Assembling the PC that will become a Mac

hack-gutsOriginally, I thought I would painstakingly and carefully document the construction of this small PC and this post would be a visual guide to newbies such as myself. That did not happen. The obsession with the process and eagerness to see it all come together had me putting the camera aside and forgetting about it for most of the assembly. Also the tight space involved with this mini build didn’t lend itself to decent photography. Maybe I’ll have my act more together on my next build.


My buddy Dan ordered the list of parts for the CustoMac Mini which is a budget build at the excellent tonymacx86 site, and it was going to be up to me to put it together.  The Customac Mini features a Gigabyte H77 mini-iTX motherboard and an Intel dual-core Ivy Bridge processor. Like the entry level Mac Mini, the graphics are integrated into the motherboard. A graphics card is not necessary for this build unless you want to add one. All of this gets crammed into a shoebox-sized case that includes a 250W power supply. Dan already had a SATA hard-drive, and he didn’t bother with the WIFI card planning to stick with an Ethernet connection. Dan was about $350 lighter, and I had boxes and manuals everywhere.


I thought of when I used to get plastic model kits as a kid and would perform a dry run assembling it. I would take the pieces out, examine the instructions and fit them together without the airplane glue in order to familiarize myself with the specific kit and the process of putting it together. I examined the parts of this CustomMac Mini and skimmed the manuals and sites on the internet.


The heat sink for the processor. The three gray lines are heat paste so you don’t have to add your own. Nice!

One of the sites that inspired me to forge ahead with building my own Mac is LifeHacker. They have some generalized guides for building a PC which I referred to that made the whole process seem to be as easy as falling off of a horse. It’s not quite.motherboard

I’m used to the finite world of the Apple Macintosh where each and every machine is exhaustively detailed in prose and pictures in print and all over the internet by the company that made them, professionals who fix them and fans who love them. Information on a particular component of a particular model can be easily found. In comparison, the PC market is the Wild West. Everybody has a six-shooter and claims to be the fastest gun. Finding specific information on a particular build is like following breadcrumbs in a funhouse hall of mirrors. I felt like an idiot tourist laden with money and naivete looking for some excitement in an exotic port of call and taking the cab driver at his word that he knew all of the good spots. The build that looked like it would take 20 minutes to put together took a bit longer.
pc-assemblyThe motherboard and the Intel processor chip were fairly well documented, and their information aided greatly in the build. The case was a different story. It was a case of you get what you pay for. It felt cheap reminding me of crappy VCRs I tore apart in the early 90s in order to rescue jammed tapes. It’s cramped, and the meager instructions are terrible and badly translated into English. Everything fits when it’s finally put together but just barely. On my next build I will spend some money on a better and probably bigger case. Although it’s supposed to be a compact case, it dwarfs my Mac Mini from 2006.


The RAM chips were self-explanatory and carried the curious name of Vengeance. Vengeance for what? The chips had a sort of cool looking black carapace that reminded of the redesign of Robocop. They were inexpensive particularly compared to the memory upgrades offered by Apple. The two 4GB chips snapped right in and were the least of my worries.

Everything went where it was supposed to, but figuring what plugged into where was the trick. I ended up referring to the booklet for the motherboard as my guide. It had line drawing illustrations and diagrams indicating what each plug was. I figured it all out, but the tiny single and double pin connectors for the case’s front panel were particularly pesky. I needed tweezers to install those babies, and a swing-arm, illuminated magnifying glass would not be a bad idea.
tiny-connexThere was also a tiny speaker with a connector that I never did figure out where it went. No great loss. I could plug a speaker into one of the headphone ports.

Dan opted not to go with an optical drive which was just as well because it would have been a tight squeeze. As it is now, I have most of the cables from the power supply slopping over into that space.

It all came together. I plugged in a monitor and an old Dell keyboard and pressed the power button. It worked, and I didn’t burn the house down! Score!BIOS-screen

NEXT WEEK: My attempt at turning this whole mess into a Mac — will it work?
LAST WEEK: Think Cheap

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