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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Responses

  1. This blog’s great!! Thanks :).

  2. Great writeup! Glad something I wrote was useful, haha 🙂 That’s a slammin case, it’s like a minimalistic Mac Pro case! If you have a spare SATA drive handy, give the latest BOOT-132 package for the UD3P a shot and see how it compares:

    http://www.mediafire.com/file/tggygyldgmz/UD3P.ip

  3. NICE!

  4. Any clue if OS X would support a 3ware RAID card in this scenario?

    • Mav,

      I will preface this by saying I personally have no experience with RAID. However, from what little I understand, A RAID card will work in Hackintosh/EFI-X machine if it has Mac drivers. Not much help, sorry.

  5. Very cool!!! How important is the case? I’m thinking about building a project similar to yours but I would like to use a Moncaso case that has a 7″ display on the front of the case. I would like to use the Mirrored Desktop Feature on the 7″display. Also the Moncaso uses a MicroATX board. I didn’t see a MicroATX board on the EFiX compatibility list. Any thoughts ???

  6. Aargh-a-Knot,

    Would you suggest any upgrades/changes to your parts list now that you’ve run it for a little while?

    I’m going to pull the trigger on, what I hope to be, a no-brainer, retail DVD hackintosh system based on your parts list here… (probably in the next couple of weeks)

    Any last minute advice before I (and, possibly, others) pull the trigger?

  7. Looks like ExpressHD.com has a bundle available (Gigabyte EP45-UD3P + EFI-x USB module). Nice.

  8. @iMav

    That’s a good deal for the combo, $25 less than buying separately. If you get their other “better” combo with the EP45T you can use DDR3 memory instead of DDR2…I don’t know how much real world difference that will make, but it’s probably worth a few extra bucks.

    Other than that, the only thing I would do differently is buy a better graphics card. I am going to upgrade to a 8800GT with an Arctic Cooling Accelero S1 passive VGA Cooler. My graphics card works great, but I’m wanting to also get a Bluray drive, and need an HDCP compatible card for playback.

  9. Aargh-a-Knot,

    r you still using the tower for media only? And is it running Plex?

  10. @rob

    I use this box for everything except torrents…Photoshop, Illustrator, Dreamweaver, etc, plus video conversion and playback. And yes, I am running Plex…what else is there? 😉

  11. Great post, I’m planning on building a Hackintosh as well and was planning on doing the “hard way”, but then I remembered the EFIX dongle. I want to build a production machine and if there I can spend a bit of coin to gain some stability in the build, I will gladly spend the money.

  12. Why do need a separate Ethernet card? Will the one on the MOBO not work? Also, what about a wireless 802.11 g/n card?

    Also, if I want to use this with Plex, which remote control do you recommend?

  13. Aargh-a-Knot,

    Want to build a system like yours.. but the board is out of stock now I was wondering if you know of any other board that will work or point me to a site that has all the right config part that will work.

    rob

  14. Aargh,

    do you know if this would work…

    Intel Core2 Q9400S Yorkfield 2.66GHz 6MB L2 Cache LGA 775 65W Quad-Core Processor

    • Pretty much any Intel Core2 processor is going to work OK. The thing that you need to get right is the board. Check out the HCL on the EFI-X site for a list of compatible boards. They should all work well for both EFI-X and boot-132 installs, but you should research to see if anyone had success with the particular installation technique and specific board you want to use.

      Personally, I would go for what’s cutting edge… like an X58 board and i7 cpu.

  15. Aargh,

    Thanks.. I’m going to take your idea about the X58 board and i7cpu..

    rob

  16. Aargh,

    Well just check out the site X58 board as not been posted the site yet… I guess I need to wait to see what board works

  17. Yeah, the official HCL for the X58 boards has not been released, but there are a few threads about specific boards people are currently using. A few minor issues, but ones that will be addressed once the boards are officially supported. You could wait until the new HCL is released, or you could gamble that one of the more popular boards that people are experimenting with will make it to the HCL. Being this close, I wouldn’t get something that’s about to be obsolete like a 45.

    Also, make sure you wait to get a version 1.1 efi-x if you are going that route. There seems to be a high failure rate with the v1.0s. They should be available in the next month.

    • Aargh-a-Knot.

      He kind of need your help… I’m having a hard time making up mind on case… The system I’m building is only going to be use as a server…. So I need a case that can take up to 9 drives. or see this is when my mind wonders…

      I also ready have a old G5 1.8 that’s a server with only 2 TB of media storage… I was thinking of purchasing a external Raid to just add to the server and just wait to see what happens with the i7 chip…. and build a server later Question to you … do you have any good sources on purchasing external HD case or should I just build the system… Since you already completed two build already I would ask you for feed back… To minds or better then one 🙂

      rob

  18. I am toying with the idea of upgrading my gateway hackintosh to something vanilla. I was wondering if you have used iMovie on a macbook versus your quad-core machine. I started using iMovie and iDVD on our Macbook and think it would be a better experience on a quad core machine. I thought of spending $50 on the cheaper mobo from weaksauce’s list, but then I’m limited to 4gb. I wonder if that would be enough?

    Anyway, do you have any thoughts on this? What kind of speed improvements could I expect?

  19. I was hoping the comparison with a Boot-132 install would have been done by now, but it sounds like it wasn’t really necessary to even bother. Still, the less hardware I have to rely on (EFI-x) to make my machine bootable, the better. It’s the same with hardware RAID cards — sure they get better performance, but if the card goes bad or an upgrade of OSX renders its drivers useless, you can’t get your data from the drives.

    • See my newest blog post regarding the EFI-X device.

  20. […] Quad-Core Hackintosh Goodness: EFI-X […]


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