Gathering your hardware info
If your machine is currently running windows and you are looking to convert it into a hackintosh, it is always an excellent idea to get all of your system’s hardware info before you go nuking it. In general, the first step to hackintoshing is making sure your hardware is capable. If you are running a Pentium 4, the best you can hope for is Leopard. Likewise, if you have an AMD machine it might be painful to get Lion up and running until easier methods come out. To find out if your machine is capable I suggest using SIW: System Information for Windows:
There is a paid and a free version, which you want is up to you. The free version works perfectly fine for our purposes. On the left you can view hardware components, make sure they seem a good fit with OSX86’s HCL for your specific distro:
Another great feature of SIW is that it allows you to save this configuration info. Once you save it you can nuke your computer and refer back to it for reference.
Other software can do this for you (sometimes even your BIOS) and the choice is up to you. But I do suggest having a copy of your hardware profile saved somewhere for reference.
Using a thumbdrive instead of a DVD
Some distributions of OSX86 are small enough to fit on a DVD (See my Hazard Snow article as an example). Others are around 8 GB (which can be burned to a dual layer DVD) and are really meant for a thumbdrive. In either case, I suggest using a thumbdrive. If you acquire an iso or dmg for a distro and are wondering how the heck you are supposed to put it onto a thumbdrive, i have some mixed news for you. It is incredibly easy to do, but …. you need a mac to do it. If you happen to have access to one (local library, campus, school, work, etc) you can “Burn” the disk image to a thumbdrive by navigating to Go > Utillities > Disk Utility. Using the Disk Utility you can “restore” the image of the distro to your thumbdrive, essentially turning it into a much faster version of the DVD you were going to burn instead.
You will then need to install a bootloader on it, but that is another topic of discussion entirely. To choose the best one of those for your hardware I suggest looking on InsanelyMac.
So what is the advantage of using a thumbdrive? As long as you don’t have some ancient, incredibly horrible thumbdrive your booting speeds onto the distro will be insanely fast. Instead of waiting 25 min to boot into the installer, it might take 45 seconds. This comes in EXTREMELY handy if you need to re-install OSX due to some unforseen problem. I highly suggest taking the time out of your installation process to complete this step if you are using a DVD to instal OSX86.
Know your kernel boot flags
Kernel flags are used at the boot screen to customize how OS X will load. Depending on your boot loader you may have to hit F8, or any key, or just be able to type them in. With your hackintosh partition selected use the following flags and hit enter, the boot loader will then pass that on to the kernel, and it will have the desired effect stated below.
-v = Verbose mode. I HIGHLY SUGGEST YOU ALWAYS USE THIS AT FIRST! If you do not use this and your system hangs up, you won’t know what trouble it encountered. If you have this flag set, you can google the line your system stops on to help you find a solution
-f = Clear booting cache and clear kext configurations/cache. If you changed any kexts since your last boot you may want to use this option. It loads all kexts as if they were fresh and your new kext will get picked up and used.
-x = Safe mode. Uses the bare minimum kexts and features to load. Very handy for diagnosing hardware problems
-s = Single User Mode. This boots into command line only, can be handy if you need to fix your system after screwing something up.
CPUS=1 = Sets the number of CPUs (Cores) that OSX will use to 1. This was mainly used in Leopard systems for unsupported CPUs, but might come in handy if you are diagnosing problems. Change the 1 to any other number and OSX will use that number of cores.
There are litterally dozens of other kernel flags available, but those are the main ones I have had to deal with.
Document your choices!
It’s 2 AM, you’ve been researching hackintoshes, your hardware, and everything that can go wrong in an install and you are ready to take the plunge. STOP. Do not rush into this. Document everything you do! Keep a notebook with all of the installation choices, boot flags, and partitions you are using. I can guarantee you that unless you are the luckiest person alive you will not have a working install on the first try. You will mess something up, choose the wrong driver, or encounter a dreaded kernel panic. If you never even got to the install screen you should google the last line that loaded to help narrow down your problem.
If you did get to the install screen, and start to install, take special note of the drivers you install.
This is the most crucial step, and also results in the most problems. Choosing the incorrect drivers can lead to kernel panics, poor performance, or intermittent problems. Chances are if your install fails you will need to go back to this screen and choose the correct drivers. This means you should remember the choices you made, and alter them accordingly to eventually get the right set. Once you have this set of drivers written down, it becomes easy to repeat the process of installation, and it will be a lot faster if you need to do it again. Nothing is more frustrating than spinning your wheels because you forgot to check a single driver.
I highly recommend the following tip if you have the space to do it. I even suggest that if you don’t have the space, buy a cheap hard drive to make the space. It is a real time saver, and if you do not use this tip or another like it, you might end up wasting hours of your life re-installing OSX.
During the installaiton process there is a crucial step where you partition your hard drive and use OSX Extended, Journaled as the file system. Instead of using a single partition I suggest creating 3 partitions, two of them as the normal Extended, Journaled, and the 3rd as FAT32. These partitions need to be at least 20 GB each for enough breathing room to install whatever you need onto the drive.
Why have 3 partitions you ask? To foolproof your installation, and allow you to swap working partitions for ones you may have mucked up while trying to upgrade OSX or after a disastrous tinkering session. Install OSX to 1 of the OSX formatted partitions and get it to work how you like it. Then use an amazing program call Carbon Copy Cloner (CCC) to copy that partition to the other OSX formatted partition.
That way, you can operate on a partition and experiment however you like, and if you accidentally destroy it, it only takes a boot into the other, working partition and a run of CCC to get you back to normal. You don’t have to wait for another install, and you always have at least 1 working copy of OSX86 at all times. The FAT32 partition can be used to house data and programs that both paritions might need to use (or if you are dual booting, this partition can be seen by Windows/Linux).
There are a handful of tools that any hackintosher will want to use. Here is the list, descriptions, and links on where to find each one:
A very multipurpose tool that can backup kexts, patch EFI, and do a boatload of other things.
A tool that can install and update kexts. Extremely useful if you don’t want to do the manual terminal commands to install a new kext
Efi studio is a Tool to Edit Boot.plist, add strings to make you video,lan,or other devices working properly.
There are an incredible number of ways an installation can go wrong. 99.999% of the time is is hardware compatibility (And by relation, kext related) problems. To diagnose these you will need to boot into verbose mode (-v) and pay attention to what the kernel is telling you. Here are the most common problems I’ve run into, and their corresponding solutions (if any):
Still Waiting for Root Device – This is related to SATA compatibility issues. If your SATA chipset isn’t supported by default then you will need to use patched kexts to allow your system to find your hard drive. You will need a new IOATAFamily.kext file. A patched version can be found here:
Kernel Panic – This can happen for a large number of reasons. Your Kernel version might not match up with your OS (sovled by using patched, legacy kernel). You might have an incompatible kext loaded (sovled by paying attention to the panic, it will tell u which kext. Find a patched or legacy version, or just remove it). Or it might panic for another reason entirely. Google is your best friend, and you should sharpen up your research skills.
Infinite restart loop – This is super frustrating isn’t it? Darwin will load to a certain point, and then just instantly restart. You can’t tell what caused the restart because it happens so fast.
Chances are this was a kernel panic, and your bootloader is set to instantly restart on panic. To solve this you should ditch your bootloader and install a new one. Which one you choose is dependant on your version of OSX, and your hardware.
More to come later/ on suggestion …
Resources to find help
Here are my favorite resources to look for help and get the assistance I need to solve problems: