Building My New Ivy Bridge Hackintosh Workstation

While I'm writing this sitting on my couch with a Macbook Air, when I really need to get work done I do so at my desktop computer. Old school towers are still great as a photographer's workstation and there are reasons for that. You can use the best and fastest components, they're easily upgradable, they can fit more storage, and for me, they're fun to build. As many of you who read my blog may already know, I use a Hackintosh as my main desktop. Have so for about a year now. For the uninitiated, a Hackintosh means that I'm running Mac OS X on a computer that's not built by Apple. Some people install it on Dell and HP machines, but in this case the computer was build by me from parts about 3 years ago. At first the OS X thing was an experiment but I'm going to stick with it.

My current i7-920 machine is still relatively fast, it's got 24GB of RAM and 6+TB of drives, but it's now 3 years old and I've been itching to upgrade. To that end I've started putting together the pieces I need to build my new machine and thought I might document the process. The main catalyst is the upcoming release of the new Intel 'Ivy Bridge' chips which should happen in the next few weeks. So while I've got most of it planned out, there are still a few grey areas to fill in as I go.

There are a few things about my current machine that I'd like to address in the process of building the new one. First, I can't stand the noise from the fan on the video card. I'm a pretty serious stickler for quiet computers, and the rest of the fans in my machine were bought with that in mind, but the Gigabyte 5770 'Batmobile' card I'm using spins up far too often. And since I never game and really only use Lightroom, Photoshop, and Chrome with any regularity, I don't really think I need a fast card, so I'm going to try to go without. Also, while I've got plenty of storage which I back-up nightly, I'd really love to speed it all up and simply my drive layout, so I'm looking into running 3 drives in a RAID 5 array as my main storage.

So here's my planned parts list so far:

CPU ~$330 Intel i7-3770k Top of the line consumer processor. Quad core @ 3.5GHz stock, but it's unlocked which means it's begging to be over clocked. I'm going to try to get mine to 4.5GHz with some aftermarket air cooling. I'd love 6 core, but for the work I do I don't think I'd get enough of an advantage to justify the cost increase.

Motherboard No idea as of yet since none have really been announced. For some reason, Gigabyte brand motherboards have become the most well supported in the Hackintosh world, so I'm leaning towards those for now. I'd love to have Thunderbolt built in, and there are a few manufacturers who have announced it as a feature. All Thunderbolt controller chips are from Intel right now, so whatever they're using SHOULD be compatible with OS X without too much work. The new boards will have USB3 anyway which should be plenty fast enough for backups using bare drives in one of those hard drive docks.

One big motherboard question is if I can get away with using a Micro ATX sized board instead of a full size ATX. I don't need the extra slots, and would love to shrink the size of the case I need in the process. The motherboard is the biggest hole in my plan right now.

Video Card None Well not none, but my plan it to try and use the new Intel HD4000 graphics which are built into the 3770K CPU as my graphics card. Based upon everything I've heard, it should be plenty fast for what I need it for which is almost entirely 2D work. Photoshop CS6 relies on OpenGL much more leveraging the same graphics subsystem as Premiere, but I still think I might be able to get away with this latest on-board graphics. Cost is a great advantage, as is the lack of additional fans to cool another card, which solves one of the problems I have with my current rig.

Worst case scenario, I'll get a lower-end nVidia passively cooled card like a GT430. Let's see if we can do without it though, shall we?

RAM ~$250 32GB DDR3 in 4x 8GB DIMM I'm planning to put 32GB of RAM in there. An upgrade from the 24GB I'm using now, and a no brainer for Photoshop use especially since RAM is pretty cheap at the moment.

Boot Drive Intel 520 240GB SSD This one I already bought last week because it was on sale. I went with the new 240GB model Intel 520 SSD. It wasn't cheap, a bit over $300, but it's gotten great reviews and it's crazy fast. My current machine uses an 80GB Intel G2 SSD from a couple of years ago and I've had zero problems with it. Which is something I can say of almost every Intel product I've ever bought. They do reliability right.

Storage 4 or 6GB RAID-5 Array So I currently use a pair of 2TB Western Digital Green drives which I backup nightly to sparse images on a 3TB Hitachi drive using Superduper! I've also got an additional 2TB 'media' drive which I use to store music and movies and software downloads and such. I back this one up every once in a while but it's not vitally important stuff.

What I'd love to do is take 3 of the 2TB WD drives and create a RAID 5 array. This would have the benefits of having just one photo drive I have to keep track of, a big speed boost because of the striping data among the drives and a certain amount of data security due to the redundancy of RAID 5. I've looked into a RocketRAID card to do this for me as I want to use hardware RAID, but I haven't come down to a best fit yet. Advice on this matter is appreciated.

The one downside to a big array like that is that my backups might be a bit more of a pain in the neck as I'll need another array or a single big 4TB drive to backup to and those aren't cheap right now. In fact hard drives in general aren't cheap right now due to the floods in Thailand last year, but they're getting better.

Power Supply ~$120 Seasonic X750 750W I'm a fan of Seasonic power supplies. They're built like tanks, and they're quiet and they've never let me down. I saw a great deal on this power supply last week so I snapped it up. Best part about this model is the fact that at under a 20% load, the fan doesn't turn on at all. So it's crazy quiet. It's also got modular cables, so you only plug in the ones you need. No more extra cables to hide away. Looking forward to trying it out.

Case ~$120 Fractal Design Define Mini If I can pull off the MicroATX motherboard, this is the case I'm going with. If I can't I'll get it's big brother. Either way, I've heard great things about it. Resonance dampened panels and rubber dampened sleds for 6 hard drives. More than enough for my plans.

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So that's what I've got so far. Hopefully Intel will announce the new chips in a week or two and we can get on with the fun of building this thing out.

Any suggestions or advice on the selections above are appreciated if you want to leave a comment.

More to come...