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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.

Booting up our home-made Mac

My machine, which I've named the FrankenMac, doesn't look anything like a Mac from the outside, of course.

FrankenMac

The Antec case is glossy black, with a swing-open door that hides the externally accessible drive bays, along with two USB ports, one eSATA port, and audio jacks on a shiny metallic strip on the front. And if you happen to be sitting in front of it when it starts up, the BIOS loading screen and black-and-white text-based boot loader (which lets me choose between Vista and OS X) is a dead giveaway that this is not your normal Mac.

However, if I were to hide the case and set you down in front of the monitor when the system was already running, you'd be convinced that you were using a 'real' Mac, with one minor exception - if you were to open the 'About This Mac' box, you'd see a big clue that this machine isn't your typical Mac. I don't think Apple's ever shipped an 'unknown' processor!

But close the 'About' box and just start using the machine, and you'll be using a 'real' Mac, one that performs (mostly) just like its factory-approved counterpart.

The FrankenMac runs any OS X program, including PowerPC-based apps, via the Rosetta code-translation system. The CD/DVD burner works with iTunes, iDVD, and iMovie. Even low-level stuff like Sleep mode works, although I have to wake the FrankenMac by touching the power button; the keyboard and mouse are ignored while the machine is sleeping.

(That may be due to the fact that I'm using a wireless Microsoft keyboard and mouse over USB - I haven't tested it with Apple-branded hardware.)

On the hardware front, everything also seems to work fine. The onboard ethernet, audio, USB, eSATA, and FireWire ports all work. I even found an old USB/FireWire PCI card (from a previous generic Windows machine I built), plugged it in, and connected my iSight camera to it with no problems whatsoever. I plugged in my Wacom tablet, installed the drivers, and found that it also works just fine, including handwriting recognition via the Ink System Preferences panel.

Then I took advantage of the fact that I'd built a machine in a case of my choosing: I installed a hot-swap SATA drive bay.

NEXT PAGE: How our DIY Mac performed compared to the Mac Pro

  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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