June 20, 2012

The Right Graphics Cards For Your Hackintosh

After your motherboard, the graphics card is the most important part of your Hackintosh. However, Mac OS X wasn't designed to support a wide variety of graphics cards, so it's not always clear which graphics card is the best choice. To answer this question once and for all, we've put together this guide on choosing the right card for your own Hackintosh.

LAST UPDATED: January 28, 2013

A Note on Compatibility
The following guide speaks in generalities. No graphics card model can be compatible with Mac OS X for sure. For instance, when we say that AMD's 5000 series is compatible, this doesn't necessarily apply to every single card in the product series. Oftentimes, lower-end graphics cards and mobile graphics cards in these series don't actually work, for a variety of reasons.

In addition, people forget that the brand of a graphics card matters just as much as the card's model. An ASUS GTX 460 might perform differently from a Gigabyte GTX 460 on Mac OS X, even though both graphics cards are based off the same NVIDIA model.

Before buying a specific graphics card, you should always check whether it's compatible with Mac OS X by searching Google; for example, if you want to check the compatibility of a Sapphire Radeon HD 6850, search "Sapphire 6850 hackintosh" on Google. It's easy and saves you a lot of trouble.

NOTE: All advice in this guide regards all recent versions of Mac OS X, including Snow Leopard, Lion, and Mountain Lion (unless otherwise noted). If a card is incompatible, that usually means that it cannot display your screen at full resolution, and will not have graphics acceleration. Technically, the card will still be usable, but it definitely wouldn't be practical.

After a short hiatus in which they switched to AMD Radeon cards, Apple has recently started using NVIDIA cards for their Macs again. As a result, Mountain Lion, the newest version of OS X, has relatively comprehensive support for NVIDIA's newest graphics cards.

Supported by Mac OS X

The older cards in the 8000, 9000, and 200 series usually work with Mac OS X out of the box, meaning that you don't have to install any extra drivers or kexts to enable full graphics support. If you're not so lucky, you may have to install NVEnabler, a graphics kext available in Multibeast 3.7.2 (which you can download from tonymacx86's download archives).

If you're looking for something a bit newer and more powerful, most of the cards in the NVIDIA 400, 500, 600, and 700 series work with Mac OS X. However, compatibility isn't uniform: the 500 series is only supported in Lion and Mountain Lion, the 600 series is only supported in Mountain Lion and version 10.7.5 of Lion, and the 700 series is only supported in Mavericks and version 10.8.4+ of Mountain Lion. 

A few 400-series cards work out of the box in all versions of Mac OS X, starting from Snow Leopard. However, in some cases, you will have to install extra drivers. To enable graphic support for the 400 series on Mac OS X Snow Leopard, install the official drivers from NVIDIA. If you're running Lion with a 400-series card, install OpenCL Enabler in Multibeast 4. If you're running Mountain Lion with a 400-series card, install OpenCL Enabler in Multibeast 5.

To enable graphics support for a 500-series card in Lion, install OpenCL Enabler in Multibeast 4. If you're running Mountain Lion or newer with a 500 or 600 series card, the graphics should already work by default without any drivers, though you may still need to install OpenCL Enabler if you want OpenCL. When installing Mac OS X on a Hackintosh with a 600-series graphics card, you will have to use the boot flag "GraphicsEnabler=No" (without quotation marks) to turn off GraphicsEnabler, a standard Hackintosh feature designed to improve graphics support. This is because 600-series graphics cards no longer require GraphicsEnabler.

Graphics cards from NVIDIA's consumer-class 700 series and industry-class Titan series generally work "out of the box" in version 10.8.4 of Mountain Lion (and newer). The cards also work in version 10.8.3, but you will have to install NVIDIA's Mac OS X drivers (version 313.01.01f03) to enable full compatibility. Like the 600 series, the 700 series requires you to boot Mac OS X with the boot flag "GraphicsEnabler=No" (without the quotation marks). If you're running Mountain Lion version 10.8.3, you'll also have to use the boot flag "nvda_drv=1" (again, without the quotation marks). 

However, there are still a few compatibility problems with the 700 and Titan series. As of Mac OS X version 10.9.1 (the newest version at the time of this writing), the GTX 780, the GTX 780 Ti, and Titan cards do not work with OpenCL in Mac OS X, which greatly limits their usefulness. In fact, the GTX 780 Ti doesn't really work at all: since it was released later than all of the other 700-series cards, Mac OS X can't boot normally from that card. As a result, the NVIDIA GTX 770 is probably the most powerful NVIDIA graphics card you can buy for a Hackintosh right now.

Some low-end NVIDIA cards have serious compatibility issues with OS X Mountain Lion, including the GT 430, GTS 450, GTX 550 Ti, GT 620, and GT 630. While these problems were temporarily fixed in version 10.8.1 of Mountain Lion, they have started to happen again in version 10.8.2. For now, avoid these graphics card models if you can.

AMD Radeon Cards
From 2009 to 2011, all real Macs used AMD Radeon graphics cards. This means that Hackintosh support for AMD cards from these years is pretty good. However, support for the newest generation of AMD Radeon graphics cards in Mac OS X is still very spotty.

Supported by Mac OS X

Not Supported by Mac OS X

The AMD Radeon 5000 and 6000 series are a bit old now, but they generally work very well for any Hackintosh. While some of the more obscure models don't run well with OS X, many mainstream desktop AMD cards work out of the box. For instance, most of the cards in the AMD Radeon 6600 and 6800 series are well-supported. On the other hand, support for cards in the lower-end 6400 and 6500 series is pretty bad, support for the 6700 series is rather spotty, and support for the 6900 series is still mostly nonexistent.

The Radeon 4000 series is a bit of an outlier. Some of these cards will work out of the box, while others require extra kexts to get full graphics support (similar to NVIDIA graphics cards). Multibeast includes kexts for Radeon 4800 cards. In general, you might as well avoid these cards altogether.

The Radeon 7000 series recently received support in OS X Mountain Lion 10.8.3. Most of the mainstream desktop models in the 7000 series work out of the box; however, the installation process for these cards still has a lot of kinks, so you should still think twice before choosing AMD over NVIDIA for a Hackintosh. Not all the graphics cards in the 7000 series will work in Mac OS X; many of the rules from the older 6000 series still apply. While Mac OS X has pretty reliable support for the mainstream desktop cards from the 7700, 7800, and 7900 series, lower-end cards from the 7300, 7400, and 7500 series often won't work at all.

The Radeon R9 200 series is largely just a rebranding of the Radeon 7000 series, so most R9 200 series cards are supported in OS X Mavericks (and possibly Mountain Lion). However, you will probably have to perform the same workarounds during the installation process-- while some models in the R9 series now work out of the box, most of them still have the same problems that the 7000 series had. Meanwhile, most of the cards in the Radeon R7 200 series don't really work in Mac OS X-- as usual, OS X hasn't provided particularly good support for AMD's lower-end models.

The R9 290 and R9 290X, the two most powerful cards in AMD's current lineup, are not yet supported in Mac OS X, as they use a completely different graphics architecture from the rest of the cards in the series. Right now, the most powerful AMD card you can buy for your Hackintosh is the R9 280X.

Integrated Graphics Cards
If you're just interested in Mac OS X for some light web browsing or checking your email, then you might not even need a separate ("discrete") graphics card at all. To many people, the built-in graphics card on their processor or motherboard will be enough. Unfortunately, Mac OS X may not necessarily agree.

Supported by Mac OS X

Not Supported by Mac OS X

For a short time, Mac OS X had no support whatsoever for integrated graphics cards. This finally changed when Apple started using Intel's new HD 3000 integrated graphics in their 2011-model Macbooks. Now, Intel HD 3000 graphics, which are available in a couple of new Intel processors, can be made to work with Mac OS X Lion and Mountain Lion in a relatively easy process (Snow Leopard isn't supported, unfortunately). The graphics performance isn't great, but most of the kinks have been ironed out since the initial release.

However, overall support for integrated graphics is still very limited. Intel HD 2000, the lower-end counterpart to HD 3000, isn't supported; you can enable HD 2000 to display Mac OS X Lion and Mountain Lion at full resolution with a workaround method, but you still won't get any graphics acceleration. Intel HD 4000 graphics, the successor to Intel HD 3000, can easily be enabled on OS X Mountain Lion and Mac OS X Lion version 10.7.5. Intel HD 2500, the successor to Intel HD 2000, can be enabled on OS X Mountain Lion version 10.8.3 or newer.

Mac OS X doesn't support any older Intel integrated graphics cards, such as Intel's GMA series of integrated cards. You can install makeshift kexts from that allow Intel GMA to display Mac OS X at higher resolutions, but there's no way to enable graphics acceleration.

There has never been any support for the integrated graphics in AMD processors. Of course, Mac OS X barely supports AMD processors anyways, so this is no surprise.

If you're looking to buy the cheapest graphics card possible for your Hackintosh, consider buying an Intel processor that uses compatible integrated graphics. Alternatively, if you want to buy a separate graphics card for your Hackintosh, you can buy an old NVIDIA graphics card from the NVIDIA 8000, 9000, or 200 series.

If you want a reliable, mid-end graphics card that will work out of the box with Mac OS X, you can buy a mid-end NVIDIA graphics card in the 500, 600, or 700 series. Alternatively, you could always choose something in the AMD Radeon 5000 or 6000 series. While Radeon cards from the 7000 and R9 200 series also work, the boot problems associated with these cards make them a less-than-ideal choice.

If you want the most powerful graphics card possible, you might want to consider buying a graphics card in the higher end of NVIDIA's 500, 600, or 700 series. Again, Radeon's 7000-series cards also work, but they still have a lot of problems.

NOTE: ATI CrossfireX and NVIDIA SLI, which allow you to run two separate graphics cards as a single graphics card on Windows, do not work on a Hackintosh. Mac OS X will always recognize double-card setups as two separate graphics card.