Macintosh vs. Hackintosh: A case study

So I’ve had an interesting history with Macintosh computers. I never laid hands on one until 2001, when I was a LAN Manager at a local ISP, and I decided to give the iMac they had there some TLC. I loved delving into operating systems that were new to me, having just tried Mandrake Linux and BeOS in the previous year. Nobody liked using the iMac, but it was sort of a necessary evil for a tech support department for those rare Mac calls that are difficult to diagnose in a Windows world without having a Mac in front of you.

It was a G3-400 DV model iMac, in what I believe was the Bondi Blue color variety, and it was running MacOS 9.2.2. While I found the OS very neat, it was hard to ignore glaring issues such as it locking up at random, prompting a hard power-cycle reboot, and the hockey puck mouse was absolutely hideous to use. But I pressed on and learned all that I could via web searches and trial and error. It was around then that I learned about Mac OS X, and talked the owner into allowing me to purchase it to upgrade the iMac, to be more prepared for any potential tech support calls from customers using the new OS of course!.

So it was with Mac OS X 10.1 that I fell in love with Macintosh. Modern Mac hardware was well outside of my budget, so I opted to find a PowerMac 9600 tower used on eBay, and also bought a G4 upgrade card for the machine along with some other odds and ends hardware that I would need to make my FrankenMac machine for running OS X cheaply. The 9600 was never supposed to run OS X at all, topping out with OS 9.1, but with the CPU upgrade card along with the XpostFacto software I was able to get it installed. Despite it having a slower bus speed than optimal, being bottlenecked at 50mhz at a time when modern Macs had a bus speed of at least 66mhz and 100mhz, it ran great for most tasks. I ran that setup as my main system for a few years, up until at least OS X 10.4. In the years after that I obtained an iMac G3-350mhz that I was able to upgrade to a G3-400DV system thanks to someone giving me a motherboard that they incorrectly thought they bricked, and I also bought a used eMac G4-1.2ghz, but I never again used a Mac as my main system. When the Intel Macs came along and after Apple stopped making new versions of OS X compatible with the G3/G4 PowerPC-era Macs, the advancements in web technology made the old machines more and more painful to use for basic web browsing, and they were never very useful for gaming.

For many years after 2009, I didn’t mess with Macs much at all. It wasn’t until around 2015 that my interest was piqued again when a co-worker gave me an early Intel-era iMac from 2006, running Mac OS X Snow Leopard 10.6.8. It was my first time using an Intel Mac, and I was amazed at how much snappier it was compared to the PowerPC-era Macs that I had always used, and this was even an almost 10-year old machine at that point. I messed around with that thing for a bit, setting it up with an external monitor since the built-in LCD screen was messed up and getting progressively worse due to a factory defect.

A year or two after that, I started looking back into Hackintoshing. It’s something I had looked at years earlier, but at that point the whole process seemed a little complicated and limited, requiring specific hardware when it came to laptops. I had recently obtained some 2nd generation i5 ThinkPad laptops to play with, and I found a guide to install macOS on them. Through several Hackintosh laptops, I’ve been a macOS user ever since. I even used one as my main machine at work, being able to adapt to most tasks, while keeping a Windows laptops booted up beside me to RDP into for Active Directory work..

My workplace finally bought me a real Mac, a 2019 MacBook Pro, in October of last year. Before this, I never really got to use a MacBook Pro regularly outside of helping out the Mac users as part of my job. I finally got to experience first-hand the advantages of using a real Mac vs. a Hackintosh. The big thing is the trackpad. I thought I hated the modern Mac “Magic Trackpad” when I would briefly use them while providing Mac support in-person, but I quickly grew to love it after using it a while. So much, in fact, that I have abandoned my mouse at work and use the trackpad and keyboard on the MacBook Pro exclusively, while using the Mac screen as my main screen along with my 2 23″ external monitors. Speaking of the keyboard, while I prefer my Rosewill mechanical keyboard with Cherry Blue MX switches, it’s not a terrible keyboard to use. It has nice solid feedback that kinda-sorta feels like a mechanical, though the limited travel does make it a little rough to get used to. Finally, the screen is also very nice, and also factored into my choice of using the laptop as the center of my workstation setup at work. I may opt to get the external Magic Trackpad 2 to be able to use my mechanical keyboard again, while trying to continue to use the laptop screen as my main display. Finally, the MacBook Pro is very, very light. Lighter than even my later ThinkPads such as the T570 and even the smaller T460.

However, with all of the good comes the bad. In a nutshell, a properly-configured Hackintosh will be much more stable than a genuine Mac. These things run HOT, especially when you are running external monitors, which kicks on the Radeon video. Though it’s not always related, I find myself holding the power button down to do a hard power-off at least once or twice a week, while that rarely happened with my Hackintosh laptops after I had them set up correctly. Worst of all, I found out that these newer Macs are not even upgradeable! The 256GB SSD and 16GB of RAM are soldered on to the motherboard, with no slots at all.

But regardless, I’m still happy as hell to finally have a real Mac. I still have my various Hackintosh laptops, and I’m sure I’ll continue to find uses for them.

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