Linux on the Low End

Why Run Linux on a Low-end Mac?

- 2006.07.19

Welcome to Linux on the Low End. Over the past year, Low End Mac has answered many of my questions about Macs. This is my attempt to give something back and to give some of you another option for your low-end Macs.

Who am I and why do I blaspheme a Mac by running Linux?

I've been using computers for about 20 years, starting with TRaSh-80s, CoCo2s, Tandy 1000s, IBM XT, etc. all the way up to my current fastest machine, a Celeron Mobile 2.2 GHz in a desktop overclocked to 2.95 GHz that I use for video encoding.

My main desktop/server is a Dell Precision Workstation 610 with Dual Pentium III Xeon 500 MHz w/ 2 MB L2 cache.

All my computers run SuSE Linux from v9.2 to v10.1. Linux is a great alternative to OS X, since it runs with less resources, which is what Low End Mac is all about.

What's with all these x86 machines? This is Low End Mac!

Because that's what I have been using forever. However, I have acquired numerous Macs over the years, and now that openSuSE is actively supporting the PowerPC platform again, I have been using it on my Macs. My son's PowerBook G3 WallStreet Series I (upgraded with a PowerLogix G3/466) is running openSuSE v10.0. My Power Mac G3 B&W (upgraded with a G4/400) is running openSuSE v10.1. My Beige G3/266 is running openSuSE v10.0 connected to a 20" Multiple Scan monitor and is used for Web browsing,

Why not run Classic or OS X?

My Old World Macs do have Classic, because I have to run BootX in order to start Linux. I use Classic for some things, and my son plays a lot of his games (like Pajama Sam) on his PowerBook under Mac OS 9.2.2.

As for OS X, I've found that not only does Linux still support a lot of the older ATI cards (like those built into the WallStreet and Beige G3s), it runs very well with just 256 MB RAM. Most users of OS X recommend at least 512 MB RAM and prefer 1+ GB. The WallStreet tops out at 512 MB and the Beige G3 tops out at 768 MB RAM.

Linux also allows me to run the current versions of numerous programs, like OpenOffice, Firefox, the KDE desktop (being a former OS/2 user, I prefer it over Gnome), and K3b for DVD/CD burning. Linux also supports most PC-based PCI cards without having to have an Apple ROM on them (other than video cards - the primary video card has to have a Mac ROM).

Finally, it's nice to be able to run the same, familiar OS on all my machines. I don't run WinDoZe at all and do not intend to use it in the future.

Isn't Linux harder to use? Don't you have to be a techie?

Nope. It can be a little more difficult to get up and running, but modern Linux distros are very polished, support most hardware out of the box, and are very easy to use.

Installing Linux presents some challenges, and that's one of the areas I intend to focus on. I plan to share my experiences installing Linux on the following machines I have available:

I recommend the following Power Macs as excellent candidates for running Linux:

  • Power Mac 73/75/76/85/86/95/9600 - Up to 1 GHz G3 or 8000 MHz G4, 1.0-1.5 GB max RAM
  • Power Mac G3 Beige
  • PowerBook G3 WallStreet
  • Any "New World" Power Mac or PowerBook

These machines may do okay but have limited RAM, so they may run better as a mail server:

  • Power Mac 5400/5500/6360/6300-160/6400/6500 - Only 128 MB RAM, recommend newer video card for GUI
  • PowerBook G3 "Kanga" - Only 160 MB RAM, 1 MB VRAM, 800 x 600 Max display, not processor upgradable.

I don't recommend the following Power Macs due to no Open Firmware/no PCI bus:

Of course, there are various Mac clones as well, and they each have similar advantages and disadvantages.

While I primarily use openSuSE, I will be exploring Yellow Dog as well as NetBSD. Hopefully, I can answer a lot of questions about getting Linux up and running for those who are interested.

And thanks to Dan Knight for giving me this opportunity to contribute. LEM

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