Frankenmac! What's In a Mac Clone?

The slick Antec Sonata III case for the Frankenmac.
A company called Psystar claims that it's selling a "generic Mac" for $549 (or $399 without OS X). While such a move seems to violate Apple's end-user license agreement, it indicates just how the age-old topic of running the Mac OS on non-Apple hardware has mutated in this modern, Intel-Mac age.

I'm not going to advocate that Apple's users rush out and configure a faux Mac of their very own, but the reality is that Apple's computers are now Intel-based PCs through and through. The existence of modern Mac clones--whether they come in a complete package from the likes Psystar or in pieces from a variety of computer-parts manufacturers--allows me to ask several questions about Apple's Mac hardware. Yes, it lets me gauge the price and performance of Mac hardware by comparing it with non-Apple hardware. But it also lets me explore a topic that, prior to Apple's switch to Intel processors, I could only speculate about: The performance of Mac systems that simply don't exist.

Take the "mythical mid-range Mac minitower," as Macworld's Dan Frakes called it. While Apple has an excellent selection of laptops, entry-level Macs, and high-end machines, it doesn't offer anything at all in the way of a moderately powerful expandable tower model. Though the iMac offers good performance, it's an all-in-one machine with limited expandability and a monitor that not everyone may need. As Dan wrote:

What I'd like to see is a minitower design with--and this is just one possible configuration that would fulfill my wish--a reasonably powerful processor (perhaps a higher-end Core 2 Duo or a single Xeon); a good graphics card in an upgradeable slot; a decent amount of RAM and hard-drive space; a single free PCI Express slot; and room for one additional hard drive. The ability to swap out the optical drive would be a nice touch.

I'm generally with Dan on this one--I don't want or need a machine with a built-in monitor, and I don't need the power of an eight-core Mac Pro, but I'd like my Mac to be faster and more expandable than a mini. (I want more than one slot and room for more drives, however, so my minitower might be more of a medium-tower.)

Tired of waiting and hoping for the Mac of my dreams to appear, I decided to take the technology into my own hands and build it myself. And thus began my experiment to assemble my very own OS X-running machine.

Note that I'm not planning on diving into the technical details of building your own Mac. Rather, for this article, I'm focusing on the parts I used to make my own computer, the end result of my operations, and how the machine performs. Think of it as me building an off-brand Mac so that you don't have to.

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