You didn't want to settle for Apple's underpowered hardware, so you built yourself a hackintosh. A few years later it's feeling slow and you want to upgrade. Because you created the machine yourself, you don't need to shell out tons of cash for a new one. You can upgrade for a fraction of the price of your original build. But upgrading your hackintosh involves a bit of work and some new challenges -- unless you take the right approach.
When I upgraded my hackintosh for the first time, I learned that there's a lot more to the process than a simple hardware swap -- it's almost as much work as building a new hackintosh if you don't properly prepare your system in advance. In this post we'll look at the best upgrade options available right now (for Intel Ivy Bridge systems), how to prepare your system for the swap, and pre-emptive measures to take so you're ready to handle the most common problems.
Step One: Choose Your Upgrade Hardware
When you upgrade a hackintosh, the most critical hardware element is your motherboard, as this generally requires the most tweaking to function with Mac OS X. Fortunately, with some of the latest Gigabyte motherboards, very little work is now necessary. In his 2012 buyer's guide, tonymacx86 (the king of hackintoshes) identified a range of motherboards that require nothing more than an audio driver to fully function. That means, audio excepted, the motherboards will work out of the box. This will make your job much easier. Here are your best options (as of September 2012):
- Gigabyte GA-Z77M-DS3H ($100) - A basic, budget ATX motherboard.
- Gigabyte GA-H77M-DS3H ($90) - Largely identical to the above, but uses a different audio codec and offers some GPU-related features that won't benefit you if you're running OS X.
- Gigabyte GA-B75M-D3P ($70) - MicroATX motherboard with similar features to the above options, but also includes optical audio and one DisplayPort.
- Gigabyte GA-Z77X-UD5H ($260) - This is the motherboard I chose, as it comes with plenty of USB 3.0 ports, optical audio, and a DisplayPort connector for the onboard graphics in case I ever want to purchase a newer Apple display.
- Gigabyte GA-Z77X-UP5-TH ($270) - High-end motherboard with Thunderbolt ports, Bluetooth 4.0, and Wi-Fi!
These motherboards support the Intel socket 1155 chipset, which means most of the new Ivy Bridge processors will work. At the time of this writing, there are no Macs using Intel socket 2011 CPUs so they will not work properly. You can find more information about build options on tonymacx86's buyer's guide.
You may also want to upgrade other hardware, such as your graphics card, hard drive, RAM or SSD. So long as you pick a OS X-supported graphics card, you won't have to worry about compatibility issues with other components. There are exceptions (some expansion cards can be fiddly), but in general the motherboard is the only component you need to worry about.
Step Two: Prepare OS X
Because this is an upgrade, OS X is already on your boot drive. The problem is, you've installed various kexts (short for "kernel extensions") and may have also installed a DSDT file so OS X understands how to communicate with your hardware. More than likely, your new motherboard will not be compatible with any of the work you've already done. You'll need to wipe out everything you have installed already, but first you should clone your disk in case of a problem.
Carbon Copy Cloner and Super Duper are both great candidates for the job, but you can use any cloning software you want. The important thing is to make a bootable clone of your disk; both these apps will be able to tell you if your copy will be bootable or not. If you're using another app that isn't quite as informative, there are three important things to remember when cloning:
- Ensure your clone drive uses a GUID partition table (you can choose this when partitioning any disk using OS X's included Disk Utility software).
- Ensure your clone drive is formatted as HFS+ Journaled.
- Make an exact copy of your boot disk -- no exceptions.
An internal hard disk or SSD, or an external USB drive of any kind (so long as it's large enough to hold the data on your boot disk) is suitable for the task, and if you follow the rules above everything should work just fine. Hopefully you won't have to use the backup drive, but in the event something goes terribly wrong you'll want to have it available.
Another option is adding a separate partition to an existing drive in your computer. This can be the boot drive if you have lots of free space open, or another internal drive you're using for other purposes. This way you do not have to dedicate a single drive for the sole purpose of backing up your system.
Once your clone is ready, start wiping out your hackintosh files. Which files need to be deleted will depend on what you installed when you initially built your hackintosh, but here's what most people will have to remove:
- A folder called Extra on your boot drive (/Extra).
- Any kexts installed in /System/Extensions/.
- Any DSDT.aml files on your desktop.
Once you remove those files and folders you will not be able to boot normally anymore, so be sure you have a copy of UniBeast on a USB flash drive. You should have this already from building your hackintosh in the first place, but if not you can get it from tonymacx86 and consult our instructions if you need help using it.
Finally, download a copy of Multibeast (which you can also get from tonymacx86) so you can use it after your upgrade is complete.
Step Three: Install Your New Hardware
Installing a new motherboard means taking out virtually everything you have already installed in your case. On the plus side, the power supply, some of the fans, and some cable management work you've already performed can stay in place. Before you remove your computer's innards, take plenty of photos so you can consult them if a problem occurs and you need to put your old hardware back together again. Continue to take photos as you disassemble as well to keep track of the process.
With your motherboard removed, you'll need to put your computer back together again with new hardware. If you need any help, consult our computer building guide. Once your hardware is ready to go, it's time to boot into OS X and make it all work properly.
Step Four: Configure OS X for Your New Hardware
Booting up with your new hardware will involve the same steps you'd follow if you were building a hackintosh for the first time. That means you'll want to follow our guide for instructions for configuring your BIOS and booting up using your UniBeast USB flash drive, and consult the tonymacx86 forums for specific information about which MultiBeast settings to use with your hardware. If you chose one of the recommended Gigabyte motherboards in step one, just follow these instructions:
- Open MultiBeast and click throw the various screens until you get to your install options.
- Tick the box next to "UserDSDT or DSDT-Free Installation."
- Go into the Drivers & Bootloaders → Drivers → Audio → Realtek ALC8xx → Without DSDT section. From there, choose the audio codec used by your motherboard. Check the box beside the correct codec. If given an option between Legacy and Current, choose Current.
- Click Continue and go ahead with the installation.
- Restart your computer and your hackintosh should boot up all by itself.
That's all there is to it! Upgrades are straightforward most of the time, but mistakes can occur and so it's important to prepare for the worst. If you do run into a problem, the precautions you took by following this guide will provide you with a means of troubleshooting or, at the very least, a fallback plan. In the event of a serious problem, consult our hackintosh troubleshooting guide for some common strategies and request assistance on the tonymacx86 forums. Your upgrade process should go off without a hitch, but if not you'll be prepared.
Happy hackintoshing, and enjoy your new hardware!