Everything you need to know about building a Hackintosh

What you need to build a Hackintosh

So, you want to create a Hackintosh, a stock PC running Apple’s OS X. Whatever your reasons – a project, specific Mac software you need to run, a need to enjoy the glorious environs of OS X – there are a few things you’ll need to know.

What you need to build a Hackintosh

So, you want to create a Hackintosh, a stock PC running Apple’s OS X. Whatever your reasons – a project, specific Mac software you need to run, a need to enjoy the glorious environs of OS X – there are a few things you’ll need to know.

The first and most important of which is that installing OS X anywhere other than on official Apple hardware violates Apple’s EULA for the software.

It’s something the company doesn’t want you to do – if it was encouraged, it’d be easy. So don’t expect any official support if things go catastrophically wrong – they very well might – and bear in mind that if Apple puts the brakes on your Apple ID (or sends lawyers to knock on your door) you won’t have any recourse.

If you really want to run OS X, the very best way to do it is to pick up a Mac. Companies have been sued, and Apple has succeeded in their cases, for supplying hardware specifically designed to run as Hackintoshes. TechRadar doesn’t endorse you doing this yourself. But if you’re going to anyway, read on.

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The hardware

Let’s make this very clear: OS X’s presence on the standardised Mac platform is one of the keys to it working in such a slick manner. Unlike Windows and Linux, it doesn’t usually have to deal with the potential complexity of different hardware combinations.

On hardware for which OS X is not specifically designed, your experience is likely to be less perfect, and you may have to get your hands dirty.

Thankfully the Hackintosh community has already done a lot of the testing and tweaking for you – the list of supported hardware is much longer than it once was – but many machines are still a better fit for OS X than others. Check the list at the CustoMac website to see a comprehensive list of recommended parts if you’re looking to build your own.

Using a laptop is likely to be a more difficult endeavour. There’s a comprehensive guide to the sorts of things to look for but, in short: look for something with a modern Intel CPU and chipset which deals with as many of the laptop’s functions as possible, avoid units which switch between integrated and discrete graphics, and be prepared to pick up USB Wi-Fi and Bluetooth modules if yours don’t work.

HP’s Probook series is often noted as being highly compatible – you can pick up a refurbished previous-generation model for around £200 ($288, AU$392).

The software

Along with your supported hardware for your Hackintosh, you’ll need:

An official copy of OS X. This could be a Snow Leopard DVD (available from Apple for £14.99/$20) which you can later upgrade to the newest version of OS X, or an official installer download of any version up to El Capitan, which you can download from the Apple Store.

Note that this means you’ll need access to a Mac to grab the official download.

A USB stick. At least 16GB is required to house the entire installation media.

A full backup. Being an unsupported method of installation, building a Hackintosh has the potential for catastrophic failure. If you feel like there’s even a remote possibility that you’ll want to roll back your machine, take a full clone of your existing drive with a program like Macrium Reflect.

The ultimate guide to backing up your Mac

Specific software. There are two options depending on your situation. If you have access to a Mac, and this is the method the community recommends, grab Unibeast. If you’re hoping to install from an official DVD instead, you’ll need to burn iBoot to a disc, boot from that, switch discs to your Snow Leopard disc, and install. Both methods require MultiBeast post-installation.

Building a Hackintosh

We’re not going to go into detail on the installation procedures here, both since a full walkthrough is beyond the scope of this article, and because doing so would be to encourage you to break the conditions of the OS X license, but you can find step by step instructions in the forums at tonymacx86.com.

Post-install

Running Multibeast once OS X has finished installing may sort out many of the initial problems your Hackintosh will face. If you’re very lucky with your chosen hardware, it’ll configure your bootloader to properly fire up El Capitan, and sort out drivers for your graphics, sound, network and more. It does this by using .kext files – Kernel EXTensions – which are the Mac equivalent of drivers.

Kexts are essentially folders full of files, the most important of which is the plist, which contains the specific settings for a piece of hardware. If your installation isn’t running well, hunt around in /Library/Extensions for a .kext file which applies to the kit in question, right-click it and select ‘Show package contents’. Open up the plist file in a text editor, and edit away.

If this process doesn’t work – and if you’re fumbling around in the dark, it probably won’t – then go online and hunt around the tonymacx86.com forums. It’s very possible that a fellow Hackintosher has run into the same problem as you and will have at least a partial solution.

All done?

It’s possible to upgrade an installed Hackintosh to the latest version of OS X but, again, we wouldn’t put any money on it working well. If you’ve got a system up to the point where it’s usable and relatively bug free, cut your losses.

Don’t rely on a Hackintosh as your primary machine; these things tend to be fleeting at best, and may suddenly give up the ghost at any time. But once you’ve created one, you’ll no doubt have a better understanding of the way the Mac and OS X works – perfect for when you pick up some official Apple hardware and do El Capitan the right way.

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