Can I Run the Current Version of OS X on My G4 or G5 Mac?

Put simply, you can’t. With the introduction of OS X 10.6 Snow Leopard in August 2009, Apple removed all support for PowerPC Macs from its operating system. You cannot run OS X 10.6, 10.7, 10.8, 10.9, or 10.10 on G5 Macs or anything earlier. They will only run on Intel x86 hardware.

Power Mac G5More specifically, OS X 10.5 Leopard is the last version of OS X that will run on G5 Macs, and it will run on almost all G4 Macs as well, although you will need to hack the installer to get it on a system slower than 867 MHz. That said, OS X Leopard requires a lot of power, so you’ll probably find Macs below 667 MHz sluggish regardless of other factors. You’ll also want at least 1 GB of RAM for decent performance, a twice that to really unleash things.

15 inch iMac G4For lower powered G4 Macs and the vast majority of G3 Macs, OS X 10.4 Tiger is your best bet. It is not as resource intensive and will perform decently with as little as 512 MB of RAM. It will seem sluggish on G3 Macs below about 500 MHz and performance on a 400 MHz G4 is about the cut-off there.

Although there are still some apps being developed for PowerPC Macs running OS X 10.4 and 10.5 (most notably the TenFourFox browser), there is very little up-to-date software. Security updates for each of these versions of OS X was ended years ago, so even though there has been very little Mac malware since the introduction of OS X, these are not as secure on the Web as more recent versions of OS X.

The best alternative for those who wish to use their PowerPC Macs and have an up-to-date operating system is a PPC port of Linux. See DistroWatch and PenguinPPC for information on current Linux distributions for PowerPC Macs.

Or you could consider selling your old Mac and migrating to an Intel-based model that supports OS X 10.10 Yosemite and probably remain up-to-date until Fall 2015, at which point OS X 10.11 could leave you behind.

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4 thoughts on “Can I Run the Current Version of OS X on My G4 or G5 Mac?

  1. I haven’t done this – but it would be interesting to see whether a PPC emulation (not virtualization) environment such as VirtualPC, etc, could be used to ‘hackintosh’ an Intel Mac. It would need a G4/G5 with lots of RAM (4 GB or more, I would say) and at best, would run slowly – as emulation is slower than virtualization.

    • I doubt it. I’m emulating Leopard in Virtual PC on Mavericks so I can use my PowerPC programs , and to emulate Leopard it requires emulating the Extensible Firmware Interface (EFI). I know VirtualPC only emulates the BIOS, and there isn’t a build of VirtualBox that is for PowerPC.

      Unless there’s a PPC Emulator that emulates the EFI, it’s impossible to build a “hackintosh” out of a PPC.

      • Have you considered virtualizing OS X 10.6 Snow Leopard on your Mavericks system? Snow Leopard includes Rosetta, so you should still have access to your PowerPC software. No need to try to emulate PPC hardware on an Intel Mac; Rosetta handles the translation in software. (That said, although I have heard about virtualizing OS X 10.6, I have never done it, so this is based on hearsay.)

        The other option is to use Remote Desktop to control your Leopard Mac from your Mavericks machine.

    • I think it might be possible to run newer releases of Mac OS X on older Macs running Linux via QEMU. There are some details on how to do that at http://www.contrib.andrew.cmu.edu/~somlo/OSXKVM/
      However, you’d probably have to skip the KVM parts and use QEMU as a machine emulator (X86-64 on PowerPC specifically).
      Yes, you’ll need a fair amount of memory, and no, it won’t be as fast as real Intel hardware. But it should work.