Alright, so this is a project that has been many years in the making and only now do I finally feel satisfied with sharing the results. The mandate of this project was to cost effectively build a powerful music production computer capable of the following:
Price: $1,500 USD
(equivalent Mac Pro $3,400 with limited IO and upgradability)
- Run Macintosh OS X, Logic etc.
- Silent operation, no (few) moving parts
- Easy to update
- Backwards compatible and future-proof input/output
Seems simple, right? Well, not too bad but it wasn’t my first trip to the Hackintosh rodeo, so to speak. In this guide, I’m going to show you how you can build your own Music Production Hackintosh. My aim is to steer you through the thought process behind certain build decisions I made so that in the event that you have to compromise on a step, at least you’ll understand the implications of such compromise.
As with so many things nowadays, there’s usually an app for that, and it’s no different when it comes to building a PC. I used the website PC Part Picker and have saved a grocery list of all the parts that will allow you to compare prices for fork a version for your own build. Here’s my rationality behind the part choices that I made and any compatibility issues you’ll need to be aware of, if necessary.
CPU: Intel Core i7 4790K 4.0 GHz quad-core processor
Reasoning: When building a Hackintosh it’s important to select a CPU that is of either identical or similar architecture to what Apple are using in their Mac Pro models. This CPU packs a lot of power,
Caveats: CPUs use a lot of power, so, if you go with something beefier, make sure that your power supply unit can adequately supply you CPU with what it needs. I haven’t had any issues with throttling or sleep/hibernation with this unit but those issues can arise with CPUs so be sure to check compatibility on TonyMacX86 or Insanely Mac forums before purchasing. Don’t use AMD processors in Hackintoshes, just don’t.
CPU heatsink: Be Quiet! Dark Rock Pro 3
Reasoning: I hummed and ha’d over cooling options for quite a while before pulling the trigger on this build. Water cooling is, umm, cool, don’t listen to the haters, it is, plain and simple. But we’re trying to building something that’s ideal for a music studio so the pumps will have no place here. The Dark Rock Pro 3 from Be Quiet! was the biggest heatsink I could find that would fit with the LGA1150 socket on the motherboard. I figured that as long as I didn’t over-clock the CPU, the immense amount of surface area would be enough to dissipate the heat, even when being passively cooled with airflow through the case. You understood this correctly, I have removed the two fans that came with the Dark Rock Pro 3.
Caveats: It’s the size of a watermelon, even once you pull the fans off, and there’s only a little bit of clearance between the bottom of the heatsink and the RAM, which is why is crucial (see what I did there 😉 ) to get the low-profile Ballistix ram.
Motherboard: Gigabyte GA-Z97X-UD7 TH
Reasoning: It’s got Thunderbolt, which I suspected might become a standard for data transfer and audio interfaces (see Focusrite Clarett). More importantly, it came highly recommended by TonyMacX86 for out-of-the-box compatibility with OS X Yosemite.
Caveats: I don’t own anything that’s Thunderbolt, yet, so I haven’t had a chance to make sure that the IO is working but reports from other users on the forums are positive.
RAM: Crucial Ballistix Tactical 16GB
Reasoning: It is indeed “low-profile”, which, as I mentioned before, is important when it comes to working in harmony with the heatsink.
Caveats: Other than being conscious about the height, no other concerns.
Storage: Samsung 840 EVO 500GB, Samsung 840 EVO 1TB
Reasoning: These were the best deal going when I made my music production computer. We want to make sure there are no moving parts in this computer and Solid State Drives are the best way to make that happen. Boot times are glorious and a read/write rates that will make your palms sweat. Not having to listen to mechanical drives spin up and scratch: Priceless.
Caveats: Once installed, you’ll want to make sure that you have TRIM enabled so that data in the flash memory stays neatly organized. Do this by clicking the Apple icon (top left) > More Info > System Report > Storage > TRIM enabled (boolean). BACK YOUR SHIT UP! Flaming in all-caps because this is so, so important. Data corrupted on an SSD is not easily recoverable, if at all, so be sure to back up your projects to a mechanical drive (or two) with either Time Machine or Carbon Copy Cloner.
GPU: ASUS GeForce GTX 750 Ti 2GB STRIX
Reasoning: Realizing the dream of a powerful, silent computer only became a possibility very recently with the advent of GeForce “STRIX” line of graphics processing units (GPU). They have a simple, but brilliant functionality that plays into our hand: their fans don’t spin unless making 3D calculations. This means that unless you’re playing games, these cards don’t make a sound.
Caveats: You don’t actually “need” this part unless you want to play games or do other taxing media production tasks because the Gigabyte motherboard comes with built-in graphics, which I have not tested but the forums tell me it works fine. I play Counter-strike: Global Offensive and GTA5, so this was money easily spent.
Case: Fractal Design Define R5 ATX Mid Tower Case
Reasoning: It’s pretty, sleek, 3-way manual fan speed control, sound dampening insulation, 2 x USB 3.0 front panel, comes with plenty a cable management options. I just love this case.
Caveats: It ain’t exactly light.
Power Supply: SeaSonic 520W 80+ Platinum Certified Fully-Modular Fanless ATX Power Supply
Reasoning: FANLESS! That’s really all that matters here. No appreciable operating buzz.
Caveats: The power consumption ceiling (520W) is low if you’re going to build a 6-core system or get a more powerful GPU, so make sure your add up your wattages before purchasing. Conveniently, if you plug in your parts to PC Part Picker, it should try and figure this out for you and flag a warning if your PSU is underpowered.
Optical Drive: LG WH14NS40 Blu-Ray/DVD/CD Writer
Reasoning: No real reasoning behind this other than seeing that it was compatible and could write Blu-ray, which may be a nice thing to have down the road. If you’re curious, it responds to the Mac eject disc functionality.
WiFi: TP-Link TL-WDN4800 802.11a/b/g/n PCI-Express x1 Wi-Fi Adapter
Reasoning: Finding a WiFi card that plays nice with Apple’s Airport standard can be troublesome so if WiFi is important to you, best to stick with what’s be tested and verified by other users in the forums. I can vouch for this one.
Caveats: I installed this card after I’d been running this system for months and since noticed that it causes a hang at boot up time. Perhaps a re-install of the OS with remedy this, but just putting it out there. Very few other people seem to be having this problem on the forums so it could just be a configuration issue i.e. human error!
Additional IO / Firewire: StarTech 3 Port 1394 PCI Express FireWire Card
Reasoning: A lot of audio interfaces require either Firewire 400 or 800. I use a Focusrite Saffire Pro 26io and a Presonus Studiolive 16.4.2 mixer and both need Firewire 400. Still a good thing to have it seems, so I made sure to pick up this PCI Express card that’s given me 1 x FW 400 and 2 x FW 800.
Caveats: Much like the WiFi card, this can also be a temperamental part, so make sure to get one that others have had success with.
This may seem like a daunting undertaking but it’s really not so bad. If you’ve made your way through this article, you’re already in good shape to pull this off without cocking up anything too badly. With all the software utilities that exist within the Hackintosh realm right now, there is so little coding involved anymore as long as you select parts that are plug-and-play. If you’re still worried about moving away from the marriage of proprietary hardware and software, Apple’s marketing still has you in its grip. I complete system and application updates without issue, honestly. Crashes occur so infrequently, scout’s honour. I don’t see what’s left to worry about. Happy hacking!
Support this work
Did you enjoy this article? Has it helped you? I’m glad if it has. If you would like to return the good vibes, you can do so in ways great or small that include (but are not limited to): disabling ad-blockers on this site, purchasing my music/films, sharing my work with family, friends, senpai. Honestly, even if you just drop me a line from the contact page, that would make my day. I love what I do and will be able to continue contributing so long as I can sustainably do it. Or else it’s back to thumbing lifts and hanging out in dock side bars with loose women for me.