My Hacintosh Experiment

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User Experience:

Apple enjoys an enviable position in the market: It not only designs the operating system, but also the computer hardware, an expansive (and expanding) collection of software products, and an online store to deliver it, all working together as a cooperative, interlinked, synergistic whole to create a satisfying "user experience".  This tight vertical integration also allows for gross profit margins deserving of jealousy by nearly every other industry.

Frankly, there's simply no way a small, dedicated group of ordinary consumers / hackers / kids could ever create a user experience equal to Apple's, even if Apple didn't take any deliberate steps to tie their software to their hardware. Still, to date my user experience with the MicroMini Hackintosh has been very satisfactory. In addition to the few issues I encountered after installing the software, a couple more surfaced during daily use. Here's the full list:

MicroMini Hackintosh: Useability Issues
Solution or Workaround
Audio Level In the Finder the Sound Volume slider has no effect: It's either no volume or 100% volume. Volume can be adjusted within some applications, such as VLC.
Use speakers or headphones with their own volume control.
Fan Speed Fans always run at 100% speed, even during Sleep.
NOTE: The program "HDD Fan Control", designed for iMacs, had no effect.
Not really a problem: It's not noisy, the computer runs cooler, and fans are inexpensive to replace should they fail.

Front Audio ports Sound output and microphone input ports on the case's front panel do not work. The rear (backplane) ports are fully-functional.
Graphics Some games will occasionally and unexpectedly quit while being played. In all cases, the games were Universal applications (ie: OS 9 or OS X), and every crash was sound related. Might be linked to the other audio issues, or the games themselves. Current fix is to turn off sound in the affected games.
Screen Resolution When using the VGA port, changing screen resolution results in a blue screen. Best: Connect the VGA monitor to the DVI port using a DVI-to-VGA video adapter.
Acceptable:  Use the keyboard to put the computer to Sleep (Option + Control + Eject). Wait a second or two, then wake up the computer using the keyboard: The new resolution should now appear.
Failsafe: Shut down the computer by pressing and holding the power button for four seconds. Restart, and the selected resolution will appear. Only use this solution as a last resort.
Sleep - I
When using the VGA port, if the computer goes into "Computer Sleep" (ie: a black screen) it may not wake up, or wakes up to a login screen that is frozen. This appears to be a result of the VGA port: See "Screen Resolution" for the solutions.
Note: Sleep has not been tested using the DVI port.
Sleep - II Any active storage device attached to a USB port when the computer sleeps will show as "improperly ejected" at wake up. (image)

NOTE: Firewire 400 devices work OK.
This is a potentially serious problem, as it could result in damage to the data on the USB Storage device: Either turn off Sleep or Eject any USB storage devices before putting the computer to sleep.
(Could a custom DSDT file fix this issue?)
Software Update
Automatically updating the OS, and possibly any other Apple-branded software, might disable some or all of the computer's functions.

NOTE: Some users report Software Update works just fine.
- Never click the "Software Update..." button.
- Wherever possible, disable any "automatic update" feature in the Preferences panel of any software.
- Before manually updating any software, always check with the Hackintosh community for any helpful instructions, software, or tips.

The only real issue that concerns me is the Sleep issue with attached USB Storage devices: I'll need to eject the devices or disable Sleep (or...perhaps write a tiny AppleScript to prevent Sleep with attached devices?). Otherwise, the issues are minor. Like most consumers, I want a trouble-free product that provides convenience and value for the money, but, unlike most consumers, I'm willing to accept a "slightly-less-than-perfect" experience if the cost savings are significant, and don't mind troubleshooting minor problems should any arise. I'll keep an eye on the Graphics issue and check for a solution if it becomes worse over time, and report any future issues. After all, while rare, even 100% honest-to-goodness-bonafide Apple computers experience usability issues, software update problems, and even hardware failure.

Granted, my MicroMini Hackintosh has all the styling and industrial design of a brick, doesn't greet me with a sexy chime at startup, lacks a few features (like Firewire 800 & HDMI), occasionally has trouble waking up, and likes to yell when talking to me, but overall I'm quite pleased.

Useability Update: 06-02-11

I'm using my MicroMini as my primary computer on a daily basis for hours each day, and remain very pleased: Despite routinely having multiple programs open and running simultaneously, including OpenOffice, iTunes, Kompozer, image editing programs, and Game Editors (my latest project...stay tuned!), the MicroMini runs great with few complaints. My observations to date, in order of importance:
  • Kernel Panics: Extremely rare (only 3 times to date). When this first happened, I attributed it to the tweaked PCIe Video setting. While I couldn't decipher Apple's Crash Log of the panic, sound began stuttering just before the latest panic. Might berelated to the miscategorized "Graphics" issue above. Meh.
  • ACPI Setting: The motherboard is designed for S1(POS) or S3(STR). Although I prefer using S3(STR), as it's less power hungry, it results in a hackintosh that refuses to wake from sleep. If S3 works for you, consider sending me an email.
  • Multiple Cores: Very few of the programs I use are "multicore aware" (eg: a rendering program I use only sees one of the four cores, while iTunes sees them all), which makes me wonder if (a) I should have used a dual-core processor at the same frequency, or (2) perhaps a custom DSDT setup might enable this?
  • Running Temperatures: Even under heavy load on a hot day, the CPUs and HDD never exceed 136 and 93 Deg. Fahrenheit , respectively (or, 58 and 34 centigrade). No wonder: The fans are on 100% all the time.
I'll continue to post any further observations or tweaks as they arise. For now, I'll concentrate on actually using my MicroMini hackintosh for some "productive" work. :-)
Next: Conclusions & Caveats