Trip Report: Snow Leopard PPC

This week, I spent a few minutes burning an old Snow Leopard Developer’s Build to an extra USB Hard Drive.

It worked. My G5 booted up, and I was able to imagine for a bit what Snow Leopard might have been like if it had kept support even for Power Mac G5s. Overall, the system ran okay, keeping in mind that I booted it from an external USB Drive which is a slow way to go about things.

My graphics card, a GeForce 7800 GT, ran just great, even if there were some graphical glitches at work.

But here’s the rub – the mach_kernel used in the build was compiled in October of 2008. The final version of Leopard, 10.5.8, was released August 5, 2009 (per Wikipedia). Snow Leopard came pretty quickly after on August 28, 2009. And while Snow Leopard’s initial release still had a lot of PowerPC code baked in, I’m unaware of anyone getting that code to work on a PowerPC.

During my test, I ended up pulling the kernel and other frameworks from a Snow Leopard install DVD to make a modified Snow Leopard PPC drive. The G5, each time, would start to load but hang. No doubt, the issue is deeper than just getting Snow Leopard to recognize hardware – there are components that do not contain PPC code. Ultimately, it may just not be possible.

One glaring example – my G5 has 10GB of RAM but only 6GB shows up in the Developer’s Build of Snow Leopard. Weird, right?

I will continue to take a look at this, but my hope dimmed a bit today. Leopard 10.5.8 is more recent a release than these Snow Leopard builds. I think it’s always worth tinkering around, but I don’t believe this will open the door to any Snow Leopard-era software. Your mileage may vary, of course, so go follow along on the MacRumors thread.

Update: I queued this post up a couple of days ago, and in that time, we continue to tinker and work with the Snow Leopard development build. I admit I sound a little pessimistic in this post. Some of that is warranted, but other posters are much more positive about what we can achieve. Stay tuned for more updates.

— Nathan

SimpleMark Version 1.3 Now Available

Welcome to Version 1.3 of SimpleMarkPPC, the world’s “PowerPC only” MarkDown app for Mac OS X 10.4 and 10.5.

Version 1.3 makes significant changes to the app. After years of being frustrated with the AutoSave feature, which worked but produced occasional bizarre bugs like missing letters as you typed, I removed it completely. Now, each time you hit save, which you should do frequently if you want to protect your work, the MarkDown preview displays on the right.

In addition, the app will now open and save to .TXT and .MD files from the get go. I can add future filename extensions of choice easily.

This app is dead simple. You can adjust your font preferences in the Preferences window. It runs your text through an older version of multimarkdown (which can be found in the Resources folder within the app bundle if you want to mess around with it). You can still export to a variety of different file options and print a rather rough but serviceable Markdown copy to a printer if you want.

This app is serviceable. Newer Markdown apps out there do a lot more cool stuff, and I keep wondering if I could get one of them to run someday. In the meanwhile, this could work if you need to mess around with MarkDown files on your G4 or G5.

Download it now.

Remember, it’s still beta software, partly because I am relying on a 2009 version of Real Basic that has all kinds of quirks and also because I am sure there are other strange bugs that will crop up. Give me feedback.

— Nathan

Mission Accomplished: New Thermal Paste on G5

Today, I launched the boring and meticulous process to put new thermal paste on my dual core G5.

I was going to take a step by step photo process, but it was enough for me just to focus on cataloguing each screw and keeping things tidy. I dusted out the machine while I was at it, although it wasn’t in a bad state after the most recent cleaning. The hardest part is that little rubber/plastic screw on the “G5” aluminum shield. Removing it is a pain and it will ruin your warranty.

Of course, if you still have a warranty on your machine, I’d love to hear that story.

Every time I tinker with my G5, I appreciate Apple’s design. It’s beautiful, expertly put together, built like a tank. Things are held together by more than just a couple of dinky screws or rubber grommets (from my Dell experiences). To get access to the CPU, you easily have to unscrew 25-ish screws, which is insane but also kind of awesome.

After the new thermal paste, I booted it up to make sure I didn’t screw in something wrong and weird.

All is well.

My next project will be to replace 2-3 fans that are particularly noisy with aftermarket quiet options. I saw this idea on Facebook and assumed that the G5 used proprietary fans. While aftermarket fans will blow at full RPM, they will run quieter, which would be… again… awesome.

Following that, I’m going to try two Samsung 840 EVOs in RAID0 just for giggles.

— Nathan

Booting from USB on a G4/G5

As usual, your mileage may vary, but this link gave me life the other night:

https://www.deviantart.com/foxhead128/journal/Installing-Debian-on-a-Mac-Mini-G4-via-USB-drive-573686827

My Mac mini G4 is a cherished machine. I love the form factor. I love G4 processors. It is superbly limited which makes it not age so well, but nonetheless, it is beloved. After running OS9 on it, despite some sound limitations, I decided to push it in a new direction as a Linux box. Enter MacBuntu-Remix, available over on the MacRumors Forums.

BTW – a review is forthcoming.

But first, the Mac mini G4 is notorious for having an awful CD/DVD drive. This unit’s drive long ago bit the dust. I was using an external FireWire drive, but it too was whining every time I opened it up. It finally would not read a recently burnt disc image.

I fiddled with Target Disk Mode, which is still amazing technology, and gave up only to discover the above technique. Holding down the option key on boot will not generally allow us to boot off of a USB Drive, but using the Open Firmware gimmick above does. A great tip to turn some of those old USB drives into serviceable backup booting options for these old Macs.

Enjoy.

— Nathan

Snow Leopard on PPC

Screenshot from Lars Von Hier at MacRumors

The incredible PowerPC community is at work again, conjuring up some interesting experiments to see how else our machines can be extended.

The biggest nugget that has been circulating is the discovery of early builds of Snow Leopard which included PowerPC compatibility. These images come before Apple decided to nix PowerPC code. As such, they aren’t finished builds of Snow Leopard, and the support for some hardware is sketchy. However, initial reports of those who are trying them out note that Snow Leopard runs fairly well, though graphics drivers are buggy.

I haven’t taken the plunge yet, but I am working up to it as I watch the community learn about these finds and troubleshoot how to get the system stable. For example, kexts and drivers from Leopard (10.5.8) could being copied over when missing in Snow Leopard. Other imaginative thoughts include exploring later Snow Leopard builds for PowerPC code that lingered and moving those pieces back into these pre-release disc images. A Frankenstein kind of experience.

Read the thread on MacRumors to get started: Snow Leopard on Unsupported PPC Machines

Questions that remain:

  • Will this open PPC machines to some later builds of certain software? Would this potentially make some TenFourFox builds easier?
  • Is this stable enough to be a daily driver, and is it truly snappy?
  • What will be incompatible?

— Nathan