Introduction: Make Your Own $300 Mac: a Mac Built From MacBook Parts

UPDATE (8/19/2010): You could probably do this a lot easier/quicker by just making an OS X USB drive by making a DMG of the OS X install disk and then restoring that image onto an 8 GB or larger USB drive, but this Instructable is just about how I did it.

Some of you may see "Build Your Own Mac" and think, "Oh, another Hackintosh. How quaint." and move on to another Instructable. Let me say this once: This is not a Hackintosh. This is a fully-functional Mac that you can build yourself for hardly any money, using used Macbook parts.

Benefits of building a DIY-intosh (that's what I call it) over a Hackintosh:
- No need to do any EFI or kernel hacks to get it working.
- (Relatively) easy to get working because there are no bootloaders or hacks to install)
- It can always use Apple's updates because it doesn't require modifying Mac OS in any way.
- Updates will never break the machine (unless Apple screws up big-time, which is highly unlikely).
- Extremely small form factor.
- Low-power (65W-90W PSU).
- Extremely low-cost.

My DIY-intosh's specs:
- 2.0GHz Intel Core Duo
- 2GB RAM (667 MHz)
- 100 GB hard drive (7200 RPM)
- 802.11 b/g/n wifi
- Bluetooth

Now that you've been fully convinced that you want to build a Mac, you can proceed on to the first step!

To see my original worklog and all the high-resolution pictures and HD video on my blog, visit

Step 1: Physical Construction: Gather Materials

For now, you'll need:
- MacBook logic board
- SATA 2.5″ HDD
- MacBook HDD cable
- MacBook logic board fan and heat sink with temp sensors
- MacBook sleep switch/battery connector
- MacBook DC-DC port (the power connector)
- MacBook power block
- MacBook keyboard cable
- MacBook Bluetooth card
- MacBook Bluetooth card cable
- MacBook WiFi card
- WiFi antennas
- 2GB DDR2 667 MHz laptop RAM (2 x 1GB or 1 x 2GB)
- Generic magnet to keep the sleep switch activated
- Thermal paste for heat sink
- Resistor for LED to bring the 5V to 2.5-3V (220 Ohm)
- Case to put everything in

Step 2: Make Sure the Parts Fit in the Case

Make sure they all fit when put together, otherwise you’ll have serious problems later on. If they don’t fit, find a case that will let them fit. I used an old cable modem enclosure.

Step 3: Modify Case As Needed

This means you just need to drill holes for cooling, a power button, ports, etc. For example, I used my Dremel tool to cut some better ventilation holes.

Step 4: Secure the Logic Board to the Case

You can use either screws or glue. I used hot glue because it’s easy, moderately strong, it has insulating properties, and I can remove it if necessary.

Step 5: Attach and Secure Other Parts

Attach and secure electrical components to the logic board and to the case, if needed. This includes the power switch, the DC-DC adapter, the Wi-Fi card and antennas, the Bluetooth module and antennas, the RAM, and the HDD. After you insert the sleep switch into the logic board, you can glue the magnet to the top of the switch. Make sure the magnet doesn’t cause any shorts. For wiring the power switch to the keyboard cable, see what this guy posted.

On wiring the power switch, see this photo. Those connections go to the momentary push-button to be used as the power switch. One of the other pins is +5V, so if you connect a resistor and an LED to that and ground, you can have a power indicator. Use a multimeter to figure out which pin is +5V. I used a 220 Ohm resistor with a red LED to make my power indicator.

The battery connector must be connected to the logic board, and the magnet must be glued to the connector on the indicated area to trigger the sleep switch and to trick the MacBook logic board into believing its lid is closed. See the pictures for more info.

Step 6: Close It Up

Close, but don’t yet seal, the case. I say this because you, like me, will probably forget to connect something and you'll need to open the case again (bad Wi-Fi card, bad connections, etc.).

You should now see something like this:

Step 7: Install OS X: Gather Materials

Ok, you've finished building the system. You should probably connect it to a monitor, keyboard, mouse, and its PSU, just to check if the hardware works. After a while (wait 10 minutes after booting), it should display a gray screen with a blinking folder icon with a "?" on it. If it doesn't, figure out what you did wrong. If it does, congrats!

Now, this is what you need to install OS X (or, rather, what I used):
- 1 DIY-intosh w/ newly attached sleep switch and magnet and w/ HDD connected
- 1 Mac with a firewire port
- 2 power cables (one for the DIY-intosh, one for the MacBook I used)
- 1 firewire cable (If the non-DIY Mac has a firewire 800 port you need this cable, if it has a firewire 400 port, then you just need this cable.
- 1 mini-DVI to whatever cable (I used a mini-DVI to DVI cable)
- 1 USB keyboard
- 1 USB mouse
- 1 display
- 1 Mac OS X 10.6 DVD
- lots of patience

If your DIY-intosh is going to have its own DVD drive (a MacBook SuperDrive, a firewire DVD drive, or a USB DVD drive), use this parts list:
- 1 DIY-intosh w/ newly attached sleep switch and magnet and w/ HDD connected
- 1 MacBook internal SuperDrive (should already be attached), a firewire DVD drive and a proper cable, or a USB DVD drive and a proper cable
- 1 power cable for the DIY-intosh
- 1 mini-DVI to whatever cable (I used a mini-DVI to DVI cable)
- 1 USB keyboard
- 1 USB mouse
- 1 display
- 1 Mac OS X 10.6 DVD

Step 8: Make Connections

Connect everything logically. Connect the Macs via firewire cable, plug Macs into wall power, connect DIY-intosh to monitor, connect USB keyboard and mouse to DIY-intosh, etc.

Step 9: Boot Procedure

If you're using a second Mac to install OS X on the DIY-intosh, follow these steps. If your DIY-intosh has a MacBook internal SuperDrive a firewire DVD drive, or a USB DVD drive, do step 2 and then skip to step 6.

1.) Boot and log-in to MacBook (the computer with the DVD drive--it must be a Mac).

2.) Insert OS X Install DVD.

3.) Go to Sysprefs->Boot Devices (or something like that).

4.) Select the DVD and select restart now.

5.) While the MacBook is rebooting, hold “T” to enter Firewire Target Disk Mode.

6.) Boot DIY-intosh.

7.) Wait a long time.

8.) If you see the install screen, success! If not, figure out what’s wrong and fix it.

Step 10: Vague Installation Procedure

1.) If you haven’t already done so, format the HDD to a Mac Journaled file system by selecting "Disk Utility" from the "Utilities" menu at the top of the screen.

2.) Proceed through the installation. Make sure that when you select a drive to install to, pick your DIY-intosh one and NOT your MacBook one. Just a word of warning.

Step 11: Installing...

Wait a long time (1.5-2 hours or more) for it to install. Disregard the “30 minutes remaining” and read a book or watch a movie because from this point untill the install finishes there’s no user intervention required. If you want to know why it takes 1.5-2 hours, it's because of the limited speed of FireWire.

Step 12: Finish Install and Cleanup

1.) When your DIY-intosh reboots, turn off the MacBook, for it is no longer necessary. Unplug the firewire cable for the same reason.

2.) Enjoy the welcome animation and your new DIY-intosh.

3.) Celebrate the completion of your new Mac!

Step 13: Cost Breakdown

This is really difficult. The logic board was $170 with shipping, the HDD was $35, the Wi-Fi card was pulled from my netbook, the bluetooth board was $6-$8, the antennas were $1.25 each (I think), the sleep switch was $8.50, 2 cables were $15 total, the OS X DVD was $29 on, and there was a bunch of other stuff that I had lying around/was free that eventually caused my total cost to be $293.29. Note that a lot of these parts I got in deals on ebay, so you may be able to get them cheaper if you're lucky. It took me a few months to collect all the parts and do research on how to put it together and get it to work, and because I'm giving you my research here, you don't have to spend time doing that.

Step 14: Conclusion and Thanks

Well, I met my goal. I made an easy-to-use Mac out of Apple parts for under $300. It's not good for gaming or HD video, but it works fine for running most Mac software and for developing Apps for iPhones and iPod touches.

Many thanks to Tyler of Phantom Dev, who inspired me to do this project and who gave me the link to another mod that has a little more detail on wiring the power button. I also thank ebay for being there to host the auctions and I thank the people I bought parts from for having such awesome prices. I thank Hammerhead Technology for selling me the logic board and Apple’s designers and engineers for making such a great piece of hardware and software.

If you have any questions about this build, how to build your own, or just mistakes you want to point out for me to correct (I transfered these instructions from my blog, so I may have missed adapting some things to Instructables so they might not make sense), feel free to comment!

Negative comments like "FAKE," "Pointless," etc. will be flagged as spam and I will label you an internet Troll. I do not tolerate trolling or spam (as does Instructables).

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