PowerPC Challenge: Getting Warmed Up

Posted Jun 2, 2017 by Liggysmalls



A while back I saw an interesting post in /r/RetroBattlestations (which linked over to MacRumors) that grabbed my attention. The concept wasn't new, i had see a few of these challenges in the past so I guess my head was just in the right place this time. Starting on July 1, 2017 and finishing up on July 8, 2017 I will be using a PowerPC system as my primary workhorse, I will be living in the past. Sounds pretty cool right?

Like any self respecting computer nerd I needed a plan of attack for this challenge. My first step would be to take a close look at my daily workflow and see what I am up against. With my current function as the Technical Director for a growing SaaS company my day to day tasks tend to be all over the place but the basics should get me through. Most of my time on an average day is spent in just 3 applications, a web browser, an email client and a terminal emulator. As you might be guessing my daily driver is a Linux system, I have never actually been a full time Mac user.

That being said, this shouldn't be too difficult. There are still some current options for Linux running under the PowerPC architecture. With some tweaking and perhaps a few little upgrades a Power Macintosh G5 might not be too harsh of a transition for me. Obviously the overall speed of the system would be reduced but I tend to fancy myself a pretty laid back guy, I can adjust.

The catch? I don't currently have a Power Macintosh G5 in my collection. When I first considered taking up the challenge I was thinking I might just use a Power Macintosh G4 already in my inventory. After a little chatting with the MacRumors community it became clear that a late G5 would be a better place to start. That very day I hopped on Craigslist to take a look around and about 20 minutes from my home found a nice fellow selling a G5. We quickly made a deal and in no time flat I had a Dual Core 2.3 GHz G5 sitting on my office floor. This was a perfect place to start and combined with my boxes and bins of old junk should be quite the usable system. My starting specs are as follows:

The following weekend I finally had a few minutes to take a good look at what I had here. I plugged everything in and hit the power button. I was delightfully greeted with the traditional Apple "bong" which was certainly a good sign. My excitement was quickly stifled by a complete failure to boot. My first suspicion was the spinning hard disk which was somewhere around 12 years old at this point. After a little troubleshooting this proved to be the case, not a big deal to me as this drive was never part of the plan. I am a bit of a sucker for solid state drives as they are fast, silent and consume little power. After a quick visit to my office closet I emerged covered in cobwebs holding an early 80 GB Intel SSD, my reluctance to throw anything away has resulted in victory once again!

What an incredible machine, every detail was considered.

At this point I decided to see where I was at and load up Linux to run a few tests. My regular distribution of choice is Arch Linux which unfortunately no longer maintains support for PowerPC systems. To be honest while I love Arch it can be a bit of a project at times and I was looking to take the easy way out here. This of course brought me over to the Ubuntu side of things, I opted to start with Lubuntu and go from there fully intending to test out a few different Window Managers / Desktop Environments. The installation was quick and easy as Ubuntu tends to be and after a little fiddling with Yaboot I was sitting in front of a clean desktop. I quickly proceeded to run a full system upgrade to the latest and greatest software without any issues at all, generally speaking the system was running great so far. I promptly installed Firefox, Thunderbird and Rxvt, my big 3 applications, again without issue. My basic work environment was up and running and perfectly usable though obviously running a bit slower than I have been accustomed to.

A sane individual might be inclined to call it a day, this clearly doesn't describe me. Tune in next time for some upgrade talk, some customization and some supporting applications.