So I Built a Hackintosh (Why Would You Do Such A Thing?!)

Over the past two weeks, I’ve been building and tweaking a Hackintosh.  To be fair, I was mostly tweaking – the “building” part only took a day.  The whole process has been extremely interesting and enlightening, and I’m going to go back and document the whole process here because I think there’s a lot of steps I went though which could be helpful for other future Hackintosh-ers.

But for me, the most interesting part was why build a Mac.

I’ve been using a Macbook Pro for about 5 years or so, switching right around the time that the debacle that was Windows Vista was making its appearance.  Obviously, the design of both the MBPs and OS X has always intrigued me, with some of the little GUI flourishes (the Dock, the Dashboard, etc.) having been fun to work with.  To put it simply, I just really liked working in OS X more than working in Windows.  I’m not going to get into a flame war about it – I just like OS X better.

However, this was also around the time Apple released its first-gen iPhone.  This was the first step towards the reason I’m ultimately building this computer – the lock-down of the iPhone is fundamentally antithetical to the ethos of the open web and open computing.

I really hope I don’t have to explain what that means or why that’s a problem.  There is a trade-off between user experience and architecture openness, and I do like the sleekness of the inside of a Mac Pro.  However, there comes a point where trade-off of convenience goes too far against the openness of the computer as a platform.

That moment came when Apple released its Retina Macbook Pro line, and I read this opinion piece on Wired:

Once again, with another product announcement, Apple has presented the market with a choice. They have two professional laptops: one that is serviceable and upgradeable, and one that is not. They’re not exactly equivalent products — one is less expensive and supports expandable storage, and the other has a cutting-edge display, fixed storage capacity, and a premium price tag — but they don’t have the same name just to cause confusion. Rather, Apple is asking users to define the future of the MacBook Pro.

Given the success of the Macbook Air, I have no doubt the locked-down version will win out in this market test; most people simply do not care about the tinkerability of their devices (see: iPad, iPhone). Batteries cannot be replaced, hard drives cannot be upgraded, RAM cannot be expanded, and the user will be wholly dependent upon Apple to do anything to their devices.

All of this isn’t just an academic exercise, either.  The original Macbook Pro I had died, and I opened the computer up, pulled out the hard drive, and transferred it into my dad’s Macbook Pro (which he hardly used; 17″ was too heavy).  While in the computer, I upgraded the hard drive to a 750GB 7200 RPM drive, turned the LCD screen from the old computer into a monitor, and switched the optical drive out of my old MBP into the new one.

After the second one died, I pulled that drive out, put it into a hard drive case for desktops, and put it into my 6 year old Mac Pro.  That drive is now in my new computer.  All of this is impossible on the new Macbook Pro.  If my computer died now, I could recover my data from a backup, but all those parts are useless.

Update: It appears now that the new iMac will also feature this design:

By laminating the display directly to the glass, Apple was able to remove all air gaps from the computer, making the entire display system 45 percent thinner. By removing the optical drive and reeingereering the internal components, Apple was able to make the new iMac “amazingly thin.” This is Apple’s first untinkerable desktop.  I doubt the Mac Pro will ever feature this sort of design, because of the particular market it appeals to and the philosophy behind its design (it’s extremely easy to add and remove hard drive and RAM, and there are processor upgrade kits you can buy as well).  The Mac Mini could go either way.

Besides these problems with the lack of an open platform, the new MBP isn’t recyclable (and ignore what EPEAT says; they’re full of it). We don’t think about new technology and their environmental impact, and people often believe, perhaps erroneously, that technology will solve all our environmental problems without discussing the problems of the mining of rare earth metals, ewaste, and electricity consumption.

So I have an apparent tension between my appreciation of the OS X and my distaste for the build of the devices themselves.  And that’s where the Hackintosh comes in.

I had overheard the tech guy at my last job discussing working on building his own Hackintosh, which sounded just like a cool idea at the time, but most likely unnecessary for me.  When I decided to do the build, I first found a guide, then the amazing community at Tonymacx86, both of which were helpful for getting started, but the process did still require a ton of searching, tweaking, and good old-fashioned trial-and-error.

Edit this post on GitHub.