Hackintosh: Choose your microprocessor

Article By : Brian Dipert

It’s time for this engineer to delve into the details of his Hackintosh systems' processors.

The other day, I tried to figure out which of the HP systems I’d collected in recent months, originally intended for my ongoing Hackintosh (aka OSx86, i.e., MacOS on PC hardware) project, I should press into more immediate service for an unrelated task. Like many of you, I’m working from home under “shelter in place” COVID-19 restrictions, although unlike many of you, this is nothing new for me. As I wrote in one of last month’s posts, I’ve been home office-based since the beginning of 1996. Plus, I lean toward the introverted end of the spectrum, so for me things largely feel as-usual.

For some of my colleagues and other business contacts, however, the experience is more jarring, and the need for alternative personal connection is acute. Historically, I’d been able to get away with only voice-dialing into meetings where everyone else was face-to-face, but now we’re all instead “encouraged” to fire up our webcams for remote meetings. My office is cluttered on an ongoing basis, so I was motivated to test the virtual background features offered by Zoom and other services. But both my early 2015 era 13″ Apple MacBook Pro and my Microsoft Surface Pro “5” contain only dual-core processors along with integrated graphics; unless I were to also hang a green screen background behind me, the system resources were insufficient to implement Zoom’s virtual background support.

In pondering whether to fire up one of these (or another) desktop PC instead, and if so which one, I realized in perusing my already published pieces in this series that I hadn’t yet addressed one of the comments left on my second post, from reader Don J:

Brian, Since your posting of this article I’ve been anxiously awaiting your comments on which processors you chose, perhaps since I recently chose one of these and was looking for validation 🙂 Did I miss a posting, or are you keeping me in suspense??!

Although subsequent posts had alluded to various systems’ microprocessors, I hadn’t yet fully closed the loop on the “teaser” that concluded that particular post:

“And speaking of CPUs, here are the most common Ivy Bridge Intel options I’ve seen in the refurbished Elite 8300 systems (of various form factor varieties) that I’ve seen for sale at Amazon, Ebay, and elsewhere during my research:

  • Core i3-3220 (HD Graphics 2500, 3.3 GHz base clock, no Turbo clock support, 2 cores/4 threads, 3 MB L3 cache)
  • Core i5-3470 (HD Graphics 2500, 3.2 GHz base clock, 3.6 GHz Turbo clock, 4 cores/4 threads, 6 MB L3 cache)
  • Core i5-3570 (HD Graphics 2500, 3.4 GHz base clock, 3.8 GHz Turbo clock, 4 cores/4 threads, 6 MB L3 cache)
  • Core i7-3770S (HD Graphics 4000, 3.1 GHz base clock, 3.9 GHz Turbo clock, 4 cores/8 threads, 8 MB L3 cache)
  • Core i7-3770 (HD 4000, 3.4 GHz base clock, 3.9 GHz Turbo clock, 4 cores/8 threads, 8 MB L3 cache)

Which option did I choose, and for which form factor(s)? For the answers to those questions, and others, you’ll need to wait for the next posts in this series.”

It’s time to rectify that omission, with apologies to Don J for the delay. As a reminder, here (left to right) are the four system options in my possession:

  • Convertible minitower (CMT) (Elite 8300)
  • Ultra-slim desktop (USDT) (Elite 8300)
  • Small form factor (SFF) (Elite 8300)
  • Microtower (MT) (6300 Pro)

A reminder before proceeding: although all four configurations incorporate unique motherboard designs, the fundamental difference between them involves the Elite 8300’s use of Intel’s Q77 Express chipset, with the 6300 Pro based on the Q75 Express chipset. Quoting from my earlier coverage, Elite 8300 configurations provide 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.”

Let’s start with the smallest of the four form factors, the USDT, whose processor I actually already alluded to in earlier coverage. Since standalone graphics cards aren’t an option here, given the system’s dearth of expansion slots, I had to go with a CPU whose integrated GPU was MacOS-compatible (a Windows-only user, of course, won’t have this limitation). That meant a high-end Core i7 processor, given its HD Graphics 4000 foundation (HD Graphics 2500 is reportedly a non-starter with modern MacOS versions). Specifically, my system contains a Core i7-3770S, whose 3.1 GHz base clock speed is less power-hungry and heat-generating than with the 3.4 GHz base clock speed on the conventional Core i7-3770 (to wit, quoting from my earlier coverage, “Basically, this is a laptop design in a mini desktop form factor.”)

Moving up to the SFF form factor, its external graphics expansion support allowed me to go with a HD Graphics 2500-based Core i5 processor flavor. What I ordered was a Core i5-3470 configuration. What I got, at no extra cost, was a system containing a Core i5-3570, with 200 MHz faster speeds in both its base and Turbo clock specifications. And, in case I ever decide to upgrade further, I separately dropped an additional $104.99 on a used Core i7-3770 sold by Newegg, which will augment the system’s performance with Hyper-Threading SMT capabilities.

Next is the sole 6300 Pro in the stable, in the MT form factor. Although (like the smaller SFF system I’ve previously discussed) it supports graphics add-in card expansion, I decided to go with an HT-capable processor for it. Specifically, there’s a Core i7-3770 inside, which is the same CPU you’ll find within my Elite 8300 CMT form factor variant.

So there you have it. Apologies for the unintentional procrastination. And speaking of procrastination, I really do need to start working on shoehorning MacOS onto these systems. Until then, comments are as-always welcomed!

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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