Mac mini alternatives (macOS in VM on non-Apple hardware)

  1. #1
    I am thinking of upgrading my old macmini-2011, but apparently Apple is not on a hurry to offer their customers an updated Mac mini model, worth considering (6th/7th generation i7 4c/8t processor, up to 32GB user-upgradeable memory, Thunderbolt 3).

    Naturally, I still hope that this sad situation may change, that a new shining late-2017/early-2018 Macmini is just around the corner—but at the same time I also prepare for the worst case scenario (Apple killing Macmini), and would like to have a working plan of moving to non-Apple hardware, capable of running macOS.

    When somebody talks about running macOS on non-Apple hardware, people usually assume Hackintosh, but in this case Hackintosh (installing and running macOS on non-Apple hardware) would definitely NOT be my first choice.

    In macOS, running on Apple Macintosh hardware, I am used to (perfectly legally and legitimately!) run both Windows and Linux guest operating systems in virtual machines, and I can see no sensible, justified reason why doing the opposite—running guest macOS in a virtual machine under Linux or Windows on non-Apple hardware—should present a problem for anyone, including Apple (to be fair, they do not seem to care much about the Hackintosh niche and whatever is going on in there, or at least I haven't heard about Apple suing any Hackintosh users for violating their EULA, the clause which restricts running macOS to Apple-manufactured hardware only).

    What exactly I mean under Mac mini alternative—a 64-bit Intel based mini desktop computer with specifications, size, noise levels and electrical power consumption, comparable to High-End Macmini-2012 i7 4c/8t 16gb—capable of running Windows, Linux and macOS.

    The size of this machine is not too important, as it is a desktop computer, and not a notebook.

    Specifications, the most important points: user-upgradeable or embedded Intel Core i7 6th/7th generation processor (4 cores/8 threads or better), up to 32gb user-upgradeable memory, 2.5" SATA HDD/SSD interface, m.2 SATA interface, ideally also Thunderbolt 3.

    In some cases, I would gladly sacrifice the CPU upgradeability option (for example, if I choose one of Intel NUCs or SuperMicro mini-ITX boards with embedded Xeon D-family processor).

    Some currently available hardware—barebones/computers/motherboards—suitable for the task:

    Intel NUC 7i7BNH: embedded Intel Core i7-7567U 3.5GHz Kaby Lake processor (beware 2c/4t—for some tasks it may be OK, and for some others it may be not), Intel Iris Plus Graphics 650, 2xSO-DIMM DDR4 2133Mhz (max. 32GB), M.2 slot, 2.5" SATA slot, Thunderbolt 3

    Intel NUC 6i7KYK 'Skull Canyon': embedded Intel Core i7-6770HQ 4c/8t 3.5GHz Skylake processor, Intel Iris Pro 580 graphics, 2x SO-DIMM DDR4 2133Mhz (max. 32GB), 2x M.2 slot (no 2.5" SATA slot), Thunderbolt 3

    HP Z2 Mini G3: C236 chipset, desktop Intel Core i7-7700 4c/8t processor, up to 32GB memory, NVIDIA Quadro M620 2GB, 2.5" SATA, M.2 (no Thunderbolt)

    SuperMicro 4-cores/8-threads Xeon D-1518 2.2GHz 35W mini-ITX board
    SuperMicro 6-cores/12-threads Xeon D-1531 2.2GHz 45W mini-ITX board
    SuperMicro 8-cores/16-threads Xeon D-1541 2.1GHz 45W mini-ITX board
    SuperMicro 12-cores/24-threads Xeon D-1557 2.1GHz 45W mini-ITX board


    Virtualization software: VMware Workstation for Linux | Oracle VirtualBox be continued...

  2. #2
    So you're looking to run MacOS in a VM rather than as a Hackintosh?
  3. leo-tech thread starter macrumors member

    Mac mini alternatives (macOS in VM on non-Apple hardware)

    Technically, macOS in a VM on non-Apple hardware is also a Hackintosh, but you guessed right, that would be my first choice and priority.

    Running Windows and Linux in a VM under macOS is perfectly legal, legitimate and acceptable for all parties involved, and I think it may become increasingly difficult for Apple to justify not granting Mac users equal opposite legitimacy, if some choose to run macOS in a VM under Windows or Linux, based on their increasingly questionable "Apple is a hardware company" argument (especially when they produce so damn little Mac hardware to speak of).

  4. #4
    The problem is that Apple's classic business model is selling hardware, not software. And they've profited greatly from this model.

    Why should they change? The iOS devices have been an enormous source of profits. The Macs are still profitable. If they no longer will be selling Mac hardware, why would they bother with macOS at all? It would be more profitable for them to look for the next Apple device than to continue supporting a software program that is not tied to any Apple hardware.

  5. #6
    Apple has resisted licensing the OS to third party manufacturers for almost their entire existence. To allow it to run on other HW would require efforts to test, certify and support hardware they don't produce. In return, they offer the OS at no cost to those who own Apple HW. Their main argument over the years has been to control the soup and nuts which prevents the issues that often plague Windows users (Blue Screens, though less so today than in the earlier years).

    They are calculated in their HW offerings, too much churn is an expensive way for a low volume (relatively speaking) company to run a HW business. Long lifecycles are more profitable. If new models were introduced before older models had reached their market potential, they would be less profitable. Don't forget, Macs are only used by 10-15% of the market, so the product cycles are longer for Apple than other manufacturers who benefit from greater volume. Competition tends to drive most PC makers to cheap components in order to be more price attractive, but Apple tends to resist this in favor of quality offers.

    Their business model works, they are one of the few profitable HW companies, so what would be the driver to change?

    I would love to see them support a more open OS, but don't foresee it. But, a more modular approach to their products would be refreshing, the ability to add memory, disks, GPU often extends the useful life of a PC, but is not generally supported by current products. We can hope they will go back to a more modular approach.

  6. Joined:
    Jun 14, 2010
    The other thing to note is that Apple tends to avoid commoditizing their products. The OS and the platform interoperability is a significant production differentiator from the competition; they're selling the packaged experience not the specs. Want a desktop running macOS? Unless you're a techie willing to build a hackintosh, you buy Apple. Contrast to someone wanting to buy a windows computer. Essentially it's a commodity market, with most of the makers competing on price rather than features/experience. Sure there's some level of differentiation of CPU and GPU specs, truly meaningful to relatively few people (techies again), and just so much marketing speak to most John & Jane Doe buyers walking through BestBuy in a daze.
  7. leo-tech thread starter macrumors member

    Mac mini alternatives (macOS in VM on non-Apple hardware)

    It seems that Intel is pumping out three different variations of the Intel NUC during the year 2018. A report by CNX Software included the roadmap that includes the following three NUC families:

    • June Canyon, Celeron and Pentium NUCs based on Gemini Lake – around New Year

    • Hades Canyon, Skull Canyon replacement based on Kaby Lake-H – around Q2 2018
    • Bean Canyon, next "normal" Core i3, i5 and i7 NUCs based on Coffee Lake-U – around Q3 2018
    2018 Intel NUC Models
  8. leo-tech thread starter macrumors member

    Mac mini alternatives (macOS in VM on non-Apple hardware)

  9. #10
    Running OS X on non Apple hardware such as hackintosh and VM are limited in some extents by not allowing use of purchased items in iTunes and also Apple streaming events in Safari. The apple ROM is required for a fully working Apple system, in other words a Mac.

    Professionals that rely on Apple video and music apps can use hackintosh to do their work with and are not limited but require technical skills to maintain their systems.

    With each yearly release these challenges increase but there are developers and coders out their that keep the hacks going.

    I am not a professional relying on expensive OS X software and can afford to break my system from time to time. I do maintain my system to each point release and yearly update mostly for kicks now days since I use mostly Windows 10 and Linux as my main OS's.

    If you rely on macOS get a Mac is the bottom line.

  10. Mac mini alternatives (macOS in VM on non-Apple hardware)

    Single kext that you inject to resolves these issues. Hasn't been an issue for a couple years now.

    Yep. NVidea releasing drivings to support the Quadro's and other cards is a direct result of Apple neglecting the Pro market. We run Hackintoshes not because we want to, but because we have to. Apple doesn't offer the hardware we need.

    Final Cut and investments in it, workflows and structures, it's not that easy.

    Sure, i'll just go buy that MacBook Pro 17" with 32GB RAM and RAID1 capability onboard.

    Whoops, doesn't exist.

    It's not a matter of choice here. You want a workstation Mac? You buy a HP.

  11. leo-tech thread starter macrumors member

    Mac mini alternatives (macOS in VM on non-Apple hardware)

    If only Apple would play fair with Mac minis and iMacs...we would probably see a single beefed-up reasonably flexible upgradeable Mac mini/iMac mini desktop unit like this HP Z2 Mini G3, connected/attached to any display of Mac users liking, including Apple Retinas, why not:

    Mac mini alternatives (macOS in VM on non-Apple hardware)

    (yes, I know, it would undermine Apple profits from iMacs sales...or would it, really?)

  12. Mac mini alternatives (macOS in VM on non-Apple hardware)

    Apple don't want to do flexible hardware, it completely goes against their driver compatibility and means they have to support lots of configurations that they shouldn't need to.

    How it works now is good, Apple have their hardware, the people with the skills to get drivers working can make whatever hardware they want and Apple turns a blind eye to the EULA breaches.

  13. leo-tech thread starter macrumors member

    Mac mini alternatives (macOS in VM on non-Apple hardware)

  14. #16
    I suspect they will never go after individuals for EULA breaches, the EULA terms about Apple HW are to prevent Psystar like players from selling clones. After all, if you are willing to go to such great lengths (ya, I know it is much easier now with TonyMac and others offering helpful tools) to get into the ecosystem to buy Apps and iTunes entertainment from them, who are they to stop you. Plus, is it really worth it to them to cutoff a handful of hackers who know they are getting into a gray area, they just don't want to see unsuspecting customers get a bad taste for their products by allowing clones to be distributed.
  15. Mac mini alternatives (macOS in VM on non-Apple hardware)

    Mmm, I don't mean in the home user space, I mean some of the design studios that are using products that break the EULA to make money. Could also have something to do with the many-thousands the support contracts for the differing product suites they use cost too, I guess.
  16. leo-tech thread starter macrumors member

    Mac mini alternatives (macOS in VM on non-Apple hardware)

  17. #19
    I understand everything you say. Apple has left the professional with no choices. Either hackintosh or move on.
  18. leo-tech thread starter macrumors member

    Mac mini alternatives (macOS in VM on non-Apple hardware)

    And the rhetorical question of the day is: in what universe it makes sense? (for Apple to adopt such restrictive monopolist-abuser policies, when right in competitors shops next door customers celebrate perfectly reasonable freedoms, while parting with less money...BTW, this "twist customer into pretzel" lunacy started when Steve Jobs was at the helm).
  19. #21
    In the universe where "the computer is a toaster". As you noted, this was Steve Jobs' concept -- make the computer usable for non-tech people. That has been the business model that has provided most of Apple's success; Jobs was able to tap into markets that were not well served by conventional PC manufacturers.

    Of course, for most of that time, Apple also provided at least a little bit of support for techies as well. Mac mini alternatives (macOS in VM on non-Apple hardware) It is only recently that Apple has completely turned its back on folks who are knowledgeable enough to maintain their own machines, in favor of going all-in on technophobes...

  20. leo-tech thread starter macrumors member

    Mac mini alternatives (macOS in VM on non-Apple hardware)

    Still, it puzzles me why Apple have such a disdain for their customers, many of whom at some point may reasonably feel like "now I've had enough with Apple" and move on. There is something very creepy or mentally unhealthy about all this locking and gluing cases and over-complicating upgrades and degrading specs and soldering processors and memory on-board and pushing perfectly good models out of existence and one-way-traffic EULA and apparent willingness to chain everything that moves nonsense, and still Apple geniuses are doing it with a straight face, as if it was something perfectly normal, likely assuming that their tyrannical monopolist policies will never return to bite them in the back.
  21. #23
    I've managed to get Sierra working in a VM, using VMWare ESXi and a tool called 'Unlocker' from Thanks to GPU pass through, I get near native performance for GPU tasks. The problem is audio. No matter what I choose (USB, PCI, HDMI, etc.), I get popping and distortion. Passing through my server's onboard audio to the Mac VM seems to work best, but I have to use the VoodooHDA kext. It seems to have issues, and audio distorts when the VM is under moderate to heavy I/O load. So I'm in the market for an older Mac mini.

    I'm an IT professional, but I don't use OS X in a professional capacity. I just like the OS, so if I want to indulge my hobby it looks like I'll need to invest in real Mac hardware.

  22. #24

    I used a VM Mac on ESXi for about a year as my primary work machine, never could resolve audio and video issues. Granted, the host was a server class machine with limited A\V resources. I took the same steps you mention without positive results. So, I got an old Mini and loaded it with the backup from the VM. Worked fine until SIP came on the scene and the VoodooHDA caused issues with booting. So, I removed all the non-Apple kext files and it worked fine after that.

    So, beware if you use migration or restore from the TM backup of a VM.

  23. leo-tech thread starter macrumors member

    Mac mini alternatives (macOS in VM on non-Apple hardware)