Hackintosh: Another path to a high-end Mac

Article By : Brian Dipert

With a high-end Mac made obsolete by terminated operating system support, this engineer chooses to revisit his Hackintosh past in this hands-on series.

As of late last September, my “early 2008” model Apple Mac Pro (“MacPro3,1” to those “in the know”) is officially obsolete. That’s when MacOS 10.14 “Mojave” exited beta. I’d actually known of the pending deprecation two-plus years earlier when MacOS 10.12 “Sierra” entered beta, since my Mac Pro model was on the “not supported” list published at that year’s Worldwide Developers Conference. However, since Apple typically supports not only the latest O/S version but also the prior two revisions with security patches and other updates, the system’s execution was stayed until support for OS X 10.11 “High Sierra” formally ended.

Truth be told, the MacPro3,1 lives on, albeit unofficially … enthusiasts have figured out how to shoehorn newer O/S versions onto it, in some cases in conjunction with graphics and other hardware subsystem upgrades. See, for example, the following links for “dosdude1’s” various O/S-specific Patchers for this and other similar-situation systems:

And what was the root cause of the system’s obsolescence? Apple’s lack of desire to continue supporting the system’s built-in optional Wi-Fi/Bluetooth module (which my particular unit doesn’t even have), believe it or not, if widely reported claims are to be believed, specifically because it didn’t support the (rarely-used) AirDrop, Continuity, and Handoff features. I get why Apple dropped support for the first two versions of the Mac Pro, due to their lack of 64-bit EFI support … a similar root cause was behind Apple dropping support for the first-generation MacBook (an example of which still resides in my storage closet) based on the 32-bit Core Duo processor. But a Wi-Fi/Bluetooth module? “Obsolescence by design” strikes again!

I could always replace my MacPro3,1 with a newer “cheese grater” design model, but the last iteration of that particular design dates from mid-2012, and official refurbs aren’t even available from the Apple Store any more (nor are they for any Mac Pro, for that matter, when I just checked while writing this).

The “trash can” redesign, which began shipping in late 2013, is attractive and compact but notably not user-upgradable, not to mention expensive.

And although the latest third-generation design represents a return to the “tower” form factor past, it’s not yet shipping as I write this in late July, and will be even more expensive when it does, with prices starting at $6000.

Instead of patching and otherwise updating my MacPro3,1 (which, to be honest, I’ll probably end up doing eventually, anyway, to satisfy my intellectual curiosity if for no other reason), I’ve decided to go in a different hacking (and used hardware, for that matter) direction. Long-time readers may recall that nearly a decade ago, I succeeded in getting OS X 10.5 robustly installed on a diminutive Dell Mini 9 netbook. Nonexistent Atom CPU and chipset support precluded subsequent advancement to newer O/S versions (akin to the situation with my 32-bit MacBook1,1, support for which ended with OS X 10.6), but the Dell Mini 9 also still resides in my storage closet and still runs fine … I booted it up for the first time (in a long time) just the other day, in fact.

Similarly, the enthusiast community has figured out how to solidly (or so the reports suggest … I’ll see for myself shortly) run even the latest available MacOS version on HP’s 6300 Pro and Elite 8300 computers, which date from 2012:

As you can see, these systems come in multiple form factor options:

  • Convertible minitower (CMT) (far left)
  • Microtower (MT) (far right)
  • Small form factor (SFF) (second from right)
  • Ultra-slim desktop (USDT) (second from left)

Stepping back for a second before diving further into the details, keep in mind that the “Hackintosh” (aka “OSx86“) premise starts with PC hardware and an associated UEFI (the Unified Extensible Firmware Interface, which succeeded BIOS) that is as close as possible to those of an official Apple computer, and/or has solid third-party MacOS driver support, and from there strives to fake out the operating system installer into thinking that it’s actually interacting with an official Apple computer instead of (in this particular case) an HP PC. The 6300 Pros and Elite 8300s are based on Ivy Bridge-generation Intel processors (just like any number of different portable and desktop Apple computers) along with either an Intel Q75 Express (for the 6300 Pro) or Q77 Express (for the Elite 8300) chipset.

I went with the Elite 8300 because it was only a smidge more expensive than a Pro 6300 form factor equivalent and offered a somewhat richer feature set … specifically dual 6 Gbps SATA 3 ports on a Q77 Express-based motherboard (optimal for dual-SSD setups) versus only a single SATA 3 port for the Q75 Express (both chipsets support up to six SATA 2-and-3 ports total, motherboard design-dependent). The PCI Express support offered by both chipsets is Gen 2. And which system form factor did I choose? Three of the four (CMT, SFF and USDT, to be exact), to be honest, because each of them offered a unique implementation spin on the “Hackintosh” concept, and because each of them was so inexpensive: third-party refurb prices begin at $150 (or less) on Amazon, Ebay, and elsewhere.

Speaking of refurbs, keep in mind that these systems are drawing near a decade old at this point. Even when brand new, their CPUs’ reliance on thermal paste versus the fluxless solder in prior-generation designs was controversial, although it initially only affected overclockers. Now, however, that paste may have dried out, further hampering its heat transfer potential … I’d suggest that if you follow in my footsteps you first fire up a copy of HeavyLoad in conjunction with Core Temp (or your preferred third-party utility alternatives) to burn in the system, monitor processor core temperatures, and make sure there are no issues. Or just proactively remove the CPU’s heat spreader plate, scrape off the old thermal paste and replace it with a brand new high quality alternative compound (replacing the heat sink afterwards).

That all said, as the installation guide notes:

The four HP desktops pictured above were first sold or leased to corporations, hospitals and government institutions beginning in late 2012. They were quite expensive when they were new. Starting price for an 8300 Elite was around 1,200 US dollars. The average retail price of an I5-3470 model was around 1,400 USD. They came with 3-year warranties when new and were built to be on 24/7. These are not consumer HP desktops with lower quality hardware and a brief 1-year warranty. You get a much better case, a reliable power supply and motherboard.

They’re also very straightforward to maintain; you can tell from a perusal of the user manuals:

It is reinforced by hands-on impressions when you have the actual hardware in front of you that they’re intended for IT departments that need to quickly and reliably replace misbehaving hard drives, optical drives and SSDs, memory sticks, power supplies, and the like.

So why again did I buy three different systems? The answer to that question, along with many other technical details, will come in the next post in this particular blog series. Until then, I as-always welcome your comments!

Read part 2 of this series: Hackintosh revisited: PC insights

Brian Dipert is Editor-in-Chief of the Embedded Vision Alliance, and a Senior Analyst at BDTI and Editor-in-Chief of InsideDSP, the company’s online newsletter.

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