Just a couple of updates

This is just a brief update, reminding you to check out the rest of the site for occasional updates.

I am trying to find other resources to link to and offer insight for maintaining and updating your G5. For example, Viva PowerPC showcases a really cool article about his work to keep his Power Mac on the straight and narrow. I really should plan on doing this to my machine someday. Read it for more info.

Bash has also been revealed to have more vulnerabilities, so grab the updated build and follow the instructions. It’s good to be safe.

I am going to look to add Sparrow and a few other apps to the pages in the coming days as I find them and can add working links. Stay tuned.

– Nathan

Don’t BASH me

According to our good friends at TenFourFox and numerous other tech sites around the world, BASH, that great little command line shell built into Mac OS X, has a major security vulnerability.

More bad news – since Leopard, Tiger, etc are so old, the hope of seeing an official patch of this vulnerability are next to nil.

But now the good news – there is a (unofficial) fix. TenFourFox to the rescue! Follow the instructions to download a patched BASH and replace your existing shell with the updated one. It’s a straightforward process that includes some example commands to make sure you are indeed affected and patched.

This is just another reminder of why our old machines are not getting more secure. Other bugs and vulnerabilities may indeed exist. If your machine faces outward, serving webpages, files, or whatever, keep in mind that you are operating at risk. This doesn’t mean you will be hacked, but it’s something to keep in mind and stay vigilant about.

– Nathan

The G5: What’s the value today?

I bought my Power Mac G5 about 5 years ago – back then, I thought I got a pretty decent deal (around $200), as I had mostly PowerPC software and was into some light audio/video work.

Today, I’d highly recommend against spending anywhere near that on a Power Mac G5. After a quick glance on eBay, it looks like you can get a used G5 starting from around $50, maybe less. With each passing year leaving G5s behind in software options and security, the PowerPC world is becoming the domain of hobbyists, stubborn people, and probably some lingering legacy cases. So why or why not should you pick up a G5? And how much should you spend?

I have PowerPC apps that I cannot replace to keep my business/livelihood/data intact.

It’s clear that this is the strongest case for keeping and investing in a Power Mac G5. With the prices the way they are, it would be wise to go out and grab some backup machines to use for parts or as an insurance policy in case of disaster. Long term, you will still want to figure out an upgrade route to move that data and discover different app possibilities, since our machines are rapidly approaching the age of 10 (if not more). And security is not getting better in Mac OS X. In the meanwhile, spend what you need to keep your operation going.

I love PowerPC machines.

Good for you. Whether it’s for nostalgia or tinkering or fun, fiddling with PowerPC machines is a learning experience. A G5 is pretty much the ultimate PowerPC Mac with its somewhat recent hardware design. So, go for it – but even as a hobbyist myself, I encourage you keep it within reason. Be sure to shop around and stretch your dollars. Try to get an old machine for free or next to nothing if you can. There is no point in outlaying some serious money on old tech unless you have a serious need.

I need an updated computer, or someone wants to give me their old Mac for free so I can surf the internets.

Let’s be clear – yes, a G5 can be a decent machine to get stuff done, surf the internet, email friends, and what not. But unless you are getting something for free with a knowledgeable tech person to help walk you through limitations, I’d recommend spending a fraction more to get something newer with updated browsers and better security support. In this case, unless you are really in for a learning experience, it’d be best to pass on an old PowerPC and look to something a little more current. Again, if the situation is right, it might not be an impossible choice to keep that hand me down rocking and rolling, but make sure you are aware of all of the caveats and limitations.

Maybe I’ll add some further scenarios in the future. Basically, unless you have a real critical need or a passion to be a hobbyist, a Power Mac G5 (and other PowerPC machines) is kind of a mixed bag. With the right knowledge and support, they can be darn useful – but the world is quickly passing us by.

Overprovisioning

One of the most interesting things to consider when grabbing an SSD for your Power Mac G5 is the concept of overprovisioning.

It’s a confusing concept – but here it is in a nutshell.

Hard drives and SSDs don’t really have a delete command. Instead, when the operating system is told to delete a file, it marks a table saying this place in the hard drive is empty. For traditional platter hard drives, this just meant the OS telling the hard drive to write the data in that certain place. Everybody was happy.

But with SSDs, things get tricky. SSDs use NAND flash memory which cannot be easily written over like traditional hard drives. They must be first erased for the new data to be able to be written. So, theoretically, a SSD could fill up to 100% capacity and not be able to write any new data at all, even your operating system caches and page files and what not. When that happens, the SSD takes a serious nose dive in performance. To counter this, SSDs tend to have support for things like TRIM, which tells the SSD to put certain spots of the drive into some sort of garbage collection. Quietly in the background, the SSD will erase those blocks that are empty so data can be written and read at a normal, brisk pace.

More good news – almost all SSDs are built with some overprovisioning, meaning that some space of the drive is set aside as clean empty space for things to get shifted about when stuff is getting deleted and organized.

Here’s the bad news – Power Mac G5s do not have TRIM support via our now dated operating system choices of Tiger or Leopard. Without TRIM, your SSD bears the risk of running ragged in its performance, especially if you max out the drive with data. With every block having been written (if you do max it out), there is no mechanism to tell the SSD to free up deleted space even if you get rid of all of those apps, movies, games, and so on. This is the problem of using a SSD in a system without TRIM support.

In response, it is possible to overprovision even more than factory standard. You do this by first deleting the drive via a secure erase in Disk Utility. Then you create a partition that is smaller than the capacity of the drive. I hear 10-20% is often recommended. A 240GB drive might then look like a 220GB drive on your Mac. The extra space is then seen as not used by the operating system and always empty. Even when your SSD gets close to full, there will still be free space for the SSD to shift things around and keep its somewhat zippy performance up. If you do fill the hard drive to the brim, you may still see performance degradation but it may not be as severe.

There is a lot of debate about this. Many SSDs have some other built-in features to counter a lack of trim. Sandforce drives in particular have some pretty aggressive garbage collection, so you shouldn’t see degradation at all unless you really just torture that drive. That’s why I’ve seen Sandforce drives as the top recommends for G5s, especially the Intel 520/530 series. Even without overprovisioning (beyond factory settings) or TRIM, it’s likely that you may never see performance degradation for a long time. By a year or two, it might be time to upgrade your SSD anyway, right?

Here’s some additional reading:

– Nathan

iTunes: How long?

iTunes

Apple just announced the iPhone 6, and with it, a new version of iTunes (11.4).

All of this raises a question – how long will iTunes keep working for us PowerPC users?

It’s a darn good question, and unfortunately, there is no easy answer. Right now, iTunes (10.6.3) is still the de facto music player on your G5. You can buy music (even getting the new U2 album for free evidently). Music Match still lets you upload your music into the cloud to play on your various devices. That’s pretty cool.

But other new features are done. I doubt you could sync your iPhone 6 with the old iTunes. There is no fancy digital album experiences, no iTunes radio, and so on. This software has got an expiration date, for sure – but when? For how long? Only Apple knows.

I do recommend Music Match if for no other reason than it makes a nifty backup for your music in the mythical cloud. In case, iTunes suddenly quits working and your PowerPC dies a horrible death, you could still grab your music from Apple’s servers to place on a newer machine. It’s an easy way to back stuff up.

In the meanwhile, are there other workarounds? I have no idea, although open source audio/video players can probably rock whatever content you desire. That’s not really the problem, though. iTunes’ expiration is really tied to its still working access to the store and limited cloud features. When those go, the music player will still work – you just won’t be able to buy music like you once did.

Oh, and by the way, the classic iPod is dead. A moment of silence please.

– Nathan