Reflecting on my first “Hac Pro”
Posted on 22 Jun ’12 by Earl
I’ve been using Apple Macintosh computers for years and have grown use to not having to deal with the hardware much — a benefit of Mac ownership.
My main Mac Pro workstation (2006-2007) has grown a little long of tooth. It ‘s a Mac Pro 1,1 although it reports it’s a Mac Pro 2,1 — the results of a flash upgrade. Over the years I’ve upgraded the memory, CPU’s with additional cores, and even a SSD boot drive — all helping to keep it running as the workhorse it’s proven to be. But things continue to get larger — monitors, video resolution and data, and electronic digital images — so even with the upgrades my dear Mac Pro can only move those “zillions” of bits as fast as it’s slow original bus speed will let it.
I’ve thought of replacing it with a newer Mac Pro but it’s a substantial cost and Apple hasn’t updated the Mac Pro line significantly in two years. There’s good cost effective non-apple computer hardware available, but Apple doesn’t support running their OS X operating system on non-Apple computers. However they tend to turn a blind eye if you purchase a copy of OS X and do so on your own. There’s a large community of technically minded people on the Internet who enjoy creating just such a “Hacintosh.”
I built PC’s when I used Windows, hardware has come a long ways in both performance and lower cost since then, so I decided I’d give “build your own” a try.
I had five goals when I began doing research for building a “Hacintosh” — 1) I wanted it noticeably faster then my older Mac Pro, 2) I wanted it to be 24/7 reliable, 3) I wanted it to support all the functions and devices my older Mac Pro did, 4) I didn’t want to “break the bank” cost wise building it, and 5) I wanted it to be sustainable and upgradable. I feel I’ve done a decent job addressing each of these points as I’ll explain in more detail below.
1) The old Mac Pro had two Intel Xeon 4 core processors running at 2.66 GHz and 16 Gb of memory at 667 Mhz. The “Hac Pro” has a single Intel i7 4 core processor running at 3.7 Ghz and 32 Gb of memory at 1333 Mhz. The GeekBench 64-bit benchmark calculates the new machines is a little over 25% faster but “seat of the pants” it feel more like 50% when you consider the faster bus speed and improved graphics. Windows snap open and large image files load in a few seconds. Goal accomplished.
2) Time will tell — but I’ve had it running 24/7 now for days with not one OS X error or kernel panic. I spent a great deal of time researching and selecting components that were nearly 100% OS X compatible out of the box, so while I’m not running “bleeding edge” technology I probably eliminated many possible issues at the component selection stage. If you want to do some research on this I would recommend visiting here. Goal conditionally accomplished, awaiting the proof of additional time.
3) I don’t know of anything that’s not working just as it did on the old Mac Pro. All devices and components have been recognized and supported. A few things even seem to work better. I’m running the latest version of OS X 10.7.4. Goal accomplished.
This took a lot of time — time mainly spent in educating myself in what lies under the hood of Apple’s OS X. Someone who had experienced and knowledge could have had everything working in a hour, whereas it took me days of trial and error to obtain success. However, this time will pay back dividends on goal number 5.
4) Total cost of this project was <$1400. I reused my monitors, keyboard, mouse and a couple of hard drives — everything else is new. The cheapest new Apple Mac Pro is $2500 with lesser specifications then this “Hac Pro.” The main components are listed below. Goal accomplished.
- Corsair CC600TWM-WHT case and 750HX power supply
- Crucial 256 GB 6Gb/s SSD (boot drive)
- Corsair 32GB DDR3 1600MHz memory
- Gigabyte GA-Z68XP-UD4 LGA 1155 HDMI SATA 6Gb/s USB 3.0 ATX Intel Motherboard
- Intel Core i7-2600K Processor (running at 3.7 GHz)
- Gigabyte ATi Radeon HD6870 1GB Video Card (2 monitors)
- CD/DVD RW Asus 24x drive
- Intel Gigabit PCI-E Network Adapter (2nd ethernet port for backups)
5) As I explained above there is a large community dedicated to building and supporting the “Hacintosh.” They are already experimenting with the next version of OS X, “Mountain Lion” and will probably have a process for upgrading almost as it’s released. However, upgrades will be more complicated and dangerous. Most of that “danger” can be mitigated by waiting for others to upgrade, learning from their results, and using guidelines on the support forums. The time I spent getting everything to work will be very helpful in doing the upgrades. For now, I’ll just say Goal Partially Successful and let time decide how it plays out.
So, I’m running on the new “Hac Pro” full time. The old Mac Pro is sitting in the corner ready to boot up just in case. Time will be the real deciding factor, but it’s been a good experience and I’ve come out wiser and more knowledgable — with a faster computer.
Now it’s time to get back to photography.