umm… so what’s a hackintosh?

By , 2009 August 7 4:18 pm

Since my last post (The TC Saga), I’ve gotten a number of inquiries essentially wondering ‘what the heck is a hackintosh?’ [why email? an inline comment may make more sense - ed.]

Simply put, a hackintosh is a computer, running Apple’s OS X, but made out of non-Apple, off the shelf, commodity PC parts.

This was made possible when Apple decided to dump the PowerPC architecture for Intel processors,arranged in configurations much as any other garden variety PC running Windows, Linux, OpenSolaris, or other OS.

Well, it was really made possible when a community of hackers realized the implications of Apple’s decision. This community is known as the OS X 86 community. These are the people that built the code necessary to accomplish this interesting task.

Since this architectural change, the primary technical difference between an Apple and a generic ‘white box’ system is that the low level system firmware in the Apple case is something called ‘EFI’ (Extensible Firmware Interface), while a generic white box machine employs ‘BIOS’ (Basic Input/Output System). A hackintosh uses the system BIOS to load from disk and execute a chunk of code that implements EFI. Once EFI is loaded, then OS X can load. This can be accomplished either by a hacked version of the OS X kernel, or by a modified system bootloader.

Note that EFI is not Apple technology. It was actually developed by Intel, as a ‘next-generation’ technology to accompany Itanium based systems.

So what does this all mean in practical terms? For a hardware investment of a couple hundred dollars, plus some parts from my computing junk bonepile, plus a software investment of a retail copy of OS X and iLife, I have the functional equivalent of a fairly snappy new Mac.

Yes, it runs GarageBand. Yes, it runs the Mac port of Reaper. Yes, it talks to my Tascam US-122 audio interface. Yes, it runs SecondLife. In fact, I am now composing this blog within Safari on my hackintosh.

As always, if this floats your interest, feel free to comment.

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