Hackintosh
image via Nerdtrek

The Hackintosh project continues, albeit slowly. I actually put the box together last weekend but with the hectic work week to contend with, I’m a bit late in this post.

Where to begin? As I mentioned, I’ve build computers before, but that was 8 or 9 years ago. I remember building my parents a PC my final year in college, but that, like most of the computers I built in my teen years, was assembled from spare parts I had lying around, using my old hand-me-downs and maybe a new hard drive, or whatever. This is a bit different since all the components are from an entirely new generation of PC parts. Frankly, I had to reeducate myself on the new configuration of ports and plugs and whatnot.

The components for my Hackintosh, all in boxes
The components for my Hackintosh, all in boxes

Once I got started, it was a bit like riding a bike. At the core it’s still the same procedure — put all the components in the case, give ’em power, connect ’em to each other where necessary. Make sure everything is tight and tidy, and close her up.

unboxed components, ready for assembly
unboxed components, ready for assembly

Before I talk about the assembly itself I have to do a quick review of the case, and share my thoughts. Strangely, it’s not only the outside of the computer, but it’s also the frame around which everything is built — an exoskeleton, if you will, rather than simply the skin. (Are there computers with a “skeletal system”? That might be interesting). I ordered the Corsair Vengeance C70 which sports a rugged military-style design. I chose the Arctic White colour scheme which gives me some of that Storm Trooper aesthetic which is generally pretty cool. It has a tool-free opening for both side panels, and an appropriate compliments of front-panel USB and audio ports. Unfortunately, I quickly learned that this case was designed mostly for style, and in actual practice the case isn’t super-rugged or any more sturdy than the PC cases I remember.

This poster came with my graphics card
Corsair Vengeance C70 case, photo via AnandTech

Obviously I’m comparing it to the case for my Mac Pro, which this Hackintosh is serving to replace. And side by the side the Mac Pro case is far superior. In fact, this is an understatement. The Mac Pro case compared to this Corsair feels like Mercedes sedan compared to a Hyundai pickup you’d rent from U-Haul. The Mac Pro case is constructed entirely from 1/8″ milled and molded Aluminum, with the minimum of joints and edges. It’s sturdy as shit and feels entirely tank-like. When it sits on a desk or floor, you can barely move it with your hands, and certain can’t bend or wobble individual sides. In comparison, Corsair feels flimsy, thin, and decidedly non-luxurious. The metal is about 1mm thick, about 1/3 that of the Mac Pro exteriors. The Corsair like the Mac features tool-free latches, which work rather well, and also uses hard drive sleds which make for easy load in and out, and the ability to fast-swap drives if need be. But these sleds are the thinnest plastic I could imagine, and feel as if they are about to break in my hands. The case has fan points all over, which is nice, except that the fans hide access to the front panel release latches and the the screws which bind in the hard drive sub-assembly.

It’s annoying, but not the end of the world. I guess this just illustrates the point that I’ve making for years that Apple makes, in essence, luxury computers — the consumer electronics equivalent of high-thread-count sheets. Someone people think it’s a rip-off, others will dig deep for a quality product.

This poster came with my graphics card
This poster was included with my video card. I wondered for a second if I had purchased a .30-cal machine gun instead of a computer part.

Manuals
A small library of manuals. Together, it all seems rather intimidating, but most of it is Chinese translations of the warranty.

Ok, so now to the actual assembly. The first part I put in was the motherboard. Clearly, it’s an important piece of the puzzle, so I wanted to take my time, examine every component, read the instructions, account for every screw and be careful. In the end it was really a matter of placing it and screwing it down, making sure not to over-tighten. This being a full-size ATX motherboard, it fits perfectly. The back panel with all the ports fits snug in the case cut-out, and everything looks good. I was glad to see that all the ports on the motherboard are labeled — in English — with their function. A surprising logical approach, and I dunno why I was expecting some silliness.

The inventory and screws
Here’s a trick you can use: tape the screws in their little plastic bags next to their spot on the inventory list.

With the motherboard in place, I next installed the processor. After rescuing the chip and fan mount from the shockingly flimsy packaging, I again read the instructions very carefully and made sure not to touch the underside of the chip. Oils from the fingers can seriously mess up heat flow, and I’m not one to tempt fate with something so delicate. The chip itself looks like the Pentiums, etc. of my younger days — maybe a bit smaller — but a chip is a chip as far as I’m concerned. I did take a moment to marvel at the fan and cooling-fin apparatus, which is pretty cool in its radial design. I’m not afraid to admit that I held it up to my chest and pretended I was Iron Man, just for a second.

my desk, assembly in progress
Making a mess as I put everything together. Tools, manuals, parts, hardware, and some much needed desk light.

The Processor cooling fins and fan
The circular rig for the processor cooling fins and fan

The Processor cooling fins and fan
The circular rig for the processor cooling fins and fan

Next was the power supply, which slid into place with little drama. A few screws and that thing is secure. The power supply is a bit like the engine room of the whole computer — it’s not sexy, but it’s big and sturdy and reliable. Located on the bottom of this case, it adds some serious weight, but also helps give some peace of mind that the thing is now a solid machine, not a box of plastic do-dads.

I installed my old SuperDrive from my Mac Pro into one of the front slots and screwed it into place. Strapped the hard drives into their sleds, and put them into place. RAM pops into the motherboard no problem.

Installing the graphics card was also pretty straightforward. As with the other parts, I read the manual and made sure I followed all the suggestions to the letter. Here, I did make a blunder of installing the card at the bottom, near the power supply, but actually they recommend that I install it in the first PCI slot, which is nearer to the processor. The difference is that the graphics card now fills the space and cuts right through the center. It doesn’t look great, but I worry too that it will block air flow and force me to add fans only in certain areas. But graphics are more important than my own OCD, so I’ll follow the guidelines.

Next is wiring. And lemme tell you, there’s a shitload of wiring to be done. Here is where the Mac really outshines PCs because the cases are custom-designed for minimal wires, instead using slots that slide together perfectly. For example, on the Mac each hard drive slides right into place without the need to touch a single wire. On the PC case, each hard drive needs a power cord that runs back to the power supply and a SATA cable which connects to the motherboard. Some of the SATA can be daisy-chained, meaning multiple drives are connected on a single cable, but it adds up quick. With only two hard drives and the optical, there are already a ton of wires. The front panel has numerous very small cables that connect to the motherboard to run the power switch, etc., and all the fans also have cables that need to attach to the motherboard.

cables
The unavoidable rats nest of cables inside the computer. The C70 tower makes an effort to contain them, but it’s a tough job.

I did my best to make things tidy. The C70 case has some cable management built in. Rubber portals allow access to the back side of the case, which has a few clip-in bars under which I can tuck the cables. There are also some slots throughout, which I can use to attach small cable ties and pin down the cables, especially the permanent ones like those for the front panel and for the main motherboard cables (the big honkin’ ones that come attached to the power supply). It’s a tight fit, and when all was done, the thing barely closed because of all the cables. I imagine if I’m adding any drives in the future (maybe a Blu-ray, who knows what the future will bring), I’ll have to redo the wiring to accommodate the extra wires! This, more than the case sturdiness, is where I miss the custom case design of the Mac.

And there we have it, a Hackintosh assembled. At this point it’s nothing more than a self-built PC with no operating system installed, but it looks good. And it’s heavy — probably a bit heavier than my Mac Pro, even with the lighterweight metal used in the case. All in all the build took me about 4 hours, and that length was due to a number of factors. First, I was unfamiliar with all of the hardware. I was unboxing, unwrapping, and reading directions for each component as I went, making it a bit slow. I was also watching TV in the background so occasionally I’d turn and look around. It was night time when I put this together, making light a bit of an issue. Even with my headlamp, there were some angles where I just couldn’t see, and so I had to turn the box every which way in order to see the screw or cable I was trying to reach.

Next up, installing the operating system and attempting to make this thing an actual Hackintosh.