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May 17, 2012

How Much Money Will A Hackintosh Save You?

It’s well-known that Macs have an extremely high price tag, which is why low cost is one of the biggest advantages to building a Hackintosh. However, it’s not always clear exactly how much money a Hackintosh will save you, compared to buying a real Mac. To answer this question once and for all, I’ve assembled a price analysis to compare the price of a real Mac to the price of a Hackintosh.

LATEST UPDATE (April 18, 2014): Updated article to reflect 2013 pricing updates to the Mac product line.

Mac Mini vs. CustoMac Mini
Mac Mini CustoMac Mini
Processor (CPU) 
Intel Core i5-3210M (2.5 GHz)Intel Core i3-4330 (3.5 GHz)
Graphics Card Intel HD 4000Intel HD 4600
4 GB RAM (1333 MHz)Corsair 8GB RAM (1333 MHz)
Hard drive500 GB hard drive (5400-rpm) Seagate Barracuda 1 TB (7200-rpm)
MotherboardUnspecifiedGigabyte GA-H87N-WIFI
Computer case
Mac Mini caseAPEX MI-008 + 250W power supply
Power supply
UnspecifiedUnspecified (included with case)
WiFi Airport Wireless Not included
Bluetooth Bluetooth 4.0 Not included
Total Cost $600 $440

Cost-wise, it's pretty clear that tonymacx86's popular CustoMac Mini build is the winner here. The CustoMac Mini is about $160 cheaper, even with newer hardware! And even though it's not as small as the incredibly thin Mac Mini, it's still pretty compact in its own right.

However, these two mini computers are actually more closely matched than they look. The CustoMac Mini doesn't include WiFi and Bluetooth by default, so if you need either of those features, it'll cost you an extra $60 to buy the right adapters (check out our lists of compatible WiFi adapters and compatible Bluetooth adapters). This closes the price gap between the two to about $100.

But don't forget that the CustoMac Mini has better performance than the Mac Mini. The base model of the Mac Mini uses an outdated laptop-level Intel i5 processor, which is actually weaker than the desktop-level i3 processor used in the CustoMac Mini. In addition, the Mac Mini has a rather slow 5400-rpm hard drive, and only 4 GB of RAM. Meanwhile, the CustoMac Mini is pretty capable all-around, with 8 GB of RAM and lots of opportunities for upgrades. You can even add a DVD drive (if that's important to you).

iMac (21.5-inch) vs. CustoMac Budget
iMac (21.5-inch)CustoMac Budget + Monitor
Processor (CPU) 
Intel Core i5-4570R (2.7 GHz)Intel Core i5-4430 (3.0 GHz)
Graphics Card Intel HD 5200Intel HD 4600
8 GB RAM (1333 MHz)Corsair 8 GB RAM (1333 MHz)
Hard drive1 TB hard drive (5400-rpm) Seagate Barracuda 1 TB (7200-rpm)
MotherboardUnspecifiedGigabyte GA-Z87X-D3H
Computer case
iMac caseCorsair Carbide 300R
Power supply
UnspecifiedCorsair CS 550W modular power supply
WiFiAirport WirelessNot included
WebcamFaceTime HD CameraNot included
BluetoothBluetooth 4.0Not included
Mouse/KeyboardApple Wireless Keyboard + Magic MouseNot included
Monitor21.5-inch screen (1920x1080)Any 21.5 monitor (1920x1080)
Total Cost$1300$750

Long story short, this comparison is a complete rout. Building a Hackintosh is over $500 cheaper than buying a comparable 21.5-inch iMac. Even when you add a webcam, WiFi adapter, Bluetooth adapter, keyboard, and mouse to the Hackintosh build, you can still come out a cool $300 dollars ahead.

In terms of performance, the CustoMac Budget holds up very well against the base model of the 21.5-inch iMac, as the specifications between the two builds are virtually identical. In fact, the 7200-RPM hard drive in the Hackintosh actually performs a bit faster than its iMac counterpart. And unlike the iMac, you can upgrade any computer part in a Hackintosh that you want.

iMac (27-inch) vs. CustoMac Pro
iMac (27-inch)CustoMac Pro + Monitor
Processor (CPU)
Intel Core i5-4570 (3.2 GHz)Intel Core i5-4670K (3.4 GHz)
Graphics Card Nvidia GT 755M GeForce GTX 760
8 GB RAM (1333 MHz)Corsair 8 GB RAM (1600 MHz)
Hard drive1 TB GB hard drive (7200-rpm) Seagate Barracuda 1 TB (7200-rpm)
MotherboardUnspecifiedGigabyte GA-Z87X-UD3H
Computer case
iMac caseCorsair Carbide Series 500R
Power supply
UnspecifiedCorsair RM 650W modular power supply
WiFiAirport WirelessNot included
WebcamFaceTime HD CameraNot included
BluetoothBluetooth 4.0Not included
Mouse/KeyboardApple Wireless Keyboard + Magic MouseNot included
Monitor27-inch screen (2560x1440)Any 27 monitor (2560x1440)
Total Cost$1800$1600

Surprise, surprise. When doing a price comparison between the 27-inch iMac and a comparable Hackintosh build, the two are actually rather closely matched.

This is mainly thanks to the excellent screen of the 27-inch iMac; at 2560x1440, this screen has a higher resolution than pretty much any other mainstream prebuilt computer. It costs up to $600 to buy a monitor at that resolution from a major manufacturer*, meaning that the monitor alone nearly doubles the price of the CustoMac Pro build.

However, not everybody needs a 27-inch monitor. If you're okay with using a smaller 23 or 24-inch monitor for your Hackintosh, the price of the CustoMac Pro decreases to a mere $1200 (or less!), making it far cheaper than the iMac. And of course, the performance of the CustoMac Pro easily exceeds that of the 27-inch iMac (thanks to the CustoMac's powerful i5-4670K processor and noticeably better graphics card).

To summarize, the 27-inch iMac is a surprisingly good deal, but only if you need its high-resolution 27-inch screen. Otherwise, the CustoMac Pro will likely be a better choice, in terms of both cost and performance.

*NOTE: The price of 27-inch monitors varies widely. Though most established manufacturers still price their monitors in the $600+ range, smaller manufacturers like Nixeus, Auria, and Monoprice often sell monitors for under $400. Buying a sub-$400 monitor lowers the estimated cost of the CustoMac Pro substantially.

Mac Pro vs. CustoMac Pro Socket 2011
Mac ProCustoMac Pro Socket 2011 + Monitor
Processor (CPU)
Intel Xeon E5-1620 v2 (3.7 GHz)Intel Xeon E5-1620 v2 (3.7 GHz)
Graphics Card 2 AMD FirePro D3001 GeForce GTX 760
12 GB RAM (1866 MHz)Corsair 16 GB RAM (1600 MHz)
Hard drive256 GB solid state drive Samsung EVO 250 GB solid state drive
MotherboardUnspecifiedGigabyte GA-X79-UP4
Computer case
iMac caseCorsair Graphite 600T
Power supply
UnspecifiedCorsair AX 760W modular power supply
WiFiAirport WirelessNot included
CPU coolerUnspecifiedCorsair H60
BluetoothBluetooth 4.0Not included
Total Cost$3000$1550

When you analyze its cost versus its performance, the Mac Pro doesn't exactly impress. The base model of the Mac Pro costs $3000, which is nearly twice the cost of a comparable CustoMac Pro. If you're thinking about buying a base model Mac Pro, then you should seriously consider building your own Hackintosh instead.

However, it's not a perfect comparison. The Mac Pro uses parts designed for servers and workstations-- most significantly, it uses two AMD FirePro D300 cards, which are specialized workstation graphics cards that are only available on the Mac Pro. It's difficult to compare this dual-workstation card setup to the consumer-level setups available for Hackintoshes, especially considering that Hackintoshes can't really use more than one card at time (due to the lack of support for NVIDIA SLI or AMD Crossfire in Mac OS X).

From one standpoint, the AMD FirePro D300 on the base model of the Mac Pro is roughly equivalent to a AMD FirePro W7000, which costs $600+ per card at most retailers. From a more practical standpoint, however, you can essentially claim that the AMD FirePro D300 is nothing more than a glorified AMD Radeon 7870, which costs as little as $150 per card at most retailers (the two models use almost the exact same underlying hardware). Remember, the main technical difference between workstation cards like the D300 and consumer-level cards like the 7870 is merely driver support-- drivers designed for workstation cards often work better with industry/professional applications.

If you're willing to forgo this extra "driver support" (which is really quite limited, especially in Mac OS X), then you can easily match the performance of the Mac Pro's two FirePro graphics cards with a single, far cheaper consumer-level graphics card. While the NVIDIA GTX 760 used in the default CustoMac Pro build definitely performs worse than the dual-Fire Pro D300 setup in the Mac Pro, a single GTX 780 can easily give the Mac Pro a run for its money (AMD Radeon cards are a bit trickier to set up on Hackintoshes, so we don't recommend them). Right now, the GTX 780 costs a "mere" $500. While this would increase the price of your Hackintosh build to around $1800, that's still ridiculously cheap compared to the Mac Pro.

One more caveat: Hackintosh support for Intel Xeon processors remains rather spotty. CPU power management and sleep mode will work with most Xeon processors in Mac OS X version 10.9.2 and newer, but extra steps are required. Unless you really need the additional cores offered by Xeon, it may be a more practical option to simply buy a high-end Intel Core processor (which would actually offer better single-core performance than most Xeons).

Our final verdict? It's a tough call. No matter how you spin it, building a Hackintosh is going to be cheaper than buying a Mac Pro. However, it's not all perfect. Hackintosh support for Intel Xeon isn't great. And if you really need a workstation graphics card, then the Mac Pro is still the best option. Finally, let's not forget one of the biggest differences of all between the Mac Pro and a Hackintosh-- the Corsair 600T computer case is huge, while the new Mac Pro is tiny! If size and form factor matters to you, then it's hardly even a competition at all.

In Conclusion:
  • If you're looking to buy cheapest Mac possible, the CustoMac Mini will probably be a better choice. However, adding Bluetooth and WiFi to the CustoMac Mini can make it noticeably more expensive.
  • The 21.5-inch model of the iMac costs several hundred dollars more than a comparable Hackintosh. You'll probably want to go for the Hackintosh.
  • If you like its high-resolution screen, the 27-inch model of the iMac is probably the best deal in Apple's entire product line. However, if you're willing to compromise on the screen, a Hackintosh can still be much cheaper.
  • While its base model is way more expensive than its Hackintosh counterpart, the Mac Pro has its own fair share of advantages: it uses workstation parts that would be hard to replicate in a Hackintosh build, and it's also crazy small. Whether you should get a Mac Pro or a Hackintosh depends on a case-by-case basis.
This article does not provide a perfect comparison. For starters, Macs are known for their unmatched build quality; there's no way that you could build a computer as thin as the new iMac, for instance. And in one noticeable omission, while all of the Hackintosh builds above have USB 3.0, none of them have Thunderbolt ports. While Thunderbolt technically works on Hackintoshes for basic data transfer, it is exorbitantly expensive, and many of the extra features of Thunderbolt (such as video and audio transfer) are not yet supported.

Of course, we're not considering the unquantifiable advantages (and disadvantages) of building a Hackintosh. For instance, building and setting up a Hackintosh takes time. The real question is: how much time are you willing to put into your computer?