get sleep working on my Hackintosh with 3 monitors, to the extent that I basically stopped bothering and just shut it down at night. Swapping for the NVidia video card for a AMD RX480 instantly solved that problem, which illustrates the point about choosing parts carefully.
Who should consider a Hackintosh?
If you’re a bit of a masochist, an experienced computer builder, a video or music professional it might be worth considering. When you factor in buying good quality components, your own time and the software niggles, the sums generally don’t add up for everyone else. If you need a laptop I wouldn’t even dream of it.
But for a small (and growing) number of professional Mac users, the frustration with Apple’s increasingly locked down and sealed designs is sufficient for them to go down the Hackintosh route. Even the newly announced iMac Pro, whilst on paper a monstrously powerful machine, is a completely sealed unit!
I personally cannot bring myself to buy a computer that I cannot upgrade the RAM or the hard drive. My 2011 MacBook Pro is still going strong, but sadly might be the last Apple laptop I buy from new, simply because I can’t bring myself to spend that amount of money on what I considered to be deliberately hobbled machinery.
Could a Hackintosh replace my Apple Mac?
Short answer – yes, without question. Longer answer – once you have your initial hardware built, configured and tested, there’s very little difference in day to day use between a Hackintosh and an Apple Mac. Fundamentally what makes a Mac a Mac is the software, not the hardware. However getting to that point where you have a stable, cleanly running machine, and keeping it there after software updates can be a challenge.
Why do Hackintoshes exist?
Until such time as Apple reintroduce computers aimed at high end or experienced creative professionals, with upgradable RAM, hard drives and ideally video cards, the slow haemorrhaging of creative users over to Windows or Hackintoshes will continue. Computers, unlike phones, are not short lived and disposable assets. In my experience, most people replace a computer every 4-6 years. During that time they may need more RAM, larger and faster hard drives, or want a more powerful video card. Apple have explicitly denied owners any upgrading opportunities, thus massively reducing the useful lifespan of the Apple computers they buy, whilst simultaneously increasingly the asking price. It’s this “double whammy” that’s driving people towards non-Apple solutions, be it Windows or a Hackintosh.
Here’s hoping that the mythical 2018 modular Mac Pro starts the reversal of the ( sadly industry-wide ) trend towards sealed, disposable computing than Apple themselves started…