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The “Hackintosh” gained some popularity as lovers of macOS and its software thumbed their noses at Apple’s hardware prices and performance problems. With the advent of Apple Silicon, those days are now numbered, but this may actually be good news!
What Is a Hackintosh?
A Hackintosh is simply a non-Apple computer that runs Apple’s macOS operating system and the applications associated with it. It allows anyone with the right third-party computer to access everything that macOS brings to the table without paying Apple anything for their computers.
While Apple did briefly license its operating system to third-party computer makers during the period Steve Jobs wasn’t at the company, today macOS is only legally available on Apple’s own computer hardware. Despite this, those looking to save money or simply lovers of tinkering with things have kept the Hackintosh community alive and thriving.
How Apple Silicon Is Killing Hackintoshes
Hackintoshes only work because Apple transitioned its computers from IBM’s PowerPC architecture to Intel’s processors back in 2006. This meant that Apple’s computers ran the same CPU code as any “Wintel” computer. This is why it was possible to run Microsoft Windows on Macs using solutions such as Boot Camp.
This arrangement lasted nearly 15 years, but Intel encountered difficulties in reaching smaller CPU processes, cutting down on heat, and reducing power consumption. These are all key areas for Apple when it comes to its thin and light laptop business. By the late 2010s, Intel Macbooks were becoming known for throttled performance, heat, and noise. At the same time, Apple’s in-house mobile chips found in iPads and iPhones were gaining performance with each generation, while remaining cool, quiet, and fanless.
In retrospect, it seems inevitable that Apple would decide to shift its entire computing line to its own hardware, which is now referred to as Apple Silicon. The Apple M1 chip, which was the first example of Apple Silicon in a Mac, was met with rave reviews, and even more impressive variants of the M1 have already made their way into customers’ hands.
For Hackintosh fans, this poses a problem. Apple Silicon is fundamentally incompatible with Intel or AMD CPUs. This is why Apple had to create Rosetta 2, a software translation system that converts applications meant for Intel Macs so that they can run (somewhat more slowly) on Apple Silicon systems. This is a stopgap until developers can create native Apple Silicon versions of their software.
Right now, macOS exists as both an Intel-compatible version and an Apple Silicon version. Apple is known for having a long support cycle for its devices, but when the day comes that the last Intel Mac stops receiving updates, the age of the Hackintosh will well and truly be over.
Apple Fixed the Problems Hackintoshes Address
Most of the reasons Hackintosh computers exist in the first place are no longer relevant.
Many people turn to a Hackintosh as a solution to use the software they needed because Apple’s Intel-based systems offered too little performance for the money. The entire point of Apple Silicon is to address the key weaknesses of Intel Macs.
Apple Silicon computers don’t get too hot, they are fast, have long battery lives, and offer significantly more performance per dollar than their Intel forebears. Apple now has an entire line of MacBooks and desktop Macs using its own Apple Silicon chips.
The modern base model M1 MacBook Air costs about the same as the Intel machine that came before it, but the performance difference can be measured in multipliers rather than double-digit percentages.
Apple now has solid representation in the sub-$1000 computer range with devices like the M1 MacBook Air and M1 Mac Mini. The M1 iMac starts at $1300 but includes a built-in display.
All three of these computers perform more or less the same and undoubtedly better than any mainstream user needs them to.
We expect that Apple Silicon will continue to bring large performance gains from one generation to the next, with costs remaining stable.
The Hackintosh Experience Was Never Ideal
While building a Hackintosh could mean having better hardware than an Intel Mac to use with your macOS software, it has never been an easy path to tread. Creating a Hackintosh isn’t a user-friendly or simple process. Apple certainly had no reason to make it easy and even if you did get your Hackintosh running, keeping it that way could be a delicate dance.
The Hackintosh experience, then, is a far cry from what it’s like to use macOS on the hardware it was explicitly designed for. You never have to worry about something as mundane as having the right WiFi controller or an update turning your computer into a paperweight, until a group of volunteers figures out a way to make it all work again.
Hackintoshes are undeniably cool, rebellious, and deliciously geeky, but they have served their purpose for the time being. We’ll never say that a time for a similar solution will never arise again, but for now, we can thank devoted Hackintoshers for their service and close this chapter in Apple’s history.