Blog: Why I Made a Hackintosh and How

A professional view on the process      03/06/13

Fast forward a few years and notice that Apple constantly switch game plan and quickly drop support for previous platforms. After a point G4 models won’t boot System 9, so an emulated machine cannot address hardware in the same way and so on. It is mainly down to changes in chip architecture. Notice that my career and my user data span across these changes and you can start to see the problem. Do I keep every computer I have ever own when I upgrade? Or do I spend weeks making sure each and every song works on the new system? All the time at the centre of this, one guiding principle, Logic!

During 1995 I recorded a project which didn’t see the light of day until 2012. I was asked to revisit the original sessions and create stems (for remixers) from the original programming because the master tapes had been lost. Fully expecting to be able to load the original songs into my current version of Logic I was met with an error message. Apple had done it again. In the transition to Intel processors, they had rewritten the sequencer from the ground up and dropped a load of code. Great if you want to save space on your hard drive by reducing the programs digital footprint, not so great if you have a legacy. Given that I can purchase a terabyte drive for next to nothing these days, I would rather have the import code. But, I do have the code anyway, right? After all I backed up an old version of the software. So I try it and there is a greyed out no entry icon. It won’t run on my machine.

You see Apple totally dropped all support for the Power PC platform when they released Lion. If I want to run Logic 6 I need Rosetta (an optional install on Snow Leopard which supports the earlier processors). Simple then? Install Snow Leopard on my current machine. Well I would but it doesn’t support it and there is no way around it. Until now... And here I am typing on it and it’s made by HP (with a little third party support from a team called TonyMac).


You have probably noticed that rather than simply present a tutorial on how to Hackintosh a PC, I thought it would be better to present a rational argument for why you might need to do it. I am not advocating hacking a PC to save money, this is more an experiment to see if it is possible to solve a very real problem using a single machine. Also bear in mind any machine you hack is potentially unstable and if I did find a way to get Snow Leopard or Rosetta to run on my real Mac, it could cause problems when clients are in my studio. I am always going to buy the latest Mac to give me the greatest track count, however if Apple are reading this article my request would be that you consider extending support for compatibility with previous systems. If a team of third party hackers can make something like this work, then there is no excuse for it. Pulling support for things like Rosetta on older machines ultimately kills off a lot of legitimate freeware and shareware code development.

 

Notice in the PC world that your current hardware will run any program you’ve purchased since the inception of MS-DOS and it won’t complain too much about it either. PC architecture has been pretty consistent and based on the 8086 chipset. Computer savvy techies get a system that works pretty much out of the box and us creative types get to wrestle with incompatibilities and a data precipice just beyond our recent past which our uncompleted projects fall over if we don’t get to them before Apple’s sell by date. It sort of feels like my music is in a mouldy fridge and if I don’t finish writing it in time it goes into a metaphorical trash can along with all the Motorola code... And remember all those useful programs we had in System 6. Whatever became of HyperCard?

I am typing this in Pages, which is part of iWorks. I will probably export to Microsoft’s Word format when I am done, simply because it is an industry standard. I have my hard drive split into two partitions, one with Mountain Lion on it, which includes Logic Pro 9, my main sequencing platform but I also have VMWare on this partition so that I can boot into FL Studio to make loops. Windows is so well integrated that I can run Logic and FL Studio at the same time and share data between them from the same folders on my hard drive. The same can be said for Sony’s Sound Forge as well as legacy cross platform programs like ReBirth which no longer run on my Mac.

Talking of things which no longer run on my Mac, my second partition addresses this issue. Because this computer is essentially hacked, I have no problem running Snow Leopard on the latest hardware. This means I have support for anything Rosetta, so here lies Logic Platinum 6 and Logic Pro 7. I also have Digidesign Pro Tools LE 8 on this partition (another program which will not run in Mountain Lion) and it’s more than adequate for my needs. Essentially I use it as a way to look at session people send me when they ask me to do remixes. I don’t plan to buy Pro Tools 9, 10 or 11 simply to transfer sessions. Well not just yet anyway. Okay it is a bit messy, I need a couple of dongles to play in this partition but they take up way less space than an additional computer.

There are a couple of other bonuses in this partition worth mentioning. There is also no support for my scanner in Mountain Lion, but Photoshop CS2 (which can be downloaded free from Adobe’s website) is supported under Rosetta and is more than adequate for making my album covers. As well as a number of utilities which make working with batches of samples a more productive process.

Back on my main partition, I also have a couple of other virtual machines worth noting. I have an Atari ST emulator, I have a PowerPC Emulator for System 9 (another cliff which a load of data fell over when Apple dropped support for it) and I can run Android Apps in Bluestacks and almost anything from the iPad. I am experimenting with Linux but have yet to find a significant musical use for it (go on, you tell me about one in the comment box).

The other side of the coin is that Apple simply drop support for hardware after about six years, so even if I want to run Mountain Lion on my real MacBook Pro, I can’t. It is a 2006 model and is not supported. While this is in line with UK law, which states that a consumer should expect to be able to use a product for six years, a computer is a significant investment and I really do prefer Microsoft’s support policy. Support for XP (which I bought in 2001) ends on April 8, 2014.

Notice however that it is possible to emulate iOS6 using Xcode (a free download from the App Store). And notice that a team of albeit very clever hackers are able to make three flavours of OSX work on various PC laptops. So why aren’t Apple doing it? My complaint isn’t so much that Apple move the goal posts, I expect innovation from them. It is the unnecessary wake of destructive incompatibility I object to. All those ergonomically beautiful pieces of hardware finding their way to landfill before their time. It is the story of stuff’s worst nightmare. The bleeding edge of technology used to be the new stuff but now it’s the old.

So what about my solution? In terms of hardware, for this upgrade, I bought a basic laptop with a Sandy bridge processor. That means I can run anything up to an i7 2670 quad core at 2.2GHz. This isn’t my main computer, but with performance like that, it could be! This computer has an i3 and 4GB of RAM. Total cost, including the purchase of Mountain Lion from the App store was under $300. Some of the hardware isn’t supported. Sadly I will never be able to encrypt my audio with the finger print recognition system, but this may be a good thing. Bluetooth doesn’t work at all so if you want a fancy mouse it will have to be a USB one and the microphone doesn’t work in Snow Leopard. On the other hand, a lot of stuff is generic, so this computer has USB 3.0 and my audio interfaces and dongles work in its various USB 2.0 ports. There are no fancy gestures on the track pad and the keys don’t light up on the keyboard but it does have an HD webcam so I could shoot a video?

In terms of work flow, having Pro Tools on a laptop means I don’t have to boot up a whole studio to look at the projects people send me. I have created something of a Swiss Army knife which I can use in my garden with older versions of Apps allowing me to convert just about anything. Talking of gardens, I can even download abandonware from Macintosh Garden (remember Turbo Synth?) and play nostalgically with, or should I say wrestle with these or load NoSTalgia and type dumb phrases into my Atari speech synthesiser. I can then route the whole lot around my machine with Sound Flower and bring it back to the modern age. It’s like a time machine for hardware. But what about SCSI? Yes, I can even do that using an old USB interface on a virtual machine.

Now you might be thinking that this must have taken a considerable amount of work to set up and beyond the Mountain Lion part you are probably right. I totally geeked out on it just to see what’s possible. Beyond the basic machine, the various emulators have a steep learning curve. I am running OSX on a PC and then running a PC operating system in an emulator. And I could have just run Pro Tools on it as a PC but my investment has been with Logic over the years.

To get Mountain Lion up and running on this machine took about 30 minutes. Okay I already knew what I was up to because I had ironed out most of the anomalies installing Snow Leopard. However, that only took an hour and for twenty minutes of that I was in the bath. What makes is possible is the instructions I found on the TonyMac website. I simply purchased a machine endorsed by the website and followed the instructions really carefully. When my machine benchmarked slower than my existing Mac I asked for help and someone immediately sent me a patch to fix it.

There are two important pieces of software which you need to get (besides the operating system which needs to be a genuine copy purchased from the App store). Unibeast, which allows you to make a bootable USB stick from your Mountain Lion install (you will need to do this on an existing Mac) and Chimera, which is a boot loader (makes your hard disk bootable) and is based on and compatible with the Chameleon bootloader. Patching the operating system with appropriate kernel extensions (or kexts) is taken care of by ProBook Installer. Choose the latest version from the site and if you get stuck ask someone for help.

I partitioned my existing drive so that I could have two operating systems. I wanted to run my PC in VMWare’s Fusion 5 but you could split your drive into three and choose between Mac and Windows at startup (or more).  After I finished building my machine I decided to use Chameleon as the boot loader and can confirm it is compatible.

In conclusion, if you need to find a similar solution (a machine which can at least run Snow Leopard, Lion and Mountain Lion) then start looking on eBay for an HP ProBook. The 4x30 series are fully supported and come in the following sizes 12 inch (4230s), 13 inch (4330s), 14 inch (4430s), 15 inch (4530s) and 17 inch (4730s). There is also beta support for the 4x40 series. You will need a model with a Sandy bridge processor and HD3000 graphics (if it comes with an additional graphics card it will have to be disabled and won’t work in OSX though some retina displays are supported). It also needs to have Atheros wifi to work (easily replaced if it does not have it). Large memory configurations and SSD are also supported but the machine will need to be set up with 4GB installed and there are certain work arounds required if you have a 4K/AF (advanced format) sector drive. It is also worth noting that the newest BIOS which is officially supported is F20.

You can download everything you need from http://www.tonymacx86.com

If you get stuck ask them for help.

Now of course installing Mountain Lion on this machine using the method described on the website probably puts me in breach of the EULA for the software I purchased but I have to admit that even if I did have the time to read it I would not understand it, so I am not sure.

Obviously having proved my point I am going to reformat the machine, reinstall Windows and buy three separate Apple machines to replace it.....

 

Marc Stannum - has worked as  extensively a programmer and engineer spanning decades of music and technology. His clients include Spinal Tap, The Cadburys and Electric Mayhem.

 




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4 Comments...  Post a comment    original story
Dave    Said...

Great article! If only we'd originally chosen Cubase eh...

03-Jun-13 11:20 AM


GTRman    Said...

Cubase on a Apple Mac Pro is the way to go. That is what I call a professional studio setup.

03-Jun-13 12:30 PM


Craig    Said...

There is nothing illegal about putting OS X on a PC. Why are you worried EULA? It means nothing. Tools are made with open source, even parts of OS X is made with open source. Thank god this is possible! Enjoy and be happy!

03-Jun-13 09:35 PM


Frank    Said...

Great to see original cubase being praised. I use cubase as a midi sequencer and I remember when you could have a PC back up on two floppies. I hope one day Steinberg will release cubase for the hardware midi people and all that other unusuable rubbish will be left off.

04-Jun-13 02:54 AM


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