A Mac Pro at Quarter of the Price (Tutorial)

As you continue to read this (in replace of a better word) blog, you will very quickly begin to realize that I am somewhat of an Apple fanboy and own several items of Apple hardware.

  • iMac 17″ Core2Duo (2006) – Now Sold
  • MacBook Pro Core2Duo (2006) Laptop
  • AppleTV (First Generation)
  • iPhone 4
  • iPod 5th Generation

Some would have you believe that I am made of money and will buy anything that has newly been released.  Trust me, this is something of a myth and this is reflected in the age of the computer hardware that I have mention above.

When I first realized that my iMac was beginning to (in my eyes) die slowly.  I was on a quest to replace it, but I could not afford to replace it with what was now its equivalent iMac 21″.  The screen had over the last couple of years introduced vertical lines down portions of the screen, and it was at a stage at the beginning of 2011 that it was almost impossible to use the screen for anything acceptable.

I thought all had been lost when just by chance, I came across a thread in Apple’s forums that other people had been experiencing the same issues with the screen and had done the same as me and written it off as the computer being old and out of warranty… then… it turned out that Apple had been running a ‘warranty screen replacement program’ – they had discovered that there had been issues with these particular screens during manufacture that was causing them to exibit these colored lines.  Long story short, this warranty program was still in effect and I was able to have the screen replaced free of charge.

Unfortunately, as a result of Apple performing this screen replacement, something had gone wrong with it and resulted in the computer crashing almost immediately after booting into OS X.  Due to this they also replaced the Logic Board, and in the end it was effectively a brand new computer inside because when these particular iMac’s were manufactured, the Graphics, Sound, Processor, etc were on this one board.

You would have thought this would be the end of the matter… oh no…

Much of my work at home consists of creating digital compositions in Photoshop (keep an eye out on this blog for examples) and editing very large photographs.  The limited memory options of this old iMac and with its maximum memory exhausted, the computer was beginning to struggle with the high demand I was placing on its hardware.

I decided then it was time again to look for alternatives or a possible replacement.  I was stuck, I didn’t want to go back to a Windows based computer, despite the advancements of the Windows operating system like Windows 7, and I could not afford to replace the iMac with it’s big brother.

I had previously considered the hackintosh option and made some attempts to get Mac OS X to run on existing hardware I had lying around with little success, and at that time it was very cumbersome to achieve.  I thought I would check this out again and came across the blog: TonyMacx86 and found that the community had come a long way, if you were prepared to put the effort and money in getting the right hardware.

I decided I should build a similar computer to the specfications Tony had placed on his website:

All builds included:

    • Gigabyte LGA 1155 Motherboard
    • 2011 Intel Core i-series “Sandy Bridge” Dual-Core or Quad-Core CPU
    • 4Gb, 8Gb or 16Gb of memory
    • 1 Terrabyte Hard Drive
    • Optical Drive
    • Case
    • Power Supply
    • Mac OS X Snow Leopard Retail DVD

In this example I will give you an indication on price of some items, because I already had a case that could be used, on the other hand I was required to update my power supply as it only had 350w from a previous build, this was not sufficient to run the hardware and the Graphics Card I intended to include in this build.

CPU: Intel Core i3-2100 3.10GHz  Quad-Core
Motherboard: Gigabyte GA-H67M-D2 with Intel HD 2000 Graphics
RAM: Corsair XMS3 8Gb (2 x 4Gb) 1333MHz DDR3
Case: Old case used.
Power Supply: 500w
Optical Drive: Sony Optiarc
Hard Drive: 500Gb 6Gb/s 7200RPM
Installation DVD: Mac OS X Snow Leopard Retail

Additional Hardware:
Graphics Card: Sapphire ATI Radeon HD 5770 with 1Gb GDDR5

Before we go any further, I should point out that the HD 2000 Graphics on the Gigabyte board is NOT Supported using this method.  You will get in the main operating system but it will be very unstable.  Ok let us have a look at the differences between this particular set up and what would be considered the lowest specification for a Mac Pro from Apple.

Apple Setup
Quad-Core

One 2.8GHz Quad-Core Intel Xeon “Nehalem” Processor
3Gb (three 1Gb) memory
1 Terrabyte Hard Drive
18x Double-Layer SuperDrive
ATI Radeon HD 5770 with 1Gb GDDR5

£2,041.00 ($2,499.00)

My Setup
Intel Core i3-2100 3.10GHz Quad-Core (£95.00)
Gigabyte GA-H67M-D2 with Intel HD 2000 Graphics (£74.08)
Corsair XMS3 8Gb (2 x 4Gb) 1333MHz DDR3 (£37.59)
Sapphire ATI Radeon HD 5770 with 1GB GDDR5 (£89.97)
Alpine 500w Power Supply (£21.95)
Sony Optiarc (£17.99)
Wester Digital 500Gb 6Gb/s 7200RPM (£79.95)
Budget Case (£19.95)
Mac OS X Snow Leopard Retail (already have)

£436.48 ($698.37 approximate)

These prices are as they are today, some have gone up and some have come down slightly since I purchased them.  You obviously need to include a monitor with this set up, but I will leave that up to you, everyone has their own preference when it comes to monitors.  You certainly do not need to put as much memory into the computer, but I would recommend you put at least 4Gb in your set up, also you may want a larger hard drive.  In my set up I have split the 500Gb hard drive up, 250Gb has gone to Mac OS X and 250Gb to Windows 7, I then intend to expand the computer by adding larger hard drives for both operating systems.

So we have used very similar hardware that is used in a genuine Mac Pro, and when you have got this computer up and running it will think it is so.  With this set up you have saved yourself approximately £1,604.52 a 78.61% saving or 21.39% of price of a genuine Mac Pro, so in fact it is less than a quarter of the price.  Aren’t I good to you.

This particular set up is very fast and extremely stable.  I would highly recommend you try to use the same Graphics Card that is used in genuine Mac Pro’s as this will give you less problems and it is fully supported.  You do need to have a copy of Mac OS X Snow Leopard Retail DVD (you can upgrade to Lion at a later stage), I already have a copy of this great operating system and whether you choose to purchase a copy or pirate a copy that is your choice.  Some would have you believe that using even a genuine copy of the mac operating system on non-apple hardware is against their usage policy and you are in fact pirating a copy anyway, it may well be the case but I always believe that I have paid for this operating system and if I am prepared to invest in the hardware that it was designed to run on then I have the right to install it.

Sorry this post is quite long, and it is going to get longer still, because I believe if you really want to build this computer then it is worth reading someone else’s experience’s and a set up that works.  As a result of this tutorial I have subsequently sold my iMac and this computer now remains my sole computer.

The Tutorial

First and foremost (after you’ve got the computer built), I want to say at the point where you need to use a customized bios file, ensure you get the correct one for the version of the bios on your motherboard otherwise you will experience some difficulties in getting the computer stable after you put more memory in.  I can speak from bitter experience and I have had to re-install the operating system from scratch.

For this tutorial, you do need to have some understanding of computing hardware and bios set up.  You will also need to have a pre-burned copy of iBoot.

Any OSx86 installation guide can seem daunting at first.  This guide requires no coding, terminal work, or Mac experience of any kind.  You will not need access to a Mac.

The iBoot + MultiBeast method is designed and tested for any desktop or laptop running the latest line of Intel processors, the Core i3/i5/i7s.  There are reports of successes with older machines as well including CoreDuo, Core2Duo, and even Pentium 4.  However, AMD processors are not supported.

Take a look at the TonyMacx86 Wiki page for what hardware components are and not compatible with this method.  This wiki page will also give you and indication on what to do if you come across any difficulties.

YOU WILL NEED

  • A computer running an Intel Processor
  • A Blank CD
  • A Mac OS X Snow Leopard Retail DVD
  • Patience – it may not work out perfectly the first time.  It’s easy to get frustrated, but don’t give up! 

There are a community of users with similar hardware in the tonymacx86 Forum to provide support if you get stuck.  You will need to sign up for an account, which is free.

BEFORE YOU BEGIN

  • If you have greater than 4Gb of RAM installed, remove the extra RAM for a maximum of 4Gb.  You can put back any extra RAM in after the installation process.
  • Use only 1 Graphics Card in the 1st PCIe slot with 1 Monitor plugged in.
  • Remove any Hard Drives besides the blank drive being used for OS X.
  • Remove any USB Peripherals besides keyboard and mouse.
  • Remove any PCI Cards besides graphics- they may not be Mac compatible.
  • If using a Gigabyte 1156 board, use the Blue Intel SATA Ports– not the white Gigabyte SATA ports.
  • It’s best to use an Empty Hard Drive– you will have to partition and format the drive.
  • Always back up any of your important data.

STEP 1: Download and Burn iBoot
In order to boot the Mac OS X Retail DVD, you’ll need to download and burn iBoot to your Blank CD.  For desktops and laptops using unsupported Intel CPUs and graphics, a legacy version of iBoot can be downloaded here.

STEP 2: Change Bios Settings
You will need to set your BIOS to ACHI mode and your Boot Priority to boot from CD-ROM first.  This is the most important step, and one many people overlook.  Make sure your bios settings match these.  It’s not difficult- the only thing I did on my Gigabyte board besides setting Boot Priority to CD/DVD first was set Optimized Defaults, change SATA to AHCI mode, and set HPET to 64-bit mode.

STEP 3: Install Mac OS X

  1. Place iBoot in CD/DVD drive
  2. Restart computer
  3. At boot prompt, eject iBoot
  4. Insert your Mac OS X Snow Leopard Retail DVD and press F5
  5. When you see the screen below, press Enter to begin the boot process
  6. When you get to the installation screen, open Utilities/Disk Utility.  NOTE: If you cannot get to the installation screen, retry from Step 4, type PCIRootUID=1 before hitting enter. If that doesn’t work then try PCIRootUID=1 -x or just -x which will enter Mac OS X Safe Mode and will allow you to proceed. For some graphics cards, use GraphicsEnabler=No boot flag to proceed. 
  7. Partition your hard drive to GUID Partition Table – If you intend to Dual Boot to Windows, like I did – I would recommend you partition your hard drive at this stage and leave the windows partition unformatted.
  8. Format your hard drive to Mac OS Extended (Journaled).   NOTE: The bootloader can only boot from a disk or partition of 1 TB or less.  Partition larger drives.
  9. For the purposes of this guide, name it Snow Leopard.  You can rename it later.
  10. Close Disk Utility
  11. When the installer asks you where to install, choose Snow Leopard
  12. Choose Customize‚ and uncheck additional options.  This will speed up the install process.  You can always install this stuff later.
  13. Restart computer.
  14. Place iBoot back in drive.
  15. When you get to the boot selection screen, choose your new Snow Leopard installation.
  16. View the super-cool Mac OS X Snow Leopard Welcome Video, and set up your computer the way you like it.

STEP 4: Update to 10.6.8

  1. Open Finder and navigate to your Snow Leopard drive.
  2. Right-click and delete Mac OS X Install Folder.  This folder is an unnecessary remnant of the installation process, and serves no purpose.
  3. Download the Mac OS X 10.6.8 Combo Update
  4. Download MultiBeast
  5. Open MultiBeast– Do not run it yet, just leave it open.  Set up windows as shown.
  6. Mount MacOSXUpdCombo10.6.8.dmg
  7. Install MacOSXUpdCombo10.6.8.pkg
  8. Upon completion, the installer will ask you to reboot.  DO NOT REBOOT.  The Installer may crash at this stage, simply re-open MultiBeast and continue.
  9. Switch to the already open MultiBeast.

This is a very important part, follow this process very closely for the hardware which has been mentioned above.

First step is to download the custom DSDT file for the Bios from the DSDT Database – REMEMBER Download the correct version for your Bios, your first thought is to download the most up-to-date v1.1 which I did, and found this was the cause of all my problems.  The one for this motherboard is F4 v1.0 or v1.1.

Place your DSDT.aml on the desktop before installing MultiBeast.

MultiBeast is an all-in-one post-installation tool designed to enable boot from hard drive, and install support for Audio, Network, and Graphics. It contains two different complete post-installation solutions: EasyBeast and UserDSDT.  In addition it includes System Utilities to rebuild caches and repair permissions and a collection of drivers, boot loaders, boot time config files and handy software.

Choose the following option directly following a fresh installation and update:

UserDSDT is a bare-minimum solution for those who have their own pre-edited DSDT. Audio, Graphics and Network will have to be enabled separately.

MultiBeast is an all-in-one post-installation tool designed to enable boot from hard drive, and install support for Audio, Network, and Graphics. It contains two different complete post-installation solutions: EasyBeast and UserDSDT.  In addition it includes System Utilities to rebuild caches and repair permissions and a collection of drivers, boot loaders, boot time config files and handy software.

    1. Run MultiBeast
    2. If you have a custom DSDT that’s been edited, place the file on your desktop and choose UserDSDT.
    3. Select System Utilities.
    4. Optionally, you may install further drivers via Advanced Options to enable ethernet, sound, graphics, etc…  Be sure to read the documentation provided about each installation option.
    5. Do NOT select any Graphics options at this stage.  
    6. Install to the Snow Leopard drive – it should take approximately 4 minutes to run scripts, so be patient.
    7. Eject iBoot.
    8. Reboot – from your new Snow Leopard installation drive.
    9. Once you have returned to the desktop re-open MultiBeast.
    10. We now need to install the graphics for the ATI 5770.

Congratulations! That is it.

Technical Specifications, Notes and Copyrights

Graphics Card Information

Sapphire 5770 ATI Radeon HD Yes Device ID=0x68B8 OSX 10.6.7 Multibeast 3.4 using Andy’s boot file / iBoot ATI + GraphicsEnabler=No. Dual DVI works. HDMI works fine. Display Port not tested. Must install multibeast with no graphics options first, reboot and then install graphics kexts.

Copyrights
Mac OS X Snow Leopard copyrights remains the property of Apple and should not be copied.

Information shown in this tutorial is taken from the TonyMacx86 website and has been modified to suit the set up mentioned above.  The software remains the property of TonyMacx86 and should not be distributed to third party sites.

This site does not contain any downloadable software and you should access the retrospective websites to acquire any required software to perform this tutorial.

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