If you're thinking of buying a computer from Apple and opt for its cheapest Mac Mini line, you'll be presented with several upgrade options at checkout. For the 2.3GHz quad-core version, for example, you can move up to 16GB of RAM memory for $300, or ditch the standard 1TB hard drive and upgrade to a zippier 256GB solid-state drive, again for $300.
Some shoppers are happy to pay this (judging by Apple's results of late, many are) and have everything built to the company's quality and design standards, under warranty. But others shop around a bit and discover that 16GB of equivalent RAM currently can be purchased for around $70, and a similar SSD for around $200.
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The shoppers might also wonder about the large number of graphics cards and other components that Apple doesn't offer at any price, and if there is another way.
Well, there is a way: The Hackintosh, a computer built from self-bought components that runs Apple's OS X operating system.
Apple first announced its computers would switch to Intel-based processors in 2005, and the hackers got started soon after. After 10 years on the PowerPC architecture, which never took hold in the mainstream personal PC market, Macs were coming over to the more common x86 architecture, and the immediate question was obvious. Can the Mac operating system be tricked into running on non-Apple hardware?
The answer was a definite yes, and solutions soon emerged, but in those early days it was often a rough slog to get them working, filled with crashes and highly technical remedies, plus limited support for hardware.
Now, things are considerably easier. Sites like Tonymacx86 offer free software to help install the OS plus compatible drivers and detailed instructions by developers who often lurk on the online forums to answer questions. Other sites like Kakewalk offer all-in-one installation tools for free, as long as compatible hardware is used.
Some pages offer detailed lists of computers from other manufacturers that can be coerced into running OS X, and steps to install it. A trove of beautiful and helpful online guides, some with detailed shopping lists for assembling high-end machines, has also emerged.
The hyperactive developers on the forums mean that new hardware or versions of OS X are often supported very quickly. In recent months, solutions to run the newest motherboards from Gigabyte and the latest Nvidia graphics cards were often available only days after the hardware went on sale.