Building a mystery aka my Hackintosh project

My television watching and content acquisition saga continues. Since cancelling my Rogers Cable TV subscription, I’ve found myself consuming content using:

I haven’t had to worry about TUF, Formula 1 and I’ve taken multiple strategies for shows like TopGear (think TV Shows, BBC iPlayer, and other mechanisms). I have bought more DVDs (Shrek4Ever, Toy Story 3, Megamind, Penguins of Madagascar: Operation DVD, I was a Penguin Zombie, and others) for the kids. And I have watched 5 movies on iTunes (Cargo, Predators, The Kids are Alright, How to Train Your Dragon, Top Gear Season 15). And I watched the Superbowl in HD on CTV using an antenna. It has been a really good experience. Though Kristin describes our TV as “the most complicated TV ever, but it works”. I think the Harmony 880 remote makes the experience tolerable, without it I don’t think I could have done this.

One of my thoughts has been about reducing the number of devices (Boxee Box + AppleTV + XBox 360 + Wii). Currently the Boxee Box, the AppleTV and the XBox are all connected to the main TV. I was thinking about getting a Mac Mini and running Boxee, iTunes and Front Row and eliminating the XBox, Boxee Box and Wii (well I’d move the AppleTV upstairs to use in place of the Wii). But why would I buy a Mac Mini for Cdn$1145.82($749 Base Configuration +$165  Core 2 Duo upgrade to 2.66GHz + $100 4Gb of RAM = $1014 + tax). Sure, it’s small, it’s sexy, it would fit right near my Airport Base Station Extreme. But approximately $1100, I should be able to do this for less.

I run a HP MediaSmart EX490 for our internal home network backup device. I figured I’d either upgrade the processor & RAM, buy an inexpensive barebones PC to run Windows with Media Centre or Linux with Plex. But we are an almost all Apple house and I really wanted a machine running Mac OS X. Then Adam (@AdamMeghji) told me about his Hackintosh. And I figured I could build my own.

Lian-Li V351

My Hackintosh Build

I decided to budget the price of the Mac Mini. And see what I could accomplish. Here are details and specs.

Silverstone Fortress FT03I followed Adam’s advice and used the tonymacx86 CustomMac. The builds looked great. It allowed me to customize the case, power supply, CD/DVD drive to my specifications. My fight was mostly with the case (this had implications for the motherboard, the CPU cooler, the video card, the power supply). I was really hoping to build a Home Theatre PC (HTPC) or something that was as small and eloquent as the Mac Mini, but the desire to build a more powerful machine drove me to a bigger case. I looked at HTPC cases but I had a few concerns including heat dissipation, size to fit video card (to fit the proposed video card I needed minimum of 228.6 mm) and cost. I did not want to sink $700+ as some HTPC cases apparently cost. My three leading contenders were:

  • Silverstone Fortress FT03
  • Lian-Li V351 or Lian-Li V352 (Mini ATX vs Micro ITX)
  • Antec P183 V3

I really liked the Silverstone Fortress FT03 and the reviews almost convinced me to purchase it, but as my price was creeping upwards I decided on the slightly less expensive V351 based on the reviews of custom builders. The Antec got great reviews about being silent, but it’s huge. It wasn’t going to fit in the spot in my media cabinent (aka the shelf). The Silverstone Fortress FT03 got great reviews about flexibility, configuration and use. Again it was a space constraint coupled with the price ($70 more).

What doesn’t work, yet

Infrared
I bought a USB IR dongle knowing full well that this wouldn’t work. I have ordered a Twisted Melon Manta TR-1 USB IR solution. This includes the IR receiver and logic board. Coupled with Mira I’m hoping this will let me configure Boxee and/or Plex to work with my Harmony 880.
HDMI + HDMI Sound
I followed the instructions in tonymacx86 iBoot and Multi-Beast installation guide using the Kabyl Chameleon2.0 r748 build. I have DVI video working but I’m still trying to get HDMI and HDMI sound up and running. This is a very frustrating experience.
Bluetooth
This one is totally my fault. I did not buy a Bluetooth dongle.

Thoughts on the process

This has been a fun project. I have probably spent about 10 hours researching, purchasing, and building the Hackintosh. If I were monetizing that time, it would be a complete waste. However, this is a hobby decision. I wanted to build a Hackintosh. The worst case outcome is that I install Ubuntu or Windows and I have a solid PC to use in the office. And technically I have a smoking hot Macintosh that doesn’t support HDMI. This thing runs Photoshop and X Code unlike any other machine in my arsenal.

I plan on spending my free time after 9pm for the next 7 days trying to overcome the challenges with this box.

Anyone interested in building a Hackintosh? I was thinking about doing another big build.