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Computing Should Be Fun! (Part 3)

In order to move away from the Mac, one of the many items one must do is get hardware to replace the Mac. Fortunately, when you come to terms with actually moving away, you end up having A LOT of options to pick from, including custom-building a system.

I haven’t really done a good job at keeping up with tech outside of Apple’s offerings, and wow was I shocked with what’s out there! The amount of power you can get from a custom-build machine vs what Apple offers is such a vast delta! Another vast delta is the price of all of this. I configured a great custom system for ~$800. (I already had a monitor, keyboard and mouse.)

Existing Peripherals

Monitors

There’s a ton of options out here too. The first constraint is your budget, the next constraint is your OS’s support for high-DPI resolutions.

I have a professional-grade monitor, a NEC MultiSync P242W. I’ve had it for years at this point. It was a pricey panel, but I really can’t say how happy I have been with this monitor. Many people like to make fun of how thick my monitor is, but the image is so stunning. It’s resolution is 1920x1200, so not a high-DPI monitor. The MacBook Pro I was using at the time I bought this monitor only supported 4k at 30hz, which was unacceptable to me.

The closest monitor you can get to mine today is the NEC P243W.

Keyboards

I used to be a fan of Apple’s keyboards until they started giving me an RSI at 24 years old. I switched to a Microsoft Sculpt keyboard and haven’t looked back. Once you get used to the split keyboard layout, it’s great and probably the best thing you can do for your wrists.

The closest sculpt keyboard you can get to mine, today is this.

Mice

I recently moved back to a wired mouse. I’m not sure exactly what was going on, but the bluetooth Apple Magic Mouse I was using would lag incredibly hard any time I was performing a large file transfer over WIFI or even to a USB-3 hard drive.

This is the mouse I am currently using.

Finding New Hardware

Custom-building a machine is not overly difficult if you have a general understanding of what goes into a computer.

You’ll need at least the following things:

CPU Processors

There’s old blue-n-white/Intel, but right now, AMD’s Ryzen processor lineup is hot. Some mid-range Ryzen processors are outperforming the high-end workstation processors in Apple’s new Mac Pro system.

Mainboards

My personal opinion is that it’s a good idea to get a very powerful and capable mainboard for your build, even if it’s maybe even the most expensive part in the whole kit. You’ll want to be able to swap in new processors and add additional RAM and graphics cards and the like in the years coming. There’s no reason that you shouldn’t figure on getting ten years out of your mainboard, so make it a good one!

Cases

Many gamers do not care much about their PC case. They will argue that the money spent on a fancier case is better spent on getting extra parts to boost your machine’s performance. However coming from using Macs for almost two-decades, I disagree. Most PC cases are really ugly, but there are a few great, aesthetic options for cases out there too.

One of my favorites I’ve found is from Phanteks.

https://www.phanteksusa.com/collections/evolv-series/products/phanteks-evolv-x-silver

If you’re into something more whimsical or desire something Mac-like, there’s always this knock-off Mac Pro case, the Dune Pro.

https://www.dunecase.com

Picking PC Parts

Without further ado, here is how I configured my custom-build PC.

CPU Case: NZXT H510 - $70

I got this case without knowing about the Phanteks and Dune Pro cases. It’s okay, but it’s like cheap sheet metal with a gaudy glass window on the side. It’s not a bad case by any means, but it doesn’t have a premium Apple-like feel to it. I’m a little disappointed, but it works for now.

Link

Mainboard: ASUS Prime X570 - $240

Again, I splurged on this logic board. I think it really was the most expensive part in this whole build. Things I like about this mainboard are it’s white and silver heatsinks and port covers and that it supports up to 128 GB of RAM. There’s a lot of other great features on it too, like M.2 SSD slots and LED control (if you’re into that).

Link

PSU: Corsair RM550x - $90

I decided to go full-modular on the PSU just because I wanted something that was the most-configurable in the event that I change cases or reuse this PSU in another way in the future. 550W is plenty for this system I’m building. You can cut the cost a little bit by going half-modular.

Link

CPU Processor: RYZEN 5 3400G - $160

I have had several friends tell me how great AMD’s Ryzen chips are. I can say that the hype is REAL! I love this processor. It feels so so so much faster than the Intel chip in my Mac mini. Another great thing about this chip is that it comes with an integrated graphics chip, which could come in handy if running on an esoteric Linux distro without great support for discrete graphics cards.

Link

RAM: V-Color Prism, 8GB - $38

Since I’m not yet using this system as my main system, I’m only putting 8 GB of RAM in it. A friend linked me to these modules. They’re pretty cheap and also have RGB LEDs on them. I’ll get more eventually.

Link

HD/SSD

I already had an unused 128 GB SSD sitting around.

GPU: Radeon 580 - $130

A great secret one of my friends gave me is that you can get some really decent used GPUs on eBay. I picked up a MSI Armor Radeon 580 card at a great price. Just search eBay for the card you’re looking for. Maybe a Radeon 580? Maybe a NVIDIA 1060?

Putting it All Together

Hardware

I don’t have much to add here. Just follow the instructions in the packaging to get everything put together. I do have some photos of the build.

Software

I was able to install Ubuntu immediately without a hitch. The performance of Ubuntu on this hardware is great, especially compared to my Mac mini (which has two more processor cores and twice as much RAM). I can’t believe how slow and latent macOS feels these days.

I also installed HaikuOS.

HaikuOS is a little more esoteric of an operating system and I had some trouble getting the OS to boot on my hardware.

Booting the Haiku live desktop via USB3 was spotty until very recently with some great progress made by Mr Waddlesplash. At the time though it was not working for me. I know that USB3 support has actually been an issue on many platforms, not just Linux or Haiku. macOS has even had some issues with USB3 devices. As Mr Waddlesplash explained, the USB3 spec is very large and difficult to implement.

An alternate install method is booting the live desktop from a USB 2 flash drive, which solves a lot of problems. Unfortunately this didn’t work for me either.

I finally got Haiku installed and running on my custom rig by putting the SSD into an older machine, booting the live desktop and installing the OS on to the SSD, then putting the SSD into my custom box. I am happy to report that Haiku boots and damn is it fast!

In Conclusion…

I’m not completely ready to move off of macOS, but step by step I’m getting there. I really can’t imagine buying a new Mac today. The hardware options are incredibly pricey and limited. It’s always been this way I suppose, but Macs used to be a lot more special than they are now.

It’s incredibly obvious to me now how, 1) over-priced, 2) under-powered, 3) wasteful Mac’s have become. I put together a completely modular system for $800 that outperforms a Mac mini that originally cost $1600. It feels so nice to know that I can upgrade the processor without, say, having to throw away my monitor. If you are buying new Macintosh hardware today, what are you doing???