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Old 06-15-2012, 02:42 PM
jeremyroberts jeremyroberts is offline
Join Date: Feb 1999
Location: New York, NY, USA
Posts: 3,020
Default Hackintosh - Salvage your HD PCI cards - You Can Do It Too!

There have been many reports about successful hackintosh builds, and I want to share my story, hoping it will help the community, just as others have helped me. This is going to be a VERY long post, as there is lots to share.

My story begins with an HD3 system in a G5/2.7DP with 8GB ram. The G5 was stuck at PT 8.01cs2 (HD). To survive, I enlisted (2) slave computers - both underpowered, and both were running VEPro, and hosting VST and AU virtual instruments. Each slave had 3GB ram. I was able to work, but it required some thought -- multiple slaves. I also had Gigastudio running on the WinXP slave -- and that machine was tired. BUT everything worked, my library was well organized and productive, and I made some pretty impressive sounding records. But I was jumping through hoops and any failure of any machine would be catastrophic for my productivity.

I passed on the "opportunity" to buy all new (or trade up) PCI(x) HD cards for PCIe at every opportunity. Why spend $6000 for a card exchange just to have to buy a new $5000 computer? Yeah, I know many of you did just that. Or some put their PCI(x) cards into a $2000 magma chassis. And then bought a $5000 macPro. I can buy a Macpro for less you say? Not configured how I would want it...

I was going to wait for the next-gen protools hardware from Avid. That was a choice I made 4 years ago. Didn't expect to have to wait 4 years. AES 2011 --- Avid announces HDX!!! Yeah. And then I learned that my TDM plugin investment was at least a year away from working in DSP -- "so run in native" -- so I will pay $7000 for a crossgrade to HDX + a new MacPro (by this point we are looking at $6k for a 12-core mac) and I still am a year from really using my system. It didn't taste right.

WHY can't I simply build a PC and use PT10HD on a Win7 machine? Others have done this? But I am a mac guy, and I want integration. I want iCloud and iTunes and Appstore and besides, as a guy who has both Win and Mac, if something breaks in macOS, I can usually fix it. I do not have those skills in Windows world. So why not build a hackinotsh with PCI slots?

There are very few motherboards (mobo) that will work with Protools HD PCI cards note: everyone calls them PCI-X -- they are NOT PCI-X cards -- they are long, very long (more on that later) but electronically, they are "simply" PCI. The last section of pins are unused -- there for support or to look pretty, but not connected to anything. You CAN use HD cards in standard PCI slots. HOWEVER -- this is the big however, the Protools community discovered that PCI must be "native" to the chipset of the mobo. So that means you MUST use a mobo from a very short list.

Hackintosh sounds terribly scary! I'm not a hacker. And I don't want to be caught in a pants-down situation -- I'm a professional! But how tricky is it, really? The hackintosh community appears to have thousands and thousands of people. It must be working for these guys.

The deciding factor was a bunch of issues all coming together at about the same time:

1. UniBeast/Multibeast from the community. This is a tool to install OSX 10.7.4 installer (latest build) onto a USB flash drive, with the "bootlaoder" called Chimera (which you really don't need to know anything about to do this). The ability to "simply" install 10.7.4 directly, without updates or command line was the most important element;

2. ProTools HD 10.2 was officially supported in 10.7.4;

3. Many users were reporting success with the JetWay JNAF92-Q67 -- a mobo with 4 PCI slots that were NATIVE (not bridged), accepts an i7 2600k CPU, up to 32 gb ram, and most importantly, the HD cards fit on the mobo without having to destroy/modify the cards or the heatsinks. The moment people speak of pulling out the Dremel, I run. I wasn't gonna have any of that.

So I made the decision to build this "beast".

There are many threads and many posts from some key players -- but most of the builders assume you can spec and build a PC! Mac guys have been spoiled since day one. Apple decides which case, power supply, and every other element in the box. Unless you know why you want to spec a specific part, how do you know? Speccing the parts was as much a challenge as putting it together - and to some degree, the MOST IMPORTANT step in the process. "Measure twice, cut once", right?

I knew I wanted the JetWay JNAF92-Q67. Easy. i7 2600k. Easy. Now what?

A hackintosh build for protools HD cards will have the following:

1. case
2. power supply
3. mobo/processor
4. cooler for the CPU
5. GPU (video card)
6. RAM
7. System drive
8. Optical drive
9. Recording drive(s)
10. Sample library drives (if you use VI)
11. backup drive(s)
12. Firewire card
13. eSATA - SATA ports (PCIe card?)

and all necessary wire to connect the dots.

1. The Case. My first big mistake. I failed to consider the HD cards were 12.375 inches long. VERY few mid-tower cases have room for ProTools HD cards. So I originally bought a well reviewed case: Fractal Design Define R3
-- but the HD cards simply will not fit. Removing the drive bays was NOT going to be an option for me.

read this:

The MacPro aluminum case is a BRILLIANT design. Quiet. Cool. Sturdy. Clean look. But it does have it's limitations... so the bar is set high. I decided that my build was NOT going to be silent, rather, very, very quiet -- and that opened up many alternatives.

I chose the Antec P280 Black ATX Mid Tower Computer Case. $120

I couldn't be happier!!! Huge case. Lots of room for everything. 13"+ from card rail to the hard drive bay. And it's quiet. As in MacPro quiet. I have the fans at the slow speed.

2. Power Supply. I wanted a power supply with a modular design. I was always annoyed with extra wire that was simply not connected anywhere. I also wanted a relatively quiet model form a reliable manufacturer - and at least 600w. There are "silent" PSUs, and you can spend much more... I think I found a reasonable balance with the SeaSonic M12II 620 Bronze 620W $90

Here's an article worth reading:

3. Motherboard. If you want up to 4 PCI slots, this is the one.

JetWay JNAF92-Q67 LGA 1155 Intel Q67 HDMI SATA 6Gb/s ATX Intel Motherboard $200

There is a NEW mobo from Jetway that supports the IvyBridge chip and has USB 3, but until the TonyMac UniBeast and MultiBeast support it, it's not on my radar.

The CPU that works with this mobo is the Intel 2600k. i7, 3.4 ghz. $300

4. CPU cooler. Yeah, you need it. Not to keep the CPU cool, but more to replace the NOISY fan that comes stock from Intel. I didn't do enough research here, but the little research I did pointed me to a very good and almost silent cooler that is quite difficult to install. I bought the ZALMAN CNPS8900 Quiet 110mm Ultra Quiet Slim CPU Cooler $45

But it is a challenge to install...

5. Video Card (GPU). This is the most difficult part to spec, since there are VERY few quiet cards that are compatible with the Jetway and 10.7. -- the problem is many GPUs use the space in the next PCIe slot for the GPU heatsink and fan to live. That is, the card is a double-wide. If you have no intention of using the x4 PCIe card, then you have many options -- but I am using all the slots. So I needed a card that could drive 2 DVI monitors at 2560x1600, and only use 1 slot. And not have a loud fan. I chose:

EVGA GeForce GT 520 1024MB DDR3 $50

PLEASE READ this very important post at TonyMac about compatible GPUs:

6. RAM -- it's so freaking cheap now. $200 for 32GB. Just get 32gb. I bought a "low profile" chip that allows the CPU cooler to clear. I would avoid the ram with "memory cooling heatsinks" since it will probably get in the way of your CPU cooler. I bought GeIL Black Dragon 32GB (4 x 8GB) 240-Pin DDR3 SDRAM DDR3 1333 (PC3 10660) $200 - and it came with a free 32GB USB flash as well.

7. System Drive. RUN, do not walk, and get this mSATA SSD. 120gb. If you haven't done an SSD system drive yet, now is your opportunity. I am booting to Lion in about 4 seconds. mSATA is incredibly cool - it mounts on the motherboard UNDER your PCI cards. I chose the latest and greatest mSATA - and I would get this part again in a heartbeat! Mushkin Enhanced Atlas Series MKNSSDAT120GB-DX mSATA 120GB SATA III MLC Internal Solid State Drive (SSD) $145

8. Optical drive. CDs are not dead yet. I bought a PLEXTOR Internal DVD Super Multi 24X DVD+R 8X DVD+RW 12X DVD+R DL 24X DVD-R 6X DVD-RW 16X DVD-ROM 48X CD-R 24X CD-RW 48X CD-ROM Black SATA Model PX-L890SA LightScribe Support. You can get a less expensive part -- but I have been using Plextor for 20 years. Habit. $38

9. Recording drives. This is your business... but you now have SATA II and SATA III ports -- but come back to this after we go over the SATA ports...

10. Sample library drives. You want SSDs and you want the newest, fastest, SATA III (6gbs).

11. Backup drives. Don't not put these in.

12. FireWire card. NOT for production - but for file transfer. I found the SYBA Low Profile PCI-Express 1394B/A Firewire Card Model SD-PEX30009 works great "OOB" - out of the box. An important distinction for hackintosh builders. If you can get an OOB vs. not, et the OOB. $28

13. eSATA and SATA card. I have yet to spec this for my rig, but that's my project for next week.

OK -- I have my parts. Now What?

You need a few more things:

1. You must OWN your copy of mac OSX Lion. Buy it from the App store, and download the LATEST version (10.7.4) as a new installer file. Just because you already have a lion 10.7.1 installer - that's not going to help you. Download 10.7.4 fresh, but don't allow it to launch. Just download it.

2. You need (2) USB flash drives. Get 8gb or larger. They cost $6 each at Microcenter.

3. Prepare your "UniBeast" - this is the magic tool to install Lion on your build.

Just RTFM and do what it says.

4. Download MultiBeast and put it on the same USB as the Lion install

At this point, you should watch a few videos:

5. You probably should download and prepare a DOS boot USB with the flash utility for your mobo BIOS. Ah -- the scary part! I'ma mac guy - what do I know about BIOS? Well, you need to know that you have to change a few settings to make this work. And you need the latest firmware on your mobo -- so download the BIOS from Jetway and a boot USB from a dozen places on the net and flash your mobo.

NOW -- Put Humpty together.

GO SLOW. Be careful. RTFM.

DO NOT put your protools cards in yet. But it's ok to install the ram.

Don't install your mechanical drives. Do this slowly and systematically.

When you are ready to power-up, you will need to adjust your BIOS at first boot -- now is probably the time to verify the BIOS version, flash it if needed, and then adjust some BIOS settings...

Bios settings

Advanced Menu
PCI PME Wakeup S3
CPU Configuration, Hyper Threading---> Disable
All Com ports, Parallel port, CIR Controller---> Disable
SATA Mode---> AHCI Mode (SUPER important!)
Chipset Menu
Initiate Graphics Adapter PEG/IGD

You can't really mess this up, since you can always RESET BIOS to default.

Time to load Lion onto your mSATA system drive?

BOOT from the USB flash (UniBeast)

Follow the guide...

Did I say RTFM and do EXACTLY what UniBeast instructions say?

Then run MultiBeast and install network tools kext. Choose the hnak's AppleIntelE1000e Ethernet. Install it. You're now good to go.

There are a few details that you will quickly pick up. BUT ------

When you are done, you will spend less than $1200 for a box that will run PT HD 10.2 in Lion 10.7.4 and you can use your HD cards.

The $1200 does not include recording drives or sample storage -- for me, this was about preserving value in the HD cards while waiting for AAX dsp plugs. Would I build a hackintosh for PCIe cards? Not sure. And obviously, a new 12-core is a much faster machine. Can we hackintosh a dual-CPU mobo? Maybe. But it would not be nearly the cost benefit of the single CPU i7 PCI - built to use the HD cards we already own.

I delivered a track today that would have been suicidal on the older rig. 90+ voices @ 88.2k. 20+ VSL instruments (VEPRo 5). Used about 20gb of ram. And the machine never went past 50% CPU. ProTools OTOH was complaining all the way. PTHD is not built for 90 voices at 88.2k. But HDX is, right? OK, bring on PT11 and I'll turn this box into a server. But for now, I have a STABLE, rock solid and quiet box. And I feel like I received VALUE for my investment. I would do this again.

Yes, you can do it too!

next post: eSATA/SATA and SSD drives - coming soon (but I need input speccing the right card).
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