The Psystar $399 Mac Clone

15 04 2008

The Internet was abuzz with being able to get a Mac for $399 yesterday.

The Psystar Open Computer
A picture of the Open Computer, black case

“Why spend $1999 to get the least expensive Apple computer with a decent video card when you can pay less than a fourth of that for an equivalent sleek and small form-factor desktop with the same hardware.”

Yesterday, an otherwise unknown company named Psystar introduced two computers dubbed the “Open Computer” and the “OpenPro”. The more interesting of the two, the Open Computer, starts at $399 for the following configuration:

2.2GHz Intel Core 2 Duo E4500 Processor
2GB of DDR2 667 memory
Integrated Intel GMA 950 Graphics
20x DVD+/-R SATA drive that is Lightscribe-capable
4 rear USB Ports

Now, if you were to compare this to Apple’s cheapest desktop offering; the Mac Mini- while it is impossible to build a spec for spec comparison through Apple, the Mini is more than twice the price at its closest configuration.

You may be wondering how this is possible, or how Apple could allow something like this to happen. Essentially, the Open Computer is a ‘Hackintosh’ or, a non-Apple branded computer running OS X on x86 architecture processors. The Hackintosh community began to form right after Steve Jobs announced the switch from IBM PowerPC processors to Intel processors. By using components known to be compatible with OS X and running a EFI (Extensible Firmware Interface) emulator, you can run the Mac OS X operating system on non Apple hardware. The EFI simulates Open Firmware, basically the BIOS of Macs, and allows for the installation of OS X with little or no modifications to the stock installation DVD. This technique was not pioneered Psystar, as it has been used and was introduced by the OSx86 team.

Don’t think that Apple is going to sit idly while Psystar sells machines with OS X pre-installed. OS X’s EULA (End User License Agreement) strictly states that OS X can not be run on any non-branded Apple hardware.

“You agree not to install, use or run the Apple Software on any non-Apple-labeled computer, or to enable others to do so.”

This means that while Apple has little leverage over the OSx86 team because they don’t outright sell anything pre-hacked, with Psystar, it is almost inevitable that the Apple legal team will be knocking at their door. Psystar however, for the meantime is offering both computers for sale today at the companies website.

While Psystar might go as quickly as it has come, it is interesting to see such a fierce and outright rebellion upon Apple and its EULA. This may not be the last startup company to preload OS X on its computers, and if one succeeds in doing so, Apple soon might have to readjust its business plan- and fast. Speaking to InformationWeek, a representative from Psystar said:

“What if Honda said that, after you buy their car, you could only drive it on the roads they said you could?”