Why Run Leopard on Slow G4 Macs?

Leopard officially requires an 867 MHz G4 – but that doesn’t rule it out – and then there is Tiger. Depending on your needs and depending on your level of expertise, you will choose either Tiger or Leopard.

It is time to revisit the options for low-end G4 users.

Here at Low End Mac, we try to get the most out of our machines. Nearly a year-and-a-half ago, I wrote an article about running Mac OS X 10.5 Leopard on a 400 MHz Sawtooth Power Mac (Is Running Leopard on a Sawtooth Power Mac G4 Worth Doing?), and I recently shared my experience using OS X 10.4 Tiger on a 500 MHz G3 iBook (OS X 10.4 Tiger Still Very Usable on a 500 MHz G3 Mac).

OS X 10.6 Snow Leopard is out of the question, as it requires an Intel-based Mac.

The Low End Leopard Experience

I have run Leopard on both a 400 MHz Titanium PowerBook G4 and a 400 MHz Power Mac G4, and it wasn’t an awful experience. If you had a slightly higher spec’d machine, such as a 667 MHz TiBook or a Digital Audio Power Mac G4, Leopard will run even better. Just because Apple doesn’t support it, that doesn’t mean it can’t be a good experience.

I ran Tiger on a Lombard PowerBook G3, which officially topped out at OS X 10.3 Panther, as it doesn’t have built-in FireWire, but it ran Tiger much better.

Upgrading your hardware helps the Leopard experience immensely, especially on unsupported machines – any G4 Mac below 867 MHz. Adding as much RAM as your machine will take and upping the hard drive from a stock 4200 RPM or 5400 RPM one to a faster 7200 RPM drive will make a considerable difference.

The biggest stumbling block – and the reason Leopard has such high hardware requirements – is graphics. OS X 10.5 is a very graphically intense operating system. If you are using a G4 Power Mac, you can add a newer, more powerful AGP graphics card – one that supports Quartz Extreme* – to give your machine a smoother ride, but that isn’t necessary to get Leopard installed and running.

Why Leopard Instead of Tiger?

Why would you want to run Leopard on an unsupported G4? Why sacrifice the speed of Tiger for the higher demands of Leopard?

Tiger is now two major revisions old. It is slowly being dropped by software makers, Firefox being the biggest blow to Tiger users, recently dropping Tiger support from its next version, 3.7.

Leopard opens a whole new world of software. Even before Snow Leopard was released, some software required Leopard as a minimum. This trend will continue as updated software versions demand Leopard – until Tiger is totally outdated. While this isn’t much of a problem today, it is web browsing and browser plugins that will be the stumbling block.

…installing Leopard on unsupported machines will extends their usable lives….

Most low-end G4 and G3 owners use their Macs for the Web, and once plugins such as Flash – especially Flash – stop supporting Tiger, it will put the final nail in Tiger’s coffin. That’s the main reason that installing Leopard on unsupported machines will extends their usable lives a bit longer, even if it brings down system performance slightly.

At some point in the near future, I intend to upgrade from my 500 MHz iBook G3 running Tiger to a 550 MHz PowerBook G4 (or faster), and after maxing the RAM to 1 GB and fitting a fast hard drive, I will install Leopard.

The success I have had running Leopard on very low-end G4s has given me the confidence that a slightly fast one will handle Leopard nicely.

Unfortunately, this isn’t an option for G3 owners, as Leopard will not run on any G3 except for those with G4 processor upgrades.

* Quartz Extreme moves display processing from the CPU to the GPU (graphics processor) on Macs with supported hardware. Quartz Extreme requires at least 16 MB of video memory, 2x AGP, and either an Nvidia GeForce 2MX or an ATI Radeon GPU. The May 2002 and later G3 iBooks are the only G3 models to support Quartz Extreme; all G4 Macs except for the Yikes Power Mac G4, which uses PCI graphics, can use Quartz Extreme.

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