Building a Frankenmac

Rob Griffiths of built a sub-$1000 Mac Pro clone. (A Mac Pro is on the left, Rob's Frankenmac is on the right).
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 building 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, there are a lot of steps involved, and 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.



  1. Sweet! As someone who has built a couple hundred computers I can totally relate to the satisfaction/relief that comes with that first good beep. And the fear and panic when you get no beep, or worse, the sound of something frying.

    And the, “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…” part, well that’s just part of the “fun”.

  2. Yeah, our own Frankenmac endeavor stalled when we got to the BIOS part. But Rob Griffiths’ tack — first installing Windows to make sure the machine actually works — is so elegantly simple, I’m jealous I didn’t think of it.

    Well, now I feel totally inspired to tackle that hunk of junk again, see whether we can get it working properly. Thanks!

  3. I’m thinking about building one of these as a replacement for my current Windows gaming rig since I am often pushing my MBP to the extreme when recording music.

  4. people! the first rule of fight club is that we don’t talk about fight club!

    all this publicity is certainly going to bring the hammer down on us soon.

  5. Except the system he built is a single-processor system. The Mac Pro is a dual-socket system. Adding a quad-core to a desktop bored IS NOT equivalent to having a dual-core, dual-socket motherboard, and once you start to hit your memory pretty heavily with all cores, you’ll see what I mean.

    Minimum cost for motherboard, case, powersupply, heat sinks, processors, and the FB-DIMMs that a Mac Pro uses are going to be $2000. Minimum.

  6. $5:

    That’s why Apple needs to come out with a system that is lesser-spec’d than the Pro, but with a slotted video card.

    I don’t need the capability to run with two quad core processors. In fact, the Mini, or the iMac are sufficient in the power department. However I do want to be able to run a high-end video card, and maybe upgrade it a few times over the life of the machine. I don’t see why I should be forced to pay $2800 for that just because Apple chose to bundle the capability I want with $2000 worth of other parts that I don’t care as much about.

  7. Technogeek – of course not. OS X is licensed to be used on genuine Apple hardware ONLY.

    That being said, Apple could do worse than to make OS X free. Maybe not open-source, just no-cost. There are some components they might have to sell seperately (Front Row, DVD Player, QT Pro) because of licensing fees or custom hardware, but the OS should be free and modular.

    The catch: No technical support, free or otherwise. That would be something you get when you buy a Mac. That way, they wouldn’t have to care about OS X running on who-knows-what.

  8. #6, I can’t agree more. It drives me nuts as a long-term Mac user that I might have to buy a half-decent PC just so I can have a second machine with a decent video card.

  9. could someone clarify – is it illegal to go to an Apple store, hand over $155 for a Leopard DVD, and then install it on non-Mac hardware, or is it simply that Apple have no support obligations toward you if you do that – and if a software update breaks your Frankenmac in the same way updates tend to brick a hacked iPhone – then that’s your luck out, buddy – but not actually something they could come after you in the courts about?

  10. This sounds like a non-starter. Proprietary OS designed to run on proprietary and tightly controlled hardware seems like its not going to have very much wiggle room. Firstly, you out of luck if you want to create an uber-Mac with monster, bleedig-edge hardware since (a) they’ll never provide you with a driver and (b) things are so locked up you’ll never be able to code your own. When you’ve got the mindset that you control the environment completely, certain things like handling slight incompatibilities simply aren’t going to get coded for or tested. No drivers, no “generic” support, no thanks.

  11. yes, DHS will come to your house and take your computer away once they’ve figured out you have installed apple software on a pc

    you may even get a 100,000 fine and up to 5 years imprisonment

  12. #11: Read the licence agreement on the Leopard software. I’ll bet dollars to donuts that it’s currently licenced only for use on Apple hardware, and installing it on anything else would be a violation of your contract and — if they wanted to make the effort — actionable under civil law.

    Opening it up might be interesting. On the other hand, if I want an open and/or free Mac-like system it’s easy enough to just install Linux.

    The Mac’s main advantage has always been that because it is a _closed_ system they can tune the OS specifically for their hardware. You give up versitility and the ability to build clones in exchange for “just plug it in and it works” being a promise rather than a goal.

  13. Re: #5

    Yeah, maybe you’ll have a hard time beating the Mac Pro price for the baseline system, but as you go up the scale it becomes very easy to best. Here’s one mid-range example:

    Dual 3.0Ghz Quad-core Xeon, 16GB FB-DIMM RAM, Two 1TB SATA-II HDD, One “SuperDrive”, 8800GT 512MB Video, 20″ LCD, keyboard, mouse, OSX 10.5.

    Mac Pro = $8,800
    Generic = $4,100 (

    And yes, the motherboard used is verified as working on

  14. Here you go:


    C. You may make one copy of the Apple Software (excluding the Boot ROM code and other Apple firmware that is embedded or otherwise contained in Apple-labeled hardware) in machine-readable form for backup purposes only; provided that the backup copy must include all copyright or other proprietary notices contained on the original. Apple Boot ROM code and firmware is provided only for use on Apple-labeled hardware and you may not copy, modify or redistribute the Apple Boot ROM code or firmware, or any portions thereof.

    Here‘s the whole Leopard EULA for anyone who cares to read it..

    PDF warning!

  15. I recently coughed up the cash for a Mac Pro (typing on it now). I really was tempted to go for a Hackintosh, because up until now I’ve been building my own Windows boxes, and like the freedom and savings associated with that, but ultimately, I didn’t want to run the risk of getting my shit ruined when Apple brings the hammer down.

    Points about the missing high-end consumer machine in the Apple lineup are all right on. However, I think the reason for this is that such sales would just cannibalize the MP sales and make it unprofitable. But they need the super-high-end workstations to keep hold of their video/music/photography/animation market. That is a key market for them.

    I have no doubt they could sell a million billion prosumer towers, but it could cost them their long-term base, the base that has kept them running even when things were looking bad for them.

    The MP is a great deal for what you get. It’s just that… Well, no one needs all this crazy power. I love the machine and all, but c’mon.

    Anyway, the point of the story is that I love the idea of a Hackintosh, but I wouldn’t make that my main machine. Apple can sell its OS cheap and uninfected with copy protection / activation BS simply because they know that it’s going to be installed on hardware that also makes them money. I switched to the Mac BECAUSE it was proprietary. I was tired of things not quite working, and I was tired of my OS treating me like I stole it when I actually bought it (and treating me like the king of town when I ripped it off!). I switched BECAUSE OF the smaller hardware pool. I switched because Apple does nice work and doesn’t try to be everything to everybody which is how garbage like Vista gets made.

    Good luck to the Hackintoshers. I hope your machine keeps working and that you don’t compel Apple to screw the OS up.

  16. RE: Photos

    An angel on the left… a nightmare on the right…

    There’s no mistakin’… who I’ll be with tonight….

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