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Bride of Frankenmac: The illicit PC that runs OS X faster than a Mac Pro

James Galbraith | Sept. 4, 2013
What happens when Macworld Lab takes some spare PC parts and puts together a computer that runs Mac OS X? The results are impressive, but also illegal.

For a long time, Mac Pro users looked at their towers--with their dated external designs and lagging technical specs--and asked themselves, "When will Apple update its professional desktop line?"

The wait is nearly over: Apple says a brand new Mac Pro will be available before the end of 2013. Instead of being a step behind the technological times, the upcoming Mac Pro will offer users a look into the future as the first system to offer the new Thunderbolt 2 connection. It will also have dual graphics cards (standard), USB 3, and a sleek, fanless case design. Though no one in the general public has seen benchmark results for the new Mac Pro, Apple claims it will deliver "state-of-the-art performance across the board."

But the new high-end Mac will be a severe departure from what most Mac users think of when they think "Mac Pro." It's not the hulking beast of a machine that we're all familiar with, but a model of compactness. The main concern about the new Mac Pro is its lack of internal expansion and customization options. Instead of having four internal hard drive bays, it will use built-in flash storage; additional drives will need to be connected externally. Same with PCI cards: An external expansion chassis, connected via Thunderbolt 2, will be required to house and connect the cards that many users have invested in heavily.

Thunderbolt on the Mac Pro 2013
The new 2013 Mac Pro comes with six Thunderbolt 2 ports to connect external storage devices and PCI expansion cards that are housed in an external chassis.

So if you are invested in the Mac Pro line, you have a tough decision to make. Wait for the new Mac Pro and buy it along with the expansion chassis and external drives that you'll need to make it comparable to the old model? Or stick it out with your current towers, making do with those outdated technologies for a few years more?

Ah, but there is a third option, one that gives you up-to-date technology and competitive performance, at a cost that's considerably less than the 2012 Mac Pro: Build your own computer, using off-the-shelf PC hardware, that runs Mac OS X. But for one very, very big reason, we can't recommend that path: It violates the OS X end-user license agreement.

Still, out of purely academic interest, we in the Macworld Lab set out to discover how hard it is to build that kind of forbidden machine and see how it would compare with the current models. This isn't the first time Macworld has done so; back in 2008, Rob Griffiths pieced a system together that he dubbed Frankenmac. So it seemed appropriate to call this new machine the Bride of Frankenmac.


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