A Desktop Hackintosh Wishlist

You Weren’t Kidding!

I had just posted “Coming Soon: Wishlist for Desktop Hackintosh Build” and wanted to follow up quickly.  The whole notion of what I would want in desktop Mac has been percolating in my noodle for a few weeks now.  I don’t have the money to do it right now, but I gotta write it down and have something to point to as a baseline.

Desktop Hackintosh Goals

The goals of this project are to build the foundation of quite a screaming machine at a reasonable price.  What do I mean?  I mean a system that includes an Intel Core i7, 32gb of RAM, and a surprise Nvidia graphics card for just under $1500!  It’s something that would dual boot Mac and Windows 7, and be a Mac Pro class machine for substantially less. There are other goals.  I wanted to think about balancing stability, price, and performance.  When it comes to stability, I decided not to overclock, and to use a case that lends itself to great ventilation.  When it comes to price, I did not bother with a huge hard drive or an SSD, or a higher end processor that charges extra for more overclocking capabilty.  I use that savings for a lot more memory in two key places (as you shall see!).  When it comes to performance, you will see my reasoning for going with 32gb of memory 😉 There are some obvious things that I am not mentioning in this post:

  • Monitor
  • Mouse
  • Keyboard
  • Bluetooth
  • WiFi
  • An SSD drive
  • A DVD drive

For Monitor, Mouse, and Keyboard, these are all highly subjective things 🙂  My fave monitor used to be a Asus PA246Q 24″,  which could Pivot.  There is a newer version of that monitor now.  As far as Bluetooth and Wifi, one could get a card, or look at the alternate motherboard that I suggest.  I dont feel compelled to have it from day 1.

For an SSD drive, I made up for it, in part, by thinking about 32gb of RAM, and the idea of RAM disks.  An SSD surely makes sense down the road.

As for a DVD drive – eh, it’s “nice to have”.  I can do installs of Windows 7 and Mac via a USB key. Oh, and for Windows 7 and Mac OS, get the retail versions of each!  I don’t touch on that in this post (I can’t afford this at the moment, it’s just a stake in the ground). So let’s look at this!

Desktop Hackintosh Components

Case - The Corsair Carbide Series Black 400R Case is featured in an InsanelyMac Video. I think it's a well thought out case that can handle as many fans as you would ever want, has space for large graphic cards, is easy to work with, and has great cable management. It also lends itself well to expansion (drive bays).

One more thought about cable management: This is important for good airflow. That, in conjunction with not overclocking the processor and graphics card, means that I don't have to worry about getting extra fans. Cooler and Quieter!

Power Supply - The Corsair Professional Series  AX 750 Watt ATX/EPS Modular 80 PLUS Gold (AX750) is a very solid performer. I would pick this with an eye towards being able to support additional drives, fans, and cars. I have not researched as to if it would be beefy enough to drive 2 big graphics cards (such as a GTX 680, but, a quick check makes me think it would be just fine).

Motherboard - The Gigabyte Motherboard GA-Z77X-UD5H is a great mid-range choice. Gigabyte makes boards that are well supported in the Hackintosh community, and it helps that Gigabyte Insiders are aware of it.

With so many Gigabyte Motherboards to choose from, one may ask me "why this one?". There are some higher end ones that support bluetooth and wifi, or even Thunderbolt. It's easy to add another $50 by doing things that way. This is the one I point to as to being easy to work with, lends itself to future expansion, known to be compatible, and at a great price point for the overall project.

Processor - The Intel Core i7-3770 Quad-Core Processor 3.4 GHz is a crucial choice for this project. It's an i7, which is the top of the consumer line, but, it is not the more expensive Intel Core i7-3770K. A key difference between the two of them is that the 3770k is unlocked for overclocking ...

... but I dont want to overclock this machine! It's going to be a screamer as is. It is better to take the $30 saved and apply that towards twice as much basic RAM, or twice as much texture memory in the graphics card.

Another benefit from going this route is that by not overclocking, I don't have to worry as much about cooling. I feel comfortable with the idea of using the cooler that comes with the processor, as opposed to spending another $30 - $50 for a more massive one. Having said that, I would pay attention to processor temperature at full load, and ponder swapping in a more beefy cooler if need be. The combination of good cable management, the good case, and not overclocking should all work towards keeping the temperature manageable.

I hope I don't have to come back to this point and eat my hat 😉

Memory - I would get 2 of these for a total of 32gb of memory. Why 32gb? It's a fact that memory is cheap these days (true story: in 1980 I paid $250 or so add 32k to an Atari 400 ...) I'd run a large ramdisk, more than 1 Virtual Machine (Mac, Linux, or Windows) for development and testing (think about simulating separate servers for a web server and database). There are other tasks that can consume all the memory you want to throw at them (video editing comes to mind).

32gb gives a lot of space, and ram disks are a lot faster than SSD. The higher end iteration of this would be to simply have both. The downside of RAM disks is that if you crash hard, bye bye data! 🙂 (it's not as bad as all that .. there are good strategies to checkpoint a RAM disk to something more permanent, to some local storage or over a network) Always be aware of your tradeoffs, and how to minimize their effects.

Learn more about RAM disks for Mac, or Windows

Graphics Card - So we have been saving money by not going crazy with the motherboard and processor. Where are we going to go a little wild?

Yes indeedy! Not just any NVidia, but a EVGA GeForce GTX 680 4096 MB Graphics Card!

That's right... Not overclocking, to keep the price down [1], but with 2x the texture memory that one would expect. I call this planning 🙂 This will come into play when doing things such as heavy Photoshop and/or Video Editing. The other thing to note here is that it is not the faster big brother, the GTX 690. That's much pricier. This, to me, seems like a sweet spot if you are going to have just one graphics card (otherwise I might think of 2 GTX 6xx cards running in SLI mode).

[1] versus some more expensive GTX 680 models... believe me, there are too many of them to wade through

Hard Drive - The hard drive for this machine is pretty anti-climatic. It's the new version of the Seagate Barracuda 7200 1 TB. This is meant to be great starting point towards getting a dual boot Mac and Windows 7 machine going. One could go wild with multiple drives and larger capacities. That doesn't enter into this project. Also note that because I specified 32gb of RAM, it will be easy to make large RAM disks in either Mac or Windows 7. This will be a lot faster than thrashing to scratch disk space (compared to an actual hard disk) in programs such as PhotoShop, Premiere, or Final Cut.

So What Now?

Heh, I shelve it for the moment, and pay some attention to which components I might change.  There isn’t anything here I could forsee changing for 6 months.  It’s pretty up to date.

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