Posted by: cielo | January 7, 2010

p55/core i7 Hackintosh

Well, it’s been some time since my last blog post here. I have been pretty busy with school, building websites, and…. well, let’s be honest here: Hackintoshing. More specifically, I have been spending a lot of time learning about and tweaking my DSDT, which is the heart of a smooth-running, fully functional, Vanilla Hackintosh now-a-days. For those of you who don’t know, DSDT stands for Differentiated System Description Table, and it is part of the ACPI (Advanced Configuration and Power Interface) specifications. What does all this mumbo-jumbo mean? Basically, the ACPI tables, which include the DSDT, contain information that lets the hardware and the operating system communicate with each other. These tables are loaded up at boot from the BIOS or EFI. All modern OS’s use this specification, including Mac OS X. Many motherboards (*cough* Gigabyte) come with poorly written ACPI tables embedded in the BIOS, and this can cause problems for any OS, but especially OS X. By getting in there and patching things up and making a few small tweaks using the standards that Apple uses, one can make certain PC hardware  function very much like a real Mac. This reduces the number of kexts that one needs to load from outside of OS X.

So, following the example of a couple of very knowledgeable pioneers on the InsanelyMac and EFIX-Users forums, I was able to get my 6000 line jumble of code down to around 500 lines, and reduce the number of kexts in my Extra folder down to 3. Everything, including auto sleep, the scourge of many a Hackintosher, is working perfectly. Now what the hell am I going to do?

Click the image to read about my last Hackintosh build

Why, start over from scratch, of course!

Since the UD3P is working so smoothly, I decided it was time to pass it on to Mrs. Aargh-a-Knot, who has been working on a MacBook Pro for quite some time. She was ready for an upgrade. And so was I.

Do to financial resources, or I should say, the lack thereof, the prospects of building a new computer right now were pretty slim. The geek that I am, however, I like to research the trends in Hackintosh-land and configure builds in my imagination, using Newegg.com’s wish list feature. It finally got to be too much for me, and I started taking stock of all the unused stuff that we had laying around the house that I could sell on eBay to fund my latest build. I was determined to build my dream rig, while it was still close to being cutting edge.

Well, Christmas time rolled around, and Mrs. Aargh-a-Knot saw that twinkle in my eye every time I started talking about core i7 processors and what-have-you. Probably, she also got sick of waiting for Flash to load up every time she switched apps while on the MBP, and my promise of faster computing power spurred her to do what any loving pirate-wife would do: She found my NewEgg wish list, and bought me everything on it for X-mas. She even did some research and upgraded my choice in memory to something better. I definitely married the right woman.

I was originally going to follow the herd, and get one of the new p55 Gigabyte boards. After all, Gigabyte seems to be the preferred mobo for Hackintosh, and there was bound to be tons of support. Then, I got inspired by a member of the forums I frequent, mm67, who had a lot of praise for MSI motherboards. Based his suggestion that the MSI boards work almost out of the box with OS X, I decided to go in that direction… much to the dismay of Mrs. Aargh-a-Knot, who had already ordered the Gigabyte board I had picked out.

Turns out that mm67 was right, and deleting only 8 small lines of code in the MSI DSDT, I was able to boot right up with Chameleon. Everything worked straight away except sound, but adding the HDEF device into my DSDT and a kext in my Extra folder, I am now good to go. Wow, that was easy! I still plan on removing all the extraneous devices and methods from the DSDT, but that may be more of a long-term project, as this DSDT is 9000 lines long and very different from the Gigabyte DSDT that I have spent so much time getting to know.

Alright, now on to the good stuff! What did I choose for this build?


The case:

This may not be the most important component of a computer build (apart from temperature management), but it is the physical part of the computer that you have to look at every day. Especially in my ‘case’ (pun intended), because my office is in our tiny living room. I am a big fan of Lian Li cases, but their aesthetic has changed over the last few years to accomodate the gamer crowd. Well, I do not want my computer to look like a Transformer, so I had been stalking one of the older Lian-Li models, released before Lian-Li hired an out-of-work comic book artist to design their cases. The case of my affections, the v1000-z, was still fetching top dollar on eBay, and the places you could still buy it new were becoming scarcer by the day. Then one day I found a listing on eBay, from some huge freight company, who had done a terrible job at listing the case. Not only was the description lacking, but check out the photo that they used:

What the hell did they shoot this with?

This is the photo they used on eBay!

I might not have even gone for this thing, but it had been sitting at .99 cents for 4 days, with only 3 days left. It really looked like the thing was crushed in a train wreck or something. But, using my mad-geometry-skillz, I decided that there was something not quite right with this photo. I put on my sleuthing hat, and started to look through some of the other items that the seller had. Sure enough, I found several other examples of objects that were supposed to be square, but looked like reflections in a funhouse mirror. What the hell are they using to snap those photos? Even a homemade pinhole camera made from a hobo’s boot would take a better shot than that! I decided to take a chance, and go for it. Of course, the damn auction turned out to be closing right in the middle of my final exam, but once again Mrs. Aargh-a-Knot came to the rescue with her super-sniping abilities. Apparently a few other people decided it was worth going for as well, because it got bid up to $70 at the last minute. However, this case normally goes for closer to $250, so as long as I didn’t need the jaws-of-life to get the hardware inside, it was a steal.

Turned out to be brand new in the box. Sweet!

I love this case 

Here is what it really looks like

One of the best features in this case is the hard drive bays. There are 6 slots, that have a SATA connection board behind them. The case comes with 6 brackets that attach to the hard drives, making it extremely easy to pop them in and out. While my last Lian-Li case sure looked sweet, it was a major pain in the ass to add or remove hard drives. Another great feature was a built-in 3 speed fan control switch on the back. I wont be using it for the back fan, since it is controlled by the CPU fan controller, but I think it will be handy for the front fan that blows across the hard drives. There is also an E-SATA connection in the front with the firewire and usb ports. This is quite handy for me, since I have a hard drive dock that I use quite often, and which has an E-SATA connection for fast transfer of large amounts of data.

The Mobo:

As I said above, I decided to go with an MSI board this time. But which one? It used to be that there were far less options for a mATX mobo when building a Hackintosh. At least most of the good ones were full ATX, which made options for a more compact HTPC far fewer. With the release of the p55 chipset however, most manufacturers released at least one  mATX option that had most of the same offerings of the full sized boards. Why does this matter for me, since I bought a larger case that can easily accomodate an ATX board? I don’t really have ananswer to that, other than “because I can”. I also had an unsubstantiated idea that the mATX boards might run a bit cooler, but this may have been completely farcical. I also wanted to try out a mATX board in case I want to build a media computer for someone in one of the smaller HTPC cases.

I decided to go with the MSI p55m-GD45. I don’t plan and adding a whole lot of expansion cards to this, so it has all the space I need. The one thing that I do regret, is not having the extra sata ports that come on some of the bigger boards. But for the price, I can’t complain.

nice mATX mobo 

front view of the p55m-gd45

 

top view of the p55m-gd45

The Processor:

I originally considered getting one of the new core i5s for this build, due to their low price. Fortunately, I came to my senses and chose the the core i7 860. The main difference between the i5s and the i7s is hyperthreading. Each of the i7′s 4 cores is hyperthreaded, and is essentially seen by the OS as two cores, for a total of 8 virtual cores. The difference this makes can really be seen in the benchmark results (see below). At stock speeds, my computer easily beats the results that one would have seen with a dual-quad core Mac Pro just a year ago. Of course the new Mac Pros now have dual quad core hyperthreaded processors, for a total of 16 virtual cores, so their benchmarks blow mine out of the water. But, they also cost 3-4 times as as much my rig…

 

the core i7 860

The 860 runs at 2.8GHz at stock speeds. The only option above this one is the 870, which runs at 2.93GHz. But, at twice the price for a fraction of a GHz increase in speed, you’ve got to wonder what they are smoking over there at Intel. One of the main benefits of the new Lynnfield i7s is their conservative use of power and the resulting lower temperatures. This makes for easy overclocking. In fact, many people are reporting success OC’ing their 860s in excess of 4GHz on air, much faster than the stock speeds of the severely overpriced 870. No need for fancy water cooling systems to get those kind of speeds any more. Which brings me to the next component…

CPU Cooling:

Since I use my computer as my media pc right in my living room, noise is definitely a consideration. This can make cooling the CPU a little tricky, because a big beefy CPU fan can output some dBs. I have never used a water cooling system before, and frankly, the thought is kind of scary. A bunch of valves, hoses and fittings full of cooling liquid interwoven with my sensitive electronic components? Err… no thanks. But then I came across a new kind of cooling solution: an all-in-one, maintenance free, self-contained, water cooling system made by Corsair, the H50. It seemed like some sort of gimmick at first glance, but after reading scores of 5-star reviews, I decided to give it a try. I must say, I am very impressed with it. The pump is built in to the part that clamps down on the CPU. There are two flexible tubes connected to a 120mm radiator, that goes in the exhaust fan outlet on the back of the case. A 120mm cpu fan attaches to the radiator, but pulls air into the case instead of blowing it out. You could easily switch it around to go the other way at the expense of a few degrees, but I decided to go with how the manufacturer recommended to do it. As long as there is a way for the air to get out somewhere else, it works pretty good. The included fan is a little bit louder than I would like, but not too bad considering how cool it is keeping my CPU, which is idling between 26 and 30 degrees celcius. At full throttle encoding video for hours on end in Handbrake, the temps barely get up to 50 degrees… not much higher than the idle temps of my Q6600! I will probably replace the fan with something a little quieter, and hopefully keep these low temperatures.

 

the corsair h-50

 

the corsair h-50: another view

The Graphics card:

I do not do any gaming, so I did not need some monstrous, power-hungry card. In my previous build, I had used an 8800gt to which I had added a passive cooling setup in place of its stock fan. This worked great, but the 8800gt cards have seen a few minor issues running in OS X, especially after 10.6.2 was released. I wanted something a little newer that worked well in Snow Leopard with little or no tweaking, that was passively cooled. There aren’t a whole lot of choices, if any, in nVidia’s 2xx line that fit this last requirement. I found the Asus 9600gt Silent card, and it is perfect for my needs. I had no problems with it being detected and it works well with my dual monitor setup, which is kind of crazy. I have a mechanical switch setup on the second output, which switches between my second desktop monitor and our home theater projector that is mounted on the ceiling above me. With the 8800gt, I had some issues when I switched between the two. In fact, 10.6.2 brought an instant KP when I would connect to my projector. I had to remedy this by using legacy Apple kexts from 10.6.1. No issues like this with the 9600gt. I couldn’t be happier with it.

 

asus 9600gt silent

Memory:

I had originally picked out some OCZ Gold memory for this build, but when Mrs. Aargh-a-Knot went to buy it, Newegg was out of stock. She did some research and found that while the OCZ memory didn’t have the worst ratings, they weren’t the best either. After spending some time looking into it, she wound up getting me 4GB of Corsair Dominator DDR3 1600 SDRAM. It was a little on the pricey side, so I am holding off for awhile before adding another 4GB. What can I say… it seems to be working well and runs at 1600 MHz. Has cool looking heatsinks and got some pretty good reviews.

 

corsair dominator

PSU:

Here is where I kinda cheaped out. I got the same PSU that I had put in my last build, the Antec BP550 Plus. I like it because it has modular cabling, cutting down on the clutter inside the case. Since I’m not going to game on this box, I am only using one graphics card, and the new i7 cpus are fairly energy efficient, 550 watts seems to be plenty for this build. Antec has a fairly good reputation and this model runs pretty quiet. I kind of picked it by default, because I have always used Antec PSUs and they have been reliable for me. I’m sure there are some better choices out there, but this Antec seems to do well for the money. I just didn’t want to gamble with something unknown.

 

antec 550

Optical Drive:

I already had this from my last build, but for an optical drive in this rig, I used an LG Bluray drive. In addition to playing Blurays, it also burns CDs and DVDs, which is a must if you are going to use MakeMKV. For some reason the app won’t work unless your drive has some sort of burning capabilities.

 

 

 

 

Hard Drives:

This was an easy choice. I have been using Western Digital drives for a couple of years, and have never had a problem. (Knock on wood!) I have read stories of failing WD drives, but I have not had the experience myself. I have tried the WD Green, Blue and Black series, and really I like the Blacks for their speed. My strategy is to use the Black for my OS drives, and the more energy efficient Green drives for my backup drives. They are all really quiet, and this is a big plus. I bought a few Samsung drives a few years ago, and they sound like freakin’ helicopters trying to take off in a tornado!

 

wd black

Components Overview:

Case: Lian Li v1000z

Mobo: MSI P55M-GD45 LGA 1156  Motherboard

CPU: Intel Core i7-860 Lynnfield 2.8GHz

Cooling: CORSAIR Cooling Hydro Series H-50 CPU Cooler

Graphics: Asus 9600GT Silent 512MB GDDR3 Video Card

Memory: Corsair Dominator 4GB (2 x 2GB)  DDR3 1600

PSU: Antec BP550 Plus 550 Watt  Modular Power Supply

Optical Drive: LG Black 8x BD-ROM

Hard Drive: WD Caviar Black 1TB 7200 RPM  SATA Hdd

 

 

Performance:

The best real-world indicator for performance for me is encoding times in Handbrake. When I had my Mac Mini, an average movie would encode at around 10-15 fps. I was excited after my last build to get close to 50 fps. It seemed like quite the feat to get the encode times close to real-time, meaning that if the show was 1 hour long, and I could re-encode it in one hour, I was very happy. So, you can imagine how elated I was to see Handbrake going at 200 fps with this new build. One of the first things I encoded, a 45 minute episode of 24, finished in less than 10 minutes. And the temperatures barely got over 50 degrees.

I am still running at stock speeds while I get all the small details ironed out, but I plan on overclocking the CPU to 3.6GHz, which seems to be the upper limit of efficient & cool without a more elaborate water cooling system. I did a 64 bit Geekbench test, and got a score of 9525. To put that in perspective, an early 2008 Mac Pro, Intel Xeon X5482 3.2 GHz (8 cores) benches out at 9273, nearly 250 points less than my score. And this is before I overclock. But that, my friends, is the subject for another post.

 

UPDATE: This Hackintosh is for sale! Will deliver only within the continental US.

Posted by: cielo | August 26, 2009

EFI-X vs boot 132 and Chameleon Update

I have been happily using my EFI-X “BPU” for about 6 months now, with very few issues, other than having it disappear from BIOS if I leave a USB stick attached while booting. My original plan was to do a side by side comparison with a boot 132 install, but I was soon lulled into complacency with the ease of use that one gets with the EFI-X, and I just didn’t feel too much need to try anything else. After all, “if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it”.

I have been reading the EFI-X forum every day since I started using the device, just to be able to stay on top of any changes, announcements or advances. During all that forum lurking, a few things came to light.

1- The people that run the company and some of the volunteer forum moderators have no idea what they are doing when it comes to customer relations/service. Every day seemed to bring new levels of ridiculousness…(What? You dare ask a question? Use the search function! What? The search function doesn’t work, and only says every word you try to search for is “too common”? Use Google to search the forum! What? ASEM has disabled the forum from being searched through Google so that people’s complaints don’t come up in Google searches? Read every single thread in the forum before asking a question! Geez, what’s wrong with you?)

2- People’s criticisms of the product and behavior of the developers and moderators started getting censored. And not just deleted, but often times a member’s whole post would get edited into something not even remotely resembling the original, with a few very childish remarks thrown in to make the poster look foolish. Eventually, the forum got so filled up with reports of dead devices and examples of the the EFI-X team’s rude  behavior, that they nuked the whole site. Boom. Gone! They claimed it was due to a change in the server, but the real reason was very obvious. Now, only a few months later the forum is once again filled with things that make EFI-X look bad, and WhiteDragon has been threatening to close the forum down completely.

3- More and more people started reporting their EFI-X devices suddenly stopped working. Some people claimed to have gone through 3 or more devices. The protocol for getting a replacement was very cryptic, and seemed to take quite some time. At first, this was blamed on people using “cheap power supplies”, but it soon became apparent that it was a problem with the actual device. They then announced the release of EFI-X version 1.1, to which they added ESD and EMI protection, hopefully preventing your device from going bye-bye. If you want to trade in your v1.0 for a v 1.1, it will cost you $100+, and you will be without a computer for an indeterminate amount of time. (a week? a month?) I am waiting to hear back from expresshd, the US retailer for the EFI-X.

This inherent unreliability of the device started making me nervous, so I began to think about a contingency plan. After all, I am perfectly capable of installing OS X on my machine in other ways. The whole point of the EFI-X device is that you are not supposed to have to worry about anything once you are up and running. The “other methods”, (ie Hackintoshing, boot 132, Chameleon) may require a little more time and energy at the offset, but when there is a problem, you are in control of solving it, not some hard-to-reach people on the other side of the world. And there are numerous forums out there where people are more than happy to assist you with the information that you need to know.

I eventually found a forum started by other EFI-X owners who wanted to be able to freely discuss the issues they were having without the ridicule and censorship. At first, its purpose was to help troubleshoot the EFI-X device, but it didn’t take long before people started coming to the realization that “Hey! We don’t need this device!” People have contributed all sorts of useful information that allows for the creation of a sort of homebrew EFI-X device, based on the Chameleon bootloader. With the methods that are being used on the forum, the bootloader, the kexts, and all the modifications needed to run OS X on peecee hardware are contained on a separate USB flash drive, leaving the OS X installation completely original, intact, and “Vanilla”. The main benefit of this approach, is you need to do little, if anything, to be able to update your system through Apple. This was one of the main selling points of the EFI-X device, but it turned out to be somewhat farcical. What they meant was, in fact, you had to wait for them to come up with the patches, and then go through the potentially risky process of updating the EFI-X device before you could update the OS.

So, I spent the last few days getting my system up and running, completely free of the EFI-X device. It was quite a chore, I admit, but I really learned a lot during the process. I now have a fully functioning system, and the only two small issues I have were in fact also present when using the EFI-X device. That is, no auto sleep, and getting a “this device was not removed properly” when waking from sleep with a USB stick inserted.  I am trying to upgrade my EFI-X device to a v1.1, and am going to watch to see if/when Snow Leopard support is added, the longevity of the new revision, and how well it works with the supported core i7 hardware. I may give it another shot and build myself an i7 system if these things pan out. Otherwise, I may just sell the little guy on ebay.

I even got my hands on a USB header-to-female USB adapter so that my flash-drive-boot-stick is attached right to the motherboard and not sticking out of my computer, just like the EFI-X device.

Here’s the thing: I will put up with uncertainty, idiosyncrasies, and all sorts of minor issues, if I feel like I am part of a positive movement, surrounded by positive energy and camaraderie. I will not, however, put up with the sort of BS that I have witnessed on the EFI-X forums, even if it did mean a 100% stable system. If I like something; a product, an app, or a website… I will do all sorts of things to promote it, just because I believe in it and want it to succeed. On the other hand, if I feel like a company or individual is ill-intentioned or has done me or one of my friends wrong, I will pass that information on with an equal amount of zeal. EFI-X has been teetering on the edge between these two categories.

If EFI-X is going to make it, WhiteDragon needs to stick to whatever it is he does behind the scenes and hire someone to run the customer relations side of things. I have come to the conclusion that a lot of the problem may be a the language barrier…what seems like rudeness may just be his sense of humor. I really can’t pass any judgments on  him, since I don’t know him personally. Anyway, the point is that ASEM needs a more polished and professional approach to support and customer relations.

My conclusion? The question of whether to use the EFI-X device vs a Chameleon Hackintosh may come down to whether you like troubleshooting and problem solving or not. Tinkering with my computer is kinda my hobby, so it is a fun challenge for me at times. On the other hand, I have gotten pretty good performance out of my EFI-X device, and I admit that this latest install has worn down my patience a little bit, making the idea of just plugging in the EFI-X BPU to some new core i7 hardware and being up and running seem appealing. So, we’ll see what happens….

Coming soon: I am going to work on a step-by step guide on how I got my system up and running. I will probably wait until after Snow Leopard and make sure it all works with the new OS. There are also rumors of a new version of Chameleon right around the corner, including Snow Leopard support. In the mean time, check out the EFI-X Users Forum (with the emphasis on “x-users”) to learn about getting an EFI-X free system up and going.

Posted by: cielo | June 16, 2009

Blu-ray! on my Hackintosh

BD_logo_blue

The latest update to my Hackintosh is a great addition to my HTPC experience: a Blu-ray drive!

I had a Best Buy Rewards coupon getting ready to expire, and looking at their website, I noticed they had the LG ‘Super Multi Blue’ Blu-ray drive on sale. I had been researching Blu-ray drives, and this one had the best reviews of the ones I had checked out. Using my rewards coupon, it only cost me $80 delivered. Sweet!

I received it in just a few days, and it installed in just a few minutes. Of course, the drive will not play Bly-ray movies in OS X, but luckily my EFI-X box dual boots into Windows 7. To do straight Blu-ray playback in Windows, you need very specific software. The most popular choice for Blu-ray playback seems to be Cyberlink’s PowerDVD Ultra. They are currently on version 9, but version 8 had BD capabilities as well. I picked up a copy of v8 on eBay for $25, and it was ‘digital delivery’ so I had it in a matter of minutes. I don’t really see myself ‘hanging out’ in Windows, even to play a BD, but it’s nice to have the option. I prefer to rip the disk, and then watch it in OS X. Plex does a great job playing back  BD rips, but for long term storage, Handbrake will take the 30+ GB files down to a more manageable 6-12GB, depending on the movie and the quality settings.

The process required to enjoy Blu-ray content on your Mac seems a little intimidating, but it really isn’t too bad once you do it a couple of times. Just be prepared to spend a little cash for the needed software! I was pointed in the right direction to getting this process figured out thanks to Cave Man’s post on the Plex forum, The Mac Users Guide To Blu-Ray Rips For Plex. Thanks Cave man! However, I have found a slightly different workflow that takes far less time, which I will outline in this post.

So, here’s what you’ll need to make this work:

~Windows. This can be a boot camp partition on your Mac, a separate Windows box, or an EFI-X volume. I haven’t heard of anyone doing this in a virtual environment, though it might be possible. I am running Windows 7 x64 RC1 on an EFI-X volume.

~Slysoft’s AnyDVD HD. Removes the copy protection from the disk and allows you to copy the files to your hard drive. This app is great, although damn expensive. About a hundred bucks+ with two years worth of ‘updates’. I was lucky enough to catch a great sale they were having, and nabbed it for ‘only’ $80 US. You can get it HERE.

~In some BDs, the movie is divided into multiple streams rather than just one. For these disks, you will need BDInfo to determine which playlist to use. This is a free app for Windows. Download it HERE.

~tsMuxer for Windows. This is a free app, that takes all the video and audio files from the BD, and creates a single uncompressed .m2ts file. Download it HERE.

~Handbrake. Another free app for converting and compressing video files. The latest svn build can passthru DTS audio streams. You can download the pre-compiled svn HERE, or get the official Handbrake release without the DTS passthru capabilities HERE. You will need a college degree in Handbrake-ology to really understand the minutiae of all the settings for this app, but you can get by with the presets.

~Plex. Free open-source media center application for accessing all your video and audio media, as well as online streaming content.  Get it HERE. OK, not specifically necessary for ripping BDs, but it does a great job at playing the .m2ts files. If you aren’t using Plex, you’re missing out.

That’s it for the software.

The first thing you want to do is figure out which file on the Blu-ray disk contains the main movie. Sometimes the movie will be contained in a single file, other times it is spread out amongst several files. In either case, there will be a playlist file stored on the disk which contains a ‘roadmap’ to the movie. Run BDInfo to discover which playlist file points to the movie.  To do this, just open BDInfo, and select the BD Disk as a source. It will run, and after a few seconds will tell you which playlist file you want. All you need to do is note the name of the file it returns. It may display several playlist files, but the one you want is the biggest one it displays.

The next step is to open that playlist file up in tsMuxer. You will need to have AnyDVD-HD running in the background to do the jedi-mind-trick on the disk. When you launch tsMuxer, it should default to the “Input” tab. This is really the only part of the app that you need to work in for this process. Just ignore everything else. Click the ‘add’ button to the right of the ‘Input files:’ box. You will be prompted to browse for the file. Open up the Blu-ray disk and look in the BDMV folder. Inside that, there will be another folder called ‘Playlist’. Select the playlist file in that folder that you noted when running BDInfo. TSMuxer will then display the files for the movie.

In the ‘Tracks’ box, you want to deselect everything except the H.264 video file and the DTS-HD or TRUE-HD audio track. With the audio track selected, you will see a checkbox to downconvert the audio track. If the original audio track is DTS-HD, the option will be to downcovert to DTS. If the original audio track is TRUE-HD, you will be able to downconvert to AC3. In any case, check that box.

Next, in the ‘Output’ box, select ‘M2TS Muxing’.  Then browse for where you want to write the file to. You will select the folder you want to mux to, but also need to manually name the file, as it does not auto-propagate.

The last step is to simply click the  ‘Start Muxing’ button on the bottom of the screen. It will do it’s thing, taking about a half hour to an hour, depending on the movie. When it is finished, you will wind up with a rather large .m2ts file. You can play this uncompressed file as it is in Plex, or proceed to the next step if you want to transcode it into a more manageable size for long term storage. My Windows volume is available on my desktop in OS X, so I am able to easily access the file for playback in Plex or for re-encoding in Handbrake. If you have a different set-up, you may need to transfer the file to the appropriate place to access from your Mac.

When I first started ripping my Blu-Ray collection, I was using the workflow described in Cave Man’s awesome how-to-guide. The basic idea was to rip the movie off the disk in Windows, and then mux it using tsMuxer in OS X. After discovering this workflow I did a few side-by-side comparisons, and discovered that not only was it much shorter to do the entire process in Windows, but you actually wind up spending more time in Windows by doing the muxing on the Mac side. It’s great that tsMuxer is now available for OS X, but until there is also a Mac equivalent to AnyDVD available, it just doesn’t make sense to divide the workflow up between the two platforms. Here are a few examples of the times I got:

The Fall

Old Workflow
AnyDVD Rip in Windows: 39 mins
tsMuxer in OS X: 10 mins
total time: 49 mins

New Workflow
tsMuxer in Windows, straight from disk:
Total time: 30 mins

The Princess Bride

Old Workflow
AnyDVD Rip in Windows: 45 mins
tsMuxer in OS X: 13 mins
total time: 58 mins

New Workflow
tsMuxer in Windows, straight from disk:
Total time: 40 mins

National Treasure

Old Workflow
AnyDVD Rip in Windows: 56 mins
tsMuxer in OS X: 13 mins
total time: 69 mins

New Workflow
tsMuxer in Windows, straight from disk:
Total time: 39 mins

So, you can see how much faster it is to just mux it, without ripping it from the disk first.

If you are going to be storing a lot of movies on a hard drive, you will probably want to re-encode them in Handbrake. I am not going to get into all the ins and outs of re-encoding a Blu-ray rip in Handbrake in this post, as the settings will vary widely depending on your individual needs. I will however, mention a few pointers that may help.

First off, if you downloaded the SVN build that I linked to above or built your own, Handbrake can now do DTS pass-thru, though only in an MKV container.

Some suggestions for quality settings in Handbrake are 59% Constant Quality (Thanks Cave Man) or 5000 to 6000 ABR (Thanks poofyhairguy). But, like I said, YMMV, depending on the display which you will me viewing the movie on, the quality of the original movie, and of course your personal preferences.

In a future post, I will go more in-depth into Handbrake and do some comparisons. But for now, I suggest reading through the Handbrake forums to see what settings others are using for their settings.

Enjoy your Blu-ray HTPC experience!

Posted by: cielo | March 27, 2009

Quad-Core Hackintosh Goodness: EFI-X

After two successful Hackintosh builds to boost my confidence, I decided to step it up a notch. My main computer has been a Mac Mini for the last few years, and while they are great little machines, nothing makes their lack of power more apparent than trying to convert video in Handbrake. And while many people claim to be able to play HD video just fine on a Mini, I was not having the best luck with even 720p video. Playback was jerky, and it dropped frames like crazy. This was clearly not going to let me take advantage of my new 720p projector, so I decided to put together a new machine.

I had been researching possible builds for several months, reading people’s experiences with different hardware and installation methods. I had narrowed it down to doing a Boot-132 retail install, having had good luck with it on my last two Hackintoshes. Weaksauce12 had put together a nice little recipe on his blog, that was just what I was looking for.  But then, I had also been looking into an EFI-X chip. If you are not familiar with this device, it’s basically a small piece of hardware that you connect to your mobo that lets your computer boot into an EFI environment, allowing you to install and boot OS X, without altering the OS one bit. The only caveat with this device, is that you need to stick to a limited Hardware Compatibility List in order for the device to work. Reading over the HCL, I noticed that the very same hardware from Weaksauce’s recipe was supported by EFI-X. Browsing the expresshd.com website, the US distributors of the EFI-X device, I saw that it was the last day of a pretty good sale on the EFI-X.  It was going for $180 rather than the normal price-tag of $240. Not wanting to miss out and regret it later, I jumped on it.

Now I have to admit, I was leaning more toward a boot-132 install at this point. I figured I could give the EFI-X a try, and if I didn’t want to keep it, I could always sell it on eBay for what I paid for it. My real plan was to do a comparison between the two methods, as what I had read about the EFI-X device was either speculation by people who didn’t own one, or one sided cryptic information from the EFI-X devotees on the EFI-X forum. I put in my order for the EFI-X device, and then got to work picking out the Hardware.

The Components

As  I said, my hardware choices were mostly based on Weaksauce’s recommendations.  The research that I did seemed to confirm what he had come up with. It was also a popular combination with the EFI-X crowd, so I went with it. Here’s the basic configuration:

Mobo: Gigabyte EP45-UD3P – NewEgg $135

CPU: Intel Q6600 Core2Quad 2.4GHz – NewEgg $200

Graphics: XFX GeForce 7300gt- eBay $50

Hard Drive: Western Digital Caviar Green 1 TB  – NewEgg $100

CPU Cooling: Arctic Cooling Freezer 7 Pro – NewEgg $32

Optical Drive: Samsung 22x DVD burner with Lightscribe – NewEgg $25

Memory: Kingston ddr2 800 (pc6400) 2Gb x 4 – NewEgg $88

Networking: Netgear GA311 Gigabit Ethernet Card – NewEgg $22

PSU: Antec Basiq BP550 Plus -eBay $65

Case: Lian Li PC-A16 Silver – Xoxide.com $136

EFI-XExpressHD.com $180

Plus, a few clear sata cables that looked better inside the case, and a optical drive cover made for Lian Li cases.

All of the items that I purchased from NewEgg are on this wishlist.

The grand total for this build was about $1050, not including the retail Leopard multi-license family pack that I already own. I also replaced all the fans in the case with Scythe fans (3 total) so add another few bucks for that. So, all in all, Under $1100 shipped.

hackpro_side1

Putting it together

Assembling the components was, well, pretty straightforward. If you have never seen or built a PC in a Lian Li case, I can’t recommend it enough. As far as I’m concerned, Lian Li makes the best cases out there. Not only are they super well engineered with incredible airflow, but they are absolutely gorgeous! Most of the Hackintoshes I have seen have great specs, but are housed in a butt-ugly pc case. Now, I have to admit that I am big on aesthetics, and that is one reason I use Macs. So it didn’t make sense to me to skimp on the case. After all, I do have to look at this thing every day. Lian Li cases are the most “Mac-like” pc cases that are available. My other option was to mod a PowerMac G5 or MacPro case. If you haven’t seen any of the mods on aquamac.com, check them out! They are sure to wow ya. However, that solution was a little more than I wanted to get into right now. I decided to spend more money and less time, and just get one of the Lian Li cases.

pca16_s_a

hackpro_top

After putting it all together, I loaded Windows XP on it, just to make sure all the components were working properly. Everything seemed to be OK, so I turned my attention to the EFI-X device.

EFI-X

As I said, I ordered the device from the US distributor, ExpressHD. I received the device pretty quickly, within a week. Upon opening the parcel, I was immediately struck by the quality of the packaging. These guys did not skimp on the presentation of the device. They even put magnets in the box and lid so it snaps open and closed like a newer MacBook.

efi_box

Just a word of warning, the device comes with an extension cable, that turns out to be pretty important if you want to use both of your USB headers on your mobo. I was looking for one online, with no luck mind you, when I stumbled upon a secret compartment in the little EFI-X box that contained the cable. I read on the EFI-X forums, where some poor guy had thrown his box away before finding the cable, and was having a hard time locating a replacement. That’s why you never throw anything away! At least until you’ve had it a few years.

So, you just connect the device to USB header #1 on the mobo, boot into the BIOS and make a few changes, and then pop the retail Leopard disk in the drive and reboot. It booted right into the install process, and installed OS X, just like a real Mac. I immediately updated to 10.5.6, with out a single problem. In “About this Mac”, the processor shows up as “2.4Ghz Unknown”, and all 8 GB of the memory is showing.

hackpro_efix

Booting with the EFI-X brings you to a boot menu, similar to the new Chameleon bootloader that is about to come out. There are icons representing each bootable disk on the system, EFI-X detecting what type of OS is on it and displaying the appropriate icon.

efi_boot

The idea is that you can boot into OSX, Windows, or Linux from the boot menu, but support for the latter two is a little sketchy right now. The EFI-X devs originally supported Windows XP, but have shifted their focus to supporting Windows 7 & Vista. I do not have Vista, and will never, ever, run Vista, so I will have to wait to be able to access Windows from the boot screen. There is a way to boot into Windows XP, but you have to go into the BIOS and change a few things whenever you switch between OS’s. For the time being, I have found that using Parallels to run a virtual Windows XP is more than sufficient for my needs. I’ll probably give Windows 7 a shot when it comes out. I haven’t tried loading up a Linux distro yet, but I did read a few people having problems with Ubuntu, which is my distro of choice. Apparently, it is something that is being worked on, so I am going to wait until the bugs get ironed out before I try it. There are people successfully triple booting however, so it does work in some capacity.

Performance

My original plan was to do a side by side comparison between EFI-X and a boot-132 install, but after installing with the EFI-X, I’m not sure there’s any reason to try a boot-132 install. Having done a few Boot-132 installs, the process is pretty straight forward. However, It can’t get much easier than the EFI-X without buying a real Mac. I was pleasantly surprised, to say the least, with how smoothly the EFI-X device works. I will eventually do a boot-132 install, just because that was my original intention, plus its nice to have a backup in case my EFI-X device fails for some reason. But for now, the EFI-X device does the job, and does it well.

After about a month of use, I’m happy to report that everything is working well. The computer will sleep (sometimes…I haven’t nailed down the cause, but it was doing the same exact thing on my Mac Mini, so I’m pretty sure its a software issue, most likely Plex,  and not related to EFI-X. Putting it to sleep manually works fine.) I am able to see and connect to my other Macs using Bonjour, thanks to the Netgear GA311 which is seen as a native Apple LAN card. The onboard LAN works OK, but does not recognize and connect to other Macs on the Network automatically. The EFI-X devs are working on this, but in the meantime, the GA311 is a easy, $20 solution. There is also a strange oddity with onboard sound, but not one that interferes with anything. To have sound out through the 3.5mm jack on the back, you need to set the sound output to “Built-in speaker”, rather than “Headphones” or “Line out”. The digital line out is reported to work properly, but I do not have a receiver yet. I am just using a pair of Bose computer speakers for the time being. Other than these few things that I have mentioned, everything else works great.

On my 1.83GHz Mac Mini, it took 3-4 hours to convert a VIDEO_TS file to a M4V using Handbrake. On the new system, I am able to covert the same movie in about 1.5 hours, a vast improvement. Playback of HD video content is smooth. I have watched several 720p movies without a single dropped frame, and did watch a few 1080p trailers, which also played without a hitch. One more issue that I have run into, is that if I try to turn on my projector while the computer is already running, it gets a little confused. If I have both my projector and my monitor turned on and reboot Leopard, I can successfully run with dual desktops. However, turning on or off one or the other while its already running does not make for a happy computer. I am not sure if this is due to my video card’s firmware, or the fact that I’m going from DVI>HDMI on my projector. I am going to upgrade my video card pretty soon, with the hopes that it will be straightened out. In the mean time, I am using the same system that I used on my Mini, which is a DVI switch that switches between my monitor and projector at the press of a button. I then have a keyboard hotkey that triggers “Detect Displays” and resets the proper resolution. Not completely ideal, but simple and effective, nonetheless.

Overall Impressions

I am very happy with this build. I was confident enough with the stability and performance, that I sold my Mac Mini. Now, nothing even comes close to the Mini when you look at the amount of performance that you get per square inch, not to mention how quiet they are. However, if you are not completely anal about keeping a bare minimalist Home Theater Setup or something, then building your own is the way to go. Sure there are a few minor issues that I have to deal with on this build, but the same was true with my honest to goodness legitimate Mac. In fact, I would say that so far, I’m having less issues with my EFI-X build than I did with my Mac Mini. Go figure. If I were to configure an equivalent Mac Pro from Apple, it would cost me upwards of $3000. So, for a third of the price, I think this system using the EFI-X device is a winner, and I highly recommend it. Of course, you can build an EFI-X system for much cheaper, if you are willing to forgo some of the power or the looks, and save even more if you do a boot-132 install. But for me, a few hundred bucks is small price to pay for the ease and stability that one gets with the EFI-X device.

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