The good news is that Mac OS X 10.5 Leopard seems to be able to run on any Mac with AGP graphics built around a G4 processor – and even on the 2000 Pismo PowerBook (the first PowerBook with AGP graphics) as long as it has a G4 upgrade.
The bad news is that the Leopard installer refuses to let you install it on any Mac slower than 867 MHz. That includes the dual 800 MHz Power Mac G4 as well as Digital Audio and other G4 Power Macs that have been upgraded with processors past the 867 MHz mark.
The good news is that there are ways to get around the installer. We’re getting more field reports of successful “unsupported” installations all the time, and most (but not all) features of Leopard seem to work on older, slower G4 Macs.
There are two ways of getting around installer limitations. The most common one thus far requires that you have a supported Mac. For those who don’t, it’s possible to hack the installer so it will run on slower Macs or to fake out the Leopard installer using Open Firmware (a huge thanks to Dylan McDermond for sharing this technique).
UPDATE: The folks at iCode have taken the information from this article and used it to create LeopardAssist, a free program that automates this process and eliminates the need to fiddle with OpenFirware on your own.
The bad news is that some third-party additions to the System can prevent Leopard from booting – Unsanity’s Application Enhancer (APE) tops the list of add-ons – so you should make sure all of your software is up-to-date and may want to (or need to) disable System add-ons before installing Leopard.
Unsupported Macs that Can Run Leopard
- Pismo PowerBook G3 with a G4 upgrade
- Sawtooth/AGP Power Mac G4
- Mystic/Gigabit Ethernet Power Mac G4
- Power Mac G4 Cube
- Digital Audio Power Mac G4, including one dual 533 MHz model
- Quicksilver Power Mac G4
- Quicksilver 2002 Power Mac G4
- PowerBook G4/400 and 500 MHz, slow graphics
- PowerBook G4/550 and 667 MHz (VGA), better graphics
- PowerBook G4/667 and 800 MHz (DVI)
- 700-800 MHz G4 iMacs
- 700-800 MHz eMacs
- 800 MHz iBook G4
Unsupported G4 Macs that Can’t Run Leopard
- one dual 533 MHz Digital Audio Power Mac G4, may be due to old firmware
- one Cube failure, which could be due to old firmware
- two users have failed to get Leopard running on Blue & White Power Mac G3s with G4 upgrades
- reports of white screen after sleep on G4 iMacs with Nvidia GeForce 2 and GeForce 4 graphics (reportedly solved with OS X 10.5.2 and Leopard Graphics Update 1.0)
- GeForce 6200 AGP video card may add up to 5 minutes to startup time
Limitations of Leopard on Slower Macs
Before you install Leopard, you should know that some features may not work on older, unsupported hardware. One of the earliest unsupported installations was reported on Engadget.
Thomas Ricker has an AGP Power Mac G4 (a.k.a. Sawtooth) with 512 MB of RAM and a 1 GHz processor upgrade. He did a clean installation on a freshly wiped 20 GB hard drive, and he reports that performance feels comparable to Mac OS X 10.4 Tiger, which jibes with most of the other reports we’ve heard.
Ricker reports on some things that don’t work on his 1999 Power Mac G4:
- Time Machine: It runs. It does backup. But you can’t get backed up files back, at least not with the older, unsupported video card in his computer. Time Machine appears to require Core Animation.
- DVD Player: No luck, not even with a better SuperDrive installed. Again, possibly due to an older, unsupported video card.
- Front Row: It appears that the program is running, but you can’t see anything on the screen, making it useless. Once again, probably because the video card doesn’t support Core Graphics.
Failing DVD Player, Ricker attempted to run VLC 0.8.6c, only to discover it dropping about 25% of frames. Again, a supported video card might fix this. The stock card in AGP Power Macs was the ATI Rage 128 or 128 Pro with 16 MB of VRAM.
Low Cost Core Graphics Video Cards
There are three relatively affordable options for Power Mac G4 users (not counting the PCI Graphics model): Nvidia GeForce 6300 and ATI Radeon 9700 and 9800 Pro. Applemacanix buys PC versions of these cards, flashes them for use on the Mac, and sells them via eBay.
Of the three cards, the Radeon 9700 Pro ($109 in 2007) looks to be the best value, as the 9800 Pro ($149) isn’t any faster and the GeForce 6300 ($99) is considered quite a bit slower. The benefits of the Nvidia card include no cooling fan, low power consumption, and no need for an auxiliary power connector.
Adding one of these cards to an AGP, Mystic, or Digital Audio Power Mac G4 could be all that’s needed for Time Machine, DVD Player, and Front Row to function. We will update this article if we receive field reports confirming or disproving this.
Hacking the Installer
If you don’t have access to a supported Mac, the first alternative was to hack the installer. You can do this on a dedicated hard drive or by burning a DVD, in which case you’ll need a Mac with a SuperDrive. Mac Rumors has posted instructions, which we’re summarizing here:
- Install DarwinPorts and restart your Mac.
- Make a sparse disk image of the Leopard install DVD. Mac Rumors suggests Carbon Copy Cloner 3 as the best tool for this, but Disk Utility will do as well.
- Open the Terminal and follow the posted instructions to the letter. You will either be modifying the code by choosing a minimum CPU speed below 867 MHz (300 MHz is a safe bet, as the slowest G4 systems ran at 350 MHz) or by making it only work on Macs slower than 867 MHz. Either choice is fine.
- Burn the hacked disc image to a blank dual-layer DVD-R or DVD+R.
- Run the installer to see if it works.
The Leopard installer is over 6.5 GB in size, so you need to use a dual-layer DVD unless you’re willing to modify the disk image before burning the DVD. If you don’t have a dual-layer DVD burner, Lionel Faleiro has posted directions for stripping Developer Tools, languages you will never use, etc. and making the Leopard installer small enough to burn to a single-layer DVD.
One reader has also reported success modifying the Open Firmware to report a CPU speed higher than 866 MHz. This is a temporary modification that resets itself the next time you restart your Mac.
Another reader has reported success using a modified installer and NetBoot.
Using a Supported Mac
If you have access to a supported Mac, you can avoid all that Terminal work.
Because Leopard is Apple’s first universal binary operating system, you can create a bootable disk from either a PowerPC or Intel-based Mac.
You have some options here. If you have a Power Mac G4, you can install a second Ultra ATA hard drive inside the computer, install Leopard, and then transplant the drive to your older Power Mac G4, iMac G4, or eMac (which is a tricky beast).
If you have an external FireWire hard drive, you can install Leopard to any partition from a PowerPC Mac. If you’re using an Intel-based Mac, you’ll want to create at least two partitions: one for the GUID partition that the Intel Macs like to boot from and an HFS+ partition that you’ll clone the installation to.
Once you’ve installed Leopard to the FireWire hard drive, move it to your unsupported Mac, choose it as your startup volume, and boot from it. If that works – and it should – you can either choose to keep working from the external drive or clone that drive to your internal drive. We suggest Carbon Copy Cloner 3, although we’ve heard that Disk Utility may work as well. (Our favorite program for this kind of thing, SuperDuper!, isn’t yet Leopard compatible.)
It is also possible to install Leopard to a G4 Mac using FireWire Disk Mode, which may be the simplest way to do it.
Reports from the Field
Power Mac G4
- suneohair reports successfully hacking the installer and running Leopard on a dual 500 MHz Power Mac G4 with 1 GB of RAM and Radeon 9000 graphics on Mac Rumors.
- Macs Only! has it running on a 450 MHz Cube and a 1.4 GHz upgraded Cube. They used an external FireWire drive, ran the Leopard installer on a 12″ PowerBook G4, and then used Carbon Copy Cloner to clone the FireWire drive to each Cube’s internal hard drive.
- Peter Brockie reports running Leopard on a 400 MHz AGP Power Mac with 1 GB of RAM. He reports successfully running DVD Player and included a screen shot (left) to bolster his claim.
- Brian Deuel has Leopard running on an upgraded Dual Processor 500 MHz Mystic. He modified the installer on a hard drive. Brian has a flashed Nvidia GeForce 6200 video card, which scared him when it took about two minutes to show the desktop after startup – but it’s working fine now. He says it’s easily faster than Tiger. Jerome Littleton wrote to note that slow booting is associated with the GeForce 6200 video card, sometimes taking up to five minutes.
- Paul C. Harvey is running Leopard on his Digital Audio G4 upgraded with a 1.42 GHz Sonnet G4 and a ATI Radeon 9800 Pro 256 MB Mac Edition video card, which is fully supported for Core Image. He installed Leopard on his 1.2 GHz iBook G4 and cloned the drive to his Power Mac using FireWire Disk Mode. He says, “Other than some minor problems, it performs better than Tiger.”
- David Pollock successfully installed Leopard onto his Sawtooth 450 MHz Power Mac using a G5 iMac and Target Disk Mode. His Sawtooth has 1.25 GB of RAM and a Radeon 9800 Pro video card, and he says, “it appears all functions work, a bit slow, but it does work.”
- Henry Harrison is running OS X 10.5 on hit 450 MHz Power Mac G4 with 512 MB of RAM and the original video card. He used SuperDuper and FireWire Disk Mode to clone Leopard from his 1.5 GHz PowerBook G4.
- Anthony Elliott has Leopard running on his 466 MHz Digital Audio Power Mac G4 with 1.125 GB of RAM, the stock ATI Rage Pro AGP video card, and an ATI Radeon PCI video card. He installed from his Xserve using FireWire Disk Mode. He reports that his Power Mac would not boot into Leopard with his Apple Pro Speakers attached. He says graphics are a bit slow, but everything seems to be working.
- Scott Buckner has an 800 MHz Quicksilver Power Mac G4 with 1.5 GB of RAM and an ATI 9600 Pro AGP video card. He first installed Leopard to a USB 2.0 hard drive from his MacBook, then connected the drive to his Quicksilver to copy over the operating system – slowly, as G4 Power Macs only have USB 1.1 ports. He says everything is working well.
- Vy Tri Truong has Leopard running on a 1.0 GHz upgraded Sawtooth Power Mac that was originally 350 MHz. He has 1 GB of RAM, a Radeon 9800 Pro video card, and says the installer ran just fine from the internal SuperDrive.
- Frank McHugh has Leopard running on his 533 MHz Digital Audio Power Mac with the original CPU and GeForce 2 video card. Memory is 768 MB. He used a modified installer. He also tells of a friend with the same model but a 1.4 GHz upgrade – the stock installer ran just fine.
- FAILED: Larry Martin reports that his dual 533 MHz Digital Audio Power Mac will not boot from a FireWire drive or from a transplanted internal hard drive with Leopard installed.
- James Little has Leopard on his dual 533 MHz Digital Audio Power Mac thanks to a hacked installer.
- Jeff Plourde has Leopard running on a 400 MHz Sawtooth and a dual 800 MHz Quicksilver, using a modified installer to get OS X 10.5 installed. He notes that the ATA-HI_CAP driver, which supports drives over 128 GB in size on Macs that don’t natively support them, is not compatible with Leopard at present. Except for that, all works well.
- Eje Hultén used a G4 Mac mini and FireWire Disk Mode to install Leopard to a dual 533 MHz Digital Audio Power Mac with 1.5 GB of RAM. Everything works well, and boot times are faster than they were with Tiger.
- FAILED: Mark F tried to get Leopard running on his Cube using Target Disk Mode and running the installer on his 20″ iMac G5. He also tried cloning the iMac’s hard drive using Carbon Copy Cloner. There was no Apple logo at startup, no activity indicator, and the Cube refused to launch Leopard. We speculate it could be firmware issue.
PowerBook G4 (Titanium)
- Ryan used FireWire Disk Mode to install Leopard on his 400 MHz PowerBook G4, but with no support for the ATI Rage 128 graphics, video performance is best described as “choppy”.
- Jan Lukens also used FireWire Disk Mode to put Leopard on his 667 MHz PowerBook G4 (the DVI model), which has 512 MB of RAM, a 30 GB hard drive, and ATI Radeon 7500 graphics. He says that everything works, it runs as quickly as Tiger, and he’d go to 1 GB of RAM if this were his main computer. He says, “Why isn’t this machine supported? It really is perfectly capable of running Leopard, in fact running it comfortably.”
- Mike Rocus reports running Leopard on his 667 MHz PowerBook G4 (VGA). He first installed Leopard on a blank FireWire drive using his supported 1.25 GHz dual Power Mac G4, verified that it would boot the PowerBook, and then used Carbon Copy Cloner to put it on the PowerBook’s internal hard drive.
- Richard Jordan has Leopard on his 550 MHz PowerBook G4, installed from his 12″ 1.5 G4 PowerBook using FireWire Disk Mode. He says video playback is “a little choppy sometimes” and the Dock can be “a bit jerky”, probably due to an overworked graphics processor. He also reports poor WiFi reception, worse than in Tiger.
- Mark Benson cloned Leopard from his iMac onto the hard drive from his 667 MHz TiBook (VGA/Gigabit Ethernet), as he couldn’t use FireWire Disk Mode with a dead FireWire port. He calls performance “more than acceptable” and has not tested DVD Player or Time Machine.
- Michael Davis has Leopard running on an 800 MHz G4 iMac with 1 GB of RAM. He installed it from an Intel-based Mac mini using FireWire Disk Mode.
- Ben Barsh, has Leopard running on his 700 MHz G4 iMac with its original 4200 rpm hard drive and 320 MB of RAM. He says everything works – and he’ll try it on his titanium PowerBook as well.
- Mark Benson hacked the installer and ran it from an external hard drive to install Leopard on his 800 MHz iMac G4. “Most everything works okay,” he says, but there’s a serious bug when the machine comes out of sleep – the screen goes flat white, making it impossible to use without restarting. He says users with supported G4 iMacs that also have Nvidia GeForce graphics are reporting the same thing, so this may be addressed in the 10.5.1 update.
- Ryan and Theresa Johnk have Leopard running on their 12″ 800 MHz iBook G4, the only unsupported model. They used a hacked installer that they ran from an iPod.
- Pete LeDoux installed Leopard on a 700 MHz eMac with 640 MB of RAM using a hacked install disc. He says Time Machine doesn’t work, and he’s disabled Spotlight to free up RAM and keep the system more responsive.
- Alberto Crespo has it running on a 700 MHz eMac with 384 MB RAM, an 800 MB eMac with 768 MB, and a 1 GHz eMac (supported) with 640 MB. He used the 1 GHz eMac and FireWire Disk Mode to install Leopard on the slower eMacs.
- Matt overclocked his 700 MHz eMac to 900 MHz and had no trouble running the standard installer. He says it seems 90-95% as responsive as Tiger, and DVD Player works great.
- Jeremy Taylor hacked the installer to put Leopard on his 700 MHz eMac, which he says “works great”.
G3 Macs with G4 Upgrades
- Vic Mabus managed to boot his Pismo PowerBook G3 from Leopard on a FireWire drive. His Pismo has a 550 MHz G4 upgrade and 640 MB of RAM. He says its stable, but far from snappy.
- Adem Rudin also got Leopard running on his 550 MHz G4-upgraded Pismo and says it’s about as responsive as Tiger on the same hardware. DVD Player does not work, and although 10.5 works with both batteries, it doesn’t recognize the left battery bay.
- Matt has Leopard running on his slot-loading G3 iMac with a 550 MHz G4 upgrade. He installed using Target Disk Mode and cloned the boot drive from his G4 iBook with Disk Utility. Even with 1 GB of RAM and a 7200 rpm hard drive, he says it seems slower than Tiger.
- FAILED: Ed Hurtley tried to boot his Blue & White Power Mac G3 with a G4 upgrade and failed.
- FAILED: Mark Benson modified the installer and tried to put Leopard on the hard drive of his Blue & White G3 with a 500 MHz G4 upgrade from Sonnet. The installer did a kernel panic, reporting that this class of Power Mac is not supported.
PowerBook G4 (Aluminum)
These models are fully supported.
- Ed Hurtley reports that it only took 20 minutes to install Leopard on his MacBook Pro – and two hours on his 867 MHz 12″ PowerBook G4 with 640 MB RAM and its original 4200 rpm hard drive. He reports that screen sharing and video iChat are not supported on his hardware – and the iChat “Connection Doctor” reports his gigabit ethernet network and 8/1.5 Mbps internet connection are too slow.
- Jack Curry says Leopard performance on his 867 MHz 12″ PowerBook is comparable to that under Tiger.
Send in Your Reports (Please, Not Any Longer)
If you’ve got Leopard up and running on unsupported hardware, please email with the following information so we can include you in our report:
- What unsupported Mac(s) have you installed it on?
- How much RAM?
- How fast a CPU, and what brand, if it’s an upgrade?
- What video card does your Mac have?
- Which installation method did you use, a modified installer or installing from a supported Mac?
- If so, what Mac did you use to run the installer?
- Did you install to a second internal hard drive, an external FireWire hard drive, or using FireWire Target Disk Mode?
- If you used a FireWire drive, did you clone it to your Mac’s internal hard drive? If so, what program did you use to do this?
- What doesn’t work? Especially check out Time Machine (which requires a second hard drive at least as big as your main one), DVD Player, Front Row, and VLC.
- How does performance compare with Tiger subjectively and objectively?
Thanks in advance for any field reports, as this will help us get a better picture of how well Mac OS X 10.5 works on unsupported hardware.
This article was first published on 2007.10.31 and last updated 2007.12.24.