Building the perfect Mac clone

So, those of you that know me, know that I am a die-hard Apple user. Having bought into the ecosystem of Apple way back when the iBook G3 came out (which was 2001 for those that aren’t old enough to remember it), it’s become a way of life. Whenever sat at a Microsoft Windows PC/Laptop (especially with Windows 8 onwards), I’m looking for the easiest way to do things – and ultimately end up taking the long way round… it’s just not the same as using OSX/macOS. Nothing seems to be easy to find. Have you tried to recently show icons that seem to be hidden as default – like My Computer and My Documents – on a Windows PC? Gone was the easy way of doing it. I end up searching for it… Anyway, I digress.

Using a 2013 iMac for 4K Video editing became such a pain. I ended up waiting for videos to transcode into an acceptable format, and then ultimately render. Despite all of Apple’s pre-rendering and amazing work that Final Cut Pro X does, it still takes some time. The iMac became simply too slow to do what I needed it to do; despite wiping it and only reinstalling the core software components.

The Apple Mac Pro (2013)So, what did I do? Well I had a look at Apple’s Mac Pro range of computers, and then choked on my cup of tea. Whilst they may look pretty, they are not really designed for Pro users in mind. Apple recently acknowledged this by saying they are going to start over… with Apple Senior Vice President of Worldwide Marketing Phil Schiller saying “If we’ve had a pause in upgrades and updates, we’re sorry for that — what happened with the Mac Pro — and we’re going to come out with something great to replace it.” – you can read the full TechCrunch article on their website.

So besides the Mac Pro not being very “Pro”, it’s also damn well expensive. The base spec was £2,999… for a 3.5GHz processor, 16GB of PC1866MHz RAM, AMD D500 3GB graphics card and 256GB of PCIe-based storage. That’s it, no screen or anything. It was effectlively an expensive trash can. Whilst it may look pretty, and be produced by Apple, there was no way I was blowing my student loan on one of those; despite the student discount.

I toyed with the idea of upgrading my iMac, but realised that I could only take it “so far”. Whilst I would be able to upgrade the RAM and hard disk (when I eventually figure out how to get inside it), it’d only last me a couple of years tops before I ended up shelling out for a new one. Whilst looking for guides on how to do it, I came across something else entirely. The hackintosh community, and the OSx86 scene.

Wikipedia says “OSx86 (from the names OS X and x86) is a collaborative hacking project to run the OS X operating system on non-Apple personal computers with x86 architecture on x86-64 processors. The effort started soon after the June 2005 Worldwide Developers Conference announcement that Apple would be moving its personal computers from PowerPC to Intel microprocessors.” – whilst it’s technically not allowed (because of their license agreement), it is possible.

So I spent a couple of weeks reading up on the processes, as well as what hardware I would need in order to achieve my own build. Whilst not cheap, it works out much cheaper than buying an “off the shelf” Mac.


Specification

Below are the specs that I chose for my Mac. I shopped around and looked for the best prices – and ended up with a combination of Ebuyer, Amazon and Scan.

Motherboard

Gigabyte GA-Z170X-UD3Gigabyte GA-Z170X-UD3 – £117.49 from Scan
Whilst I was researching for possible motherboards, this seemed like the most affordable whilst still having a bunch of features… that and it’s compatible with macOS out of the box. It has 6 Sata ports, 3 PCIe large ports and 3 smaller ones. It also has dual bios – so if one becomes corrupted, the backup one kicks in and can recover.

Processor

Intel Core i7-6700K Skylake 4GHzIntel Core i7-6700K Skylake 4GHz – £304.92 from Amazon
It was hard for me to pick a processor; they are pricey. There wasn’t a huge amount of difference in price between the versions – and opted for the 4GHz one. It confused me as some of them say they have a one year warranty (the OEM version, for system builders) – and the retail ones have 3 year warranty. Some come with fans, some don’t. This version doesn’t.

Coolant / Fan

Corsair H60Corsair H60 – £71.86 from Ebuyer
I’ve had a lot of processor fans over the years – and knowing that the Intel processor didn’t come with one, I opted for a liquid CPU cooler. I checked out online videos and saw that the H60 was both affordable and yet a beast at the same time. It also matches the brand of the case.

Memory

64GB Crucial 2133MHz RAM64GB Crucial 2133MHz RAM – £427.98 from Amazon
I knew from the start that memory would work out the most expensive component. Whilst you can pick up small amounts of RAM pretty cheaply, when you are looking for a larger memory stick, they start to get pricey. I decided I was going to max out the amount of memory the board would handle – I’d rather have too much now than get a smaller size one which would need to be replaced as my needs grew.

HDD

Samsung 850 EVO 250GBSamsung 850 EVO 250GB – £86.89 from Amazon
I was really surprised at how affordable SSD storage is. I have already got various standard SATA hard disks, but knowing that video work goes quicker on SSD, made it an obvious choice. I had the option of an M2 PCIe SSD disk – but opted for the standard SATA SSD one as it’s compatible with hard disk enclosures I already have, just in case I need to make the disk portable.

Case

Corsair Carbide 300R windowed caseCorsair Carbide 300R windowed case – £39.98 from Scan
There are literally millions of cases out there… and it was hard to decide which one to go for. I saw this one mentioned online and decided to check out the online prices. The windowed one (clear side panel) was actually cheaper than the non-windowed one, and at under forty quid made it a bargain.

Power Supply

Corsair RM 650x (650 Watt)Corsair RM 650x (650 Watt) – £91.97 from Ebuyer
Over the years, I’ve come across many brands of PSU’s (Power Supply Units) – and I know that a cheap one won’t cut it when you’re using the computer for anything serious. I had initially intended to use an old ATX PSU that I had, but when I looked at it, I realised that the connector to the motherboard was the wrong size. I looked around the internet, came across this one and found that you can disconnect the cables that you aren’t using. It’s also the same brand as the cooler and case.

Monitor

AOC 28" 4K U2879VFAOC 28″ 4K U2879VF – £289.93 from Amazon
As I work with 4K content now, I knew that I needed to look at a 4K monitor. Now these aren’t cheap. I already have a curved Samsung HD screen, which I have set up along side the new one. I checked around for 4K screens, and this one was actually the cheapest – and had the best reviews. Having it sat here on my desk, I can see why. It is amazing.

Wireless / Bluetooth

Fenvi FV-T919Fenvi FV-T919 – £45.99 from Amazon
macOS is really picky when it comes to wireless and bluetooth. You can pick up dirt-cheap USB sticks that are compatible with macOS, but many of the core features don’t work with them. I use my Apple Watch to unlock my Macs – the other cheap brands don’t work with it – nor continuity or handoff. This dual-use card works straight out of the box. It has an internal USB header cable, so takes up one of the free USB headers on the motherboard… but i’ve still got one empty if I want to add more USB ports.

Graphics Card

Gigabyte GeForce® GTX 1060 6GB GDDR5Gigabyte GeForce® GTX 1060 6GB – £235.44 from Amazon
I’ve left this for last for a reason. It’s only within the last couple of weeks that NVidia GeForce graphics cards have been made compatible with macOS Sierra. Previously, you could only use the more expensive AMD Radeons (or older ATI Radeons). Whilst I was putting together my spec, I had initially looked at cards that were a couple of years old – which was a pity as I need the graphics processing power for video rendering (the whole purpose of the build). On the evening of putting together my shopping list, I saw the announcement that these much cheaper cards are now compatible and was over the moon. I was able to get a 6GB card for under £250.

Whilst the cards are more affordable, it wasn’t without its perils. I spent a week trying to get graphics working on my macOS build. I must have reinstalled macOS about 50-60 times with different settings combinations. It was only pure luck that I came across what the issue was. Whilst I was turning on Picture-in-Picture on the screen menu, I spotted a couple of settings. I decided to set them down to the lower specification, just to see what would happen (HDMI 1.4, Freesync and the displayport capability) – and the screen fired up straight away on the NVidia card. I was cursing. I now have the 4K screen running on the latest NVidia drivers, at 4K resolution.

Total Build Cost: £1712.45 (excluding delivery charges – but Amazon Prime was free delivery)


Existing Kit

As I’ve been building and upgrading PCs and laptops for years, I already had some kit.

Screen

Samsung 27" SD590 Curved LED MonitorSamsung 27″ SD590 Curved LED Monitor offers 1920 X 1080 display resolution and 16:9 aspect ratio. Featuring a response time of 4 ms and 3000:1 contrast ratio, this model delivers the screen performance required for optimal viewing experience. In addition, this 27-inch Samsung monitor has dimensions of 18.22 inches height and 7.14 inches depth. Mounted on a VESA mount, the curve is barely noticable.

Optical Drives

Blu-ray™ Disc Rewriter Internal SATA 10x Super Multi Blue LightScribeBlu-ray™ Disc Rewriter Internal SATA 10x Super Multi Blue LightScribe (BH10LS30) Read and write Blu-ray discs at 10x with the BH10LS30 Blu-ray Disc Rewriter. Play HD content from BD Video discs or record up to nine hours of high definition video while LightScribe gives you the added feature of etching customized labels onto a special coated LightScribe disc.

Optiarc DVD RW AD-7260S DVD Dual Layer WriterOptiarc DVD RW AD-7260S DVD Dual Layer Writer
Read: DVD+R/-R(Single): 16X DVD+R/-R DL: 12X DVD+RW/-RW: 13X DVD-ROM (Single/Dual): 16X/12X CD-ROM: 48X CD-R: 48X CD-RW: 40X
Write: DVD+R/-R: 24X DVD+RW/-RW: 8X/6X DVD+R/-R DL: 12X DVD-RAM: 12X CD-R: 48X CD-RW: 32X. This drive has lasted me quite a few years; I’m not sure when I initially bought it.

Hard Disk Drives (storage)

Western Digital Caviar Green WD10EARS Hard Drive - 1 TBWestern Digital Caviar Green WD10EARS Hard Drive – 1 TB WD Advanced Format technology increases media format efficiency, thus enabling larger drive capacities. WD Advanced Format drives are specifically optimized for Mac and the latest Windows operating systems such as Windows Vista and Windows 7. WD Caviar® Green™ SATA hard drives reduce power consumption by up to 40% and offer best-in-class acoustics and operating temperature. Based on WD’s exclusive GreenPower™ technology, these drives are designed to deliver power savings as the primary attribute. As hard drive capacities increase, the power required to run those drives increases as well. WD Caviar Green drives make it possible for energy-conscious customers to build systems with higher capacities and the right balance of system performance, ensured reliability, and energy conservation. They are ideal for PCs, external storage and other devices that require lower power consumption and cool, quiet operation.

Hitachi Travelstar 5K320 250GBHitachi Travelstar 5K320 250GB has a rotational speed of 5400 rpm which is perfect for any IT and consumer electronics manufacturers. This hard drive can be used on notebook PC’S, set-top boxes, gaming consoles and other mobile applications. The 2.5 inch Travelstar 5K320 has immense storage capacity of 250GB. The Hitachi hard disk has a buffer of 8MB and a data transfer rate of 300 MBps for external and 91.13 MBps for internal data. The Travelstar 5K320 has additional benefits like thermal fly-height control and enhanced actuator latch and fourth generation PMR technology for seamless operations. The Hitachi hard disk is engineered to deliver high performance in a small form.

Hitachi Travelstar 5K500 250GBHitachi Travelstar 5K500 250GB is a 5400 RPM, 2.5-inch hard drive – is designed for use in notebook PCs, external storage, gaming consoles and other mobile applications. The 5K500.B demonstrates HGST’s ecological leadership with its halogen-free production and focus on low power consumption, and carries the EcoTrac classification. The 5K500.B elevates hard drive reliability with the industry’s first Iterative Detection Read Channel for improved signal processing.


The Build

Putting it all together was easy; as was installing macOS. Apart from the issue with the graphics card that had me cursing, it’s been very smooth sailing. If you want to setup macOS yourself, these guides are required reading, but before you go off and read them, it is important to remember – when setting up, do not sign into your iCloud or Apple ID account. There are steps you need to do in order for them to work (or you will lock your Apple account and have to jump through hoops to access it).

Install Guide

Read the full guide at tonymacx86.

iCloud, iMessage, FaceTime & The App Store

Read the full “idiots” guide to set them up at tonymacx86.