Installing Debian on a white iMac G5

In may day job, we have some 20 old iMac G5 standing around. Those are no longer supported by Apple and the newest Version of Mac OS X that runs on them is so old, that it is so fun anymore. To revive these things (actually to setup a wisebed) we had to install any kind of Linux on it. Turns out, that Debian Linux will run on almost everything including those iMacs. You will need a USB stick to hold the Debian net installer, a USB keyboard and Internet connectivity to download to packages.

1. Download the Debian CD

wget http://cdimage.debian.org/cdimage/weekly-builds/powerpc/iso-cd/debian-testing-powerpc-netinst.iso

2. Put the iso onto the USB stick

People recommend to use UNetbooin for this. I have never tried it though.

I always use dd, but one has to be very careful:

dd if=debian-testing-powerpc-netinst.iso | pv | dd of=/dev/rdisk1 bs=1m # check, if your stick is mounted to /dev/disk1

3. Connect the stick to the first (the highest) USB port on the iMac

4. Boot the Mac into the open firmware prompt

Turn the Mac off. Now press and hold command-option-O-F and turn the Mac on. Keep pressing the keys (all at once!) until you end up in the open firmware prompt.

5. Boot from the USB stick

In the Prompt type:

boot usb0/disk@1:2,yaboot

6. Complete the Debian setup

If your Mac has an open firmware password that you do not remember, resetting it is “easy”:

1. Remove (or add) some RAM

2. Press command-option-P-R, turn on and wait for the 2nd chime

3. Turn off, and restore the RAM you want

4. done

8 Comments

  1. CommanderCool

    i think to install debian 7 on my white iMac. but why u use the powerpc version? and not the 64- or 32-bit?

    Reply
    1. admin

      Older iMacs used to have powerpc instead of Intel processors. For those iMacs, you have to use the PPC version of debian.

      Reply
  2. Francisco Figueirido

    First, thanks for publishing this information!

    I followed the steps and got to the (text) installation screen, but the usb keyboard does not seem to be recognized after the kernel loaded. I have an iMac G5, about 10 years old…

    Reply
    1. admin

      We also had some problems with the USB ports. Maybe try to put in a USB hub between the iMac and the keyboard or try another keyboard.

      Reply
  3. Vance Turnewitsch

    Does the USB flash drive need to be formatted in any specific manner?

    Reply
    1. admin

      No, formatting the flash drive is not necessary at all. Using the dd command from the post will overwrite everything on the stick anyway.

      Reply
  4. A.C.

    I’d like to replace a dead HD with a new SSD…
    -I have the new SSD in an ext hd enclosure.
    > should / can I take the USB/Flash drive instructions and load/burn/expand them on to the SSD ( I don’t want to partition the working computer I’m doing this on; I -just- want to create Linux as the only OS on the new SSD in the enclosure, and then remove from ext.enclosure & plug into an old G5 & start up/run from there..
    > is this possible? or not advisable for a complete noob like me?

    Reply
    1. bastian (Post author)

      What exactly are you trying to achieve? You want to move your OS X from the internal HDD to an external SSD? How do you want to do that, if your internal HDD is dead? Or do you want to use the G5 only as external hard drive enclosure?

      Reply

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