What Is a Hackintosh Computer?

Some non-Mac computers can run Apple's operating system

A Hackintosh is any non-Mac system that a user modifies to run the Apple operating system. Even though Apple doesn't support (or advocate) running Mac OS X on a generic PC, with the proper hardware and enough determination, it is possible. The term "Hackintosh" comes from the fact that you'll need to hack the software for it to properly run on the hardware. Of course, some of the hardware needs to be tweaked in a few cases as well.

Computer being hacked
AndSim/iStock

Replace the BIOS

The biggest obstacle to most generic computers from running Mac OS X on their hardware has to do with UEFI. This system was developed to replace the original BIOS systems that allowed computers to boot up.

Apple has been using specific extensions to the UEFI not found in most PC hardware. Over the past couple of years, this has become less of an issue as most systems adopt the new boot mechanisms for the hardware. A good source for lists of known compatible computers and hardware components can be found on the OSx86 Project site.

The lists are based upon the various versions of OS X because each has a differing level of support for hardware, especially with older computer hardware not being able to run newer versions of OS X.

Lower the Costs

One of the primary reasons many people want to try and hack Mac OS X onto generic PC hardware has to do with costs. Apple has generally been known for some high prices for their hardware compared to equivalent Windows systems. Apple's prices have come down over the years to be closer to many comparable configured Windows systems, but there are still many more affordable laptops and desktops.

Most consumers, though, are probably less likely to consider hacking a computer system together to run the Mac OS X operation systems when many more affordable alternatives are available that have many of the desired properties. Chromebooks are an excellent example of this as most of these systems can be found for far less than half the cost of a basic MacBook.

Building a Hackintosh computer system generally voids any warranties with the hardware manufacturers. Modifying the software to run on the hardware violates copyright laws for Apple's operating system. For these reasons, no companies can legally sell Hackintosh systems.