Blog Archives

How to Analyze, Clean Out, and Free Space on Your Hard Drive [Hard Drives]

Hard drive space is cheaper than ever, but as Parkinson’s Law dictates, your data (and, let’s face it, BitTorrent addiction) somehow expands to fill your space available for storage. Here’s a few simple but effective ways to clean out your hard drive. More »

How to Automatically Sync Any Song You Download to iTunes [Hack Attack]

iTunes has never been great at automatically syncing new songs or folders of music, but with a little finesse and the latest version of iTunes, you can automatically sync any new music you download to iTunes, with relative ease. More »

How to Put Your PC to Good Use While You’re Sleeping [Hack Attack]

The great part about your computer is that—unlike you—it doesn't require any sleep. Take advantage of your PC's insomnia by automating time- and processor-intensive tasks while you're counting sheep.

Photo remixed from Remko van Dokkum and Ian Wilson.

Note: We’re all for powering down your PC to save energy overnight, but you can easily schedule your computer to shut down at specific times using several methods, so there's no harm in putting your PC to sleep an hour or two after you doze off—or an hour or two after you leave for work, or whatever times you might want to take advantage of a few extra CPU cycles while you're away from your PC.

On Tuesday we asked you what apps and maintenance tools you run while you’re sleeping. Below we’ve aggregated our favorite overnight computer uses, including some of your favorite methods of squeezing a few more overtime hours out of your computer along with ours.

Backup, Update, and Clean

Ah maintenance; it's the stuff that boring work is made of. Rather than incorporate it into your regular computing hours—and staring listlessly at your computer while your maintenance tasks complete—make computer maintenance an overnight task that your computer performs without you.

Note: All of the below suggestions, naturally, can be set to run on a schedule.

Backup your hard drive: We’ve emphasized the importance of backup time and again, and even if you’ve already got some form of backup in place, there’s still a good chance that you’re doing it wrong.

The bummer about backup: It can take a very long time, especially when you’re performing an off-site backup over the internet (which you should be doing!). We’ve detailed how to automatically backup your hard drive to an external drive and/or FTP server in the past. Backing up to a second local hard drive—like a connected USB drive—is the most important of these two, since most people don't necessarily have an off-site FTP server they can back up to.

Instead, for your off-site backup needs, we’d suggest signing up for a service like Mozy. An annual subscription to Mozy will cost around $55 a year for unlimited backups (free for up to 2GB), but let’s say worst comes to worst and your computer is robbed, lost to a fire, or your hard drives up and crash. That small cost for insurance will likely seem very much worth the money. I personally use and can vouch for Mozy, but you might want to read up on it and other options in our recent Hive Five Best Backup Tools.

Some command-line savvy readers also opt to do their backups using the venerated rsync command line tool. If you’re interested in taking the rsync route, check out our guide on how to mirror files across systems with rsync.

Make your hard drive repair itself: You can't do much to save a hard drive from dying if it's fated in the stars, but you can do your part to keep your disks healthy—specifically by regularly defragmenting and checking for and repairing any disk errors. Our oldie-but-goodie guide to the self-repairing hard drive will allow you to schedule this maintenance once or twice per week, while you’re sleeping, so you can rest easy that you’ve done all you can to keep your disks running in tip-top shape.

Keep your computer up to date: This one’s kind of a no brainer, but still very worth the reminder. Granted, some power users would prefer vetting each and every Windows update before it’s applied, but for most folks, there’s not much of a reason not to automate this process while they’re out. To schedule updates via Windows Update, just launch the Update tool from the Control Panel, click the Let me choose my settings link, and choose your preferred automated update settings.

OS X users, your Software Update tool isn’t quite as friendly about setting specific times for checking for and downloading updates, but Macworld’s Christopher Breen has some clever tips for scheduling Software Update that’ll do the trick.

Clean house: Whether you’re talking antivirus, crap cleaning, or other general PC cleanup, there’s no better time to run those scans and maintenance tools than while you’re catching some Z’s. It may depend on your antivirus application of choice, but you should have some sort of built-in scheduling option for running antivirus and spyware scans. And for the CCleaner crowd, the How-To Geek details how to set up CCleaner to run automatically every night.

Download, Encode, and Fold

Now that you’ve got your PC taking care of its most important maintenance tasks overnight, let’s look at a few other common overnight uses.

Downloads: When we asked about overnight PC use, downloading using tools like BitTorrent ranked very high among those who responded, and for obvious reasons: Downloads can take a long time, and those hours you're sleeping are hours that big downloads can be completing. But rather than keep your PC on all night long—even after it completes your download—most popular file downloaders have built-in options for shutting down, hibernating, or otherwise powering off your computer when the download in question completes. Everything from the popular BitTorrent client uTorrent (whose options are pictured above) to download managers like DownThemAll have these options built in.

Video encoding: Many of us will never know the time it takes to do some seriously heavy video encoding (we’re none of us Pixar), but if you’ve ever tried ripping a DVD (here are five of the best ripping tools out there), you know how much time and CPU cycles video encoding can take. Outsource your ripping and other encoding jobs to the night so you can actually use your computer the next day.

Share your computing power with researchers: Distributed computing tools allow researchers across the globe to use your extra CPU cycles to run a few algorithms of their own in the background using your computer. That might not seem like much, but with enough computers, researchers can do some serious work with distributed computing. (Wikipedia notes that Folding@home, the most popular distributed computing network, has up to 400,000 active machines running at a time and has reached computing speeds of over 5.0 native petaflops.) If you’re interested in putting your PC to use to help the world while you’re sleeping, you’ve got plenty of options:There’s Folding@home (a project to understand protein folding), BOINC, the World Community Grid, and LHC@home, to name a few popular options.

And a few other smart ideas

Clever (or just less common) overnight uses for your PC suggested by Lifehacker readers included:

  • Updating your applications: Reader Matthew Giacomazzo uses previously mentioned software update tool Ketarin to check for and download software update packages for installed apps. Rather than automatically install them, he has Ketarin output updates to a text file on his desktop so he can review the downloaded updates and decide whether or not to install them in the morning.
  • Compiling code: Compiling code from source can be an intensive process, and reader perlhacker uses his overnight cycles to update and compile software on his Mac and OpenBSD machines.
  • Renaming files: Lifehacker reader prupert runs scripts on his home theater PC to rename and copy television recordings on his MythTV setup, then scans the recordings for advertising, removes them, and converts the files to MKV.
  • Creating local backups for data in the cloud: Reader mojo schedules a Google Docs backup to give a little redundancy to data in the cloud.

Just Turn It Off Already

Okay, fine. Sometimes the best thing you can do with your computer is simply turn it off. You save on electricity, you lose one extra hum and a few flashing lights in your home at night, and you may stop thinking, “Oooo, maybe I should google that” while you’re laying in bed with your pre-sleep mind wandering. Remember, though, very few of the options highlighted above should require an entire night’s worth of your powered-on computer. Check out our guide to automatically shutting down your computer at a certain time for more ideas on how you can make the most of some after-hours computing power without keeping your computer on all night long.

Got a favorite that didn’t make the list above, or want to expand on what we already mentioned? Share your thoughts and experience in the comments.

Adam Pash, editor of Lifehacker, enjoys the god-like power of automation more than is healthy. His work can be found every day on Lifehacker, and he’s listening on Twitter.

Build a Silent, Standalone XBMC Media Center On the Cheap [Winter Upgrades]

You won’t find a better media center than the open-source XBMC, but most people don’t have the space or desire to plug a noisy PC into their TV. Instead, I converted a cheap nettop into a standalone XBMC set-top box. Here’s how.

In the spirit of our Winter Upgrades theme this week, this guide details how to turn a cheapo nettop (think netbook for the desktop) into a killer settop box running XBMC. It handles virtually any video file I throw at it with ease (including streaming Blu-Ray rips from my desktop), it looks tiny next to my Xbox 360, it’s low energy, and it’s whisper quiet.

Huge props to this guide on the XBMC forums, which served as the starting point for much of what I did below.

What You’ll Need

  • Acer AspireRevo: This $200 nettop ships with 1GB of RAM, an Intel Atom 230 processor, 160GB hard drive, Windows XP (which we won’t use anyway), and an integrated graphics chip that handles HD video and can output it to HDMI. It also comes with a small wired keyboard and mouse, but once you’re done here, you shouldn’t need either of them. Oh, and it’s tiny. (Other, more powerful nettops will work [like this one’s beefier, $330 older sibling], but this is the cheapest one I could find with the NVIDIA ION graphics powerful enough to handle the HD playback.)
  • XBMC Live: This is a Live CD version of XBMC that boots directly into XBMC and has a tiny footprint. Basically all you’re running is XBMC, so your media center stays light and snappy. You can find the download specifically set up for these NVIDIA ION machines on this page, you can grab the direct download here, or download via BitTorrent here.
  • A thumb drive: It doesn’t have to be huge, but it’ll need to be at least 1500MB of capacity, according to the installer. You should also format it to FAT32.
  • An IR receiver/Windows Media Center remote: This isn’t strictly necessary, but if you want to control your shiny new XBMC via remote control, you’ll need some sort of supported remote with a USB receiver. I bought this $20 remote because it was the cheapest I could find. (Incidentally, it also works like a charm with XBMC as soon as you plug it in.)

Getting XBMC Live up and running on your nettop is a breeze if you follow a few simple steps, so let’s get started.

Install XBMC Live on Your Thumb Drive

XBMC Live allows you to try XBMC on any computer from a bootable CD or thumb drive, then optionally install the lightweight, XBMC-focused Linux distro directly to your device if you like. Since our nettop doesn’t have a DVD drive, we’ll need to first install XBMC to our thumb drive.

(There are ways around this. If you had a USB optical drive, you could probably burn XBMC Live to a disc and go from there. The thumb drive method isn’t much more difficult, though.)

Here’s how it works:

1. Download the XBMC Live installer with the updated NVIDIA drivers included on this page (direct link, torrent link). Update: Huge thanks to Mike and Aaron for the file hosting and torrent creating. It’s a 341MB file, so it may take a while.

2. Burn XBMC Live to a CD
Once the download completes, unzip the file. What you're left with is an xbmc.iso file—the disc image of the XBMC Live installer. Now you need to burn this ISO to a CD. Install our favorite tool for the job, ImgBurn, then right-click the xbmc.iso file and select Burn using ImgBurn. (If you’re running Windows 7, you can use its built-in ISO burner, too, by selecting Burn disc image.)

3. Install XBMC Live to Your Thumb Drive
Now that you’ve burned XBMC to a CD, you’re ready to install it to your thumb drive. To do so, plug in your thumb drive, put the XBMC Live CD in your DVD drive, and reboot your computer. If it’s not already your default setting, go into your system BIOS (for most computers hitting Delete at the first boot screen will launch your BIOS) and set your optical drive as the primary boot device.

(All this means is that when your computer boots, it'll first check to see if there's any bootable media in your optical drive. If not, it'll continue booting to your secondary device—generally your hard drive. If your optical drive does contain bootable media—like your XBMC Live CD, for example—it'll boot it up.)

When XBMC Live loads, select “Install XBMCLive to disk (USB or HDD)”, then accept the first prompt (by pressing any key). Next you’ll end up at the “Choose disk to use” prompt, where you’ll tell the installer that you want to install to your USB stick. Be careful here not to choose your hard drive, because it would be happy to overwrite your operating system if you told it to. Remember, your thumb drive is the Removable disk. After you pick the disk you want to use, confirm that you want to proceed and let the installer do its magic. (It’ll only take a few minutes.)

Eventually the installer will ask you if you want to create a permanent system storage file, which presumably you’d want if you’re not sure whether or not you want to install XBMC Live to your Acer’s hard drive. I went ahead and created the system storage (even though we’ll install XBMC Live directly to the hard drive in the next step.) Once the installation finishes, you’re ready to proceed to the next step.

Set Your System BIOS

You’ll need to make a couple of tweaks to your system BIOS to get it working smoothly with XBMC Live. So plug in your thumb drive, boot up your Acer AspireRevo, and hit Delete at the first boot screen to edit your BIOS. Look for the “Boot to RevoBoot” entry in the Advanced BIOS features menu and disable it. While you’re there, set your XBMC Live thumb drive as the primary boot device. (You can set the primary boot device back to your hard drive later, after you’ve installed XBMC Live to your drive.)

Then go to the Advanced Chipset Features menu and set the iGPU Frame Buffer Detect to Manual and set the iGPU Frame Buffer Size to 256MB. (This is detailed here; the actual guide says 512, but that requires that you install more RAM—something I may do in the future, and will detail with a guide if I do. The 512 buffer size will help you stream the larger HD videos without hiccups.)

Now that your BIOS are set, you’re ready to try out XBMC Live on your Acer AspireRevo.

Boot Up/Install XBMC Live to Your Hard Drive

At this point, you’ve got two choices. You can either restart your Acer AspireRevo and boot into XBMC Live to play around a little before you install it to your disk. If you’re sure you’re ready to install it for reals, just go ahead and run through the exact same installation as you did above, only this time install it to your nettop’s hard drive. When you install to the hard drive, you’ll also set a system password. This’ll come in handy later.

The Final Tweaks

Okay, so far so good. XBMC should boot up directly from your hard drive now, and if you’ve plugged in your Windows Media Center remote, it should also be working without a hitch. You’ve just got to make a couple of adjustments to make it shine.

Now, what makes your little nettop work so well is that its onboard graphics processor can handle all the HD business without eating up your regular processor power, so you'll want to enable this in the XBMC settings. So head to Settings > Video > Play, find the Set Render to section, and set it to VDPAU.

Now, depending on how you’re planning on hooking up your XBMC Live box to your television, you’ve got a few more tweaks you’ll want to make. Namely this:

If you want to use HDMI for your audio out, head to Settings > System > Audio hardware, then set the audio output to Digital. Set your Audio output device to hdmi, and set the Passthrough output device to hdmi. Last, enable Downmix multichannel audio to stereo.

If you are using HDMI as your audio out (I am, and it’s pretty nice), you’ve got to make one final tweak if you want the audio output to work with menu sounds. (It’ll work fine with video without making this tweak, but the click-click sounds that play when you move around the XBMC menu are nice to have.) If that applies to you, create a new text file on your regular old computer (name it asoundrc.txt) and paste the following code (again, this awesome tweak comes from this post):

 pcm.!default { type plug slave { pcm "hdmi" } } 

In the next step, I’ll show you how to copy that file over to your nettop (a little trick that’ll also come in handy for manually installing plug-ins and copying files to your nettop).

SFTP to Your XBMC Box

If you want to transfer files to your XBMC Live box from another computer, you’ll need to get yourself an FTP client (I like FileZilla) and log into your nettop with the password you set when you were installing XBMC Live. To do so, create a new connection in Filezilla that looks something like the screenshot below (the default user is xbmc).

Once you’re connected, make sure you’re in the /home/xbmc/ directory, then copy over the asoundrc.txt file we made above. (The one you want to use if you’re running your audio through the HDMI output.) Once it’s copied over, rename the file to .asoundrc, restart XBMC, and the click-click menu sounds should be working along with regular old A/V playback.

The same SFTPing method here will be useful if you ever want to manually install any plug-ins or skins down the road, or just copy over media directly to your nettop's hard drive. (Though we'd recommend streaming—see below.)

Other Options

As I said above, you can buy more expensive, meatier machines, but for my money this Acer nettop has worked perfectly. Apart from upgrading to better equipment, you can also add up to 2GB more RAM if you’re up for the job (RAM’s so cheap these days, anyway). Like I said, though, so far I haven’t seen the need for it.

I also quickly switched the skin to the MediaStream skin, which is the one you see in the photo at the top of the page. For a look at some other great skins you may want to apply to your XBMC box, check out these five beautiful skins—or just head to XBMC's main skins page.

Now that you’ve got it all set up, you’ve probably also realized that 160GB isn’t all that much space for your media. You’d be right, of course. You’ve got two pretty good options. First, the nettop should have something like four free USB ports still, so you can easily plug in a big old drive that way. Assuming, however, that you can run an Ethernet wire over to your nettop, your best option is just to connect it to a shared folder on your home network. XBMC works like a charm with Samba shares (Windows shared folders use this).

Whichever method you use, you just need to add your extra hard drive space as a source in XBMC. You can do so through any of the individual menu items (videos, for example), or you can add a default Samba username and password in the settings so it can connect automatically without asking for a password each time you add a new watch folder on that machine.

At this point I could go into more detail on how to use and get the most out of XBMC (it can be a little hard to get your head around at first, even though once you do, it’s not actually confusing). We’ve covered souping up your XBMC—and building your classic Xbox XBMC machine—and both offer some help in those directions. But stick around; tomorrow we'll follow up with an updated guide to some of our favorite XBMC tweaks.

This guide covers in pretty close detail one method for putting together a dedicated, quiet XBMC media center without breaking the bank, but it’s certainly not your only option. If you’ve gone down this road before, offer your tips and suggestions in the comments. For my part: I’m completely in love with my new little media center.

Adam Pash is the editor of Lifehacker and loves a good computer-based DIY, especially when the results are as beautiful as XBMC. His special feature Hack Attack appears on Lifehacker. Subscribe to the Hack Attack RSS feed to get new installments in your newsreader, or follow @adampash on Twitter.

Install Snow Leopard on Your Hackintosh PC, No Hacking Required [How To]

Two weeks ago I detailed how to build a Hackintosh with Snow Leopard, start to finish, with a little Terminal work. If you’re not comfortable with command-line hacking, you can now install Snow Leopard on your Hackintosh with just a few point-and-clicks.

So what’s changed between my last guide and this one? In short, one of the incredibly helpful and generous people who helped walk me through the installation process last time was kind enough to wrap all the tedious Terminal work into one dead simple installer. Where two weeks ago I showed you how to prepare your thumb drive (and after that, hard drive) with a custom bootloader that allows you to boot into OS X on regular old PC hardware, now all you have to do is run a package, point it at the drive you want to prepare, and then let it take care of all the nitty gritty. It could not be more simple.

Now onto the revised process!

NOTE: Just like the last post, this guide is focused specifically on the hardware I suggested in the previous guide—specifically the motherboard. If you try following this guide on other hardware, there's a very good chance it won't work as advertised.

What You’ll Need

  • Supported hardware. I laid out my list of supported hardware in my previous post here. It’s not the only hardware that will work with OS X, but it’s the only hardware that’s guaranteed to work with this guide.
  • A USB thumb drive that’s at least 8GB in size (I’m using this 16GB Corsair drive, but obviously any sufficiently sized thumb drive should do just fine.)
  • A copy of the Snow Leopard Install DVD. You can use the $29 “Upgrade” disc to install, even though this is a fresh installation. Note: If you feel like being completely honest, go ahead and buy the Mac Box Set-though, honestly, Apple’s practically made it hard *not* to buy the fully functional install disc.
  • Another Mac to prepare your thumb drive. (You’ll only need this other Mac for a few steps. I used my MacBook Pro, but you could also borrow a friend’s for an hour or so, too.)
  • The EP45UD3P Snow Leopard install package. This package allows you to skip all the command line work in my last guide, and you can download it here.

Step One: Prepare Your Thumb Drive

In this step, you’re going to format your thumb drive and then restore the Snow Leopard DVD image to the thumb drive because later we’ll be installing Snow Leopard to your hard drive using this thumb drive rather than the DVD. “Why?” you ask. Because in order to boot the installer, we need to customize the disk image with some special helper files of our own.

I went into great detail on this process last time, so this time I’m just going to include the step-by-step video below (made by the same generous man who created the EP45UD3P Snow Leopard installer package). If you want to read the very detailed version for a thorough explanation of how to rip the Snow Leopard install DVD to a disk image and then restore that image to your thumb drive, go here. (Come back when you get to the “Semi-heavy Terminal work” warning. That’s when you’re ready for the new and improved easy part.)

Note: Watch the video in HD and fullscreen to get a closer look at everything that’s happening.

As you can see in the video, after you restore the Snow Leopard install DVD to your thumb drive, all you’ve got to do is fire up the EP45UD3P Snow Leopard.pkg file (if you haven’t already downloaded and unzipped it, you can grab it here), select your thumb drive, and, let the installer take care of all the dirty work that you previously had to do one line at a time in Terminal.

Once you’ve finished there, you’re ready to set your BIOS and install Snow Leopard.

Step 2: Set Your BIOS

Before you can boot into or install OS X on your Hackintosh, you’ve got to make some small adjustments to your system BIOS (press Delete at system startup to tweak your BIOS settings). Rather than taking you step by step through every change you need to make, I’ve simply snapped a picture of the relevant BIOS screens and added some notes. Just click through these images and make sure your BIOS settings match up.

Step 3: Install Snow Leopard

If you've made it this far, the hard part is over. Now it's time to install Snow Leopard, which—unlike what we've done so far—is extremely easy.

Make sure you’ve set the boot priority in your BIOS to boot from your thumb drive (you can see how in this pic), then simply plug your prepared thumb drive into your Hackintosh and power it up. Since screenshots aren't really an option—and since it's a fairly easy process—my install instructions come in video format:

The quick version goes like this: Boot into the Snow Leopard installer, format the hard drive you want to install Snow Leopard to (go to Utilities -> Disk Utility, then click on the drive, select 1 Partition, Mac OS X Journaled (Case-Sensitive Update: Several readers have suggested that case-sensitive formatting can cause problems with some applications, like Adobe’s Creative Suite, so you may be better off sticking with plain old Mac OS X Journaled.), give it a name, and make sure GUID Partition Table is set in the Options. After you Apply the new partition, go back to the installer and install like normal to that drive. When you reboot after the install completes, press the arrow keys at the graphical boot menu and select the drive you just installed Snow Leopard to.

Two Last Tweaks

You could just stop there and be pretty happy at your new Hackintosh, but there are two little, easily performed tweaks you’ll want to tackle to get everything in tip top shape: The first will get your sound fully working, and the second will allow you to boot into Snow Leopard without your thumb drive.

Tweak One: Snow Leopard should be up and running on your Hackintosh like a dream—with one exception: Sound isn't entirely working yet. You may notice that sound actually does work in some instances, but not all. In the old guide, you needed to install a custom audio kext (your Mac’s equivalent to a driver); the setup has been slightly tweaked in this new method, so all you should actually need to do is open up the Sound preference pane in System Preferences (/Applications/System Preferences), click the Output tab, and change the output device to Built-in Line output (I haven’t tested with digital out, but it should work fine in theory).

Tweak Two: At this point, in order to boot to your newly installed Snow Leopard installation, you need to have your thumb drive plugged in so it loads the custom bootloader, from which you can select your new Snow Leopard hard drive. To install the custom bootloader to your hard drive (so you no longer need the thumb drive to boot), again download the EP45UD3P Snow Leopard.pkg zip file and run it, but this time, instead of choosing to install the package to your thumb drive, select the hard drive you’ve installed Snow Leopard to. Once the installer completes, you’ll no longer need your thumb drive plugged in to boot into Snow Leopard.

Congratulations! You've Got a Fully Functional Hackintosh—the Easy Way

Where the method I covered previously required a good amount of time and care in Terminal, this new and improved method is a breeze, and it works even better. (Sound works out of the box without any custom kexts, for example.)

It’s also worth noting that you can go ahead and upgrade to OS X 10.6.1 without any problems.

If you’ve given the Hackintosh route a try since my first post, let’s hear how it’s been working out for you in the comments. If this extra ease-of-installation was just what the doctor ordered, go grab the parts listed in the last post and get ready for a fun weekend.

Adam Pash is the editor of Lifehacker; he loves a good hack, enjoys his Macintosh, and craves the power of a Mac Pro, so building a Hack Pro was a perfect fit. His special feature Hack Attack appears on Lifehacker. Subscribe to the Hack Attack RSS feed to get new installments in your newsreader.

How to Build a Hackintosh with Snow Leopard, Start to Finish [How To]

Two years ago, I detailed how to build a Hackintosh for under $800—then covered how to do the same with less hacking. Now that Snow Leopard’s out, we’re revisiting the Hackintosh, building a Hack Pro from scratch for roughly $900.

For folks eager to try a Mac but never wanted to plunk down the high price tag to get it, the Hackintosh—that is, a regular PC tweaked to run OS X—has always been an attractive option. That said, it's not something you should take on lightly unless you're willing—even enthusiastic—to build and maintain a PC entirely from scratch. I can't guarantee it'll be easy, but if you follow this guide step-for-step (it's exhaustive) and stick with the same (or at least roughly the same) hardware as I am, I can vouch for a rock solid system that also happens to cost a good deal less than you'd pay for a comparable Mac.

Price Comparisons

Most Hackintosh enthusiasts will say you shouldn’t build a Hackintosh primarily to save money, as it’s more than just an insert-disc-and-click install. Still, I always enjoy looking at the price differences between my Hackintosh and Apple’s current offerings. At the moment, the cheapest Mac in the Apple store is a Mac mini sporting a 2.0GHz Core 2 Duo processor, 1GB of RAM, and a 120GB hard drive. For $300 more, I’m running a 3.0GHz Quad-Core processor, 8GB of RAM, a 1TB hard drive, and a damn saucy video card. I could have made this build much cheaper by skimping on hardware and still ended up with a great little machine, but I liked aiming for around the $800 price point from my last build—plus I really wanted to make it fly.

The most expensive iMac, by comparison, has only a 3.06GHz Core 2 Duo with 4GB of memory for $2,200 ($1,300 more than my build, but it is built into a monitor), while the cheapest Mac Pro has a single 2.66GHz Quad-Core processor, 3GB of RAM, and a 640GB hard drive—and it costs $2,500 ($1,600 more than mine, though it’s a different and better processor and DDR3 rather than DDR2 RAM). In short, my $900 “Hack Pro” sports nearly as good or better hardware than any Mac that Apple sells short of the $3,300 8-Core Mac Pro (which can, incidentally, get more expensive, but it won’t get much better).

The Hardware

You can find plenty of hardware capable of supporting OS X on a Hackintosh—there's no definitive build—but we're not going to go into that here. I've put together a list of hardware that I'm using and that I can guarantee will (or at least has) run Snow Leopard like a dream.

Here’s a link to everything I bought over at Newegg:

The Build

Rather than detail every step necessary to put the actual pieces of your new computer together (this guide already reads like the Bible as is), I’m just going to point you to our first-timer’s guide to building a PC from scratch. Do your building, make sure everything’s booting up as it should be (i.e., you can boot the computer to the point where it does nothing, because you have nothing installed on it), then let’s move on.

What Else You’ll Need

Assuming you’ve purchased all the necessary parts for your build (linked above), you’ll still need a few other things before you get started:

  • A USB thumb drive that’s at least 8GB in size (I’m using this 16GB Corsair drive, but obviously any sufficiently sized thumb drive should do just fine.)
  • A copy of the Snow Leopard Install DVD. You can use the $29 “Upgrade” disc to install, even though this is a fresh installation. Note: If you feel like being completely honest, go ahead and buy the Mac Box Set—though, honestly, Apple's practically made it hard *not* to buy the fully functional install disc.
  • Another Mac to do some Terminal work on. (You’ll only need this other Mac for a few steps. I used my MacBook Pro, but you could also borrow a friends for an hour or so, too.)

Step One: Prepare Your Thumb Drive

We’re going to be installing Snow Leopard to your Hackintosh from your thumb drive rather than from the Snow Leopard install DVD, since in order to run the installer on your PC to begin with, you’ll need to slightly customize the way the installer is loaded. (More specifically, we’ll be loading a custom bootloader onto the thumb drive that will make booting into the install work like a charm.*)

So first things first: You need to format your thumb drive and then turn your Snow Leopard install disc into a disk image on your desktop. Here’s how to do it:

  1. Launch the Disk Utility application on your borrowed Mac (located at /Applications/Utilities/Disk Utility)
  2. Format and partition your thumb drive: Insert your thumb drive; after a second, it should show up in the Disk Utility Sidebar. When it does, (1) click on it, then (2) click on Partition. (3) Choose 1 Partition from the Volume Scheme, (4) give it a name (I called my HackintoshInstall) and select Mac OS Extended (Case-sensitive, Journaled) from the Format drop-down. Now—and this is important—(5) hit the Options button and make sure GUID Partition Table is selected as the partition scheme. Once you've made sure to set all the appropriate settings, just (6) click Apply and Disk Utility will get to partitioning your thumb drive.
  3. Copy the Snow Leopard Install DVD image to your hard drive: In the following step we’ll be turning your thumb drive into a Snow Leopard Install drive, but before we do that, we need to get the installer off your DVD and onto your hard drive. To achieve this, insert the Snow Leopard DVD. When it shows up in the Disk Utility sidebar, (1) click on it, then (2) click New Image in the Disk Utility toolbar. Choose where you want to save it (for the sake of convenience, I put it on my Desktop), then click the Save button. Now go grab yourself a cold drink. This will take some time. When it finishes, move on to the next step.
  4. Restore the Snow Leopard Install disk image to your thumb drive: Now, in Disk Utility, (1) click on HackintoshInstall (or whatever you called your partitioned thumb drive) and (2) click on Restore. (3) Drag and drop Mac OS X Install DVD.dmg from the sidebar to the Source field, then (4) drag and drop your thumb drive from the sidebar to the Destination field. Now simply (5) click on Restore and enter your password when prompted. Disk Utility will take everything on the Snow Leopard Install DVD and restore that image to your thumb drive—since, like I said above, we'll be installing Snow Leopard from our thumb drive instead of the DVD. Again, go grab yourself another drink; this will take a few minutes. When it finishes, your thumb drive has basically been turned into a Snow Leopard installation drive.

As I said earlier, the thumb drive needs a little finesse before you can boot the Snow Leopard installer on your PC hardware; let’s apply that finesse now.

Warning: Semi-heavy Terminal work ahead. It’s not that difficult, and I’ve gone into a lot of detail to make it as easy to follow along as possible, but if you’re not at least a little comfortable with the command line, it may make you pretty uncomfortable. Beg or borrow a command line geek for an afternoon, if needed.

  1. Make sure your thumb drive is still plugged in, open Terminal (/Applications/Utilities/Terminal) and type in:
    diskutil list

    We’re interested in two pieces of information here. The first is the root identifier for your thumb drive (mine looks like disk2, as you can see in the screenshot). The second is the specific identifier for the portion of the thumb drive that contains the Snow Leopard installer. (Again, see the screenshot.) In my case, the first is disk2 and the second is disk2s2. Yours may vary depending on how many disks are on your system. Copy your identifiers down somewhere. We’ll need them later.

  2. Head to the Chameleon homepage, find the Latest Releases section of the site’s sidebar, and download the latest version of Chameleon. (As of this writing, it’s Chameleon-2.0-RC2-r640.) Uncompress the download and move the Chameleon folder to someplace that’s easy to access. I’m putting it on my Desktop.
  3. Now, in Terminal, cd to the i386 folder of the Chameleon folder. On my Mac, the command looks like this:


    cd /Users/adam/Desktop/Chameleon-2.0-RC2-r640-bin/i386/

    Yours should look similar if the Chameleon folder is on your Desktop, except your username should replace mine. (Quick shortcut: In Terminal, type cd , then drag and drop i386 folder inside Chameleon-2.0-RC2-r640 to Terminal.) Hit Enter.

  4. You’re going to be running a couple of Terminal commands that will use Chameleon to make your thumb drive friendly to booting up the OS X installer. They are, as follows:


    sudo fdisk -f boot0 -u -y /dev/rdisk2

    IMPORTANT: On your computer, replace rdisk2 with whatever you copied down above. In my case, the thumb drive’s root identifier was disk2, so /dev/rdisk2 is as it should be.

    After you type in that command and hit Enter, you’ll need to enter your user password to execute it. Do so, then execute the following command, again paying special attention to the disk identifier we took note of above:


    sudo dd if=boot1h of=/dev/rdisk2s2

    IMPORTANT: As I noted, my Snow Leopard partition was disk2s2, so that command is right for me. You should replace the disk2s2 portion of the command with whatever you noted as the portion of your thumb drive that contains the Snow Leopard installer.

  5. Now we’re going to place an awesome, custom EFI bootloader on your thumb drive that lets us load into the installer (and into Snow Leopard in general). So first, head over to and download the bootloader from the bootloader link. Make sure you download it somewhere convenient. (Again, I’ve just downloaded it to my Desktop.)

    Now head back into Terminal, where we’re going to copy the boot file to your thumb drive. (One might think that you could just do this using Finder via drag-and-drop, but in this case, doing it via Terminal is necessary.) So, in Terminal, your command should look similar to this:

    sudo cp /Users/adam/Desktop/boot /Volumes/HackintoshInstall

    The easiest way to do this is simply type in sudo cp , (1) drag and drop the boot file into Terminal, then (2) drag and drop your mounted thumb drive from the desktop into Terminal. (The drag-and-drop method is a quick Terminal trick that pastes the full path to each file or directory.) After that, simply hit Enter. (Enter your password if necessary.)

  6. I know it seems like we’ve already run a marathon, but you’ve got one last step and then it’s relatively smooth sailing from here on. Download, unzip the file, and then drag and drop the Extra folder into your thumb drive. Nothing fancy, a simple drag and drop with your trusty old mouse will do. Once you’ve done that, open up your thumb drive and verify that it looks something like the screenshot below. (Notice the Extra folder, the boot file, and the OS X installer.)

Take a deep breath. By this time, you’ve completed all the hard work. Now it’s time to boot up your machine, tweak your BIOS settings so they’re ready for your OS X install, and then it’s smooth sailing.

Step 2: Set Your BIOS

Before you can boot into or install OS X on your Hackintosh, you’ve got to make some small adjustments to your BIOS. Rather than taking you step by step through every change you need to make, I’ve simply snapped a picture of the relevant BIOS screens and added some notes. Just click through these images and make sure your BIOS settings match up.

Step 3: Install Snow Leopard

If you've made it this far, the hard part is over. Now it's time to install Snow Leopard, which—unlike what we've done so far—is extremely easy.

Make sure you’ve set the boot priority in your BIOS to boot from your thumb drive (you can see how in this pic), then simply plug your prepared thumb drive into your Hackintosh and power it up. Since screenshots aren't really an option—and since it's a fairly easy process—my install instructions come in video format:

The quick version goes like this: Boot into the Snow Leopard installer, format the hard drive you want to install Snow Leopard to (go to Utilities -> Disk Utility, then click on the drive, select 1 Partition, Mac OS X Journaled (Case-Sensitive Update: Several readers have suggested that case-sensitive formatting can cause problems with some applications, like Adobe’s Creative Suite, so you may be better off sticking with plain old Mac OS X Journaled.), give it a name, and make sure GUID Partition Table is set in the Options. After you Apply the new partition, go back to the installer and install like normal to that drive. When you reboot after the install completes, press the arrow keys at the graphical boot menu and select the drive you just installed Snow Leopard to.

A Few Final Tweaks

You’ll notice that, the first time Snow Leopard boots up, you’re not enjoying any sound along with that snazzy intro video. We’ve got one small, but very simple tweak to make to get sound up and running. Here’s how it works:

  1. Download the Kext Utility, then download this audio kext (a kext is kind of the Mac equivalent of a driver) and unzip it to your Desktop. Once you’ve got both in front of you, drag and drop the ALC889.Fix.kext file onto the Kext Utility. You’ll be prompted to enter your password, so go ahead and do that when you’re prompted.
  2. Once the Kext Utility finishes running, open up Disk Utility (/Applications/Utilities/Disk Once it loads up, (1) click on your Snow Leopard drive (mine’s called Hack Leopard), then (2) click Repair Disk Permissions.
  3. Once Disk Utility finishes repairing your disk permissions, just restart. After your computer reboots, your audio should be working like a charm. (If not, open up Sound in your System Preferences and try changing the Output device.)

As things stand on your system right now, you need to have your thumb drive plugged in every time you reboot in order to load the bootloader that allows your Hackintosh to load OS X. There are certain benefits to this (for example, right now you could quite likely unplug this hard drive from your Hackintosh, plug it into a Mac Pro, and it would work just fine), but it can also be a bit of a hassle. At this point, though, you can load the bootloader and other necessary components onto the Snow Leopard hard drive and change that drive to your primary boot drive in your BIOS. All you’ve got to do is head back to the step-by-step bootloader guide above and repeat every step, except this time you’re applying each step to your hard drive rather than your thumb drive.

Congratulations! You’ve Got a Fully Functional Hackintosh

“But for realz,” you ask, “does it actually work well?”

I’ve been using one or another Hackintosh as my main computer for two years now, and while I’ve run into the occasional bump in the road, they’ve generally run extremely well. In fact, things just seem to keep on getting better and better, and the current build I’m running (the one I walked you through above) feels like the fastest, most stable build to date.

That's not to say that you won't experience an occasional kernel panic—you may very well. But I get crashes on my MacBook Pro, too, and I've never felt that my current Hack Pro has any more problems than any other proper Mac I've used on a regular basis. That may seem a bit crazy, but it's true.

As for upgrading—often, you'll be able to upgrade your Hack Pro without any problems. That said, it's something you normally need to check on beforehand, and you should take all of the upgrade precautions before giving it a go.

I’m planning on letting readers know how my Hack Pro handles various 10.6.x updates shortly after they happen, though, and if it requires a little extra work, I’ll show you how to handle it.

Let's hear your thoughts—whether you've dabbled in the world of Hackintosh, are interested in doing so, or just think it's plain crazy—in the comments.

Adam Pash is the editor of Lifehacker; he loves a good hack, cherishes his Macintosh, and craves a Mac Pro, so building a Hack Pro was a perfect fit. His special feature Hack Attack appears on Lifehacker. Subscribe to the Hack Attack RSS feed to get new installments in your newsreader.

* OS X boots in a different way than, say, Windows, using a boot tool called EFI (Extensible Firmware Interface). On store-bought Macs, EFI is loaded on the hardware by default (in fact, in place of the standard BIOS most of us are used to). In order to boot OS X on our non-factory Macs, we need to create our own custom path to EFI.

Huge thanks to stellarola, Onetrack, and weaksauce12 for all their help in getting me up to speed on installing Snow Leopard on a Hackintosh PC. The Hackintosh community is large and active, and they are awesome.

Set Up “Push” Gmail on Your iPhone [Hack Attack]

Despite iPhone 3.0‘s push notifications and previously mentioned Google Sync's contacts and calendars syncing chops, push Gmail still hasn't come to the iPhone. But with the Prowl iPhone application, you can now push Gmail notifications—and then some—to your iPhone.

What Prowl Does

The $3 Prowl iPhone application [iTunes App Store Link] works in conjunction with Growl, the universal notification application for Macs, to push desktop notifications to your iPhone. (The current release of Growl for Windows doesn't yet work with Prowl, but the latest unreleased version supposedly already does—meaning Windows users should be able to do this once Growl for Windows updates.)

How It Works

The image associated with this post is best viewed using a browser.Whenever an application sends a notification to Growl, Growl sends that notification to Prowl's servers, which in turn sends a push notification to your iPhone. So, for example, if you've got Growl set up to display new Gmail notifications (details below), Prowl can push those same notifications to your iPhone. The cool part about Prowl is that it doesn't just work with Gmail—it works with anything that Growl does.

NOTE: What you’ll get after following these instructions isn’t true push email, but it’s a pretty solid approximation. In fact, in order for it to work consistently, you’ll need to have an always-on computer to push your Growl notifications to your iPhone. But until something better comes along, it’s a pretty strong alternative.

Set Up Prowl with Growl

If you haven’t already, go download and install Growl (it will install as a new preference pane in the System Preferences of your Mac).

Next, head over to the Prowl web site and register for an account (Prowl doesn’t even require an email address). Once registered, download the Prowl plug-in for Growl, unzip it, and double-click the Prowl.growlView file to install the Prowl plug-in to Growl.

Once you've done that, you're ready to set up Prowl on your computer. Fire up the Growl preference pane (System Preference -> Growl), then click on the Display Options tab. Select Prowl in the Display Styles list on the left, then enter the Prowl username and password you registered with and click Verify to make sure Growl can properly talk to Prowl's servers. (If everything's copacetic, you'll see a green checkmark next to the Password field.) If you want to use Prowl as the default for Growl (meaning you want the majority of your Growl notifications pushed to your iPhone), you can also set Prowl as the default from the Default Style drop-down.

When you set Prowl as your display notification type, you still get to choose what your Growl notifications will look like—you just do so through this Prowl display options menu. Make sure you've ticked the checkbox labeled Display notifications using style, then select the style you prefer (I'm a smoke person). You can also adjust what kind of Growl notifications Prowl will forward and when—for example, I've set Growl to only send notifications to Prowl when the priority is at least High, and I only send notifications when my computer has been idle for more than 5 minutes (presumably you don't need push notifications if you're already sitting at your computer).

If you’ve already downloaded Prowl to your iPhone (and choked on the $3 price tag—yeah, we're cheap) and logged into your Prowl account from your device, any new Growl notifications with Prowl set as the display type will push those notifications to your iPhone. Pretty cool, huh? That can potentially include anything from your IM client to your iTunes notifier and, yes, Gmail. Of course, Gmail requires a little more set up.

Set Up Gmail Notifier with Growl and Prowl

In order to get Gmail playing nice with Growl, you’ve got a few more steps to go. First, you need to download and install the Google Notifier for Mac—the official Gmail and Google Calendar notifier from Google. Next, download the Google+Growl plug-in for Google Notifier, unzip it, and install the Google+Growl Utility to your Applications folder. When you run it, this little utility keeps its eye on the Google Notifier and pushes any new email updates (and event alerts, if you wish) to Growl… which, if set up with Prowl, pushes the alert to your iPhone.

To make sure Google+Growl is set to work with Prowl, open up Growl one more time, click the Applications tab, and double-click on Google+Growl. Make sure Prowl is set as the default display style, then click the Notifications tab. On this tab, you’ll see a notifications drop-down with New Event and New Gmail selections. Make sure that both are set with Prowl as the display style. (If, like me, you’re setting Prowl only to push high priority Growl notifications, make sure you set the priority to High as well.

Keep in mind that you need to keep Google+Growl running in the background for the whole system to work, too. It all sounds fairly convoluted for something that should be so simple, but once you’ve got it set up, you shouldn’t have to do any fiddling after that

A year or so ago I was using a third-party background app (required jailbreak) called iMapIDLE that simulated push for Gmail, and while it looks like something similar is undergoing review for the App Store, the Prowl approach seems like another very solid one. It doesn’t require you to hand over any usernames or passwords to a third party, since the notifications are all coming from your computer, and it can work with all sorts of notifications that Growl already supports (imagine getting a notification that your BitTorrent client just finished downloading that movie while you’re picking up dinner, for example).

As I said above, Windows support for using Prowl in conjunction with Growl for Windows isn't quite there, but it should be very soon, making this a pretty solid solution for rolling notifications for just about anything from your desktop—and that, we like very much.

Got something clever you’d like to use Prowl for aside from Gmail push notifications? Have another, better method you’re already using? Let’s hear it in the comments.

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