Review: Psystar's Rebel EFI -- Snow Leopard on a PC

Can Psystar's new software package make a Hackintosh out of your PC? We tried it out.

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Installing Snow Leopard

The installation process started out easily enough -- I had to boot the PC from the Rebel EFI CD that I had created. Once booted, Rebel EFI prompted me to either run Rebel EFI or to insert a Snow Leopard DVD to install the operating system.

I placed the OS X DVD into the optical drive and Rebel EFI automatically started the install. Since the system I was using already had an OS on it (Windows Vista), at this point I had to partition and format the hard drive to prep it for OS X (using Mac OS X's Disk Utility to set up the partitions). It proved to be pretty simple using OS X's own tools.

The installation of OS X took upwards of an hour -- it was a very slow process and I thought the PC locked up several times during the install. (Luckily, I did not panic and reset the system).

Once the installation appeared done, I rebooted the system (with the Rebel EFI CD in place) and was welcomed with a registration screen for Apple. I filled out the on-screen registration form and was presented with an OS X desktop. For all intents and purposes, I was seeing what any Mac user would see.

Installing Rebel EFI

The next step of the process consisted of installing the Rebel EFI application into the Mac OS X environment, which meant browsing to the CD and launching the Rebel EFI installation program. Rebel EFI installs as a utility onto the Mac OS X system and allows users to download drivers, update software and perform other tasks that will keep the system running and updated.

One of the first things to do is check for new drivers and install any if found. Rebel EFI automates the process, so it proved to be pretty simple. You'll need a registration code (which you'll have if you purchased the product).

Installing the drivers required a reboot; once rebooted, the system seemed to work fine -- I was even able to run OS X's own software updating service to get all of the latest updates from Apple Computer.

Psystar
A formerly Windows-equipped laptop boots up Mac OS X after a Psystar install.

There were a few problems. First off, the audio did not seem to work; perhaps Psystar does not have a driver developed for that yet. Secondly, I was limited to a 1024 x 768 screen resolution -- I suspect that is a driver issue also. Other than those two issues, the hardware seemed to work fine.

Creating a "HackBook"

Installing Rebel EFI and Mac OS X on the Fujitsu T5010 pretty much mirrored the experience I had with the PC, but the final results were very different.

With the Fujitsu T5010, many key components did not work, including the integrated WiFi, tablet input, touch pad, integrated audio system and the fingerprint scanner. What's more, the GMA 4500 graphics controller was only able to run at a resolution of 1024 x 768 pixels and not the system's native resolution of 1366 x 768. I was unable to get any of those components working after the install, even after updating the drivers and the OS X operating system.

It seems like Psystar still has a lot of homework to do when it comes to drivers and hardware compatibility.

Final analysis

Psystar's Rebel EFI is an interesting tool, but it is very limited when it comes to the selection of hardware that you can use. The company really needs to create a compatible hardware list and post that on its Web site -- and it also needs to create some usable documentation.

As it stands right now, you can use Rebel EFI to build a Mac clone, but unless you stick to relatively generic hardware, you will be disappointed. On the other hand, if you just want to poke around OS X to see what the fuss is all about, Rebel EFI could prove to be an effective way for PC users to become familiar with OS X before shelling out for an Apple Macintosh. In that case, though, I suggest that you test your hardware first using the free download version of the product.

Frank J. Ohlhorst is a technology professional specializing in products and services analysis and writes for several technology publications. His Web site can be found at www.ohlhorst.net.

Copyright © 2009 IDG Communications, Inc.

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