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The experiment – Mac OS X on a regular “white box” PC – Part I

First, a little history…

For years, there have been PC users who liked the Macintosh, but couldn’t simply “switch” for various reasons. Often, the reasons had to do with software that was available for Windows that wasn’t available for the Mac. Since many users “needed” Windows, their options were either to buy both, or simply stick with the PC… until now.

In 2005, Steve Jobs announced that Apple had secretly been compiling and running OS X on Intel processors, and showed the Mac OS running on a Pentium 4. In fact, Apple was now transitioning to Intel processors for their upcoming systems. Developers were able to buy a “transition kit” which was essentially an Intel-based system running Mac OS X. Not long after, hacked versions of the OS began spreading throughout the PC/Mac community that allowed users to install OS X on their non-developer PC’s.

The Experiment

The goal of this experiment is to put together a regular PC, and see if one of these “hacked” versions will install, and what quirks and differences there might be. Now obviously, these versions are most certainly not endorsed or supported by Apple, and anyone wanting to run OS X would be best to buy an Apple computer. I strongly recommend against assembling a PC and then trying to run OS X on it for many reasons, including the following:

  • Difficulty – To get your hardware working, there is a good chance you may have to modify certain files, and even then, the hardware might not work flawlessly. Upgrades will undoubtedly be harder to perform and consist of applying a hacked patch.
  • Support – “Lack thereof actually”. Apple has great support, and you’ll find their own hardware and software work together perfectly. Your “kinda-close” hardware will not, and you will undoubtedly be looking for help. The only support will be through the community. Official drivers for hardware will never be released, updates to OS X may break your hacked install, and you will be presented with headaches left and right. The only way to avoid this is of course to buy a real Apple computer and enjoy the thoroughly tested and supported package Apple has designed for you.
  • Long term use – Apple’s a smart company. If they decide they really don’t want people running Mac OS X on a non-Apple computer, they’ll make changes to the next OS patch to ensure you can’t (or make it extremely difficult anyway).
  • Legal issues – Even if you’ve bought a retail copy of OS X, you’re probably not allowed to install it on your regular PC (it wouldn’t surprise me if Apple subsidizes their OS development to a degree through hardware sales). If you haven’t bought a retail copy, while installing it “just to see if it works” probably won’t land you in cuffs, but installing it long-term is illegal, and of course, wrong.

Hardware
With that out of the way, for the experiment, I decided to try and build a computer as similar to the “development” machines as possible. Basically, I was looking for a motherboard with an i915 chipset with the Intel GMA900 GPU, an Intel processor supporting SSE3, a hard drive, and a DVD Burner. Aside from that, it seemed to be recommended to have a USB keyboard and mouse.

I ended up obtaining the following for my test system:

  • Gigabyte GA-8I915ME-GL (Socket 775, GMA 900 GPU, Realtek 8100C 10/100 Ethernet controller, Realtek ALC655 audio codec)
  • Intel Celeron 336 Processor
  • BenQ DW822A DVD-ROM
  • Seagate Barracuda 7200.7
  • Logitech MX Duo Wireless Keyboard/Mouse
  • 2x512MB DDR400 memory

I was really only picky about the motherboard and processor. The ga-8i915me-gl was the cheapest i915-based chipset I could find that included the GMA900 GPU. The Celeron 336 was the cheapest Intel processor I could find with SSE3 instructions. The hard drive, burner, memory, and keyboard/mouse were simply what I had lying around.

I also have an ASUS P4P800 Intel i865PE-based motherboard and Pentium 4 2.8C (Northwood) processor I could have used, but it was in use by another computer, and I wanted to make the first experiement as easy as possible. I will likely try with that combo afterwards and note any differences.

Software

From what I understand, the retail version of OS X won’t install on a non-Apple machine. There are a few hacked versions floating around, created by people known as Myzar, JaS, and others from the forums at the OSx86 Project website. I decided to go with JaS’s latest version of the DVD which seemed to be OS X v10.4.6.

I assembled the computer, and burned the copy of OS X v10.4.6 to a DVD. All that remains is to try performing an installation.

Check out Part II where I go through the OS X install, complete with pictures!

Disclaimer: These are simply my experiences performing a test/experiment to see whether OS X installs on non-Apple hardware and to document observations made about the proceedure and the final outcome. This is not a “how-to” guide and should not be taken as such. Do not ask me for help, information, advice, or anything else pertaining to the installation of OS X on a non-Apple computer. If you are looking to run OS X, I recommend that you buy an Apple computer such as the Mac mini, iMac, MacBook Pro, or one of Apple’s other systems which are optimized for, and fully support OS X.