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PowerBook G3 Wallstreet Old World Mac Linux Installation

Well, I’m about five to eight years behind the curve on working with an Apple PowerBook G3 Wallstreet laptop.

PowerBook G3Wallstreet PowerBook G3 With Mac OS 9 Installed

A friend gave me the PowerBook to play around with a little. First things first, I decided to totally wipe out and reformat the hard drive. I had a Mac OS 9 CD that I had never used from an older Power PC 6100 computer that I owned during the 90s. Talk about a blast from the past; I remember purchasing the new OS 9 software, but never got around to installing it on the 6100 PowerPC. The operating system software disk sat in the desk for years after I had retired the old 6100 to the garage.

Well, now was the time to put this Mac OS 9 disk to good use. Plopped in the disk to the CD drive that is located on the right side of the PowerBook, as a slide in unit. The left side has a battery that also slides in or out. Believe it or not, the battery actually holds a charge. After I wrote all ones or zeros (can’t remember which it was) on the hard drive, I then formated it. Wow, a great big 4 Gigabytes! Ha ha… Any case; first needed to check if I had Internet access. Plugged in the Ethernet cable, clicked on "Browse the Internet" and I see Microsoft Internet Explorer 4.5 Macintosh Edition comes up on the screen. However, the Apple start page does not even display a single thing. Oops, it does show something, but you have to scroll all the way to the right side of the screen.

I had to get something better than Microsoft Internet Explorer 4.5 for this PowerBook. So, it was on an Internet quest for a browser for Mac OS 9 that would be able to display properly. Well, guess what, there really aren’t any browsers that can pull their own weight for the old OS 9 software. iCab is actually one browser that looks like it is supported for OS 9. It is a simple browser, but hey it’s free. There are other web browsers available that are legacy softwares that can be still downloaded. For example Netscape version 7.0.2 is still available at VersionTracker to download, and can be used with OS 9. The downside to using the old legacy web browsers is that there are a number of pages and websites that will not display properly with these old guys. Here is a link to an Apple forum discussion about Mac OS 9.2 Browser availability.

Wallstreet Apple Marketing

Back to the PowerBook.

The processor speed on this PowerBook is 266 MHz. This one has 128 MB of memory. Just enough to boot and do a few other things. Supposedly you can upgrade the memory to 512 MB with two memory cards, one 256 MB on the top and one 256 MB on the bottom of the CPU card. There is some doubt as to whether this really is the case for total memory. Apple states in their specs, depending on models, that some of the PowerBook models could go up to 512 MB. I don’t know for sure on this one. See: the Apple PowerBook page for more information. User manuals can still be downloaded from the Apple website.

Over at PowerBook Medic you can download, for free, a number of legacy Apple repair manuals for taking apart and repairing many of the older Macs. These manuals are great to learn how to change a hard drive or simply add more memory.

Speaking of taking Macs apart; I think this particular PowerBook has a problem with the PRAM battery. It tends to freeze up unexpectedly.

What is the PRAM Battery for?

Your Mac has a microcontroller/memory chip which stores data that is important to its successful startup and operation. This data is maintained when you shutdown or unplug the Mac by a battery which provides power to the chip. This chip controls the Parameter RAM (PRAM), Non-volatile RAM (NVRAM), the real-time clock and Apple Desktop Bus (ADB). Also the chip sends a constant signal to the power supply, and if this signal is not within specifications, the Mac will either shutdown or freeze.

Read more from: Mac PRAM, NVRAM, CUDA/PMU & Battery Tutorial What, When & How?

Here is another website that has information on what to do if your Mac shuts down unexpectedly and how to zap the PRAM circuit if it becomes corrupted.

Now, on to another Mac note. This particular PowerBook model came with a UH276 Macally CardBus PCMCIA to USB adapter for Mac. The CardBus PCMCIA to USB adapter for Mac is no longer manufactured but We Love Macs website has the cardbus drivers available for downloading for OS X v 10.1, OS X v 10.2, and OS 9. The We Love Macs website also has the cardbus PCMCIA driver download available for the PC.

I have a number of internal hard drives just sitting around and thought I would see if this particular Mac could read and write to an external/internal drive. What I have is a $25.00 to $35.00 universal hard drive adapter from Apricorn that is designed for serial SATA or PATA parallel IDE hard drives to USB. You simply plug the universal adapter in the drive and then the USB cable into the computer. In this case, plugged it into the cardbus PCMCIA USB pigtail.

Once I installed the drivers for the cardbus, and rebooted the PowerBook, the external harddrive showed up on the desktop. See screen shot of the desktop with external drive on the display screen monitor. Cool; I was able to format the drive, and read and write to it. This particular drive was 120 GB in storage space.

So, now I had a fresh install of the operating system, and started playing around with it. I was able to browse the web and do a number of items. However, there are many limitations with this particular machine. It was at this time, I decided to try a different direction for the PowerBook.

Ubuntu – Xubuntu Linux for Old World Macs

Ubuntu is one of the easiest Linux distros to install. I have experience installing Linux on a PC, and thought it shouldn’t be too difficult to install on a Mac PowerBook G3. Well, there is more than meets the eye when it comes to the old world Macs. First off, you don’t simply install the Linux with a click of the mouse. You can’t just put a disk in and automatically go through the installation process. No, it requires doing a few things prior to even loading Linux. For example, you have to prepare the hard drive with the proper formating and partitioning. With only 4 GB of harddrive space, there is not much room for installation. The reason is, you need to have the Mac OS 9 operating system installed first on one partition, and set aside another section of the hard drive for Linux.

After downloading and burning a boatload of CDs with lots of Ubuntu
versions and Xubuntu (which is a streamlined version of Ubuntu, designed for less memory and smaller hard drives) versions, I discovered that there were only a limited amount of the versions that could be installed. The one I had successfully installed, after a dozen attempts, was Ubuntu v 5.10 Breezy Badger. It only took me two days, working in some spare time, to get it to load. I had to learn a little bit of Linux commands along the way. I have to say, I found the Flyback Transformer website that was quite helpful for Installing Ubuntu 5.10 Breezy Badger on an Old World Powerbook G3 Wallstreet.

I also have to say, this whole experience was an exercise for learning. There are even a few typos in the install procedure that are easily overlooked which were time killers. I suggest you read the entire procedure, including the comments from beginning to the end, before you try and tackle it yourself.

Here are a few important notes to be aware of:

Make sure you format the hard drive with hfs standard formating.

Make sure the filesystem for your os9 installation is hfs standard, and not hfs extended. It appears to make a difference; and the default file format for os9 is hfs extended.

If you don’t do this to begin with; when you go to make new directories, and copy files from one location to another within the Linux OS area, you won’t be able to do it, and you won’t know why. This tripped me up for the longest time. Also, I partitioned the hard drive for 1.1 GB for OS 9 and approx. 3.0 GB set aside unformatted for Ubuntu Linux. Reason for 1.1 GB was the need for more software in the OS 9 installed side of things.

The video was a little buggy. I ended up adding this line of code to the special BootX software addon that allows you to boot either Mac OS or Ubuntu Linux.

video=atyfb:vmode:14,cmode:32

Note: That video command line is slightly different of what the Flyback Transformer website has.

Also, pay particular attention to typing details. For example the procedure calls out for copying and renaming the "initrd.gz" file to "image.ramdisk.gz." However, later on the file naming is accidentally reversed, with ramdisk first instead of image first.

Copy the “initrd.gz” file from the Breezy CD’s boot folder to the top level of the System Folder. Rename the file to “image.ramdisk.gz”.

cp boot/initrd.img hfs/System\ Folder/ramdisk.image.gz

note it should be:

cp boot/initrd.img hfs/System\ Folder/image.ramdisk.gz

Now for some additional feedback. Once I had finally figured out the installation procedure, I made another discovery that proved to be a little difficult to overcome. Remember I said the only installation that I could get to work was Ubuntu 5.10 Breezy Badger. Well, this version is no longer supported for updates, and there seemed to be no easy way of updating to a newer version of 6.06 or 7.10 Ubuntu or even Xubuntu. With that being said, I once again wiped away the harddrive and reinstalled Mac OS 9.

Additionally, I could use this internal drive as the main drive and then add on an external harddrive with the USB cable. As the prices of solid state harddrives come down, or even the price of USB drives that do not require an external power cable, it would be very easy to add on for storage capacity. I saw an 80 GB hard drive at Newegg.com for $54.00. Memory upgrades would cost somewhere between $50.00 and $120.00 to max out the memory. I could install OS X, up to version 10.2 I believe. That would add another $50.00 dollars or so to the price. Add to that a new PRAM battery for $30.00, and you can see you could put a little bit of money into this machine. This places the total somewhere around $200.00 to outfit it. Yes, you can spend less, especially if you have an old hard drive just sitting around. Also, it is important to note that this Wallstreet PowerBook had the CardBus PCMCIA card for USB. That makes it much easier to add an external hard drive. If you have to replace the internal hard drive, the costs could be significantly higher. Also, bear in mind, the hard drive for the operating system needs to be no more than 8 GB in size. So if you install a new hard drive, make sure you are less than 8 GB for the partition for the operating system. You can have more than one partition, so storage can be increased.

So, is it worth doing something with this PowerBook G3 computer? It all depends on what you want to do with it. Good luck on your quest

By-the-way, checkout the new Apple MacBook Pro. This is a truly amazing machine for business or personal use.

Jim Warholic is president of Professional Web Services; provider of Internet marketing services for B2B and B2C companies, SEO services, online branding, and business solutions.

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Category: Apple, Linux
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  • Kevin says:

    Awesome post. These wallstreets are still chumming along everywhere I go. I own a 266mhz/192mb ram and have OS 9 installed on it. I primarily use WamCom (a version of mozilla) to browse the net. I have a cisco Aironet 802.11B cardbus adapter that I got on ebay for $8 installed and still have the original 4GB HDD. I haven’t really upgraded the machine because I don’t find a neeed.

    The keyboard on the thing is amazing. It sits on my coffee table for when I need to look up something or at times shoot off a quick email.

    cheers!

    July 13, 2008 at 9:32 PM
  • Jim Warholic says:

    Thanks Kevin for the heads up of using WamCom for a web browser. I thought I’d let our readers know that the browser can still be downloaded from http://www.wamcom.org. I just downloaded it myself, and giving it a try.

    I still need a pram battery for my PowerBook G3. I’m losing the date and time. Does anyone know where to find one of these pram batteries below the cost of $25.00. It seems like this battery should be below $10.00 in cost.

    July 13, 2008 at 10:39 PM
  • L____y says:

    I found this searching for the best Linux for my Wallstreet. I have previously ran openSUSE on it. OpenSUSE 10.0 was great. Unfortunately, 10.1 had a kernel that broke compatibility with the Old World machines and the 10.2 kernel proved buggy with the backlight. 11.0 runs fine, albeit very slow on the stock 266Mhz chip. I had a G3/466 at one point, but it wouldn’t play movies, so I sold it in the hope of finding a G4 for it (but they have become very rare :( ….) More RAM will help out. 384 is decent, but the 512MB is very recommended due to the slow speed of the cpu. With RAM, you must make sure you get PC66 or PC100 ram that’s Low Density. A guy on eBay has been selling 512MB upgrade kits for $45 plus shipping. Highly recommended to say the least.

    Linux gives these old machines a new lease on life, but the newest distros are a little too much for it. I’ve been investigating trying to put together a light weight distro like Damn Small or puppy, but haven’t had the time.

    November 1, 2008 at 7:52 PM
  • Jim says:

    I’m not sure if I am ready to go through the whole time consuming process again. Finding the time is also the difficult part too. I’m sure I could probably get this old Apple Wallstreet working, but then what would I use it for?

    I guess someone could use it to do word processing or simple writing or even getting on the Web or answering an email or two. How fast would it be? Is it worth it? Maybe, maybe not.

    I do know, and agree with you, while the newest Linux distros are quite powerful in what they can do, they are a “little too much” for these older machines. I was looking at Damn Small Linux and Puppy Linux for another PC and thinking I might try to install one of those distros on a WinBook PC.

    November 1, 2008 at 9:06 PM

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