Custom Mac Build

After much deliberation I’m nearly prepared to order components for a custom Mac build. I don’t intend to install Windows on this PC. Inspired by countless others, this adventure should allow me to take control of my hardware, while Apple continue to focus on its mobile markets.

Why was this right for me?

My software has been ProTools LE and I have recently upgraded my Waves suite to Platinum. I also use NI Komplete 8 Ultimate and some others. Fairly CPU-intensive stuff. And I’m not prepared to switch to something else like Logic. Altogether my sessions have been taxing all my older systems and the hardware products offered by Apple recently do not promise to hold up to years of upgrading. I have spent years buying the “wrong upgrade” (end-of-life products) just as a previous system collapsed. I think I have purchased over 13 Mac desktops and laptops, if you count the clone I upgraded with Sonnet. While pushing them to their limit might be expected eventually, when I look back I never was able to get the top of line anyway… so, eventually always came sooner than I’d have liked.

How might this blog help you?

There are numerous resources available now for so-called Hackintosh builders. This one will focus on building a high performance audio computer. I will attempt to keep the steps clear and justify my decision-making. I will attempt to cite my sources whenever possible. I found certain sites difficult to navigate. Others biased gaming, over clocking or video and so on. While I hope to be useful to many I can’t pretend I want anything other than a high-end music machine, which will be useful for the occasional video editing project. Likely it will also be fairly well suited for extremely aggressive video editing. I will benchmark it but that is not my goal. I just want to build a machine that I can grow with over the next several years.

Cons – and Pros

Some of the typical arguments against are below, with my current thinking on the topics:

Con: “It’s illegal” Response: Purchase the software, and you have the right to install it. It invalidates the EULA. You partially break the contract, after giving Apple their asking price. I love that Apple’s OS is twenty or thirty dollars and I am happy to buy it and install it on my machine.

Con: “It’s not professional” Response: Maybe not (see next paragraph if skimming). It’s easily Pro-sumer. In my case the “Pro” indicates producer, if not professional. While I intend to make some money with my rig, it’s not going to be my main source of income. It’s an expensive hobby — I tend to spend more than I make on music already. And I don’t expect a high-end machine to change that! However, let’s indulge a quick imagining.

…If each professional A/V studio had a paid, on-staff “Hackintosh” repair person, how would it be much different than any other on-site tech support? I mean, once they’re up and running, well-assembled and maintained Custom Mac builds don’t seem prone to go down any more or less frequently than regular Macs or PC’s; though data on this is likely difficult to gather. Part of me thinks a well-maintained, custom-built Mac OS computer could be a better business investment than an Apple with Apple care for some small businesses. But this is possibly a fruitless digression as opinions will vary wildly.

Con: “It’s too much work.” Response: This is an attitude and human-life-cycle development item; you might get out of it what you put into it, depending on your approach and demeanor. Personally I have felt like too much of a consumer lately, and this seems like an opportunity to make something. I will participate in the consumerist activities of buying the parts. And I won’t be spending all of my time making music in the process. But I will be quasi-architecting something nonetheless and I will be learning more about computers in the process. The real question here is: Why do you want a computer? The comparison of slide rules to calculators is gone; computers and iDevices are now far more than calculators, helping with arithmetic — they are accompanying us on our life journeys. They have more than infiltrated our social interactions; in some cases they define social behavior. I’m looking forward to an increased sense of ownership, understanding and participation in the creation of these life-altering machines.

On the back side of that coin: I have actually spent a lot of time stressing out about my previously-purchased Macs already. This stress has taken its toll as well. It has been frustrating to buy, as I mentioned above, the “wrong upgrade” over and over. Since there is a lull in the market (and I’m not the only one to notice) for pro-sumers like myself, it’s a good time for a little Renaissance such as this. The time is ripe.

Con: “An Apple Mac is more stable.” Response: Yes, that may be considered a con, if you love the OS but prefer different upgrade options within the hardware. Apple products are getting less flexible. Google the many articles reporting the new Retina MacBook Pro models — they are harder to upgrade or repair than ever, as are the newest iPads. Most of my Macs have had a couple hardware options: upgrade the RAM, maybe upgrade the Graphics card. I couldn’t do too much more than that (I’ve never owned a G5 or Mac Pro). Right now the current Mac Pro lineup cannot use Thunderbolt. Today manufacturer Gigabyte released dual Thunderbolt motherboards. While there’s no guarantee this trend will continue, I believe Apple will shatter their fan base if they pursue a path that excludes hobbyists and prosumers from building machines for their OS X.

Con: “The warrantee for a single machine is better.” Response: Actually, I plan to keep introducing new components as needed, so a partial warrantee will effectively keep renewing each time I install something.

Con: “Get a used Mac Pro instead.” Response: I probably would, if all the arguments for building a Custom Mac above hadn’t already won me over. I never liked used stuff much anyway. This year, I want what I want.

The worst thing that could happen to my custom Mac that hasn’t already happened to my Apple products (considering complete after-warrenty meltdown happens in both categories) is that I turn it into an expensive home theater setup; something I have been wanting anyway!

Summary

If contemporary life were a sci-fi story, wouldn’t you want a certain proportion of the population deconstructing one of the world’s most valuable companies‘ products, reshaping it as they desire? And indeed isn’t this what Steve Jobs himself might have done if he were born in a post-Apple world? Maybe this is too grandiose a justification. But after buying 5 Mac Classic or Mac II-era machines, a Quadra-type clone, 5 G4s, a MacBook and MacBookPro, and using iMacs and more MacBook Pros for years for work (plus the many Windows-based PC monstrosities I have endured over the decades) I am ready to build my own.

Please join me in case you want to do the same, or even just read along. Also, maybe there will be some video.