Wednesday, September 17, 2008

Review: EFiX Dongle Perfectly Transforms PC to Mac [Mac Os X On PC]


When we first heard about EFiX—a simple USB dongle that'll let you magically install Leopard on your PC—it sounded too fantastic to be true. Well, I used it to turn my gaming PC into a Mac Pro over the weekend, and I'm somewhat amazed to say this, but it works perfectly.

I grabbed all the updates straight from Apple—including 10.5.5 last night, so you don't have to wait for a hacked patch like you would running a typical Hackintosh—installed a whole bunch of software and have been using it for several days. It runs beautifully, just like a real Mac Pro.

The Process
There are, of course, rules you have to adhere to, as there tends to be when using black magic. The major one with EFiX, and its only real "catch," is that you have to use the supported hardware, not a very long list indeed. But outside of the Gigabyte motherboard requirement (reportedly some Asus boards using a P45 chipset also work), it's actually fairly generic. I just happened to have everything on the list.

If you've got the hardware, the whole process is simple, so that even if you've never cracked your desktop before, you could still get this done with a quick search online for the requisite know-how. I plugged the EFiX dongle into a USB header on my motherboard—not, as you might have assumed, to a USB port on the outside. That's really it for gett! ing your hands dirty, though. I restarted my computer, selected EFiX as the boot device—it was listed under hard drives, actually—and was greeted with a drive selector. After selecting the Leopard disc, it started installing without a hitch.

Okay, there was a slight hitch. My video card, an Nvidia 8800GT, isn't supported by the firmware EFiX ships with. EFiX already has the update on the site, but its updater is only coded for 32-bit Windows. If, like me, you run Vista 64-bit, you will have to install Vista 32-bit on the drive you intend to put Leopard on, just to update the stupid firmware.

After I did that, everything was peachy. The only slight inconsistency is that my 8800GT shows up as a 256MB card, when it's actually a 512MB card, and my 1066MHz RAM is only running at 800MHz apparently. But that's sorta trivial.

The Numbers
Here are some benchmarks compared to some numbers Adam over at Lifehacker ran for his Hacktinosh vs. a MacBook Pro and Mac Pro. Obviously, my hardware is newer—a 3GHz E8400 Wolfdale Core 2 Duo, 4GB RAM (running at the slower 800MHz, rather than 1066MHz) and an Nvidia 8800 GT (with the OS only recognizing half of the memory). The total guts of my computer cost just under $800 when I put it together in May, hard drive included. (Mac Pros start at $2,300.)

Day to Day
One thing to keep in mind is that EFiX has to interlope every time you want to boot to Leopard, so a cold boot takes at least two minutes, between booting to EFiX, picking Leopard, then loading it up. And when you go into Windows, EFiX will show up as an attached USB drive. These aren't dealbreakers—once you're up, performance is great. Overall, the experience is really incredible for how smooth and seamless ! it is. U pdates, installing software, everything is just like a real Mac. The best way to put it is this: I've got a Mac Pro now.

I occasionally feel like Windows is running just a smidge more slowly, but benchmarks compared to before I installed EFiX don't support that creeping feeling, so I chalk it up to paranoia.

Is the dongle worth $170? That's a personal question. Do you wanna go through the usually more complicated—but free—Hackintosh process? Perhaps the best way to look at it is this: If you've already got the supported hardware, it's like buying a Mac for $170, since you can still have your trusty PC just a restart away on the same machine. Also, even as simplified as it is, you still need to know what you're doing. There's no official tech support, though there is a very active forum that provides helpful answers to queries.

Updated: EFiX USA is handing all of the distribution in the US for, who actually doesn't do any of that. They were selling units on eBay but their main site looks like it's up now. So far in our dealings with the company (who sent us EFiX to review) we haven't had any reason to think they're scamming anyone, but it's understandable if you wanna approach this with caution. [EFiX, EFiX USA]