Why Run Linux on a Low-end Mac?
Welcome to Linux on the Low End. Over the past year, Low End Mac has answered many of my questions about Macs. This is my attempt to give something back and to give some of you another option for your low-end Macs.
Who am I and why do I blaspheme a Mac by running Linux?
I've been using computers for about 20 years, starting with TRaSh-80s, CoCo2s, Tandy 1000s, IBM XT, etc. all the way up to my current fastest machine, a Celeron Mobile 2.2 GHz in a desktop overclocked to 2.95 GHz that I use for video encoding.
My main desktop/server is a Dell Precision Workstation 610 with Dual Pentium III Xeon 500 MHz w/ 2 MB L2 cache.
All my computers run SuSE Linux from v9.2 to v10.1. Linux is a great alternative to OS X, since it runs with less resources, which is what Low End Mac is all about.
What's with all these x86 machines? This is Low End Mac!
Because that's what I have been using forever. However, I have acquired numerous Macs over the years, and now that openSuSE is actively supporting the PowerPC platform again, I have been using it on my Macs. My son's PowerBook G3 WallStreet Series I (upgraded with a PowerLogix G3/466) is running openSuSE v10.0. My Power Mac G3 B&W (upgraded with a G4/400) is running openSuSE v10.1. My Beige G3/266 is running openSuSE v10.0 connected to a 20" Multiple Scan monitor and is used for Web browsing,
Why not run Classic or OS X?
My Old World Macs do have Classic, because I have to run BootX in order to start Linux. I use Classic for some things, and my son plays a lot of his games (like Pajama Sam) on his PowerBook under Mac OS 9.2.2.
As for OS X, I've found that not only does Linux still support a lot of the older ATI cards (like those built into the WallStreet and Beige G3s), it runs very well with just 256 MB RAM. Most users of OS X recommend at least 512 MB RAM and prefer 1+ GB. The WallStreet tops out at 512 MB and the Beige G3 tops out at 768 MB RAM.
Linux also allows me to run the current versions of numerous programs, like OpenOffice, Firefox, the KDE desktop (being a former OS/2 user, I prefer it over Gnome), and K3b for DVD/CD burning. Linux also supports most PC-based PCI cards without having to have an Apple ROM on them (other than video cards - the primary video card has to have a Mac ROM).
Finally, it's nice to be able to run the same, familiar OS on all my machines. I don't run WinDoZe at all and do not intend to use it in the future.
Isn't Linux harder to use? Don't you have to be a techie?
Nope. It can be a little more difficult to get up and running, but modern Linux distros are very polished, support most hardware out of the box, and are very easy to use.
Installing Linux presents some challenges, and that's one of the areas I intend to focus on. I plan to share my experiences installing Linux on the following machines I have available:
- Power Mac 7500 with Sonnet G3/400
- Power Mac 9600/300
- PowerBook G3 WallStreet Series I with PowerLogix G3/466
- Power Mac G3 Beige
- Power Mac G3 B&W w/ G4/400
- Power Mac 6500/225 (I haven't succeeded yet, but I am hopeful).
I recommend the following Power Macs as excellent candidates for running Linux:
- Power Mac 73/75/76/85/86/95/9600 - Up to 1 GHz G3 or 8000 MHz G4, 1.0-1.5 GB max RAM
- Power Mac G3 Beige
- PowerBook G3 WallStreet
- Any "New World" Power Mac or PowerBook
These machines may do okay but have limited RAM, so they may run better as a mail server:
- Power Mac 5400/5500/6360/6300-160/6400/6500 - Only 128 MB RAM, recommend newer video card for GUI
- PowerBook G3 "Kanga" - Only 160 MB RAM, 1 MB VRAM, 800 x 600 Max display, not processor upgradable.
I don't recommend the following Power Macs due to no Open Firmware/no PCI bus:
- Power Mac 61/71/81/9150
- Power Mac 52/53/62/6300 - Road Apples
Of course, there are various Mac clones as well, and they each have similar advantages and disadvantages.
While I primarily use openSuSE, I will be exploring Yellow Dog as well as NetBSD. Hopefully, I can answer a lot of questions about getting Linux up and running for those who are interested.
And thanks to Dan Knight for giving me this opportunity to contribute.
Recent Linux on the Low End articles
- DOS Nostalgia: Looking Back at Early Computer Experiences, 2009.05.04. TRS-80s, the Tandy 1000HX, Radio Shack's Color Computer, Hercules card, 1200 bps modems, hard cards, and other 20-year-old technology.
- Pros and cons of using Linux on a WallStreet PowerBook, 2008.05.06. The old PowerBook G3 Series notebooks aren't without a few quirks when running openSUSE Linux, but for the most part they are good performers.
- Picking the right cheap computer, new or used, 2007.02.13. Unless you're working with video or hooked on 3D gaming, you don't need a lot of computing power. You might be surprised at how little will satisfy you.
- More in the Linux on the Low End index.
Links for the Day
- Mac of the Day: Power Mac 7500, introduced 1995.08.08. This workhorse introduced a new desktop case and CPU daughter cards.
- June 18 in LEM history: 99: Is the iMac passé? - 01: Not all Mac-heads are lefties - Pitfalls of Freenets - 03: Impressions of a low-end eMac - 04: iTunes Europe: Where are the indies? - 07: Tiger users will be able to run up-to-date apps - 08: Old Mac restoration
- Support Low End Mac
Recent Content on Low End Mac
- World Book Encyclopedia 2012 DVD, Tommy Thomas, Reviews, 2013.03.05. "You may be asking yourself, in an age of Wikipedia and instant information, is World Book still relevant?"
- Vintage Computer Festival SouthEast, April 20-21, 2013, Simon Royal, Mac Spectrum, 2013.02.25. Old Apple gear and old PCs.
- iMessage: The Ultimate Messaging Service?, Simon Royal, Mac Spectrum, 2013.02.21. In most ways, Apple's iMessage is far superior to BlackBerry Messenger.
- More links in our archive.
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Low End Mac Reader Specials
Cult of Mac
Shrine of Apple
The Mac Observer
Accelerate Your Mac
The Vintage Mac Museum
Mac Driver Museum
System 6 Heaven
System 7 Today
the pickle's Low-End Mac FAQ