OpenCore’s Hackintoshes May Be Illegal

image credit: OpenCore Computer

By Chand Bellur

June 15, 2020 at 5:01 p.m. PT

  • Legal precedent establishes that Apple is the only company that can distribute OS X and macOS.
  • Psystar, a company specializing in Mac clones, was shuttered due to a court-ordered legal injunction.
  • OpenCore Computer, a new “Hackintosh” provider, is selling Mac clones, ignoring the legal precedent that only Apple can distribute macOS.

Apple’s High Prices Create Opportunities for Clones

Clones have been a fixture in the PC world for some time. Compaq was the first company to challenge and compete with IBM’s PC hegemony successfully. In fact, the company forced IBM to pivot out of the PC business entirely, refocusing on enterprise customers.

Compaq’s victory didn’t last long. New clones from Toshiba, Sony and others quickly overcame Compaq. The company moved manufacturing from Texas to Asia; however, they still could not compete. Hewlett-Packard acquired Compaq, eventually dropping its brand name.

Apple’s history is a bit different. Companies like Vtech built Apple II clones; however, this didn’t last long. Vtech managed to outmaneuver Apple, by reverse-engineering the Apple II legally. Their computers were as legal as any PC clone. Franklin, another Apple II clone manufacturer, actually copied Apple’s technology and were forced to cease sales.

Vtech’s “Laser” branded clones eventually died off along with Apple’s computers. MS-DOS and Windows-based PCs were the defacto standard, and Apple went into a relatively dark period until Steve Jobs’ return.

In the early days of computing, reverse engineering was complicated, but possible. Reverse engineering today’s Mac Pro is virtually impossible, due to its staggering complexity.

Although Macs aren’t nearly as expensive as they used to be, they still cost more than most other computers. Anyone can go to Costco and buy a notebook PC for a few hundred bucks. The cheapest MacBook starts at almost $1000.

The relatively high price of the Macintosh ushered in yet another era of Mac clones. Companies like Psystar began manufacturing and selling Mac compatible “Hackintoshes” for a fraction of the price. Apple quickly shut this down; however, a new Mac clone maker recently surfaced.

OpenCore Sells Hackintoshes, For Now

A company called OpenCore (no affiliation with the OpenCore boot loader) currently sells a Mac Pro clone known as the Velociraptor. The computer costs a fraction of a Mac Pro’s price, yet claims to offer similar performance. Pre-installed with macOS Catalina and Windows 10, the Velociraptor provides a desirable configuration at a low price.

The main problem with OpenCore’s clone is that it’s illegal. Psystar, a company that previously manufactured Mac clones, ceased operations due to a court injunction. This precedent still stands, making OpenCore’s move a seemingly futile effort. Unfortunately, the company may be able to sell their product overseas, as international trade law and, particularly, enforcement, prove difficult.

The Velociraptor holds up well to the Mac Pro, with single-core Geekbench scores exceeding Apple’s own product. The Mac Pro, however, outclasses the Velociraptor with multi-core tasks.

OpenCore’s product will likely be illegal in the U.S. The company will probably still sell its Mac Pro clone in international markets.

Hackintosh is a Risky Purchase

Given OpenCore’s illegality in the US, it seems foolish for an American consumer to purchase a Velociraptor. Even though the device comes pre-installed with macOS Catalina, there’s no guarantee that Apple won’t deactivate the operating system.

The benefit of OpenCore’s clone is also its weakness. It integrates with the Apple ecosystem, making it easy for the Cupertino tech giant to squash. A relatively simple software update can hobble Velociraptors running macOS Catalina.

Realistically, Apple isn’t looking to upset individuals who buy Mac clones. After all, these are potential Apple customers. Apple took no actions against Psystar machines or customers, instead focusing on the company. After all, the company sold less than 800 Mac-compatible machines.

With the precedent in place, Apple will quickly shut down OpenCore, at least in the United States and probably the EU. As for other nations, it may still be possible to purchase a Mac clone.

Given the risks, however, is it worth sinking thousands of dollars in a Mac Pro clone? Although the Mac Pro is an expensive machine, it’s overkill for most users. Even professionals can fare well with an iMac. If you’re looking for a Macintosh, it’s probably best to go with a reputable company like Apple. OpenCore could be yet another fly-by-night operation.

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