Revive your old Mac G3, G4, or G5 with Linux - gHacks Tech News

Revive your old Mac G3, G4, or G5 with Linux

Do you have an old Mac G3 or G4 lying around doing nothing? Did you know that old dinosaur could make a great server or desktop with the help of everyone's favorite open source operating system Linux?  Most people don't realize there are Linux ports for PPC. There are, and they will make that old machine seem like it's younger and snappier than it ever did.

One of the issues with trying to use those older Macs is that they do not meet the requirements of newer versions of OS X. Within the last year I purchased an older eMac which had a 900 Mhz processor. I bought it mostly just to have it. It wouldn't get too much use. When I received it it had the latest version of OS X it would support. The machine had a Gig of ram along with the G3 900 Mhz processor. I shouldn't have to even type the fact that the machine ran very slowly. At first I attributed it to the processor speed. But after a few OS X updates I realized it wasn't the processor but the version of OS X that was placed on it. That, of course, got me thinking...

I have installed Linux on a Mac before. The Mac in question was an old G3 800 Mhz iBook. With OS X the laptop felt sluggish. With Linux on the machine it felt much more powerful than it should have.  The version I used on the laptop was Ubuntu. And man did it make a difference. I really felt like I was using a much newer laptop. On top of that I had the whole of the Linux catalog of software at my disposal.

And now I am faced with reviving an aging eMac in the same way. So I thought I would bring the possibility to the attention of the curious ghacks readers before they toss out those old Macs to make room for other projects.

Which versions to use?

There are a few distributions to use for Mac hardware:

Yellow Dog Linux

There is a Linux distribution that has been around since 1998 called Yellow Dog Linux. This distribution was originally based on Red Hat but has since been migrated to being based on CentOS (the Free enterprise version of Red Hat.) Yellow Dog Linux is a Linux distribution that is only created for PPC architecture. It installs like any Linux distributions. One of the only pitfalls of using Yellow Dog Linux is you might have to extract the firmware from your current, working OS X in order to get the wireless working. This is made possible with a tool called fwcutter (for Ubuntu or an rpm based distribution.

Download YDL here. [Update: not available anymore]

Ubuntu

Unlike most newer releases of Ubuntu (and Linux in general) the Ubuntu PPC installation is text based. If you are only used to the graphical installations, fear not - the Ubuntu text-based installation is very simple to use. Take note, however,  sometimes, when using a G3, you might wind up with Ubuntu basically not wanting to install at all. If this happens you might want to upgrade your Mac's G3 firmware. Once installed you will have one of the most user friendly versions of Linux on your Mac.

Download the ISO for Ubuntu for PPC here.

Final thoughts

Once you download your ISO images, burn them onto disk, and give the installation a try. Hopefully you will successfully end with Linux running your older Mac hardware better than it ran when it hosted OS X. This is not to say that all installations will go smoothly. I have found that, when installing Linux on PPC, the installations can be flaky. Sometimes they will install and sometimes they won't. If you don't get it on the first try, give it a second. The good news is that the effort will be worth it in the end. Your old G3, G4, or G5 will run faster and smoother than it did with OS X.

If you give this a go, please let your fellow ghack readers know how your experience went.

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Comments

  1. Karl said on June 10, 2009 at 11:06 pm
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    One of the problems with these distributions is that they require DVD players, which many of the old Macs do not have. I wound up installing Debian without the gui – http://www.debian.org/ports/powerpc/ – on my G4.

  2. Scott Wallace said on June 11, 2009 at 12:38 am
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  3. NightFlyer said on June 11, 2009 at 10:47 am
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    “Yellow God Linux is a Linux distribution that is only created for PPC architecture.”

    I think that’s meant to be Yellow Dog

    1. Wan Kyou said on August 17, 2012 at 2:52 pm
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      No, you Imperial Western Effete Slavepig. This is the time of Yellow God!

  4. dragonbite said on June 11, 2009 at 6:33 pm
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    If you need to install via DVD and the machine doesn’t have one you may want to look into UNetbootin if the machine can boot from a usb stick. The advantage is if the USB stick is big enough you can place an entire DVD on it.

    Otherwise, look at a CD of a NetInstaller. They are ~100 MB installer that gets all of its packages during the actual installation over the internet.

    1. paul said on May 14, 2017 at 10:03 am
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      just put it on usb and run boot ud:,\\:tbxi

  5. Gen2ly said on June 11, 2009 at 9:57 pm
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    Arch linux also has a PPC installer, it’s a text bases installer so you’ll need to follow the guide closely. Also too I’d recommend that Mac’s have at least 384MB of RAM, that’s what i got on my ibook and it just barely get’s by with Gnome.

    http://www.archlinuxppc.org/download/
    http://wiki.archlinux.org/index.php/Official_Arch_Linux_Install_Guide

  6. defraz said on June 11, 2009 at 10:38 pm
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    Look also to fedora, using it on my ibook g4 and everithing is beautiful and leading edge ;))

  7. Geoff said on November 19, 2009 at 8:30 am
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    I installed Ubuntu 9.10 on my old g4/450.

    I was going to toss it, but I use it all the time now! Its quite slow launching applications, but once they’re up, everything seems to work well! I might drop in another video card (available cheap!) and some more RAM to speed performance up a bit, but It certainly feels good to get that box up and running again.

  8. jessica said on February 1, 2010 at 9:11 pm
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    i have a g3 and i just bought the iphoto 08 and it wont work on my mac it need to be g5 is there anyway i can still get it to work?? please???/

  9. Caleb said on February 3, 2011 at 4:32 am
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    I just did this to an old power g4 with ubuntu 10.04 ppc edition, the normal 10.10 edition wouldn’t work.
    Just as a heads up, on Macs holding right click while booting opens your cd drive and holding c will run a cd.

  10. Martin said on April 23, 2011 at 11:09 pm
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    CRUX PPC forever…

  11. Brad said on May 2, 2011 at 8:24 pm
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    I just left the same 10.3.9 OSX on my eMAC that came with it- and it runs fine –never put anything on it newer than when I bought it. The only Linux box I have in the house is a OLPC green machine– which I’ve updated once –that works nicely too for the things it will do.

  12. Mike said on October 30, 2011 at 12:44 am
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    Tempted to try the PPC Linux distros but the last time I installed Linux distro was on Amiga 500+ w/68030+fpu hw. It was rough and X Windows server was a pain to get up and running.

    And, given most Open Source operating systems and software I’ve downloaded, it’s not worth the headaches.

  13. Gabriel said on June 28, 2012 at 12:32 am
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    Wow, a fellow Amiga user. Linux installs on anything else (just about) are faster and easier and simply work better. Getting Linux on any Amiga 500 is trick in itself and the version will likely have been MUCH older than anything modern. It’s like comparing DOS to Win7 or MacOS 7.x to OS X Lion. Give it another shot.

  14. Liz said on November 9, 2012 at 10:18 am
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    K, don’t laugh…or do, it’s good for ya;) So, um, how would I go about doing all this, exactly? I have an old G3 (it does have the DVD drive, someone mentioned that was important, in the comments) that I would like to regift to my young nephews… but I am completely computer illiterate, when it comes to fixing them or knowing what things like Linux, PPC, etc mean… See, you’re laughing… or highly annoyed… one or the other, right? So, I had a guy just add some RAM to it and got it booted up, he suggested reinstalling the software, which has been lost over the years… Soooo… I think I need to do what you suggested above… only, um, how? Do I access the internet (and this article and links) from the G3 and download directly onto it… or do I download onto my MacBook and burn a CD and install it that way? And, do I need to somehow wipe out what’s existing on there now? And again, how? I know these must seem like very simple things that anyone using a computer should know, but what can I say…? I major in growing kids and minor in sewing and baking… totally separate skill set… lol! I’m hoping you may know of a good “Installing New Software on a G3 for Dummies” tutorial… or some other set-by-step, guided article to point me in the direction of… Thanks very much for your time!! Oh and before you suggest that I just take it to someone, I live in a one-stop town, no-one here works on Macs…Deep sigh… Again though, Thankee!!

  15. Mark said on June 16, 2014 at 5:42 am
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    I went looking for the PPC Ubuntu, but got a directory, none of which says anything about PPC. Where can I find the iso to install it on a G4?

    Mark

    1. Carlo said on September 19, 2015 at 3:57 am
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  16. David said on April 4, 2016 at 7:47 pm
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    I’ve got a non-functional G5; (white screen of death, etc) tried to boot a linux CD but it wouldn’t even accept that. (perhaps it’s the “kind of” “dead” that it is…(?)
    So: I’d like to just -remove- the HD completely, keep the optical drive, and (somehow) run a version of linux on the newly installed HD (SSD)(probably hybrid HD/SSD)..
    I’m a “proto-newbie” (aka: don’t know squat).. is this just a waste of time, money & energy, or relatively simple swap-out & install “all new” in an old shell?
    thanks..

    1. john said on October 3, 2016 at 11:28 am
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      Nothing is a waste of time if you learn from it.

      1. Mike said on May 15, 2017 at 4:26 pm
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        Anyone try the MorphOS to revive their old G4?

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