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

In Part II, I performed the OS X installation, and noted a couple minor issues – keyboard and shutdown issues. A bit of an update though: I found that the sometimes the system will shut down fine – it seems hit and miss though, and I can’t really narrow down a cause.

The second test consists of attempting an installation on another “white box” PC, but this time one with hardware different from the development kits. A machine I had available differed from the first in the following replacements:

  • Intel Pentium 4 2.8C (Northwood)
  • ASUS P4P800 Motherboard (Intel i865 chipset) with onboard sound/networking
  • ATI Radeon 9800 Pro video card


Aside from those, the system remained similar to the first. The first main difference (as it applies to this test) is that the Pentium 4 2.8C does not have SSE3. SSE3 is required for OS X’s “Rosetta” to run PowerPC-based applications. From what I understand, a “hack” was developed to allow SSE3 instructions to run on an SSE2 processor through some sort of translator. Unfortunately, this means that there can be added slowness, and a few bugs which might result in crashes. The other difference is the addition of an AGP video card. As far as I know, nVidia cards are not supported at all by OS X, so an ATI card was a must. The only ATI card I had was a 9800 Pro.

The installation went in a similar fashion. The only difference was that I selected SSE2 instead of SSE3 when adding the “custom” packages during the install. Once the install completed, the computer started. Again, sound and video were working, but the onboard networking of the P4P800 was not. I tried a D-Link 530TX card that didn’t work. After a bit of scrounging around, I found a machine with a D-Link 538TX and plugged it in. I now know where the “it just works” Apple motto came from… I started up the machine and it was working. There were no “found new hardware” dialogs. It was as seemless as if it had always been there. Actually, since nothing seemed amiss when I first started the computer, I had to open the Safari web browser just to find out. This is of course as opposed to Windows, where I’ve had a “found new hardware” box pop up when I simply plugged something into a different USB port.

Unfortunately, the add-on video card wasn’t without it’s issues. Browsing the web, I was subjected to screen “tearing” when I would scroll. For those who haven’t heard the term before, when scrolling, a tiny piece of the screen would stay with the mouse pointer and be deposited somewhere else, almost as though it had been “torn” from the original place by the mouse and deposited somewhere else. Fortunately, this annoyance only happened within certain applications. A little googling showed that this is one aspect that does happen on certain Apple machines as well, so there will undoubtedly be a fix for it at some point.

The other video card issue I had was that when testing Warcraft III, after exiting the game, the mouse pointer would disappear and was replaced by a distorted horizontal line. The forums at osx86project showed that this was a fairly common occurance and happened after exiting any open GL application. I believe this problem does not occur on genuine Apple machines.

Finally, the last issue was again related to a game. Warcraft III would crash at times, probably because the 2.8C processor does not support SSE3.

Aside from those, the computer behaved in a very similar fashion to the previous test machine, aside from running games a little faster (until they crashed). I did have an issue when the Finder crashed when trying to burn from a Burn folder with a reference/shortcut/whatever to a folder on a network drive. Trying a few times meant a few hangs, but I have no idea as to whether that was related to my hardware setup or is a problem in the OS itself.
A few notes and observations

The experiments were for the most part a success. The first machine could have easily become a full-time replacement if the onboard video wasn’t a limitation in gaming. The second had issues that might be solved in time by hacks and patches, but since most of these wouldn’t be coming from Apple, there wouldn’t be any medium-long term guarantees. If Apple were to support even a portion of the hardware available, I’m sure they could pull off selling “OS X for Everyone”. Of course you’d have to buy hardware that was Apple-certified, but it could be done, and would allow the users who like to build their own machines to do so, and could increase Apple marketshare (on the OS end anyway – long-term effect on the hardware end would be diffcult to predict).

OS X is still relatively “new”. There are popular applications that haven’t been compiled for OS X on Intel (or are limited to beta’s), and like any substantial change, the move to Intel processors means that it will take time before all the software development is caught up. Once it is caught up, Apple’s going to have one killer of an offering, and it will be interesting to see what happens in the future.

For now I’ll be reformatting with Windows, but I’ll take a look from time to time and see how the development on the “hacked” versions of OS X goes on. If there are major changes, I’ll probably run another test out of curiousity and see what’s different.

Then again, maybe Apple will surprise us all and we’ll see a version of “OS X for Everyone” one of these days ;)