Psystar's Rebel EFI -- Snow Leopard on a PC

Can Psystar's new software package make a Hackintosh out of your PC? We tried it out.

While the world focused on Microsoft's launch of Windows 7, Florida-based Psystar quietly launched Rebel EFI, a software product that should worry Apple a lot more than Microsoft's latest operating system. Rebel EFI allows users to run Apple's flagship operating system, Mac OS X Snow Leopard, on non-Apple hardware.

This is not Psystar's first venture into Apple's realm. Psystar has offered Mac clones for some time, experiencing Apple's wrath in the form of lawsuits and injunctions.

Apple's response to Psystar's encroachment is understandable; the Mac OS has always been tightly coupled to hardware designed by the company. In fact, the end-user licensing agreement or EULA (pdf) for Mac OS X expressly forbids users from installing the operating system on hardware not sold by Apple: "You agree not to install, use or run the Apple Software on any non-Apple-branded computer, or to enable others to do so."

Now Psystar has upped the ante by offering the virtualization technology that powers its Mac clones as a standalone software package called Rebel EFI.

Rebel EFI works by creating a virtualized environment that allows users to install OS X version 10.6 (commonly referred to as Snow Leopard) on a PC with a Core 2 Duo, Quad, i7 or Xeon Nehalem processor. Rebel EFI is available in two forms: a free download with limited support and a full-functioning version for $50.

The free download is a good starting point to test hardware compatibility, but is limited to a two-hour session and does not support any driver downloads. If your hardware checks out and you like how OS X runs on your PC, then you will want to invest in the $50 version, which gives you access to software updates and support from Psystar.

Creating a "Hackintosh"

I wanted to give Rebel EFI a try and see if it lives up to the hype. Armed with a Visa card, I downloaded the $50 version of Rebel EFI from Psystar's online store. That download comes as an ISO file, which you will need to burn onto a CD to create a bootable installation disk. I grabbed my freshly minted Rebel EFI CD and a recently purchased Mac OS X Snow Leopard DVD, and sought out some PCs to create my own "Hackintosh" computer.

I figured that the best way to approach the installation would be to pick two systems: a relatively generic desktop PC and, on the other end of the spectrum, a notebook computer. (One word of caution: you will have to wipe out the hard drive on your system to install Rebel EFI and OS X 10.6, so you may want to back up before proceeding.)

The desktop PC I chose consisted of an Intel DX58S0 motherboard configured with an Intel Nehalem i7-965 CPU and an Intel 80G solid state drive (SSD). I added 4GB of Corsair DDR3 RAM (four 1GB Modules) and an Nvidia Quadro FX1700 display adapter to the mix to create a PC that should meet the performance levels of a higher-end Macintosh and also be able to run Windows 7 well if set up to dual boot.

(You may ask why I would worry about running Windows 7 if I'm building a Mac clone. It all comes down to Rebel EFI's ability to boot up multiple operating systems, something I intend to experiment with in the near future. For now, I wanted to see how well OS X 10.6 would run on the hardware I had.)

I also thought it would be pretty cool to try it on a convertible tablet/notebook computer. For the experiment I chose a Fujitsu T5010, which includes a 2.26GHz Intel Core 2 Duo P8400 CPU, 1.3-megapixel webcam, a 13.3-inch WXGA LED backlit display, a 120GB hard drive, a DVD/CD-RW optical drive, a fingerprint scanner, high-definition audio, Bluetooth, Wi-Fi, a multitude of ports and an Intel GMA 4500 integrated graphic controller.

One note: Psystar is very light on information and support -- you won't find an installation guide, compatible hardware list or anything of that nature available from the company. I had to rely on a small FAQ document on the Web site to figure out the install procedure. That document only covers the basics -- you will need a bit of PC technical knowledge to pull off an install.

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Frank Ohlhorst

Computerworld (US)
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