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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.

Our Portal 2 test was 22 percent faster on the Bride of Frankenmac, and Cinebench's OpenGL test was 15 percent faster. When we upped the resolution on the Portal 2 test and maxed out the settings, the Bride of Frankenmac was 65 percent faster than the Mac Pro.

We also swapped the graphics cards between the two systems to see how that would affect results. Our standard Portal 2 test results were the same, regardless of the card, which indicates that the GPU didn't have a problem with the test and that the bottleneck was the CPU. When we cranked up the resolution and settings, we found that the results followed the card: The Nvidia card that originated in the Bride of Frankenmac was much faster than the ATI card that is standard with the $2499 Mac Pro, regardless of what system it was installed in. The Cinebench OpenGL test was a bit faster on the ATI card than the Nvidia, but both cards were faster in this test when installed in the Bride of Frankenmac than when installed on the Mac Pro.

We then compared our creation to a high-end 12-core Mac Pro--the $3799 version with two 2.4GHz 6-core Intel Xeon processors, 12GB of RAM, and the same 1TB hard drive and ATI Radeon card as the $2499 Mac Pro. Once again the Bride came out on top; it was 14 percent faster overall than the Mac Pro. At least this time the Mac Pro was faster in a few tests, mainly those that can take advantage of the 12 processing cores found in the $3799 Mac Pro. Mathematicamark 7, for example, was 25 percent faster on the Mac Pro than on the Bride of Frankenmac. Cinebench's OpenGL test was 41 percent faster on the Mac Pro, while file unzipping and iMovie importing were both 6 percent faster on the Mac Pro.

For kicks, we installed a Kingston HyperX 3K SH103S3/240G SSD in both the Bride of Frankenmac and the 12-core Mac Pro and reran the Speedmark tests. While the SSD-equipped Mac Pro and Bride of Frankenmac were 16 and 13 percent faster, respectively, than their hard drive--equipped selves, the SSD Bride of Frankenmac was still 12 percent faster overall than the SSD Mac Pro.

Hurdles to overcome

Getting to all that speedy performance wasn't simple. For example, the ATI card didn't work right away. The system would start up but couldn't get past the BIOS. It turned out that the bootloader we used didn't support this particular video card. We were able to find a solution online, but it wasn't elegant: It required booting onto a USB stick with a different bootloader installed. Once we booted from the USB drive, the system would start up, but the screen would go black. Hitting the power button twice (once to put the system to sleep and then again to wake up the system) would bring the screen back to life. The same trick was required each time we rebooted.


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