When I priced out the components of the new Mac Pro, I realized Apple's pro line is not a good value proposition. When the same new Mac Pros left off an nVidia graphics card as an option, I took it as a slight to Adobe. When I asked you guys if you'd like me to build a hackintosh in an attempt to have the best of both worlds, you said yes. So I've done the research, priced out the components, and drawn my conclusions. Here's what I think is possible for a video editing-optimized hackintosh: compared to the $2,500 Mac Pro base model that will ship this month, I believe the Hac Pro can have a faster processor, four times as much RAM, a Blu-Ray burner, USB 3.0 connectivity ((Mac OS X does not presently support USB 3.0, but presumably a motherboard with USB 3.0 will be ready once the OS is.)), more storage space, and an nVidia graphics card that accelerates Adobe CS5. The kicker? This Hac Pro will cost $1,000 less.
The question, of course, is whether a Mac running on PC components will be as stable for professional use as the real thing. In this respect, putting together a hackintosh for video editing is a very different proposition than building one for fun and games. But there's only one way to find out...
Just how fast can a hackintosh go? Take a look at this user, who built a PC around an Intel Core i7-930 chip, overclocked it from 2.8 to 4.2 GHz, installed SSD hard drives, hacked it to run Snow Leopard, and proceeded to open 56 apps at the same time (see this at the 2:15 mark). It's ridiculously fast. You might say it runs at ludicrous speed.
Is overclocking dangerous? Potentially, but one doesn't need to take it all the way to 4.2 GHz. It's a well-documented fact that attaching a decent cooling system to an Intel i7 chip will allow it to run much faster than its stock speed, safely. This guy, in fact, pushed his hackintosh all the way to 4.38 GHz, and runs a bunch of pro apps (Apple's Final Cut Studio, Adobe CS4) as well as a number of benchmarks. His Xbench score of 430 eats my 2006 MacBook Pro's measly 106 for lunch. More to the point, the average of 29,000 Mac Pro Xbench scores is only 166. Yes, the hackintosh is appealing:
Video is no longer available: www.youtube.com/watch?v=zbrC2B92hxs
However, this is not going to be easy. I built my first PC when I was a teenager in order to have an editing machine that I worked better than the Media 100 I was using as an intern at a local video production house. I wasn't happy with the fact that the Media 100 was limited to one video track at the time, so I built a PC around a miroVIDEO capture board and edited some award-winning video on the homemade setup. So I do have experience with this kind of thing, but it seems there are no easy answers to building a hackintosh uniquely suited to video editing. While I did find a few solutions, they would not be ones that others can easily replicate (meaning, the parts were not widely available, or the install process was incredibly convoluted, or the system would not be stable enough for pro work). So, over the next few weeks, I'm going to attempt to put together an optimal machine for maximum-impact video editing with minimal wallet-emptying. When I have something that's working and stable, I'll post a how-to here. And I'll benchmark it against "real" Macs.
Is this time that could be better spent shooting? Yes and no. I'm going to be shooting a trailer and some other promotional videos for my upcoming crowdfunding campaign, and while I was originally going to make "I desperately need a new computer" part of my appeal for funds, I also realize that these videos would take me significantly longer to edit while staring at a spinning beach ball on my four year-old laptop. I'm done with editing on this thing. Plus, if I'm successful at building this Hac Pro, perhaps I can pay off the cost of the components by using affiliate links in the how-to article.
One last note: hackintoshing is a practice that violates Apple's EULA. If Apple wants to come after me for doing this, they're welcome to, but suing paying customers (I buy other Apple products, I just happen to think their Mac Pros are overpriced and don't meet my needs) is a great way to further disenfranchise the pro community. That's one of the draws of a hackintosh: if something goes wrong, worst comes to worst you've still got a fast PC.