Ask LH: Can I Hackintosh My Laptop?

Dear Lifehacker, I have a Sorny Inspironbookmate 2564300iP00. Can I make Hackintosh? But seriously, I know a lot of people ask if they can hackintosh their obscure laptop that nobody has ever heard and I know it’s very unlikely that they can, but when is it possible? When can Mac OS X be installed on a out-of-the-box laptop and run just like it would on a real Mac? Thanks, Dream the Impossible

Dear DtI,

Never. You can never hackintosh a laptop and have it work just as well as a real Mac. If there’s anything that Apple does very well, it’s make some slick portable hardware. No other PC laptop is going to run Mac OS X as well, regardless of how compatible the hardware is.

That said, some laptops (and netbooks) are easily hackintoshable and you can put together a very cheap, non-Apple alternative. But you get what you pay for.

Why Will A Hackintosh Never Be A Real Mac Even If Everything Works?

When I first started making hackintoshes I started with netbooks. My first was the HP Mini 1000, which required no hardware modifications to work almost entirely like a real Mac. After that I picked up a variety of other Samsung, Asus, and HP netbooks over the years to try and create the perfect hackintosh netbook. Most of the time they required some hardware modification, but generally that involved transplanting a Wi-Fi card and not much more. While I still have the last netbook I hackintoshed, and it still works fine, it cannot be updated and it kernel panics more often than it should. I keep it around as a guest computer when people come to visit, and it’s great for a little web browsing or typing. But it’s not a real Mac, and it never will be.

Even though hackintoshing laptops and netbooks is often a fool’s errand, if you get the right hardware (or hardware that’s close enough) it can be a very fun and challenging project. I see hackintoshing laptops like solving a puzzle where your reward is simply having solved the puzzle. Technically, in the end, you get a computer — it’s just not a very good one.

If you decide to make yourself a hackintosh laptop do not expect it to work as well as a Mac and be your primary computer. If Apple drops compatibility for hardware in your laptop or makes changes in the kernel that causes problems you will not be able to update and you very well may not be able to replace the hardware that is now incompatible. You can do this when building a hackintosh desktop, but laptops aren’t as flexible. Even the most compatible hardware may become a turd someday.

To recap: Your hackintosh laptop will likely be a bit buggy, the hardware won’t be as nice, and that same not-as-nice hardware might make it impossible to update OS X someday. If you’re OK with all of this, and the numerous potential problems you may face during the process, read on.

How Do I Figure Out If My Laptop Is Hackintoshable?

When you’re picking a laptop to hackintosh, you need to be sure the hardware is compatible with OS X. You probably know that much already, but how do you find out?

First you look at the specifications of certain laptops. You know that the Intel mobile Core i-series processors are compatible, so you really just need to find out if the sound, graphics, Wi-Fi/Ethernet, and Bluetooth have Mac OS X support as well. Of that list, only the graphics card must be supported. Everything else can be relegated to a USB dongle and, in some cases, replaced with functional hardware. (This is frequently the case with Wi-Fi, which is often the most problematic. Fully functional audio comes in at a close second.)

You can figure out if these components are compatible simply by finding out what they are and performing a web search with their name plus the word “hackintosh”. You’ll have to do a little digging, but you’ll find out pretty quickly if a given component has native OS X support or if anyone has created a third-party driver. If everything is supported, you have a good candidate for a hackintosh.

Nonetheless, you don’t really want to attempt to hackintosh a laptop all on your own. If you’re familiar with the hackintoshing process, you know that in an ideal world you’ll be using a specific file, called a DSDT, that will help Mac OS X better understand your motherboard. Unless you know how to generate and edit one of these yourself you’re going to want to get some help. To do that, read forums like tonymacx86 and InsanelyMac to see if anyone else has attempted hackintoshing the same hardware. If not, start a thread about the laptop you’ve got. Sometimes these attempts will be fruitless, but if you pick hardware that interests others you will get some attention.

How Do I Actually Do It?

Laptops require virtually the same hackintoshing process as desktops, but there will be a lot more trial and error since you didn’t handpick the hardware. Generally it will take weeks of effort — and sometimes longer — if you’re starting from scratch and the hardware you’ve got isn’t essentially a Mac in PC’s clothing. If you’re jumping in on an existing forum thread so you can attempt hackintoshing a laptop that has been hackintoshed before (or is at least in the process), it probably won’t take quite so long. That said, you’re going to need to follow the specific instructions you find on the forum because no process is going to be exactly the same. Knowing the desktop hackintoshing process will help, but it won’t answer every question about your specific hardware.

If you’re looking to bypass some of the work, however, tonymacx86 has recently posted that the HP ProBook 4530s XU015UT is a very easily hackintoshable laptop:

I went with the lowest end HP Probook 4530s XU015UT. It’s unbelievable- everything works including wifi, audio, ethernet, sleep, two finger scrolling, media hotkeys, battery, dimming, card reader, bluetooth, and dvd drive. The keyboard is very mac-like with a copy of their signature “chicklet” style keys, and a full number pad. Combined with a flawless install via UniBeast, I set up everything in under an hour.

But he also adds:

The main reason people buy PC laptops to hackintosh is because of the perceived cost savings. On the surface the lowest end Probook is an incredible deal. Unfortunately, once sacrifices are made in multiple areas, the user ends up with a substandard product both in quality and experience. If you can live with the limitations, the Probook is a viable alternative. Although I have had fun with the HP Probook project, I still don’t recommend buying any laptop for Mac OS X besides a real Mac.

So, in the end, it’s really more for fun than practicality. If you want to hackintosh your laptop, keep that in mind.


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