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. Corsair Case

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. :-)

What Others Are Saying

  1. Monte Stevens 22 Jun ’12 at 9:55 pm

    You’re babbling way over my head as some of it sunk in but some of it did not. I’ve had this 13″ Macbook for almost 4 years now and would like to upgrade to a 27″ imac. Even that is higher priced than your new system. Good luck with and lets see more images.
    Monte Stevens recently posted..Sunset: End of Week

    • Earl 23 Jun ’12 at 7:22 am

      Thanks, Monte.

    • Paul 24 Jun ’12 at 6:49 am

      Do it, Monte! You won’t be sorry. I know that I’m not. I took the plunge a couple of months ago. Love it!
      Paul recently posted..Making a good photograph

  2. ken bello 22 Jun ’12 at 11:15 pm

    Good luck with the new system. It sounds like it would be crazy fast. My own sounds so humble in comparison.
    I read a post by Scott Kelby (Photoshop Guy) recently saying he is through with DROBO for various reasons, and he had 4 of them. How is yours holding up? Apparently, he was unaware of DROBOs proprietary file format convention.
    ken bello recently posted..THE TRUTH ABOUT BLACK AND WHITE (and other fictitious stories)

    • Earl 23 Jun ’12 at 7:37 am

      I read that same Scott Kelby post about his Drobo problem. I’ve not had any major issues or problems with mine. As far as the file format…anytime you have your data spread/stripped across multiple drives either in a conventional RAID format, such as RAID 5, or a slightly unique pattern with checksum such as DROBO uses, your data is somewhat encrypted. With a conventional RAID pattern you can probably find another device that supports it and perhaps get access to you data. In either case you’re not going to be able to just pull your drives and read them in a computer like you would a regular drive. Many storage companies have their own “brand” of raid that allows them to have additional features over the standard RAID specifications. I knew this going in with DROBO and Scott should have too…it’s not a secret or such a unique practice.

      I’ve had zero problems with my DROBO and it performs well and the couple of times I’ve contacted their support with questions they’ve responded well.

  3. Tom Dills 23 Jun ’12 at 11:25 pm

    Very interesting project, Earl. It never occurred to me that building your own ‘Mac’ was even an option, although if I”d thought about it I would have realized it was. Looks like a very nice machine – I may get you to coach me through assembling one of my own!

    One thing I’ve always wondered about the Drobo, or any RAID device for that matter, is how does one handle offsite storage of the backups? Do you just rotate out a set of drives to another location, or do you actually need a separate unit? It may be a silly question, but I currently have a single drive and two backups, one of which I store at work. What would that look like with a Drobo?
    Tom Dills recently posted..Victoria, BC

    • Earl 24 Jun ’12 at 12:13 am

      Tom, as you can imagine “building your own” does have risk…you can expect zero help or support from Apple. I’m still testing out this new system but so far no issues at all…however future upgrades will tell the story.

      For offsite storage/backup, a Drobo or any other NAS Raid Device has some disadvantages by their bulk and use of multiple drives. I would imagine you could possible swap two sets of disks but you’d have to make sure you always put the correct disks back in the right bays or you’d loose the whole set. The safest way would be to have two devices each with their own disk but this is bulky and costly. I use a tiered approach. I back up everything, a large amount of data from several computers, to my Drobo nightly because it’s fast and easy (automatic). Then I use an online (cloud) service for a much smaller select subset of critical data including my more valued photos and documents.

  4. Paul 24 Jun ’12 at 6:53 am

    Earl! You are the man! You do not fear undertaking tasks, whether it is remodeling your home or your computer. I’m impressed and also sure that you did a fine job with your “Hacintosh” and that it will give you no troubles at all.
    Paul recently posted..Making a good photograph

    • Earl 24 Jun ’12 at 8:25 am

      Paul, I hope you’re right about the “Hacintosh” giving no troubles. I installed OS X on it at least 6 time before I got the right combo to get everything working. But that was my learning process and not really a fault of the software or tools available. In the end it almost seemed the less I did the better things turned out. Thanks! :-)

  5. Mark 24 Jun ’12 at 7:31 am

    Quite impressive Earl – congrats on getting all that sorted out. Seems “very dangerous” – I am glad you went first. :-)

    My 2008 Mac Pro has been running quite well, so I really haven’t considered any upgrades other than drive space and memory. That is… until I ran into D800 files. While it does a decent job with them, there is a noticeable slow down. I am not quite sure if it is processor/bus or memory. Activity Monitor tells me it may not be memory.

    I bought another 8 GB of memory to put in to see if it helps. I don’t know how much “breathing room” is necessary – but 8 GB is an easy enough thing to try. Still, to have a computer that is running this well with up to date software 4 and a half years after I got it is pretty good. I have never been as pleased with any computer as I have been with this one.

    Supposedly Tim Cook said the Mac Pro will be upgraded next year. Long overdue – I know there were fears of them dropping the line altogether. I can probably hold off until then to see what they offer, but it may be decision time then – Hack Pro or Mac Pro! At least I know who to contact. :-)
    Mark recently posted..Sister Island Rock Iguanas

    • Earl 24 Jun ’12 at 8:34 am

      Mark, thanks but I am far from being first which is what finally convinced me to give it a try. I figured the worse I could do would be to end up with one heck of a Windows 7 computer which I could sell and then continue using my old Mac Pro.

      I’ve loved my 2006 Mac Pro as well — it’s been and still is a great machine but I’ve noticed it struggling a little more these last couple of years. I believe there was a small increase in the bus/memory speed for the 2008 Mac Pro — 800 Mhz vs. 667 Mhz or something like that.

      It will be interesting to see what Apple does with the Mac Pro line next year…I wonder if it will still use the same cases or will Apple do a total redesign — this “Hac Pro” could still see Windows 7 in it’s future. ;-)

      However, this “Hackintosh experiment” has been a grander success then I ever imagined it would be.

  6. Pingback: The HacMac project revisited | Meandering PassageMeandering Passage

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