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Some Background Information

Software vs. Hardware

Computers can be broken down into two basic things: hardware and software. A small part of the software in an Operating System (like OSX Snow Leopard or Windows 7) is special software known as kernel extensions or drivers that allows the hardware and software to understand each other and work together smoothly. On a PC or Linux computer, you can have any combination of hardware components in your computer, and they will simply work normally. This is because thousands of hours go into developing specific drivers for pretty much every piece of hardware out there. This is known as an "open" system, as you have a lot of choice over what hardware to use. Meanwhile, Apple's operating system is a "closed" system and only works with a very specific combination of hardware. Although their are hundreds of motherboards, videocards, wireless cards, and other pieces of hardware to choose from, a Mac computer will have specially selected hardware which is on the list of supported devices within the closed system.

What is a Hackintosh?

A hackintosh is a computer that has been hacked so that it can run Apple's OSX operating system on it, even though its hardware is not supported. To do this, you have to somehow trick the software into thinking that the computer's parts are really Apple parts, or you have to develop your own custom software drivers that allow the software to play nice with the hardware. Assuming you aren't a developer and you really just want the computer to work, the best thing to do is to research. Specifically, you need to research what components play nice with Apple software, or what components have other developers already figured out how to hack.

Finding a compatible Laptop

If you are looking for a laptop, you are essentially buying a computer whose parts have been pre-selected for you. You shouldn't have too hard a time searching the web for accounts from other Hackintosh community members about what hardware works or doesn't work within the laptop's configuration. The project OSX86 wiki is a great resource to check for hardware compatibility of laptops. Simply click the 'Portable Computers' link next to the version of OSX you wish to search. You will then be able to read through tons of posts that show what works and what doesn't work out-of-the-box (OOB).

Finding a compatible Desktop

When you are building a desktop, there are infinite combinations of components to choose from. The place to start is with the motherboard, as that is the keystone of your system of which everything else is reliant.

Hackintoshing Basics

So you want to install Mac OSX on non-Apple hardware? Great! But it's not for the faint of heart...you have to be willing to deal with some system instability, possible hardware incompatibility and lots of Google searching. As a result, I do not recommend using a hackintosh as your primary mac. There are also some issues surrounding OSX86 that might result in slightly reduced performance, such as incompatibility with Intel CPU's hyperthreading.

To have a nicely performing machine, I would recommend installing a minimum of 2gb RAM and 16g SSD/HD or larger. (16gb is the bare minimum and won't leave you but a few gigs of space for your files.) I would also make sure the video resolution is at least 1024x576. (OSX at 800x600 is a hot mess.)

Presuming you're trying to install OSX on one of those new-fangled netbooks all the kids are using these days, there are basically two ways to do it...

The Easy Way

If you're lucky, you can find a clone of a working OSX system for the netbook of your choice. This would most likely be a .dmg file. Theoretically you should be able to use a tool like CarbonCopyCloner or SuperDuper to dump the contents of this .dmg onto your computer's hard drive, install an EFI bootloader, and that's it.

The Hard Way

Using the filesharing technology of your preference (i.e. bittorrent), you'll need to download an ISO of hacked version of an OSX install DVD. (iDeneb and IATKOS are the two more common versions.) Be sure to get the ISO for the version of OSX you want to install. You then follow the installation guide. However, after OSX is installed you'll need to find the Kernel Extensions ("kexts") needed to interface with your hardware...wifi cards, ethernet adapters, sound and graphics hardware, etc. This is where it gets tedious and sometimes difficult. http://insanelymac.com and http://www.osx86project.org are your friends.

Some netbooks are capable of having OSX installed straight from an OSX DVD you'd buy at the NYU Bookstore. Instructions for doing this are usually found on forums that focus on the netbook in question (http://myhpmini.com, http://mydellmini.com, http://netbooks.modaco.com/category/390/msi/, http://www.s10lenovo.com/, etc.) or more importantly, on the InsanelyMac.com forums.

There's no single way to get OSX onto a PC. You have to do the legwork to find installation guides for the netbook in question and then be prepared to find and install the .kext files necessary to get the hardware that isn't natively supported by OSX to work. BoingBoing's Netbook Compatibility Chart has links to installation guides for the most compatible (and popular) netbooks currently available, so this part is now even easier. Even better, most installation guides provide links to .zip files containing the kexts you'll need to get your hackintosh running smoothly. Just be prepared for a number of hiccups along the way. Be patient, and before you know it you'll have a sweet little hackintosh purring on your lap.

Some Issues

So you're ready to move on? Well here are some issues you may encounter...

  • Your netbook's resolution may be too small to fit some dialog boxes, which means you can't see or click the OK buttons to continue. Usually you can just hit Enter to continue, but sometimes not. Use the trick at this link to change OSX's text scaling. I would recommend changing it back, though, as I had a number of System Preference Panes crash when the scaling was changed.
  • Depending on the hardware, you may find that some hardware functionality simply doesn't work. Audio, WiFi, ethernet, VGA out, sleep...even proper battery monitoring are all commonly missing hardware functions. Sometimes people have found solutions, but it may be up to you to search the interwebs and forums to find them.
  • Unless you follow the instructions to install OSX with a retail DVD, you can not update OSX to any other point release via Software Update (at least not without some kext file tweaking). If you do accidentally update OSX via Software Update, your system will most likely be rendered unbootable. This does NOT mean that you can't use Software Update to update other Apple software like iTunes, Quicktime, iLife, iWork, etc.
  • It may be possible to remove some unnecessary Kernel Extensions to free up RAM and CPU cycles, such as Firewire hardware kexts (I've never heard of a netbook with firewire). But this could backfire and render your system unbootable.

Still up for it? It's not as bad as it sounds. Remember at the end of this you'll have a macintosh that costs about as much as AppleCare.


http://gadgets.boingboing.net/2008/12/17/osx-netbook-compatib.html - BoingBoing.net's fantastic Netbook Compatibility Chart...with links to install instructions! (Also see July 30, 2009 Gizmodo Article on the "State of the Hackintosh".)

http://wiki.osx86project.org - The OSX86 Project's wiki. Contains lots of info including hardware compatibility lists, install guides, developer resources, and more.

http://insanelymac.com - The OSX86 Project's website that contains news, forums, and other hackintoshing information. The forums are probably the most comprehensive on hackintoshing in general, with specific topics on various hardware and issues.

http://piratebay.org - Bittorrent tracker where you can find iDeneb and maybe OSX cloned images.

http://demonoid.com - Private Bittorrent tracker with even more hackintosh-related files. REQUIRES AN INVITE.

http://delicious.com/crackhead/hackintosh - Corey's delicious.com "hackintosh" links.

http://delicious.com/tag/hackintosh - General delicious.com "hackintosh" tagged links.

OSX86Tools - This utility is kind of a swiss army knife of scripts useful for maintaining and configuring a hackintosh...including a script to install an EFI bootloader on a drive. This is vital for "blessing" an OSX installation's hard drive to be bootable.

Kext Helper b7 - This utility makes it easy to install kexts. (You don't want to just drop them into the /system/Library/Extensions/). It also gives you the ability to run a few other maintenance scripts.

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