November 26, 2014

Installing Debian on a PowerMac G5

I’m still very fond of my old PowerMac G5, even though my current Mac mini blows it to very small pieces in the performance department. The G5 is a beast of a machine, the roar of which can still surprise me when the fans get going. I’ve previously installed FreeBSD on it without issue, and if you’re looking for a nice reliable server you could do worse than go with that.

I wanted to check out how the PowerPC port of Debian GNU/Linux fared on the G5, so I sat down this evening to install it. This post is mostly a reminder to myself of the steps involved. To get started, I downloaded the Debian 7.7 (wheezy) powerpc netinst CD image from here. This installs a base system and depends on an internet connection to download and install further goodies. An ethernet cable from the G5 to my router supplied the necessary connection. If you have a disk burner attached to your machine, lucky you – I had to fire up an old iMac to get access to a burner. I used Apple’s Disk Utility to burn the netinst image.

Start up the G5, holding command, option o and f, which will boot to the Open Firmware screen. (I also hit the ‘eject’ button on the keyboard while the machine was starting which opened the CD tray.) At the boot prompt enter boot cd:,\\:tbxi, as detailed here. You should be good to go; the Debian installer will start to run through its paces. It’s still noodling away here. I’ll update with any major developments.

Update: I ran into this problem where the install went fine but somewhere during the boot the display blacked out. I was able to ssh into it and edit /etc/modprobe.d/blacklist.local.conf to include blacklist nouveau, then update-initramfs -u -k all and reboot and all was well, running fine now. I suggest that if you try this at home you enable sshd during the install process so you can get into the machine if anything goes awry.