Thursday, October 16, 2008

Power Mac G4/466 runs Debian Etch

My latest project has been to load and run Debian GNU/Linux on a Power Macintosh G4/466.

The box came to me with no disk drives and 128 MB of RAM. I upped the RAM to 384 MB, and I installed two hard drives.

Besides the stable Etch distribution of Debian, I experimented with the Fedora
Linux distro as well as OpenBSD.

Fedora installed, but configuring X for the GUI video didn't go very well. I probably could've gotten it to work better with information from the xorg.conf file that Debian built for me automatically, but since the system was extremely slow under Fedora, that only made the choice of Debian Etch (which seems made for and tuned to the G4) that much easier.

I really wanted to see how the G4 would do with OpenBSD, but while I was able to install it on two occasions, on neither of those was I able to get the system to boot. The regular FAQ for OpenBSD has excellent instructions on how to install it on an i386 machine, but the supplementary material for doing the install on MacPPC was less than helpful (or not helpful enough to get the system to boot).

So I went with Debian. I installed the system on one hard drive and am using the other to back up the /home directory via rsync.

Friday, May 09, 2008

The iBook G4 is ailing

This blog was originally started with my 1996 Powerbook 1400cs in mind, but we also have 14-inch an iBook G4 that we got in 2003. It now pretty much qualifies for "This Old Mac" status, being 5 years old, and after that many virtually trouble-free years, it has a problem.

I think the hard drive is going. I've been backing up the user files, sporadically, to an iPod. Believe me, it's easier than you think to use an iPod as a backup drive, and I'm so damn cheap, I don't have any "real" backup drives.

I do now. With the hard drive failing -- and before now with the prospect of that looming -- every owner of a "modern" Mac needs a Firewire drive, which can serve as a bootable drive in OS X. I'm going to use the SuperDuper backup software to mirror the drive, if I can even do it. I think the iBook's hard drive does better when cold, and when the computer is held at a 45 degree angle, so I'll try first to get a new backup of the user files and then a full, bootable backup.

If I can then boot off the Firewire drive, and after that my problems go away (basically the computer stalls and shows me the ever-lovin' beachball until we pick it up to the aforementioned 45-degree-angle), then I need to open it up and swap out the hard drive.

If only it was easier to do so. The fine folks at Apple aren't producing these laptops as products designed to last, say, 10 years. You're supposed to have backups all the time, and presumably if your laptop is 5 years old, it's time to just give up and get a new one, because it's tremendously costly to have complex repair work done on a laptop.

Of course, I'm going to do this myself, and I would NEVER retire a 5-year-old computer -- that's young in my book.

Luckily the Web site provides excellent instructions on how to tear apart Apple laptops and iPods. From that site I know now that I need a 9.5 mm ATA laptop drive, and I can get a used 80 GB model from them for $79.95. If I get the Firewire backup drive going, I'll probably wait for a sale at Fry's and, if it's the right size, put a 120-or-so GB drive in the iBook.

Here are all the ifixit guides for Mac laptops, and here are all the guides specifically for 14-inch iBook G4 laptops, and, drilling even further down, here's the guide on replacing the hard drive in the 14-inch iBook G4.

If I haven't made it clear, it's obscene how many things you have to do to get a hard drive replaced in one of these iBooks. I'm disgusted by whoever decided, from a design perspective, to do this.

Things that cost $1,000 should not be built as -- and treated as -- disposable. It's just not right.

If it turns out to be a dying hard drive, and I'm 90 percent sure that it is, I will do this repair, but I will not be happy about it.

But it's what I must do as a user of old computers.

Did I mention that I can swap a hard drive in either of my two PC laptops in under 5 minutes? I'm mentioning it now.

Tuesday, April 29, 2008

I'm getting the Mac back together again

OK, so I've been too busy with Linux and BSD in the past year and then some to do anything with the Powerbook 1400cs and System 7.6.1.

But I thought to myself, what if I could use the Powerbook as a terminal and hook it up to my Linux/OpenBSD boxes?

I figured I'd first try a serial connection. I got the cable (not sure if it's a null modem cable, so I also got a ... null modem cable and a DB9-DB25 adapter of appropriate gender), but I couldn't seem to make the Powerbook's serial port work. I think I know how to do it, but that would mean giving up use of my PowerPort Platinum PCMCIA card, through which I get Ethernet into the PB1400.

So I opted to use MacSSH and log into a Debian box that way. And it worked.

For the whole sordid tale, see the entry in my main tech blog, Click.

Looking at this blog, the PB1400 is now 12 years old. Time to change the description on the left side of the page.

And I still love Blogger, even though I now toil in the world of Movable Type. Much love for Blogger, which just works.