How-To: Build a Hackintosh CustoMac Mini 2011

I recently took it upon myself to try building a ultra-budget Hackintosh HTPC (Home Theater PC), following tonymacx86’s suggested build for the CustoMac Mini 2011.

I’m pleased to say that after a few days of tweaking and futzing, I’m now the proud-owner of a triple-boot (OS X 10.7.4 Lion, Windows 7, Mint Linux) Hackintosh CustoMac Mini 2011! The machine boasts a respectable 6096 Geekbench score and cost ~$380 total.

The process wasn’t as hard as I thought it would be, but it wasn’t as easy as I had hoped, considering that this was a ‘suggested’ build. I thought I’d do a step-by-step run through of my experience here should anyone else be considering building the CustoMac Mini 2011, or a hackintosh in general. Since the instructions I used are available elsewhere on the web, I’ll link to the sources I used and just provide my notes and instructions at the points where I found the existing documentation tricky, ambiguous, missing, or incomplete. I should note that I opted for an optical drive and the H61N motherboard (listed as the ‘alternate’ motherboard).

Here’s the high-level strategy you’ll follow:

  • Part I: Building the physical computer.
  • Part II: Preparing the computer to have OS X installed
  • Part III: Prepare a bootable USB stick with OS X Lion on it + tonymacx86’s utilities
  • Part IV: Install OS X
  • Part VI: Configure MultiBeast to achieve full functionality
  • Part VII (Optional): Install Windows or Linux on another partition

Part I: Building the Computer

Building the computer was pretty straightforward. I’m including my directions here for those without experience building PCs. If you’re just interested in the hackintoshing, skip ahead.

First, I attached our i3 CPU to the motherboard using the directions included with the CPU, and then attached the heat sink on top of the CPU. Although I was expecting to be missing a few screws or cables during the build, strangely enough the thermal paste used to transmit heat between the CPU and the heat sink was the only thing missing from the packaging. Luckily, some was found nearby (pictured) – you should be able to find this at a hardware store.

Attaching the RAM was nothing new, a satisfying click into the slot and I was on my way.

Mounting the motherboard in the case proved to be a trickier affair than I had expected: as you can see, the fit is so tight in the MI-008 case, that the power supply (PSU) actually touches the top of the CPU’s heat sink! I found that I actually had to lift the PSU up as I slid the motherboard underneath just so it would fit. I also read that removing the PSU via the screws on the back of the case and reinstalling it afterward works.

After connecting the power supply to the motherboard, I attached the front-panel USB ports and LED lights to the motherboard using the instructions that came with the motherboard for guidance. Same goes for the HD Audio cable. The AC ’97 cable went unused as per the instructions.

I popped off the front of the case using the four plastic hinges and slid in the hard drive and the optical drive and connected them to the SATA power cables and the two blue SATA ports on the motherboard. Again, the fit is very tight, and after you’re done with the build I’d suggest losing the optical drive if you can spare it (more on that later). Make sure the cables are not interfering with the fan’s operation (see if you can spin the fan with your finger without it bumping into a cable).

Part II: Preparing the computer for OS X

To prepare the computer for OS X, I used these steps described on tonymacx86 and elsewhere on the web. They involved tapping the DEL key during startup to enter the BIOS. In the BIOS, I first updated to the newest version (in my case, it was version ‘F8′) of the BIOS by using the BIOS’ Q-Flash option. It loaded the newer BIOS which I had found on Gigabyte’s website and put on a USB stick (note: the USB stick has to be formatted in FAT, an easy task for OS X’s Disk Utility). Once the BIOS was updated, I set the options I was told to, including HPET to 64-bit mode, SATA mode to AHCI, 384MB of shared Video Ram, and Load Optimized Defaults. I just poked around in each of the menus until I found the relevant option to change. I also changed the boot order to load from USB-HDD first, in preparation for the Lion installation from a USB stick.

Part III: Creating a bootable OS X Lion Installer using UniBeast

Creating our bootable OS X USB stick was super easy and straight forward using tonymacx86’s instructions on this page.

Part IV: Installing OS X

To install OS X, I booted from our new UniBeast USB stick by setting the BIOS to load from USB-HDD first. At the bootloader screen, you can begin typing to set a boot flag. The installer would freeze at the Apple logo unless I typed ‘GraphicsEnabler:No’ before hitting enter.

Once in the OS X installer, I used Disk Utility (accessible through the menus at the top of the screen) to format the hard drive. The key setting here was format the drive as ‘GUID Partition Table’. I created a small partition for a Windows installation later. Return to the installer and install OS X as normal.

Once the install is finished, the computer will restart. Again, you will boot from your USB-HDD as your hard drive can’t boot OS X on it’s own yet. This time, instead of selecting the USB stick, select your OS X hard drive and hit enter. You may or may not have to enter the GraphicsEnabler:No flag.

Part V: Configure MultiBeast to achieve full functionality (starting with the ability to boot up on its own)

WIth any luck, you’re now able to run Lion on your computer by booting from the USB-HDD. If you weren’t able to get this far, you may need to scour the tonymacx86 forums for information on which bootflags you’ll need to use based on where your computer hangs when loading with the -v bootflag (verbose mode). God help you if this is the predicament you find yourself in. (Note: Don’t use the onboard VGA port. tonymacx86 cautions that the VGA port is ‘disabled’ and I think using the VGA port caused me a few hours of wondering why OS X wasn’t loading correctly. Use the DVI port.)

Once in Lion, download MultiBeast from tonymacx86’s website here (Note: you will have to create an account with tonymacx86 and log in, unfortunately.) You can check if your onboard Ethernet port works at this stage. Mine did. If not, ferry it over on a USB stick. Also download the appropriate DSDT file for your motherboard from the first comment on the CustoMac Mini 2011 post. (Again, you will have to log in to have access). They are the .aml files – note which one corresponds to your motherboard. Place both the .aml file and MultiBeast on your desktop. Rename the DSDT file: DSDT.aml. (Note: You may or may not have to do this. I had a really hard time getting my DSDT file to kick in, and the instructions are unclear about renaming the file. I renamed mine and placed them both on the desktop and eventually MultiBeast worked. I do not know if the changes had an effect or not.)

Run MultiBeast. You’ll have to check the appropriate options here. This is where I had the most trouble as there are numerous screenshots floating around tonymacx86 showing different settings. You’ll want to enable each of the settings in these two images, with the audio settings in the second image replacing the audio settings in the first. Once you’ve run MultiBeast, reset your system with your fingers crossed. Hit DEL key during startup to enter BIOS and change your boot order to prioritize your hard drive: we’re going to see if your hackintosh can boot OS X on its own!

Part VI: Update Lion to 10.7.4

With any luck, your computer was able to boot back into Lion without the USB stick. You should check what ports work on your computer at this time. At this stage, my ethernet worked, my USB2 ports worked, but my audio port did not work. (Trying to change sound output volume brought up the speaker logo with the ‘no’ sign across it). I wasn’t able to test the HDMI port.

To update Lion, download the combo update directly from Apple here. (Don’t use Software Update). Run the update but DON’T REBOOT when it tells you to. Instead, open MultiBeast and check the options you had before. Once MultiBeast is complete, click reboot on the installer. (Note: It’s probably possible to do the update right away before you run MultiBeast for the first time, but I didn’t do it that way).

Congratulations! Upon reboot, you should have a ready-to-go Lion 10.7.4 Hackintosh. My machine is able to sleep and wake up, plays audio, accesses ethernet, and has working USB ports.

(Optional) Part VII: Installing Windows 7 or Linux on another partition

If you’d like to install Windows, boot from the Windows 7 DVD by changing your BIOS to prioritize the optical drive. Install to the free partition you created earlier. (Or, using Disk Utility in OS X, you can create a new partition now without reformatting. How cool is that?) Note that once Windows is installed, it will have overwritten your bootloader and will now try to boot Windows every time you start up. To get around this, boot from your USB-HDD UniBeast drive again, choose your OS X installation and run MultiBeast. Only check the ‘Bootloaders: Chimera’ option, and reboot. Now your bootloader is back and you can hit any key during startup to choose between OS X and Windows. Boot Camp eat your heart out!

Some Parting Thoughts

  • To update, remember to download updates directly from apple and apply MultiBeast after the update and before rebooting.
  • Consider Kakewalk, an alternate set of hackintosh tools. I don’t mean to sound ungrateful to the good people at tonymacx86, but if you’re like me, you’ll never want to look at that site again after your hackintosh experience. Information is scattered across numerous blog posts, legacy blog posts, blog post comments, forum posts and forum post comments, many requiring you to sign in to access needed files. The presentation on Kakewalk seems, at first glance, to be much more neatly organized — I can’t speak to how well the software works, but I may try it for my next hackintosh build.
  • You can also use a slightly different procedure using a boot CD (called iBoot) to install Snow Leopard. While I did try this route at one point, I ultimately decided to go with Lion as with the dawn of Mountain Lion, Snow Leopard is beginning to look a little long in the tooth, I suppose.
  • If you have any questions or if you believe I missed a step or some information, please don’t hesitate to leave a comment! I will help to the best of my (limited) ability.