Christmas Projects 2014: PowerMac G5 Linux Desktop


I was lucky enough to take two full weeks of holidays over Christmas and New Years this year. It was magnificent and completely rejuvenating, despite the fact that everyone in my house was sick with one or more ailments throughout. In fact being sick and stuck at home may have in fact been just the excuse I needed to indulge in a few geeky back-burner projects.

Project 1: PowerMac G5 Linux Desktop

Apple PowerMac G5When I started working at Queen’s University 11 years ago I was graced with a new Apple PowerMac G5 desktop to work with. While it is long passed its’ prime in the Apple world, this machine with a dual 1.8Ghz G5 processor and 6GB’s of RAM will run Linux without breaking a sweat. It’s still decent hardware.

My project: turn this beautifully designed 11 year old relic into a completely usable Linux desktop computer for light usage.

As you can probably guess, projects like this can go South. 16 hours, several *buntu installations, and a Debian 7.7 installation later, project status: FAIL

This particular PowerMac G5 has an NVidia GeForce FX 5200 graphics card, which absolutely will not work reliably with PowerPC architecture. The reason I think I sunk so much time into trying different things is that it doesn’t fail outright, it just fails in different ways between different versions of different Linux distributions (i.e. screen flickers, text disappearing, white boxes covering certain dialogs, etc.).

All is not lost for 2 reasons:
1. I am apparently stubborn and have ordered an old ATI Radeon 9600 XT for this machine, which appears to have a functioning driver available. I will update later to confirm.

Update: No, the ATI Radeon 9600 XT does not work. Waste of money. Boo. I’m open to suggestions if someone reads this. Hum… Should I install Mac OS X 10.5, or use the thing as a coffee table? That’s pretty much where I’m at.

2. I have a new love and respect for Debian. What a great operating system.

Next – Coming Soon – Project 2: Raspberry Pi PBX