A powerful non-Apple laptop running macOS could be the ultimate personal computer.
Apple store in Montreal. Image: Divya Thakur/Flickr
Loyal users of Apple's MacBook Pro had been waiting years for this. Having not been majorly overhauled since 2012, the new MacBook Pro, released in October, is meant to herald the return of Apple's high-end laptop to the upper echelons of portable computing prowess. Instead, Apple managed to piss some people off, reigniting interest in the DIY Hackintosh scene, where users jump through hoop after hoop to install macOS on laptops from companies like Dell and HP.
The new MacBook Pro (MBP) comes with the usual features: A choice of two sizes, Retina displays, and a razor thin, featherweight form factor. But it's also lacking some features that have pushed Apple's fan base to question whether it's even worth shelling out $1,799 for a 13-inch model or $2,399 for a 15-inch model. Gone are the usual USB ports you're already familiar with, replaced with USB Type-C connectors that won't work with the new iPhone 7 without a dongle, along with no touchscreen capabilities. Users have even slammed the Touch Bar as simply a gimmick, and the handy MagSafe is long gone. Almost two weeks after its announcement, Tim Cook is still getting abuse for the laptop.
Evidently, while macOS Sierra has been widely well received, it's the hardware that's the problem. In fact, the new MacBook Pro hardware is so unloved that it's pushed some users to figure out how to put macOS on their high-end Dell or Lenovo.
Led by websites such as Tonymacx86.com and Hackintosh.org, amateur hardware hackers have in the past produced a wonderful assortment of machines running Mac OS software. From literal trashcans to water-cooled OS X mammoths, hackers have been very successful at manipulating Apple software against Apple's proprietary will. Originating in 2005 with OSx86, a collaborative hacking attempt to jam OS X into non-Apple hardware after Apple switched to Intel processors, the Hackintosh scene is still alive and thriving. And judging from a quick glance at Google Trends around the announcement of the latest MacBook Pro, many users would rather build a Hackbook than shell out for a MBP.
Reddit's r/hackintosh is littered with recent posts that have been catalysed by the new MacBook Pro. "I'm not really thrilled with the new MacBook pros, especially the prices. Is it hard to build and maintain a Hackintosh, and more importantly will it save me money?" asks one user. "I am actually looking for a new Notebook because the new MacBook Pros are not Pro anymore... they are just expensive...is it possible to install macSierra on a DELL XPS with the 7th generation of Intels CPUs? (Kaby Lake)?" asks another. This user was priced out of the new MacBook Pros, lamenting the lack of innovation, while this Redditor says the new MBP is "horrible."
Motherboard reached out to Reddit user Matthew Alcasabas, who had been asking on the forums whether or not it'd be a good idea for Apple to start selling just software again. "I feel that Apple did drop the ball on the latest MacBook Pros since [it] removed many features that professionals may actually want, such as USB-A, Thunderbolt, and an SD card slot in favor of USB-C," Matthew tells Motherboard.
"While USB-C is nice, it is less convenient since you need dongles and adapters to connect the same accessories you could connect to a previous-generation MacBook Pro. Also, they decided to replace the function keys with the Touch Bar."
Building a Hackintosh sounds simple in theory—with installing Apple software (in this case macOS Sierra) onto hardware that isn't made by Apple. This way, the user has complete control of the hardware that they use, whilst employing Apple's software.
"While it is nice, I'm not sure if it's ideal for beginners since there is a lot of tweaking involved. But if you are up for a challenge and want a cheap Mac, then I'd totally go for it," says Matthew.
Another Reddit user, Sean Wood, was also unhappy with Apple's latest MBP iteration. A graphic designer, Sean said he needed a MBP that was powerful, but the cost threw him off. "I needed a laptop, so I was awaiting their new one. When I saw the price/spec ratio, is was nowhere near what I needed. As a graphic designer, I need lots of RAM, an SSD preferably, a big screen, and a good graphics card. They killed their 17-inch screen long ago, and the other specs just don't add up," Sean tells Motherboard.
"Pros don't want lighter and thinner. They want expandable, they want lots of ports,"
But after looking into building a Hackintosh, Sean decided to purchasing a different computer entirely. "If the guys on reddit say Hackbooks are difficult to build, I wasn't even going to begin to spend the time to look into," he explains. Nevertheless, Sean is an advocate of Hackintoshing, saying it shows how "people want either a) less expensive hardware, or b) hardware they can spec themselves."
"I think they're missing the mark with their 'Pro' level of hardware. Pros don't want lighter and thinner. They want expandable, they want lots of ports, they want CPU and GPU power. Keep the non-pro hardware thin, light, etc., but the pro stuff needs to be what the old Mac Pro was, with HDD bays and RAM upgrade availability," he says.
Still, Apple has listened to some of the criticism directed at Apple, which for some fans has dished out a double whammy of disappointment following the iPhone 7 release earlier in September. Last week, Apple cut the price of its USB-C and Thunderbolt adapters, which users would need to use traditional USB and Thunderbolt ports. "We recognise that many users, especially pros, rely on legacy connectors to get work done today and they face a transition. We want to help them move to the latest technology and peripherals, as well as accelerate the growth of this new ecosystem," said Apple.
But for enthusiast hardware hackers, building a Hackintosh is the pinnacle of DIY computing, combining the best of both worlds to make an unbeatable machine. "My ideal MBP setup would have both the Touch Bar and the function keys, MagSafe, and an SD card slot, while keeping one USB-A port for backwards compatibility," explains Matthew. "My ideal Hackintosh system would be something that dual-boots into Windows for gaming, has everything (including iMessage and iCloud) working perfectly, and perfectly working audio so that I can use the latest version of Logic Pro working."
It's hard to keep everyone happy, but until Apple gives these pro users what they're looking for, they will continue to look for Apple hardware alternatives to build their own ideal computer.
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