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Analysis: how to build an OS X-free, expandable Mac

Tested: OS X-free Mac clone vs Apple Mac Pro

Ever thought about building a Mac to your exact requirements? Don't pick up your screwdriver until you've read about our attempt to build a Mac - and the pitfalls we encountered.

Building the FrankenMac

To realise my dream Mac system, I set myself a budget of £500, not including keyboard, monitor, or mouse, and started shopping for computer parts. While this amount is much more than what Psystar claims it will charge, I wanted to build a more powerful machine than what that company is offering, and then see how well it worked compared with machines from Apple.

When you build your own PC, you must decide exactly what goes into it - an absolute freedom that comes with absolute responsibility.

You must choose the motherboard, processor, CPU cooling solution, video card, hard drives, CD/DVD burner, memory, case, and possibly even the power supply.

To make things even more challenging, if you're building a Mac-compatible PC, you've got to stick with certain hardware that's known to work with Mac OS X. I spent a lot of time searching the web to find out what worked and what didn't.

When I set out to configure my machine, I wanted to make it reasonably fast with the best video card I could fit into my budget, and with lots of room for expansion. (I plan on using this machine as a platform to test various Mac-to-Windows tips, and of course it will be a dedicated machine for certain Windows-only applications that I absolutely must be able to run. For those reasons, I need it to run Windows Vista as well as possible, as that will ultimately be the machine's primary role.

When the dust settled, I wound up with the list of components, the total cost of which, was just over £490, leaving about a tenner for dinner out before I hit my budget limit. And as the list shows, this was clearly a 'lots of assembly required' project.

After all of the parts arrived at my home, it took a few hours to build the machine. If you've never built your own computer before, it's an interesting experience, there's something quite satisfying about putting it all together, powering it up, and hearing that first beep that lets you know you haven't just turned your collection of parts into a collection of junk.

Of course, if you don't hear the beep, there's an entirely different reaction, one that borders on panic. Thankfully, I heard the beep. But assembling the hardware is actually the easy part of the process.

Next, I installed Vista on the PC, just to be sure everything worked. From there, it then took many more hours to get OS X working right, while the process is relatively straightforward, many steps are involved, with many BIOS settings to tweak. If you want to run Windows and OS X on the same drive, there are more hoops to jump through to get it all working.

But after many hours of reading, assembling, disassembling, screaming, installing, uninstalling, reinstalling, saying bad words, pestering friends, and generally not having very much fun, I was done: my machine was up and running, and capable of booting into either Windows Vista or Mac OS X 10.5.2.

NEXT PAGE: Booting up our home-made Mac

  1. OS X-free Mac clone vs Apple Mac Pro
  2. Building my own Mac
  3. Booting up our home-made Mac
  4. How our DIY Mac performed compared to the Mac Pro
  5. The pitfalls of DIY Macs
  6. Mac clone vs Apple Mac: our expert verdict

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