Hack Mini ITX 10.7 Server
In July 2009 I built a small Intel Atom based file server that ran Mac OS 10.5 Leopard. It served as a NAS box and later ran 10.6 Snow Leopard with the Plex media server feeding my HTPC and a WDTV box through network shares. While there was enough processor power available for these simple tasks, new developments were beyond the limited power the Atom offers. The Plex Media Server can now stream and transcode to iOS clients, if your CPU is up to the task. Lion Server is available as a $50/£35 add-on for the Lion operating system, adding all the server functionality you could want. iTunes will act as a music server for all the computers in the house. With so many possibilities available, it was clearly time for an upgrade.
On a recent visit to San Francisco I considered buying a Mac Mini. The $599 for the entry level model was at the time inside my personal customs allowance of £390, offering a £150 saving on the UK price. It’s an amazing design offering plenty of power in a tiny case, but the problem is storage. It’s possible to fit two 1Gb hard drives in the mac Mini, with an additional third party fitting kit for the base model. More storage can be added through external USB2 drives, but that starts getting messy. The Atom server had 3Tb of internal drive space in a compact ITX case, and with the current price of hard drives increasing rapidly I wanted to use those drives again.
I came across a guide at the TonyMacX86 blog detailing specs for their Customac Mini 2011. This offered plenty of power, HDMI video and audio if you want to use it as a HTPC, and a compact size using an ITX motherboard. The core spec comprised:
- Intel Core i3-2105 with Intel HD 3000 Graphics
- Gigabyte GA-H67N-USB3-B3 Motherboard
- 8Gb DDR3 Ram
The Core i3-2105 is a dual core processor clocked at 3.1Ghz default, showing four cores to the OS using hyper-threading. Intel’s HD 3000 graphics are used on the 2011 Macbook Air’s, so offer full support for a hackintosh running Mac OS 10.7. The Gigabyte motherboard is impressive, managing to pack 2xHDMI outputs, 7.1 surround sound, 2xUSB3 ports, 4 internal SATA connectors, one eSATA port and a PCI express 2.0 x 16 slot into a 17x17cm board. I already had a case with PSU and the hard drives, so placed an order for the three core components. I went with 4Gb of DDR3 Ram as the Hack Mini is acting as a server, with the option of adding more in future to the motherboards second Ram slot.
In the past I have used several methods of installing Mac OS on PC Hardware, and I’m always looking for a way of cutting down the effort involved. TonyMacX86 have already done a lot of the hard installation work by providing many excellent tools, so this guide is based on using them. Rather than repeat the details here I will list the steps involved in getting the Hack Mini working with links to the relevant guides, and advice to prevent mistakes:
- The TonyMacX86 site required you to be logged into a user account to download the tools and files in this guide. I recommend creating an account before starting to save time.
- Read all the guide steps and TonyMacX86 information before starting. It’s easy to rush through and miss an important piece of information.
Step 1: Making the bootable Lion install media
A few options exist for installing Lion on standard PC hardware. All of those I am aware of require the use of an existing Hackintosh or Macintosh to do the preliminary work. TonyMacX86 offer the iBoot CD and MultiBeast package to allow use of a standard Mac OS 10.6 Install DVD to get a working Snow Leopard system. From there you can buy Lion through the Mac App Store, and use the downloaded installer to make the install drive.
There are two options for making the Lion install media, xMove and UniBeast. I used the newer Unibeast which is capable of producing a bootable USB drive (either hard drive or flash drive) from a downloaded Lion installer or a purchased Apple Lion flash drive. The full guide to using UniBeast can be found here, please take note of the following points:
- A flash drive should be formatted using MBR, not GUID Partition Table.
- The iBoot guide lists the necessary BIOS setting that need to be changed, set Optimized Defaults, change SATA to AHCI mode, and set HPET to 64-bit mode.
- Using a USB hard drive is the quickest method, taking me around 5 minutes with a 60Gb USB hard drive. Using a 16Gb Freecom flash drive took 10 minutes to make the installer. Both will boot to the installer quickly.
Step 2: Installing Lion
I used a 16Gb flash drive as my installation media, so set the BIOS boot order to USB HDD then Hard Drive. Again, the UniBeast guide walks you through the installation of Lion.
- I initially had problems booting to the Lion installer and had to use GraphicsEnabler=NO as a boot option. While it was possible to complete the installation using this setup there were many problems. Monitor resolution was limited to 1024×768, there was no audio and sleep did not work. Further reading revealed that Lion does not like use of the motherboard’s analog monitor port for the HD3000 graphics, and booting with the -v verbose option showed the hang seemed to be related to HDA audio. Switching to a HDMI cable and a HDMI to DVI adapter in my monitor fixed all of these problems, so it looks like analog monitor cables have gone the way of floppy disks and CRT’s.
Step 3: Make The Installation bootable using MultiBeast and a custom DSDT
My previous installs have required installation of a bootloader (usually chameleon), adding Kernel extensions and/or a DSDT and a SMbios file. This time I tried MultiBeast, the TonyMacX86 all in one post installation tool. Get it from the Downloads page, then visit the DSDT database to get the pre-made DSDT for your motherboard and BIOS version. This part is important, my H67N-USB3 was on bios F5 to start, so I updated to the latest F7 version. The DSDT database has files for both.
- It isn’t necessary to rename the custom DSDT file you place on the Desktop, MultiBeast will move it to the Extra folder and rename it for you.
Step 4: Reboot and install updates
If all the previous steps worked correctly you should now have a working system with Mac OS 10.7 installed. I updated to 10.7.2 by using the 10.7.1 updater first, as I had these two saved from other hackintosh updates. The quickest way would be to download the 10.7.2 combo updater.
At this point I had lost working sound as the updates had replaced some of the MultiBeast files. I re-ran MultiBeast using the options from step 3, and everything I have tested is now working correctly. The Hack Mini will wake and sleep to a schedule (System Preferences>Energy Saver>Schedule) and can be woken or put to sleep using the power button.
Performance and Notes
Once I had a fully working Hack Mini I wanted to transfer the files, applications and settings from the old Atom server. I first tried using the Migration Assistant over the network, but this complained the source needed to be updated to a newer version of Mac OS. I had originally though of using the Atom hard drive in the new i3 server, but this would mean getting the 10.6.4 Atom install working with the new hardware, then updating to 10.6.8, then Lion 10.7. I always prefer a fresh install of a new operating system rather than updating an existing installation.
I removed the Atom hard drive and connected it to a SATA port on the i3 Hack Mini motherboard, and Migration Assistant was happy to import the files and setting. 689Gb of files and a 4Gb user account transferred over SATA in a little over two hours, then the i3 motherboard was fitted into the server case and the second 2Tb hard drive connected. The Hack Mini booted into the Lion installation with the old user account and all the setting and most of the apps working. Plex Media Server lost none of the media, and now streams 1080p video to my iOS devices perfectly.
The only app that caused any problems was Carbonite which recognised it was on a new machine and wanted to be re-installed. This was a simple step, but it then wanted to restore 189Gb of backed up data to the new machine. Rather than do this I asked it to back up the 189Gb again, as the original backup would be deleted after seven days. This gave me a chance to compare the backup speed of the new server. The old Atom server had been capable of backing up around 15Gb in 24 hours. The limit appeared to be the CPU power available, as the backups are encrypted locally for remote storage, and encrypted again for transmission. The new server has so far backed up 100Gb in 18 hours, but I suspect there is some discrepancy in this figure as this amount should take about two days with my upload speed. There could be a high level of file compression performed before sending.
Updated 12th December 2011 – I’ve looked into the Carbonite backup speed, and found new information. Carbonite limit the backup speed to 2 mbps for the first 35Gb, then 512 kbps up to 200Gb, then 100 kbps beyond 200Gb. Since I am now backing up duplicate files until the first backup set is deleted(which should be after seven days) my backup is at 100kbps. This makes the initial 100Gb in 18 hours impossible, so the Carbonite server may be comparing the new backup set to the old one and not backing up files it recognises as already stored. This also means the limit on backup speed is imposed by Carbonite, not the CPU as I first though.
To get an idea of the raw CPU power available I used Geekbench to provide a means of comparison. The old dual core Atom server scored 1066, the new i3 Hack Mini returned 6104. That’s mighty impressive, since my main Hackintosh (the Gigabyte GA-P35-DS3R/Core 2 Quad 6600) scores 5132. Remember here that the i3-2105 is dual core running at 3.1Ghz, the Core 2 Q6600 is Quad core running at 2.4Ghz. This shows just how much more efficient the Sandy Bridge processors are, and suggests an upgrade of the Q6600 hackintosh would be worthwhile. A Gigabyte motherboard with an i5-2500k and 16Gb ram is currently around £250, so I think my Christmas present is decided.
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