I’ve been using Mac OS X since version 10.0, but I’ve never been able to come up with the cash to lay down for a decent, powerful Mac. It’s always been old hand me downs, nothing more powerful than a G3. I’ve loved OS X since the first time played with it, but Macs are expensive, and hardware choices are limited. Some of their designs are cool, but none of them follow a standard form factor. You can’t just keep your case and drives and upgrade just your core components, like you can with a PC. You’ve got to buy a whole damn computer every time you want to upgrade. I love their operating system, but for the money Apple’s hardware just doesn’t do it for me. Naturally I was super psyched when Apple announced they would be switching over to Intel hardware. I knew the day would come when I would by running OS X on my own custom PC, and it did. A little over a year ago I installed Mac OS X 10.5.3 on my PC using a OSx86 distribution called Leo4Allv3.
This is what I’m running for hardware:
While the installation process was relatively painless, there were a number of things that didn’t work correctly out of the box. My HD audio ports didn’t work at first, I had sleep/shutdown/restart issues, and time was always out of sync between OS X and Windows. I never did get the time sync fixed. I was able to fix the rest of my problems however and everything actually worked pretty damn beautifully. I didn’t care about the time sync issue because I was only booting into Windows to play games, and using OS X for everything else. Everything worked great up until about 2 weeks ago, when I foolishly decided to install the 10.5.6 combo update. I really should have taken an image of the drive before doing that, but previous updates had gone fine so, not really thinking about it much I just stampeded ahead. Of course it totally hosed everything.
Ah well. I never did get around to writing about my last OSx86 install, so here’s my chance. Since I had to reinstall anyway I decided to find a more up to date distribution. After a bit of poking around on the net, I decided to try iPC since it’s based on 10.5.6. There are two different flavors of iPC floating around. The standard iPC image is made for a single layer DVD. In order to make it fit they had to trim the fat a bit and remove some unessential things like additional speech voices and printer drivers. The other option (iPC X-DL) is made to fit on a double layer DVD. Not only did they include the full OS X distro, but there’s also a live version of OS X that you can boot right from the DVD. Of course this thing is freaking huge. Unless you really want to run OS X off a DVD I would recommend getting the single layer version and saving yourself the bandwidth.
Before you attempt installing iPC, know this: iPC takes a really LONG time to install, it reboots automatically at the end of the install, and if you don’t boot using the “-f” option on your first boot, you could end up with a hosed install and have to start all over again. Because of this I recommend adjusting your CMOS settings so that your computer will not automatically boot from the drive you are installing OS X on. That way you can walk away from it and let it churn for an hour or so and not have to worry about it. Put a sticky on your monitor so you don’t forget to boot with the “-f” option the first time you boot OS X after install. This is to make sure all of the additional kexts (kernel extensions) get installed properly.
Unlike my Leo4Allv3 experience I ran into all kinds of problems installing iPC. It kept crashing on me during installation in various ways, seemingly no matter what options I selected during install. Well, part of my problem was that I was selecting too many options. Many of the things I had to install special drivers for with Leo4Allv3 are supported in the vanilla install of iPC, and installing those additional drivers just ends up breaking stuff. Also, I had been selecting a kernel during install. No matter which kernel I selected, the install would fail with an error message saying it couldn’t install the kernel. If you don’t select anything for a kernel, it will install the default (9.6.0 if I recall correctly) kernel, which actually works. Word to the wise, start by installing using only the default options. If that works, test out the OS and see what additional drivers you might need, and then install them one by one.
These are the additional packages I had to install to get all my hardware supported:
Without the Shutdown/Restart fix the OS would shut down, but the computer would just sit there fully powered doing nothing. If you don’t get any sound after installation, check the Output setting in your Sound preferences. It seems to default to “headphones” for output. I just had to go in there and select “internal speakers” instead. There are a couple of other optional fixes I recommend installing. The Dual Boot Time Sync fix addresses the issue I mentioned earlier where the time in OS X and Windows will be out of sync. The SATA Drive Icon Fix (Old) will make your internal hard drives behave like internal drives instead of removable devices. I also tried the SATA Drive Icon Fix (New), but it didn’t seem to have any affect. Also if you’re dual booting with Windows you’re going to want to install NTFS-3G so you can write to your Windows file systems. The package can be selected during install but I had some really weird issues with Finder when I did that. I don’t know if it was caused by NTFS-3G or not, but I recommend skipping it during install and then just downloading and installing it later. You can get NTFS-3G here.
After all that I have a working installation of Mac OS X 10.5.6 on my PC. Everything works great, except for sleep. The machine will go to sleep fine but after waking things start getting crazy… The mouse behavior becomes very erratic. It’ll be super sensitive and fly all around the screen for a bit and then just stop responding altogether for a little while, then go back to being super sensitive. It’s pretty irritating, and pretty damn near impossible to do anything with this happening. Disabling sleep is a temporary workaround. I haven’t been able to find a real fix yet.
At this point I’m debating whether or not this is really worth all the hassle. It’s a major pain in the ass to get everything set up just right, and you never know what update is going to break everything. As much as I love OS X, Windows 7 “just works” on my hardware. The Windows task bar functions like a dock now, and there’s even a program called Switcher that can do what Expose does (albeit not quite as smooth). All of the software I need runs on Windows, including Safari (for testing websites). Internet Explorer of course isn’t available on OS X, so when using OS X I would need to run Windows in a virtual machine just so I could test out websites in it. Some of the other tools I’ve really gotten used to using aren’t available on OS X (TortoiseSVN, WinSCP). There are alternatives that get the job done (svnX, Fugu), but they are clunky, and not as polished as the tools I’m used to. Plus if I’m using Windows I don’t need to reboot if I want to take a break and play a game. I will miss OS X’s Spaces though. There are virtual desktop programs available for Windows, but I haven’t seen any that will allow you to quickly see all of your virtual desktops and the windows they contain at once, full screen, like Spaces does. That’s a pretty minor luxury in the grand scheme of things though. We’ll see… If I can get the sleep issue figured out I’ll be more apt to use OS X. I haven’t closed the book on OSx86 yet, but right now the scales are tipping in favor of Windows 7. I’m still going buy a nice MacBook Pro when win Powerball though.