Building a hackintosh — that is, installing Mac OS X on non-Apple hardware — used to require extremely restricted hardware choices and quite a bit of know-how. Now your options are vast and the installation process is fairly simple. With that in mind, here is our complete guide to building a hackintosh that will walk you through purchasing compatible parts, building your machine and installing OS X all on your own.
Current version: Mac OS X 10.8.1 (UniBeast Method)
This guide is all about installing Mountain Lion on your hackintosh. If you’re looking to install regular old Lion, check out our archived guide instead. Also, we recently updated our sample build to offer hardware that is Mountain Lion-specific. While it may work with Lion, we’re not sure. Plan accordingly.
First Things First: What Is a Hackintosh, Exactly?
A hackintosh is simply any non-Apple hardware that has been made — or “hacked” — to run Mac OS X. This could apply to any hardware, whether it’s a manufacturer-made or personally built computer. For the purposes of this guide, we’re only discussing a tried-and-true method for building a hackintosh that you build.
That means you’ll need to be comfortable with the idea of building your own machine and providing your own technical support when you run into problems. While this can be a little bit of a scary prospect if you’re new to building a hackintosh, it comes with the advantage of saving you a lot of money while still providing you with an incredibly powerful, fully customisable machine. We’ll also point you to several resources we’ve put together to help you learn everything you need to know about building a computer so you can feel confident on your first time through the entire computer-building process. While it’s important to know that building a hackintosh from scratch is not a project for beginners, it is something that anyone can learn to do. We think it’s a wonderful alternative to purchasing an official Apple product and a rewarding challenge. Now that you know what to expect, let’s get to work.
How Does This Guide Work?
It may seem strange to have a “complete” guide to building a hackintosh, because the process changes based on the hardware choices you make. Although this is true, it doesn’t change that much. We’ll be discussing the process of building a hackintosh on a broad level, as it applies to most hardware. As a result, this guide will not always be able to tell you the exact boxes to tick and choices to make, but it will teach you how to figure that out for yourself. We’ll hold your hand as tightly as possible through as much of the process as we can, but there will be some decisions you’ll have to make on your own. It can be a little scary sometimes, but that’s part of the fun.
In summary, this guide will explain how to pick the right hardware for a great hackintosh and walk you through the standard OS X installation process, but it will also require you to be diligent and informed in regards to the variables in your specific build.
How to Choose the Best Hardware for Your Needs
Picking out hardware and building a computer is often the most daunting part of this process. If you’ve never done it before, it can often feel like putting together puzzle where many of the pieces seem interchangeable but truly are not. That said, we have plenty of resources to help you demystify the purchasing and building process so you’re feeling confident.
First, let’s talk about choosing hardware and what makes certain options better than others.
When Apple builds their official Macs, their parts are not that different from the parts we can buy online when we build our own PCs. In fact, they’re often the same. Additionally, third-party manufacturers will create hardware for Apple’s Mac Pro computers to add additional options to the mix. This means that Apple, or the third parties, need to create software drivers for Mac OS X in order for the hardware to work. This means that virtually any hardware with these drivers is going to be hardware you can use in your hackintosh build. Additionally, the talented people on the internet have developed their own open source drivers for non-Mac hardware in order to provide additional options for your hackintosh. While all of these efforts only span a small percentage of the available hardware on the market, it still provides you with a lot of great choices. Many motherboards, graphics cards, and processors are compatible thanks to these combined efforts.
The next question is, how do you know what is and isn’t compatible? Like we’ve already discussed, if Apple has used the part before, that’s generally a good sign that you can use it, too. That said, you always want to double-check when you’re putting your hardware list together. To help you out, we’ve created a hackintosh hardware buyer’s guide so you can figure out what will and will not work. Follow that guide when choosing your hardware and you should be good to go. You can also reference our Hack Pro and Hack Mini builds, or just use the sample build provided at the end of this section.
Once you have your hardware you’re going to need to assemble it into a working computer. We have an entire night school course on computer building, but this specific lesson will walk you through how to build your first computer. Follow it diligently, read your motherboard and case manuals closely, and you should have a functional machine in no time.
A Sample Build
With the resources we’ve discussed, you should be all set to build your hackintosh. Before we move on, however, let’s take a look at a sample build so you can get an idea of what a basic hardware shopping list looks like. This is an actual hackintosh we’ve built, based on hardware suggested by tonymacx86. It only costs a little over $US400, so it’s a great option for beginners. Here’s the list of parts (last updated on February 7, 2012):
- CPU: Intel Core i3-2105 with Intel HD 3000 Graphics
- GPU: None necessary (it’s integrated with the CPU)
- Motherboard: Gigabyte GA-H61N-USB3 or
- RAM: CORSAIR 4GB 240-Pin DDR3
- Case and Power Supply: APEX MI-008 Mini-ITX with 250w PSU
- Optical Drive: Sony Optiarc
- Data Drive: Seagate Barracuda 500 GB SATA 6Gb/s (HDD) or OCZ Technology 120 GB Agility 3 SSD (SSD)
- Bluetooth (Optional): Jabra A320s USB Bluetooth Adapter (this adaptor works much better than any others I’ve tried, so I recommend getting this one even though it’s larger and generally a little more expensive)
You’ll find lots of builds like this on tonymacx86’s blog, so you can build those exact machines or use them as starting points to create your own build. However you want to go about it, be sure to read our a hackintosh hardware buyer’s guide if you want help with selecting your parts.
By this point you should have purchased your parts, built your computer, and turned it on to make sure everything is functioning. If all systems are go, it’s time to move on to the installation process.
How to Install Mac OS X on Your Hackintosh
Installing Mac OS X on hackintosh hardware involves a bit more than just popping in a DVD, choosing a boot volume, and clicking a button. You’ll have to do all of that, too, but there’s a bit of prep work involved. Let’s get started.
Step 1: Configure the BIOS
When you turn your machine on, it should display its BIOS welcome screen. This is generally an image with the name of your motherboard and indicators for a few keys you can press to edit your BIOS. Before we can install OS X, we first have to make a few changes to the BIOS (your motherboard’s settings), so you’re going to need to press the key that corresponds to the BIOS Settings when you power on your machine. This is almost always a function key (like F12) or the delete key, but reference your BIOS image to be sure. (Click the image to the left to see an example.) Press and hold down that magic BIOS settings key and wait for the BIOS settings to load.
The BIOS settings for every motherboard is going to be somewhat similar but never exactly the same. For that reason we can’t tell you, command-by-command, where to go to find and make certain adjustments. That said, we can tell you what to look for. Here are the settings you will need to adjust (or at least verify) in your BIOS to make your hardware hackintosh-friendly:
- Disable Quick Boot. You may have to look around for this, but we’ve often found this in a section titled Advanced BIOS Settings. Just look for a Quick Boot or Fast Boot option and ensure it is set to disabled.
- Configure SATA as AHCI. By default, your motherboard will configure SATA as IDE and you’ll need to change this to AHCI. In some cases you’ll be asked if you want to do this when you boot up for the first time. If so, choose yes. If not, go into your BIOS and look for this setting as you’ll need to make the change for everything to work smoothly.
- Change the Boot Device Order. Your BIOS will default to a specific boot order, which means it’ll look for a startup volume (where the operating system lives) in various places until it finds one. The boot order is the order in which it checks each location. In general, you want to set your optical drive to first boot device so you can easily boot to a disc by simply putting it in the drive and turning on your machine. The second item in the order should be the hard drive or SSD where you’re going to install OS X. The order beyond that isn’t terribly important and entirely up to you.
- Adjust the Hard Disk Boot Priority. Some BIOS settings pages will also have a setting called Hard Disk Boot Priority, which is used to identify which hard drive to try and boot from first if there are multiple drives in the machine. If you install more than one drive in your hackintosh, be sure to set the Hard Disk Boot Priority to the drive where OS X will be installed.
Once you’ve made these changes, you’ll need to save them. In most cases you’ll only need to press the escape key a few times to get back to the main screen, and then F10 to save and exit. Your BIOS settings page will tell you which keys save, exit, and so on, so you should have no trouble figuring out the right keys to press.
Step 2: Install Mac OS X Lion
Now we’re ready to actually install OS X, but this is going to be a fairly in-depth process that requires a number of tools. Before getting started, be sure you have the following:
- A copy of Mac OS X Lion from the Mac App Store or on a thumb drive.
- An 8GB thumb drive (or larger).
- UniBeast, available from tonymacx86.
- MultiBeast, also available from tonymacx86. You want the version for Lion (as opposed to Snow Leopard).
- The DSDT file for your motherboard of choice. If you followed our hackintosh hardware guide in the previous section, you may already have a pre-edited DSDT file for your motherboard. If not, visit tonymacx86’s DSDT database, choose your motherboard from the list — making sure you choose the version that matches your motherboard’s firmware — and download it to your hard drive. (Note: You can generally discover the firmware version of your motherboard by looking at its BIOS boot image.)
Once you have everything, you’ll need to prepare your 8GB+ thumb drive to be bootable and capable of installing Mac OS X Lion. To do so, follow these steps:
- Connect your USB drive to an existing Mac and open Disk Utility (in your Macintosh HD -> Applications -> Utilities folder). If you don’t already own a Mac, you can still use the old method but it’s a lot more work.
- Click on your thumb drive in Disk Utility and then click the Partition tab.
- Click on the drop-down menu that reads “Current” and choose “1 Partition.”
- Click on the “Options…” button and select the partition scheme labelled “Master Boot Record.” Click “OK” to accept your choice.
- Give the thumb drive the name USB (which you can change later).
- Set the drive’s format to “Mac OS X Extended Journaled.”
- Click the “Apply” button and then the “Partition” button.
- When Disk Utility has finished partitioning your disk, make sure the “Install Mac OS X Lion Application” you purchased from the Mac App Store is in your Applications folder. If you purchased a Lion thumb drive, just make sure it’s plugged in to your computer.
- Open UniBeast and click “Continue” three times, then agree. This should bring you to a drive selection screen. Choose USB (the thumb drive you just partitioned) and click “Continue.”
- You’ll now be presented with three checkboxes. Select the one that applies to the type of Mac OS X Lion installer you bought (app store or thumb drive), then click “Continue” and enter your admin password.
- Wait about 10-15 minutes for UniBeast to do it’s thing. DO NOT unplug the drive or stop the installation while it’s in process.
When UniBeast finishes, you’ll have a hackintosh-bootable USB thumb drive. Plug it into your hackintosh, boot up, and press the key on your keyboard that will take you to the boot selection menu. (If you don’t know what it is, just look on your BIOS boot screen. It is commonly ESC, F10, or F12.) If the thumb drive boots successfully you’ll see a thumb drive with the tonymacx86 logo appear on your screen along with a single boot option: USB. Choose it and boot into the installer.
Note: In some cases you may need additional boot flags to get to the installer. If you have an unsupported graphics card, you’ll need to add GraphicsEnabler=No. If you have an ATI Radeon 6670 installed you’ll need to add PCIRootUID=0. You can just type these in at the boot option screen before you press enter to choose “USB” and boot into the installer.
When the Mac OS X Lion Installer finishes booting, you’ll be presented with a welcome screen and can choose your language. Do that, but before you can continue you’ll need to format your disk. Go to the Utilities menu and choose Disk Utility. Select the disk you want to use for installation and format it. To format it properly, follow these steps:
- Choose the disk in Disk Utility and click the Partition tab.
- Set the partitions to one (or however many you want) and their format to Mac OS Extended (Journaled).
- Click the options button and set the partition scheme to GUID Partition Table
- Click Apply and wait for the disk to finish formatting.
With your destination disk ready to go, you can now run the Lion installer just like you would on any other Mac. When it completes you might be met with an “Installation Failed” message at the end (or not), but that’s nothing to worry about. When the installation is complete just restart your machine. When you do, access your boot menu and choose the USB drive. You still need it to boot up. When you see the familiar boot options screen again you’ll now be able to choose the drive you installed Lion on. Pick that and press enter, also entering any boot flags you used when booting into the installer previously.
Step 3: Install Your Drivers
Now that you’ve got Lion installed, it’s time to make all your hardware work properly. For that, you need to install some drivers. Copy MultiBeast to your hackintosh’s hard drive and open it up. Click through the install windows and get to the options page. What you choose is going to vary based on your build, but here’s a look at all your choices and what they do, using our sample build as a guide:
- EasyBeast Install – Just ignored this.
- UserDSDT Install – This is the option that applies your custom DSDT. You downloaded it earlier, so put a copy on your desktop and check this option so it will be applied.
- System Utilities – It’s always a good idea to check System Utilities as it repairs permissions, runs maintenance scripts, and other helpful stuff like that.
- Drivers & Bootloaders – This is the section where you’ll be making most of your decisions. You’ll have your pick from an array of hardware drivers that will allow everything from audio to Ethernet to function on your hackintosh. All you really need to do is go through this list and select the relevant hardware in your build. If you have Azalia Audio on your motherboard, that generally means selecting ALC8xxHDA and the AppleHDA rollback options. Most graphics cards you use won’t require drivers, and so you can often skip the Graphics subsection, but just turning on GraphicsEnabler, which you’ll do in the next section. Enabling any of the drivers in the Disk subsection will help provide support for SATA and eSATA hard disks, but they won’t be necessary for most users. The miscellaneous sections has a lot of goodies. If your board supports any of them (like USB 3.0, for example), you should check them off for installation. One kext that always seems to make things work better is NullCPUPowerManagement. We recommend installing this as it tends to make a significant difference in performance on some machines. Lastly you have the Bootloaders subsection, which you can skip as the UserDSDT Install process took care of installing the Chimera bootloader earlier.
- Customization – If you’re following our guide you’re using a pre-edited/patched DSDT file, so the only thing you’re going to want to do in this subsection is check off 64-bit Apple Boot Screen (unless your hackintosh has 32-bit hardware) to enable your video card in full force. You probably won’t need the other options unless you have a special situation or are troubleshooting an issue.
- OSx86 Software – You don’t really need to choose anything in this department, but if you’d like some handy OSx86 tools installed to your Applications folder you can choose them from this section.
IMPORTANT NOTE: If you’re building a Sandy Bridge-based hackintosh with a motherboard using Realtek ethernet, be sure to check out Lnx2Mac’s ethernet driver. It’s released separately from MultiBeast and sometimes the version it provides is not the latest. That is currently the case and the latest version supports newer socket 1155 (meaning Sandy Bridge-compatible) motherboards. If you’re having trouble with your ethernet, download it directly.
Once you’ve made all of your choices, go ahead and run MultiBeast. When it’s finished, this generally means you’re done and can restart to your brand new hackintosh. In some cases you may need to find additional drivers that MultiBeast didn’t provide. This may be a driver for a Wi-Fi adaptor you purchased or some third-party PCI card. If the driver wasn’t provided by the manufacturer or downloadable on their web site, use popular hackintosh forums (like InsanelyMac and tonymacx86) for help. Either way, once you’re done with MultiBeast you can install those drivers as well to finish up the job. Congratulations on all your hard work. You now have a functional hackintosh!
Step 4: Updating Your Hackintosh
When you installed Lion you likely received the most up-to-date version because the App Store automatically provides you with the latest. If you bought a thumb drive that may not be the case and you’ll need to update. At some point you will need to update anyhow, so here’s what you need to know.
For the most part, updating is pretty straightforward and you won’t run into issues, but it’s good to check tonymacx86’s blog when updates are released to see what you’ll need to do. In most cases you’ll just download the latest update from Apple directly (rather than running Software Update), remove Sleepenabler.kext (provided you’re using it), and then re-install it and any overwritten drivers using MultiBeast.
So how do you know what drivers were overwritten? In most cases, the only driver you’ll have to reinstall is the AppleHDA Rollback, because that driver needs to be installed directly into your System Library where OS X makes changes. If you made any edits to graphics drivers, the update may overwrite them so you’ll need to make those edits to the new, updated drivers as well. Whenever possible, MultiBeast installs special to a folder called Extra on your hard drive and then injects them into the boot process during startup. This method is used to prevent them from being overwritten by system updates, but if you have any drivers/kexts that aren’t installed to Extra you may have to re-install them each time.
When a new update does roll around, don’t update through Software Update. Download the updater directly from Apple. You can usually find it on their support site or by searching for the name of the update (e.g. “Mac OS X Lion 10.7.x Update”). Re-install anything necessary when you’re done and test everything to make sure it works. Most updates should go very smoothly, but you should always back up your boot volume beforehand (we like Carbon Copy Cloner for this process) in case something goes wrong. You never know what can happen, and restoring from a backup is considerably less time-consuming than going through this entire process again from scratch.
How to Troubleshoot
Things go wrong with hackintoshes all the time. It’s unlikely you’ll create one without running into, at least, a minor dilemma. A lot of troubleshooting involves trial and error, unfortunately, and you’ll just have to tinker around until you get the problem fixed. You will be able to find help on the InsanelyMac and tonymacx86 forums if you get stuck. You can also use tonymacx86’s rBoot rescue CD to help you boot when you’re having trouble doing so. You’ll also want to spend some time disabling potentially problematic options and kexts in your /Extra folder (which you can get to by pressing Command+Shift+G, choosing Go to Folder, typing /Extra, and see if removing anything can help. Sometimes you’ll need to add things, too, to get the proper hardware support without any glitches so just be diligent and you’ll get there.
Finally, once you do get things working you should clone your hard drive so you have a boot-able copy available should things go awry. This way you can restore back to that copy or at least compare the things that changed since it was all working nicely. No matter what you think, you’re going to screw something up at some point. Keep a backup. You won’t regret it.
For more troubleshooting tips, check out our hackintosh troubleshooting guide.