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Sub-$220 Micro-Mac


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#1
Zaap

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Since there's been a lot of calls for cheap sub-$300 Hackintoshes lately, here's a build I recently did for $220 ($258.41 US with tax and shipping here in California).

Posted Image

Links to parts:
DVD Drive (or sub your own- stick with SATA, no IDE)
Hard Drive (ditto above)
RAM (highly recommend you stick with this, this is about the fastest DDR2 667 available.)
CASE and MOBO combo (Before it's gone, get this for $20 off the cost of each by itself.)

EDIT: as of 7/09 the combo is no longer available.

MOBO
CASE or pick out one yourself.


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Some things to keep in mind:
This is NOT for a Mac for performance. It's based on a dual core 1.6Ghz Atom processor. Basic tasks like web-surfing and word processing are great. Photoshop CS3 runs great on this machine, but I wouldn't do much with it but the very basics. For the heck of it, I even loaded Final Cut Pro 6 on this machine- it runs okay, but again, I wouldn't want to do any actual work with it. Media files (movies, DVDs, mp3, etc) play great. The onboard GMA950 graphics won't win any awards for speed. It's a bit older, and don't even think about playing any graphic-intense games. The limit of 2GB DDR2 667 means it's never going to shatter any performance records.

That said, this is an amazing amount of Macintosh goodness for less than $300. This thing is also TINY compared to most desktop computers. The case measures 7.87" x 6.54" x 10.28", and fully assembled this weighs in at less than 9 lbs.

Optional but highly recomended addition: Replace the onboard processor heat sink and fan with a ZALMAN ZM-NB47J Aluminum Heatsink. The stock fan is a tiny bit noisy, but this replacement makes the board silent. It also cools a few degrees better than the stock HSF.

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Above is the Atom 330 chip (highlighted circle) with the stock HSF removed. (For a size comp of just how tiny this mobo is, I included a CD in the image.)

Use a lint free cloth and remove all traces of the stock thermal paste. If you really want to be professional about it, use a thermal cleaning kit.

Apply a tiny drop of thermal paste included with the Zalman heatsink, or for best results use a tiny bead of Arctic Silver 5.

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To install the Zalman passive heatsink, ignore the mount hardware that it comes with. Take the same clip from the stock heatsink, and push it down through the center gap in the Zalman heatsink. Attach the hooks through the holders on the board. I had to apply a LOT of force to get these in place, so use caution. If silent performance is important to you, then this is all five to ten minutes worth of time well spent.


Here's the basic guide using a retail OSX disk and Boot-132 in a nutshell:

FILES and PREP:

1. Have the retail OSX Leopard DVD. (10.5.4, 10.5.6) Download the D45GCLF2 v2.5 driver pack here.

2. Burn D945GCLF2_boot_132.iso to a CD.

3. Build the above machine. Set BIOS to default settings. Turn Hyper-threading OFF (it doesn't work with 10.5.7). Save and exit BIOS.


INSTALL:

1. Boot with the Boot-132 disk.

2. At the first prompt, switch with the retail Leopard DVD. You'll be promted to type a 2-digit code to select the DVD drive as the boot. For me it was 90. I had to re-type this 3 or 4 times before it would take and then boot from the retail DVD, so keep this in mind.

3. Once booted, use disk utility to partition/format hard drive. Use GUID.

4. Quit disk utility and continue with the install. At the custom prompt, I recommend unchecking any unneeded printer drivers, and uncheck Lang. Translations. These can take up to 6GB of disk space and increase the install time tremendously.

5. Install should take about 20-30 minutes- reboot after it's done. You will probably have to force the reboot since at this stage there are no drivers.

6. Reboot- USE the Boot-132 disk, at this point it won't boot without it. Rather than select the DVD to boot this time, select the hard drive (usually 80 or 81) and your boot partition. Boot into OSX. At the prompt, and set up your keyboard and create a user- SET A password or you may not be able to run some later terminal commands as root.

UPDATES and DRIVERS:
1. Hook up the ethernet- it works OOB. Go to Software Update and update to 10.5.7. (Or you can use a pre-downloaded combo update to save time)

2. Reboot when prompted, again with Boot-132. At the prompt again select the hard drive, but this time at the promt type -v (this will boot in verbose mode.)

3. You'll see a screen full of text. Eventually you'll see a message that says MACH REBOOT. You can force-reboot the comp.

4. Reboot again with Boot-132- hard drive- boot normally into OSX. Now you should be running 10.5.7. Go to Software Update again and run all other updates. Reboot if prompted.

5. Open Tools from the 945GCLF2 driver pack. Run OSX86Tools. Click Intall Kexts, and follow the promts to add the Audio, System, and Video Drivers in the Kext folder.

6. After installing kexts, check 'repair permissions' and 'clear extensions cache' then run selected tasks.

7. The driver pack includes the Chameleon 1.0.12 bootloader, but I highly recommend downloading and installing Chameleon 2.0 RC1 (google it). I used it with this build and it works perfectly. It's up to you, but install the bootloader.

8. Before you reboot, open the terminal and do the following just to make sure the drive is bootable after the bootloader installation:

sudo fdisk -e /dev/rdisk0
[you'll be prompted to enter your password]
p [view partition list]
f 1 [activate first partition]
w [writes changes to disk]
y [when prompted to reboot]
q [quit fdisk]


9. Now you can eject the Boot-132 disk, the system should finally boot without it. Reboot, and you should now have a fully working 10.5.7 install. Check your system profiler that your graphics has Quartz Extreme and Core Image enabled, and that you can use the native resolution of your monitor. Check that your audio works. Put the computer to sleep. Now jiggle your mouse- it should wake up. Sleep, Shutdown and Restart should all work normally.

10. Download 'AboutThisMac' and run it. Check that About This Mac has the correct processor listed.

11. Enjoy using your sub $300 Hackintosh!


There are plenty of other guides that work for this setup, but the above is exactly what worked for me, culled together from a few different setup guides floating around this and other sites.

#2
noNix

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bump

This needs a sticky. Zaap is providing a real service here for this question that gets asked at least once a week.

#3
popophobia

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How well does this board handle flash? I have the mini 9 and it struggles with comedy central flash and sometimes Safari. I would like to build a similar box for Plex if it can actually handle the streaming contents.

#4
noNix

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My understanding is that these Intel Atom boards do not handle flash very well. They make lousy HTPC's as there is basically no graphics processor to handle either the flash decode, or H.264 decode. If you need a machine that will handle flash then an Atom / ION (Nvidia 9400M) board will be much better. Unfortunately nobody has got one of those boards working 100 percent, and the cost is considerably higher than this system that Zaap has put together.

#5
Zaap

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Yeah, pretty much what noNix said.

A good measure is to take the performance of your Dell Mini 9, and imagine that now it has a dual core Atom processor and a bit faster/better RAM, and a wired Gigabit Ethernet vs. 10/100 or wireless. Skipping of Flash files is less, but it's still not the greatest HTPC experience ever. (I just tested this on Comedy Central and Hulu- it barely keeps up with full-screen video from these sources. It's watchable, but by no means perfect.) I find that DVDs and media files play very nicely. I wouldn't recommend this as a HTPC. I would recommend this as the cheapest possible desktop Mac for the basics.

Currently in the thread "$500 Complete Mac Clone Possible?" there are a number of suggested build lists for as little as $375 (shipped, after rebates) that would make for a great mATX-based HTPC Mac with about the best low-price/high-performance ratio possible.


#6
popophobia

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I don't want to steal the thread but Newegg now has the wolfdale 5200, ECS board G31, 4gb ram, Radeon graphic cards for 157 after 30 bucks rebate. I'm not sure how the ECS handles OSX but G31 should be ok, right?

#7
Zaap

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If anyone has their own under $sub-300 range (complete) ideas, please post them.

I assume you mean this combo?

Not bad for a basic barebones (you still need case/PSU, optical and hard drive) but OSx86 compatibility might be a little iffy.

There's an ongoing thread right here about the ECS G31T-M. I haven't paid that close attention recently, but I think it requires a bit of hoop-jumping with a BIOS hack to get working fully. I've personally never found it a very compelling board to bother messing with since the Gigabyte alternatives are fully retail-compatible with no tinkering required. In my experience, all G31 boards are actually not created equal; the Gigabyte G31 is rock-solid; some others I've tinkered with (including ECS) don't impress me at all.

Also, I'm no ATI expert, but I'd make absolutely sure that video card is compatible, with full QE/CI.

I think you can do nearly as well spec'ing out a Gigabyte ES2L-based setup with an E5200, 4GB of RAM, and an entry level video card that's hack-compatible for certain, for somewhere around the $190 range (without rebates.) Add the same hard drive, optical, case/PSU, and it won't actually come out to much more, but it WILL be fully OSx86 compatible.





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