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Pointed Development

New Development Rig-Toy-Hackintosh

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Wherein I build a new development Hackintosh, it breaks, there is much sadness, and finally everything Just Works ™.

I then repave it and go back to Linux.

I recently found myself without a machine. I’ve had a computer ever since my mother had the foresight to hook me up with an amazing Apple II/c when I was about seven. So amazing was this machine, in fact, that to this day it still sits in my office.

It’s funny to look back and realize that I’ve been addicted to computing for about a quarter of a century. And I still feel like I’m just skimming the surface of technology.

My gap in computer hardware occurred in September of this year and lasted for roughly 1.5 nanoseconds before I resolved to build my own rig, something I haven’t done in close to 20-something years. Back in the 90s, I put together a nice 386 with at LEAST 4 MB/RAM. That machine was a Beast and ran Doom pretty well. It was also my first “real” development box, too, and I went all-out, acquiring Borland C (version 2.0 or 3.0, I’m not sure which) on about fifteen 3.5″ floppies.

Those were the days… Those were the days I really had no idea how to do anything, and I was sponging up every bit, nibble and byte of knowledge I could fit in my brain. Those were the days I “borrowed” my mother’s dial-in Unix shell to use Lynx to… download Doom, I guess. I probably learned a few things about computers, too, but a lot of time was spent playing games.

And becoming acquainted with Borland’s DOS-based IDE, of course.

My computing needs have matured quite a bit since those first tentative steps into computational bliss, but my computer use hasn’t necessarily evolved. The machine I built in October of this year is – by comparison to that early-90s 386 – a Monstrosity of Lovecraftian proportions.

But I still use it to connect to a terminal shell. I still use it for gaming and internet. I still use it to acquaint myself with the latest IDEs. I still use it to sponge up information about anything and everything.

A quarter of a century of learning and I’m just getting started.

Specifications and Rationale

I needed to build a development machine that could support my whole family and all of our data needs: File server, print server, music and video server, etc, while supporting my chronic development habit. This includes the ability to run multiple virtual machines concurrently, multiple IDEs, multiple browsers and many professional applications.

I also needed something that could grow with me, a computer that wouldn’t bog down if I decided to run ten instances of Visual Studio for no good reason whatsoever.

Here’s the hardware I ended up getting, based almost entirely off of the tonymacx86 CustoMac Pro build. I added a few additional contraptions to round out my build.

Version 1.0 and Hardware Problems

I built “Version 1.0″ of this rig right around the first week of October. Everything was running great, too: I had a successful install of Mountain Lion, I had restored all of my data from various and sundry drives laying around my house (some of them YEARS old). I noticed one little quirk with my mouse where the cursor would jump around the screen randomly, or not hold a button press for very long during drag and drop operations. I didn’t think much of it, though, and I mentally filed this defect away as a TODO: Not worth investigating right now.

What a huge mistake, especially in light of what follows.

One morning the machine was shutdown. Turned off. Not working. Hmm… Could it have been a software thing? Maybe it’s just a fluke. We’ll see how things go. I suspect my desire to see Mountain Lion run on non-Apple hardware was causing me some unanticipated grief: After all, it’s a wholly unsupported setup. Maybe OS X has decided not to play nice.

Alas, no. Things did not go. They did not go at all. And it wasn’t Mountain Lion.

With a lot more regularity, the machine continued to spontaneously shutdown. It got to a point where it wouldn’t run for more than 5 minutes. I began the very tedious process of backing up the whole machine: Every bit of data from every various and sundry drive I had laying around the house needed to be copied off. This turned out to be extremely difficult, as the machine refused to run for longer than a few minutes at a time.

Lucky for me, however, I was able to get it running just once… long enough to pull off a successful back up (fingers crossed). I kept the backup under lock and key in a Secure Location for the time being Just To Be Safe.

The machine was then disassembled piece by tedious piece while I attempted to pinpoint the exact source of my problem(s).

I began by pulling out sticks of RAM. This is usually the go-to piece for weird hardware problems. Maybe it’s a bad stick, I don’t know. Maybe I didn’t seat them correctly. Maybe I don’t know what I’m doing. Heaps of self-doubt were mentally piled on my already fragile and fractured mind.

Nope. Not the RAM.

Okay, video card.

Nope.

Drives?

Nope.

Well damn.

I was finally down to nothing more than a motherboard and power supply exhibiting the same shutdown behavior.

Frustrated, I sent both items back to Amazon, not knowing if it was the power supply itself or a wonky motherboard. I received replacement parts in about 3 days. It took another day to rebuild the machine.

Side note: The Gigabyte GA-Z77X-UD5H motherboard is fantastic: During this troubleshooting phase, it was so nice to have a visible LED status indicator and power button directly on the board itself. That said, it was one of the primary culprits of this fiasco. I don’t blame Gigabyte, though, it happens… and my replacement board has been running perfectly.

Post Mortem

Since then, the new build has been running flawlessly. Better, in fact: What I suspected was an issue with the mouse was actually an issue with the old motherboard, which leads me to believe that the cause of all of my issues were rooted in a bad board and not the power supply.

But I really can’t be sure.

I now have a blazingly fast machine with 32 GB of RAM, a processor powerful enough to open Adobe Reader and enough drive space to store every single video of my son and step-daughter for at least the next two or three days.

People: This machine melts my face!

If Daft Punk has taught me anything, it’s that there’s always room to go harder, better, faster, stronger. This build, however, will provide plenty of speed and space to be productive in the immediate future, while allowing plenty of room for later expansion.

The Dell UltraSharp U2412M 24″ monitor is beautiful. It’s not 2560×1600, but it is 16:10, and that makes me happy.

Concerning Data and Backup

Presently, the internal HDDs are configured at (software) RAID 0, yielding 4 TB of total drive space for data. Similarly, the external DriveStation is configured at (hardware) RAID 0. Yes, this is dangerous: If I lose a drive in each RAID at the same time, I lose everything. Eventually, I’ll expand my internal capacity by another 2 x 2 TB drives and reconfigure the RAID to RAID 10, but I’m not quite there, yet. The safety net for the RAID 10, plus the external local backup coupled with an off-sight backup thanks to CrashPlan, and I have what has become – by far – the most sophisticated back up I’ve ever built for my personal data… a sobering thought in light of the extreme LACK of backup I’ve had during my lifetime.

There’s more to do in this space, and I’ll add an additional post about my backup plans, soon..

Hackintosh

Originally, I set out to build an OS X-compatible computer. I’ve been… satisfied… with Mountain Lion. It runs flawlessly on this build and it’s gorgeous… But I’ve not been thrilled with Mountain Lion and I’ve been even less thrilled about being completely tied in to the Apple ecosystem. I should have understood this point from the very beginning, but I was too enthusiastic about getting OS X running on non-Apple hardware. Blindingly so. Even though everything works (and works wonderfully), I’m probably going to repave the 256 GB SSD running Mountain Lion and install CentOS 6.3.

I’ll then see about installing Windows 7 and (possibly) OS X in virtual machines, while Linux runs the bulk of the server services I require.

Conclusion

Building a new machine turned out to be both entertaining and extremely frustrating. As it stands today, I’m thrilled with what I built… and the troubleshooting process turned out to be a good experience. It should go without saying that I wish it hadn’t happened, but it did. So it goes.

I have a lot of plans for this rig, plans that I intend to document on this blog. I’ll keep you all updated!

Full disclosure: To support this blog, I’ve added affiliate links to Amazon for the hardware listed above. If you don’t want to use the affiliate links, use these. They’re affiliate free!

You won’t hurt my feelings.

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